Overcoming the Flesh
In Monday’s post, we talked about the nature of the flesh. Here let’s introduce the work of the Spirit in overcoming the flesh. The Holy Spirit’s goal in pointing us to Christ is to replace the destruction of deception (the flesh) with the wholeness of truth. By leading us into an experience of truth, the Holy Spirit works to counteract the experiences in our lives that root us in the deception of the flesh. The result is that the fruitless deeds of darkness are replaced with “the fruit of the light … goodness, righteousness and truth (Eph 5:9). There are, I believe, three interrelated ways by which the Spirit produces this wholeness in our lives.
- From Human Doings to Human Beings: The more we experience the truth of who God is and the truth of who we are in Christ, the more our experienced self-identity becomes restored to the beautiful God-dependent relationship for which we were originally created. Our need for love and worth is increasingly met as we grow in our dependency upon the one who alone can meet it. We become human beings instead of human doings, for our worth is established in who we are rather than in what we do.
- Harmony between the Inside and Outside: As we see the truth of who God is and the truth of who we are in Christ, the unhealthy separation between our inner selves and our external selves that the performance mentality created in our lives begins to be overcome. The more we experience the truth that our love and worth are a settled issue, not dependent upon our performance, the less we need to perform. As we get our innermost needs met by God, we are freed from trying to get life from idols. Hence, we begin to live as we were created to live. We begin to live on the outside what is true on the inside.
- Dealing Openly with Imperfections: The closer our inner and outer realities come into agreement, the more the issues that need healing are exposed and can be openly addressed. As we experience the truth of who God is and the truth of who we are in Christ, our need to conceal our wounds and struggles disappears. Since our value is established by grace, we no longer need to try to win it by our good works. Therefore, we can risk vulnerability, both before God and before others within the body of Christ. This too is wholeness confronting and overcoming destruction.
However, understanding all of this and experiencing it are two different things. We can grasp all of this intellectually as theologically correct and yet stay as rooted in the flesh as ever. A change in our intellectual understanding doesn’t itself alter our state of being.
The state of being that is the flesh is an experiential condition, and thus only a change in experience can alter it. What determines our state of being is not just what we think is real but even more importantly what we experience as real. So unless the Holy Spirit does his work at the fundamental level of our experienced self-identity, in all likelihood we will remain essentially as we are. Paul writes:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17-18).
As we see and experience his glory, we are transformed into his likeness “from one degree of glory to another.” This is how the Spirit overcomes the flesh and how the fruit of the Spirit is produced in our lives. When we cease from our own efforts and yield to the Holy Spirit, and when our faith ceases to be merely intellectual and rather becomes experiential and concrete, our lives begin to reflect Christ’s image. As we experience the glory of the Lord, we’re transformed into that glory.
—Adapted from Seeing is Believing, pages 66-68