Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Q & A
Daniel writes, "What do you mean when using the word flesh in what you say?"
I have written quite a bit about the biblical word "flesh," and you can get caught up by looking at four previous blogs called, "No Longer Flesh Bags." (Click here to begin.)
"Flesh" is one of the most misunderstood words in the New Testament, and we are, I think, terribly affected because of it. In my book (due out in a couple of weeks), I devote a lengthy chapter to explaining what flesh is, what it has always been, how it effects us today, and how to live free from it's influence.
But, to answer your question, here's a pre-edited excerpt found in chapter four of my book, Better Off Than You Think (God's Astounding Opinion of You).
As it was with Adam and Eve outside the gates of Eden, the flesh is that part of us which suggests a course for living which results in life without the life of God. Although God lives inside the Christian, living by the flesh means life without guts. It’s gutless because God isn’t in it—there’s no divine power involved.
How does it happen? Let’s take a look.
Each of us has a soul. The soul is what I like to call our perceiver-expressor; it feels and thinks and is aware of what’s going on all the time, and it looks for a way of expression. Turn on the television or walk into a room full of people or hear the phone ring, and you’ll be instantly alert and aware—your perceiver doing what it does. Your soul perceives something and you feel fear, you feel happiness, you feel sorrow, you feel calm—any number of things. What follows close behind because of the feeling is the need to do something, to make some type of expression, and you’ll think, “I’d better do something.”
At that point your perceiver-expressor searches for input and your flesh quickly suggests an expressive action—Here’s what to do—often with thoughts and feelings to match. The flesh is all about action, or output. It gives no respect to the presence of the Holy Spirit in you, nor to the fact that you are now a spirit. It runs right by you and speaks to your soul—“Get moving!”
And that’s where the danger lurks. If you don’t believe that your “insides” are vastly different than before you were born again, your soul will connect with your flesh (“Thanks for the suggestion—that’ll work.”), and the outcome or deeds of the flesh will express life without God. Even though He lives in you, He won’t be involved. The Kingdom of God now in you will be powerless, and life will be gutless. (Gal 5:19 NAS) It will be by the flesh and not by the Spirit.
Adam and Eve may never have grown accustomed to living by the flesh, life without God’s life, and were likely haunted all of their days by the memory of life once connected to God. But centuries later, you and I have never known even the haunting, so the desire for true life must come another way.
For some, it might go like this:
Your perceiver-expressor notices you’ve gained weight, and the thought which follows is that you’re not successful because you’re fat. Right on cue, flesh offers condemning thoughts—you knew this would happen, fatso! If you listen to that for more than a few seconds, flesh will suggest a course of action—Well, you’ll never change, so go ahead and eat a gallon of ice cream! Might as well have a little pleasure since you won’t have it any other way…And if there’s any ice cream in the freezer, it’s a goner. Or flesh might suggest, Buy some workout clothes, get back in the gym, and GET GOING! You really can’t live until you get thin…but you can do it if you make it your new crusade.
Following your ice cream binge, you may feel depression, shame, even rage, and swear you’ll never do it again. Or, as with the second example, you may feel a rush of motivation and buy a new wardrobe. Either way, the flesh is having its way with you because God isn’t involved in the expression of your life. He’s got nothing to do. To be clear, you’re not sinning, but neither are you living as you might.
Fortunately, that won’t work for long. Since you’ve been born again and redesigned by God, you now crave what you’ve never known—God’s life!
The Holy Spirit will put up a fuss and alert you—you’ll feel conflict, or like you’re just not getting all that you can out of your Christian walk. And you’re not because you’re not getting real life. While we’ll look intently at this in the next few chapters, the new way of living means that you look to the Spirit in you and He produces the life. In this instance, the Holy Spirit is also about output. The Bible calls His output the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). When He is at work in you, when you listen and follow His leading, the expression of your soul will be godly.
Now while you don’t always have to wait for the flesh to exert itself before listening for the Spirit, to begin with you probably will. That’s okay because you’re just waking up to the desire and need of another way of life—you’ll get there! So if, after hearing the offering of the flesh concerning your weight you instead turn to the Spirit, you might hear—It’s alright, you know. We can walk together in this little thing. Let’s make it something for us to do together. Your life is with me—remember? And I never measure you by the scale—it’s not accurate. But I will satisfy you and we’ll be together. Living in this way you may feel genuine peace, love and assurance. Depression and shame will be gone because the life of God will be working in you; the expression which comes through you will make that apparent. You’ll have God’s life for your life.
That’s how important the soul is. It perceives life (accurately or inaccurately) and then expresses what goes on inside.
What your perceiver-expressor feels and thinks is not really the problem, so much as what happens because of it—the expression. If you, a spirit-son of God, choose to follow the suggestion of the flesh, you will express the behavior of the flesh—you’ll be a fleshly Christian, at least in that moment. You will have returned to a previous way of living when you were gutless, when God did not yet live in you. If, on the other hand, you choose to live by faith and offer yourself to the Holy Spirit now in you, you will express the activity of the Spirit—you’ll be a Spirit-led and Spirit-filled Christian. No longer gutless.
Whatever your soul perceives is no longer the problem area of your life. You don’t validate your walk with God if you’re having good thoughts and feelings, and you don’t invalidate your walk if you’re having bad thoughts and feelings. That’s not the point! Your starting point is not feelings, but spirit—the Holy Spirit in union with your spirit. Beginning with that truth, your life will look like it.
And that’s life.