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Paul contrasts those who are "in the flesh" and those who are "in the spirit/breath":

ESV Rom 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Rom 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] 8) οἱ δὲ ἐν σαρκὶ ὄντες θεῷ ἀρέσαι οὐ δύνανται. 9) Ὑμεῖς δὲ οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐν σαρκὶ ἀλλὰ ἐν πνεύματι, εἴπερ πνεῦμα θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν. εἰ δέ τις πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ οὐκ ἔχει, οὗτος οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτοῦ.

So what is Paul saying? "in" the flesh? Or "pursuant to" the flesh? Or something else?

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Succinctly stated, the apostle Paul principally uses the phrase "in the flesh" (ἐν σαρκὶ) to denote humans in whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell, and for those in whom it does dwell, Christians, he denotes by the phrase "in the Spirit" (ἐν πνεύματι).

For example, in Rom. 8:9, it is written,

9 But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this man is not His.

Θʹ ὑμεῖς δὲ οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐν σαρκὶ ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πνεύματι εἴπερ πνεῦμα θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν εἰ δέ τις πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ οὐκ ἔχει οὗτος οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτοῦ

Thus, those who are (1) in the Spirit (2) have the Spirit; thus, (3) the Holy Spirit dwells in them. Contrarily, those who are (1) in the flesh (2) do not have the Spirit; thus, (3) the Holy Spirit does not dwell in them.

According to Blass,1

Blass, Grammar of New Testament Greek, p. 131

The Implication of Being "in the Spirit" v. "in the flesh"

In Christians, God the Father is He who works (ὁ ἐνεργῶν), by means of His Holy Spirit dwelling in them, both the willing (τὸ θέλειν) and the working (τὸ ἐνεργεῖν) for the sake of His good pleasure.2 On the other hand, in those whom lack the Holy Spirit, they are subject to and enslaved by Sin as their master.3 It is Sin who dwells in them and wills them to do evil.4 Hence, those who are "in the Spirit" are subject to the operation/working (ἐνέργεια) of the Holy Spirit and the "law of God,"5 while those who are "in the flesh" are subject to the operation/working (ἐνέργεια) of Sin and "the law of Sin."6

The apostle Paul does sometimes use the phrase "in the flesh" to denote an actual physical presence (i.e., being corporal with a body of flesh, rather than an incorporal spirit),7 but for the most part, he uses it in an ethical sense to denote one who is void of the Holy Spirit and subject to Sin and its influence.


Footnotes

1 p. 131

2 Phil. 2:13

3 Rom. 7:14

4 Rom. 7:20

5 Rom. 7:22

6 Rom. 7:23

7 cp. 2 Cor. 10:3; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:22; Col. 2:5; etc.

References

Blass, Friedrich Wilhelm. Grammar of New Testament Greek. Trans. Thackeray, Henry St. John. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

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  • So would you say that this is simply a "Paulism" where Paul coins a pair of terms that have no particular relationship to the themes he has been developing for two chapters? Or might it have a relationship with Romans 7:1? Can you develop your answer more fully taking into account the case he's building? Thanks. – user10231 May 25 '16 at 11:31
  • I just wanted to point out that the operative word in the question is "how?" I'd love to see more exposition along that line. Thanks. – user10231 May 27 '16 at 11:45
  • "How are they not "in the flesh"? Because they have the Holy Spirit. What more needs to be said, since that answers the question of "how," and I provided a verse to support that answer. Please clarify your original question if you would like something more, as that is not obvious from your original question as it stands. – user862 May 27 '16 at 23:26
  • ISTM that that is a non sequitur (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_sequitur_(logic)). Paul seems to be explaining something... or even arguing something, no? – user10231 May 27 '16 at 23:39
  • With due respect, this is a poor question: So what is Paul saying? "in" the flesh? Or "pursuant to" the flesh? Or something else? - Please edit your original post and just pose a better question. – user862 May 27 '16 at 23:42
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The odds that my comments here -- more than a year after the last comment -- will be picked up by you previous commenters are slim. I have a few observations on this passage, and Romans six through eight in general. First, in the 40 years I have carefully studied these chapters, I have been continually amazed at how many good teachers and scholars seem to struggle with letting Paul say what it seems plainly he is saying.

I know that often scripture doesn't mean what it appears to mean on the surface. I think there is a common tendency to miss the ontological sense in which Paul is speaking when he says things like we are in the Spirit and not in the flesh, or in Romans 7:17,20, when he says that it is no longer we who sin!

I wonder if our theological traditions cause us to fear taking these passages for what they seem plainly to be saying. It is such a profound subject Paul is dealing with in those three chapters that even if we move more towards what I am talking about, it is mysterious territory. One of the big challenges is that we have to discern when Paul is speaking ontologically and when he is speaking experientially -- speaking about visible earthly appearance and performance.

That is, we need better perception of when he is speaking about who we now are organically and, according to God's perspective, literally as brand new creatures in Christ, where the old has in fact, passed away and the new has come ... and when he is speaking about our earthly experience and visible expression as spiritual beings still walking around in dead, unsaved physical bodies.

By the way, the one reference cited by the OP in footnote 7 above is erroneous when it comes to Galatians 2:20. The Greek word is not sarx, but soma. Most translations say "flesh" when they should say, as the NIV amazingly does, "body". I love what John MacArthur said one time in his teaching on the mystery of being "in Christ", expressed in Colossians.

He said that he is asked, Why, if, as he teaches, we are brand new creatures in Christ ... why do we still sin? His answer is spot on. We still sin because although we are brand new creatures, born again, we are walking around this earth in dead, unsaved bodies, where the law of sin is still at work in our "members".

If you do a careful study of exactly what Paul says the source of sin is in Romans chapters 6 through eight, you will see the repetition of the words body, body of sin, members, members of my body, and flesh. This completely supports what MacArthur said about our earthly performance in spite of being brand new creatures in Christ who are no longer in the flesh.

In fact, we were circumcised, according to Colossian 2:11-13, by an amazing, miraculous circumcision where Christ severed us from the flesh and literally regenerated us in himself such that we are now hidden with him in God until the day he comes and reveals himself and us in him! (Col 3:1-4) That Colossians 2 passage is definitely one where we have a hard time letting it say what it is saying, but it is perfect commentary on Paul's discussion of the radical transition that has taken place for the man in Christ, the moment he was saved, seen all through Romans chapter six, seven, and the first part of eight.

I could summarize all this by simply saying that "in Christ" may be the most undervalued and dumbed-down phrase in all of Scripture, especially when it comes to understanding who we now are as brand new, regenerated people.

Gob bless.

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    Welcome to BH.SE. Can you edit your answer for readability? I know many people see a long, unbroken paragraph and just skip it. Please take the site tour to see how the exchange differs from other sites. – Frank Luke Jul 28 '17 at 16:35
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    "By The way, the one reference you cited in footnote 7 above is erroneous when it comes to Galatians 2:20. The Greek word is not sarx, but soma." I don't understand. The Greek in my Bible reads sarx. – Dieter Jul 28 '17 at 22:39
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    I have applied the Chrome extension "Breakup" to separate your answer into readable paragraphs. – enegue Aug 1 '17 at 22:48

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