17 Sep 1999

The Empty Thing

Submitted by theshovel
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What is THE FLESH?

You probably have a definition that kinda satisfies you … until a discussion comes up to challenge it, huh? Yeah, I know, me, too. Just when you think you got it down pretty good one little Bible verse or a simple question can make your answer fall flat like a pancake. Like I said, from personal experience, I know it all too well. :)

I've learned a little secret that explains this phenomenon. Notice, I did NOT say I've learned the secret definition, but I have learned why NO definition will EVER be adequate. Are you ready for this? When something loses its identity it CANNOT be understood (and, therefore, defined) by itself. What?

Some examples of what I'm suggesting:

  1. Darkness - Try as you may you can't DEFINE darkness by what it IS, but by what it ISN'T. It is the LACK of something. It really has no definition IN ITSELF but in the fact that it is the LOSS of something – light.
  2. Blindness - Same thing here. Blindness is the LOSS of sight. Only a blind person can EXPERIENCE blindness, but only one who SEES or HAD SEEN can truly UNDERSTAND blindness. It is defined by something that is lost.
  3. Cold - Cold is not a something, but a LACK or LOSS of something. Cold is what happens when the energy is taken out. A refrigerator gets cold by taking OUT the heat and NOT by adding in some kind of substance known as cold (you can verify this by asking an AC or refrigerant technician). Cold is not a substance, it is a nothing. Heat is produced by energy; heat is a something. When heat is removed, cold is the result. (Consider that Absolute Zero is the scientific theory of the lowest temperature attainable that happens when there is absolutely NO energy or heat.)
  4. Evil - Yep, this, too! Evil can be characterized and grouped (as well as the above), but not defined WITHIN ITS OWN FRAMEWORK. Are you following me? Evil is the LACK of true goodness, which is a lack of God-ness. Define it by itself and you are left in the confusion where evil is categorized by degrees and you can justify your brand of evil because it is not as bad as obvious evil.

This whole concept is deep ONLY if you try to blend it in with your perceptions that have been based on that yin-yang oriental, eastern philosophy thing that permeates our thought-processes (yeah, even here in America). In reality, something IS or it IS NOT. We have been duped to consider these opposites as being two equal realities that vie for dominance. Hence, the eternal battle between good vs. evil. No wonder we're so messed up.

So, what is THE FLESH? It can ONLY be defined—or understood—in terms of what it is NOT. The real questions are: What is man? What is humanity? How was he created? Hear what God has to say about this and then the flesh takes on a whole new meaning. Man (man AND woman) was created out of the elements of the earth and was made flesh. God said, “It is very good”. He was created in the image of God - he was the representation of God in the physical world. An examination of Adam and Eve gave an understanding of the invisible God. Man was made to house God. But the time came when God left man … and he became THE EMPTY THING.

Just as a watch without the battery (life source) is a rather worthless piece of jewelry, so is the flesh without God. Just as seashells without the life grabs our attention so that we collect them for their beauty, so does the shell of man that has come to be called the flesh. The former creation made in the image of God is known simply by the empty shell that used to contain the glory.

You cannot conceive of the empty thing without contrasting it to the LOSS of what made it what it was! If I say, “My cup is empty” I am calling attention to the fact that what was in there is now gone. The way Paul used the phrase “the flesh” was calling attention to the emptiness of this shell. He was in no way suggesting that the actual flesh, skin, blood and bones were evil in themselves, otherwise he would have established the IMPOSSIBILITY that God could dwell in man - Emmanuel.

You and I have heard the phrase, “the flesh” and keep trying to determine its meaning by examining the thing in question. If you were to hear the phrase, the flesh, and were instead to hear the suggestion of THE EMPTINESS of the whole history of mankind as it has sought to fill the void with anything BUT the ONLY REALITY that can fill it, then you would begin to witness something different. You would realize how inadequate all the definitions have been.

To be continued next Shoveletter with the famous lie: “I couldn't help it … I'm only human!” Jim



theshovel's picture

These comments were all transferred over from the original website

Posted: Aug-21-99 by Brenda

Hi Jim,

My name is Brenda. A very interesting thought, keep up the good work. I find your site very interesting. We are new at this web stuff, but we are catching on fast. God Bless You!

Posted: Aug-21-99 by Mark

Hey, Jim!

Interesting thoughts about the flesh. They synthesize well with some thoughts I've been having as I study Romans. When we are baptized into Him, it is into both His death and resurrection. The inner man which is indeed truly "us" dies, but then we live again. This "new us" is life that comes from God. God creates it, it is holy and inclined towards righteousness.

Problem is, it's dropped into this shell that's been well-conditioned to sin by its previous occupant. This flesh continues to desire sin, even as our inner man now desires to serve God. Understanding what "the flesh" is becomes important to correct thinking about why we still struggle with sin after being born of God. Your letter expressed things differently than I'd heard before, yet somehow it made perfect sense.

The contrast in Romans 7 is not between flesh and spirit, it's between life from God and the absence of that life. Excellent thinking!


Posted: Aug-21-99 by Bruce

Bro. Shovel,

As always...you have out-done yourself! The depths of the well of eternal truth are coming out from the throne where Christ is seated within you. This crystal river of life quickens me every time I drink from it (read your letters)!

Just a quick encouragement to let you know that others (even if just a few) are beginning to wake up and hear the voice of the Son of God within them and are shaking off the dust (the flesh) and are being resurrected by His Life within them!

That All Consuming Fire within you is burning up all the wood, hay, and stubble that it touches and revealing Christ!!!

Your voice is a TRUMPET that is revealing Christ to the church in a way they have never seen or known Him before...in Spirit & in truth!!!

Through your shovelations they are beginning to understand that ..."the kingdom of God is within them"...INDEED!

Press On!!!
God Speed!!!

Posted: Aug-21-99 by Ken

Jim, I really liked your last Shoveletter. Your ideas of the "flesh" are right on and clear. Jesus, Who is Life, said that apart from Him we could nothing. Apart from the Life Source is empty activity. I think of the toy called the "thingamajig" or "whirlybird", a contraption with a handle that you hold and spin the body around in circles, making noise and doing nothing useful. Click, click, click, clatter. "It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh profits nothing".

I enjoy your Shoveletter site as is but also think your changes will be great. I am sorry I haven't taken time to thank you as often as I have been blessed and delighted in your site, Jim. I'd like to send you a gift contribution as I know that maintaining a website costs and I'd like to help from time to time. What's your mailing address ? Also, a while back we spoke about your having/making some cassettes of your songs. Any idea when that will develop ? Brother, thanks for your labors of love and keep shoveling. In Jesus' love, your brother Ken

Interesting take on “the flesh”! I am wondering where sin nature comes In? In your opinion how does the Christian relate to the sin nature?  Where did it come from/where did it come to rest? Is this something that no longer applies to Christians? If so, why do we still sin? Is sin by your understanding the consciousness of sin (is it therefore subjective or mental?). If so, why would God promise to put His Law in our hearts and minds in the Institution of the New covenant?

theshovel's picture

The sin nature, you ask? When we recognize ourselves as we truly are in Christ, we realize that we do not relate at all to the sin nature. For that nature is nothing other than the old creation that was our former life. It is the flesh.

Why do Christians still sin? Well, let’s first take into account that many who wear the name of “Christian” may only be religious people who just happen to attend a religious assembly that calls itself Christian. I bring this up only because we will use any number of examples of religious people who sin, and then we too often make religious assessments and conclusions based upon those false assessments. So just keep that in mind when you’re trying to get a handle on it all, for you might be looking at things that might have a totally different basis.

But when those who have passed from death and into life become convinced that they are still the old thing (the flesh, the sin nature, etc) that they used to be, and then they are given steps or principles or laws by which to help them fix their problems or their deficiencies … that is what pulls them down into a mental bondage that brings about sin.

Well, that’s all I can write for now as I have to leave for work.


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Random Shovelquote: More blessing? (view all shovelquotes)

Are you approaching them (those you counsel) with principles of more blessing if they stop sinning?  source