In John 6:25–59, Jesus presented a challenging teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The disciples struggled to digest Christ’s words, while the Jewish religious leaders were scandalized by them. Jesus then explained that He was speaking figuratively about spiritual realities and not literally: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63, NKJV).
The noun flesh (sarx in Greek) refers to “the physical aspects of a person in distinction to the nonmaterial soul.” Technically, flesh describes the body’s soft tissue but is often used in the New Testament to indicate the “sinful nature” or the seat of sin and rebellion against God in humanity. In the Old Testament, flesh is frequently used in reference to mortal humans in contrast with God, a life-giving Spirit. The term translated as “profit” in John 6:63 means “to be of use, help, aid, facilitate, accomplish.”
The New Living Translation renders Christ’s words this way: “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
The flesh profits nothing means there is absolutely no hope of salvation or any spiritual insight or gain that can be achieved through human effort. The apostle Paul had nothing good to say about the flesh: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18, ESV). Paul urged Christians to “put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
Our interpretation will be flawed if we try to understand the Word of God from a literal, flesh-dominated, human perspective. We must have the indwelling Spirit to comprehend God’s Word correctly: “But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. . . . No one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:10–12, NLT).
The flesh profits nothing because it relies on human wisdom. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The “spiritual person” can understand the Word of God and the things of God’s Spirit because he has “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:15–16, CSB).
The flesh profits nothing because it prevents people from receiving “the message of the cross,” which “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The message of the cross is that Jesus died to save us and bring us into a relationship with God the Father: “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT).
Only the Spirit of God gives everlasting life. In John 3:6, Jesus said, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (NLT). We must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5–8) by believing in Christ and receiving His gift of eternal life (John 5:21, 24, 26; 7:37–39).
Believers can think of “the flesh” as the symbol of our humanness, which is of no profit to a true follower of Christ. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24–27, ESV).
The flesh profits nothing means that, in and of ourselves, as human beings born into sin, we can never experience eternal life (Romans 3:9–12). The “flesh” is human power, which is utterly incapable of generating spiritual life. Only by the power of God—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit—can we be saved.