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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Walking in the Spirit - Part 3 (Spirit and the Flesh)

Our Old Nature Lives On


An enormous mistake Christians make in trying to live the Christian Life is a failure to understand that when we accept scripture's invitation to faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we still carry around our old nature; the nature that  was "conceived in sin" (Ps 51:5). Paul likens it to being shackled to a corpse.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death.
-Romans 7:24

This body, this old nature, craves the things of the world and its system. Some of these things are deemed good in the eyes of men (and too often even in the eyes of Christians). We can see the works of the flesh in things like murder or thievery or hatred or lust. But we sometimes fail to see the wickedness is things such as pride, envy, and religious fervor. Remember, Satan is in the religion business. Paul warns us in 2 Cor 11 that he presents himself as "an angel of Light" and his messengers are "ministers of righteousness." 

In our daily struggle to "walk in the spirit," we must understand that scripture points us to our new nature. Unfortunately, many translations miss the distinction between "the Spirit" (The Holy Spirit) and simply our new nature, "spirit" (the other "holy spirit"). 

Consider Galatians 5:17:

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Note, I have crossed out the definite article "the" as the idea is not mandated in the Greek. We must understand the the "spirit" [new nature] here is what is contrary to the "flesh" [old nature].  This is where we start to find victory; the recognition of this war. This is why we started this series clarifying oft-used verses in regard to the "heart of flesh" or the "new covenant" and why we need to be careful with randomly applying all scripture to ourselves. We even see this in the "dry bones" of Ezekiel being used as a metaphor for regeneration in this age. These are all errors which may seem innocuous, but they can lead to defeat and despair as we recognize that we are not "perfect." Truth be told, the more we walk in the spirit, the more we realize how wretched our old nature really is.

We do not discount the glorious ministry and help of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, in recognizing our new "holy spirit" nature. We clearly recognize that all good things originate with the Godhead. Oscar Baker puts it this way:

Sealed? Yes, sealed with that holy spirit of promise, Not by, but with. So this promised holy spirit is the seal. A few other names by which it may be known are: everlasting life, the new man, nature, (in Rom. 8, spirit of life, spiritually minded, spirit of God, spirit of Christ, spirit of Him, His spirit, spirit of adoption), and the inward man. The One Who affixes this seal is the Holy Spirit Himself (Eph. 4:30). So then, the Holy Spirit seals us with the holy spirit. 
[Emphasis mine] 
-Oscar M. Baker (Excerpt - The Promise in Eph 3:6)

Step One: Learn to Hate What God Hates


Your old nature will desire the things of the world. It will gravitate towards those things it sought when you were "dead in trespasses and sins." If you lusted, it will lust. If you were lazy, it will seek comfort. If you reveled in religious ritual, it will seek ritual. Here is where we need to go before the Lord with an open heart and allow him to reveal our weaknesses. He knows our sins of the flesh. No use trying to pretend otherwise. Let us pray with the Psalmist:


Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.


The first step, then, is learning to hate what He hates. The new nature will naturally hate what He hates, but the old nature will lust after its own desires. We must start by truly appreciating how ugly sin and the works of the flesh really are. This is the beginning, but remember, simply hating those things will not bring victory by itself.

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
-Romans 7:15

Remember Our New Nature is Only Found "In Christ"


As we have noted in previous studies, our greatest enemy is "self." The idol of "self" is not only in the world, it is in the church. From the "self-esteem" movement of the 1980s and 1990s to the glorification of men and ministries in this hour.

God thoroughly hates pride. We must remember that the God of all eternity sees us "in Christ." Apart from Christ, all our works are filthy rags. Apart from Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sin. Apart from Christ, we are the enemies of God by wicked works. No amount of religious fervor or outward acts of self-denial can be presented to Him as payment for sin as all we do is tainted with sin. That is not to say volunteering at a homeless shelter is the same as murder; it only means that all works fall short of the glory of God. While "good" it is insufficient as a path to God. (We will revisit this example in another study.)

The old nature suffers from some form of self. It is more obvious in some acts than in others, but surely it is there.

Imagine the one who lives a life denying worldly greed. A life given to helping the less fortunate. Even a life of religious devotion. But this same one believes his or her life or works serve as a complement to work of the Savior in his perfect work on Calvary and his resurrection out from among all the dead. Even if they say Christ did 99% of the work, or that Christ's work was perfect, but there is still payment required after death, they are saying God is in some way their debtor. He is required, to whatever degree, to forgive sin or grant them eternal life in part because of what they have done. Grace and works do not coexist in the granting of life (cf. John 3:16; 5:24; Rom 4:5; 11:6).

That is gross wickedness and the height of pride.


Recognize Your Own Body of Death


Stop. Take a moment to meditate that you, Christian, are shackled to a body of death. You carry around a deceptive and selfish nature which wars against the new, divine nature God has granted you as a free gift because of Christ alone. In Christ, in light of what we shall one day be because of him, God sees us as beloved. In Christ, we are granted the right to become the children of God (John 1:12).

In Christ. This is where we will find victory. In feeding the new nature ["spirit"] and learning to deny the old nature ["flesh"]. Locking yourself up in monastery may help remove some immediate temptations, but you still carry the flesh into that facility; you carry around the stench of death. I don't need to physically see a woman or be around those with more earthly goods to suffer from lust or envy. My old nature is quite capable is harboring wicked thoughts even in solitude.

As we go forward, I will offer a practical example of how this knowledge may help us. And we will look at the eternal ramifications of our service and life now to further motivate us. I will say this as a starter: the greatest motivator is a love for the Savior who died for us while we still ungodly, and rose again that we might have life (now in the new nature and in resurrection perfection in the future). We also love the Father who graciously sees the Savior when he sees us.

So let love motivate us today. Remember, we cannot change yesterday, but we can confess our weaknesses and fall at the feet of a loving Great God and Savior who desire to fellowship with us. he is ever anxious to forgive and restore. For some, however, you must be sure you are in Christ. Without complete faith in his death, burial and resurrection on your behalf, all your righteous acts are as filthy rags to God.

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. -Romans 8:10

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