n this issue we present Part 2 of our treatment of “the flesh,” one of the three biblical hindrances to following Jesus Christ. In previous issues of Knowing & Doing, we focused on the two other major hindrances, “the devil” and “the world,” as well as presenting Part 1 of this article.
In Part 1 of this article, we looked at the nature of the “flesh” and saw something of the problem we are up against as we try to live for Christ. It was a grim and discouraging sight. Is there any hope of deliverance from the flesh and the enslaving sins it produces? Yes. Thanks be to God, we can be set free and empowered to live a new life—a life that transforms us, blesses others, and glorifies God.
We Can Be Set Free
Here is a helpful way to think about our predicament and how to escape it. In relation to the flesh and sin, every human being is like a patient who has a fatal disease. We inherited this disease from Adam, and we worsen it with our choices each day. But unlike some fatal diseases, death is not inevitable. Treatment is available and effective if taken soon enough. And, amazingly, it is completely free. The treatment, of course, is the gospel—the Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God and then rose from the dead. To properly take this treatment, we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Faith in Jesus alone (not Jesus plus good works) frees us from the guilt of our sins, delivers us from the wrath of God, liberates us from the devil’s oppression and brings us new life in Christ.
But that’s not all. Trusting Christ also brings us into union with Him and thereby breaks sin’s reigning domination in our lives. Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:6–7).1 What does this mean? The “old self” Paul refers to is the unregenerate person we were before trusting Christ, that is, our life as it was “in Adam,” as part of this present evil age. It was shaped by the sinful flesh and expressed in the particular sins of thought, word, deed, and desire that dominated us. That old self died when we repented and trusted Christ. As a result we are no longer in Adam but in Christ, and a new self has been brought to life in us by the Holy Spirit. We have become a new creation in Christ and part of the age to come, which began when He rose from the dead and will come to full fruition at His second coming. Because of this profound change, we now want to live a life that pleases God, a life of obedience. And we can do so because the Holy Spirit now empowers us, and the sinful flesh (which Paul also refers to as “the body of sin”) has been “brought to nothing,” that is, greatly weakened and no longer able to keep us enslaved to sin. The bondage of our will to sin has been broken, and we are now free to obey God. (In this issue see the article “Dying to the Flesh,” by Bill Kynes, for a clear and very helpful treatment.)
Does this mean that henceforth we experience a life untroubled by the flesh and sin? No. Our old self has indeed died, and our bondage to the sinful flesh has been broken. We have died to sin. But though sin no longer reigns in us, it does still reside in us. And since we live in “this present evil age” (and still feel its effects in our “mortal bodies” which are subject to death), sin remains a possibility if we choose to yield to it rather than the Spirit. Because the flesh is still alive, ready to reassert itself and take on new strength if we yield to it, we can become ensnared and defeated by yielding to sin. And indeed it isn’t long after conversion that sin begins to stir again. Some of the sinful habits and desires of the flesh that we once struggled with reappear, crying out to be satisfied. We also discover other sins we had not previously been aware of. At that point we may wonder, “What is going on? Have I really been saved or not?”
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