THE GREAT DIVIDE: FLESH VS SPIRIT
When we are born again we become one in Spirit with Jesus. Our spirit is joined to His and this makes us a new creation. Yet, we still have this earthy flesh vessel that we dwell in, and therefore as long as we are in this world there will be a divide between spirit and flesh, and between the old man and the new creation. Our spirits are alive in Christ, but any part of us not of spirit is dead. There is nothing of value in us outside of Christ, nothing!
God gave us Christ. God does not give us all things, He gave us all things in giving us Christ, because all things are in Christ. Our personal relationship with Christ is what the Christian walk is all about, our experiencing Christ, and knowing Him. Because all is in Christ, nothing else will qualify as a way to God. Not the traditions of men, law keeping, religious piety, the keeping of days, or any other theology or philosophy.
Knowing Christ, by progressive revelation of Him, set us free from looking to ourselves to develop a Christian character. Actually knowing Christ has nothing to do with us at all! For we are to give up our lives and our control of our lives to Him. This means that there is great warfare going on inside of each Christian, and why judgment begins at the house of God. And as such we will lose many battles to win the war, and count everything else as loss to gain Him.
The following study is all about the battle between flesh and Spirit that every follower of Christ must be engaged in, by having total and complete faith in Him, until we are like Him when we see Him.
Flesh vs. Spirit
By David A. DePra
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Rom 8:9)
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Gal 5:16-17)
To grasp the distinction of the flesh vs. the Spirit, as it is related in these verses, it is necessary to lay down some foundational Truth on the subject.
First, Christianity is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) Paul affirmed, “We have this Treasure in earthen vessels.” (II Cor.4:7) Now note: CHRIST is the Treasure Who is in us – WE are the earthen vessel. The two are distinct as to identity – despite the oneness in spirit.
Here we have the basis for the FLESH — which is of man — verses the Spirit – which is of Christ – BOTH of which are in every saved person.
But also note: The indwelling of Christ does not obliterate the earthen vessel, or natural man. No. Christ dwells IN the earthen vessel. The earthen vessel continues to exist. So we must see this: Yes, “Christ is in us.” But even while He is in us, He is OTHER THAN us – other than the earthen vessel. Again — the distinction.
This distinction is affirmed in such statements by Paul as, “I travail until Christ be formed in you.” This is NOT a plea for self-realization. Rather, it is a plea to know the Christ who is IN each one. Paul also said, “It pleased God to reveal Christ IN ME.” This is not a knowledge of ONESELF, or of merely facts about Christ. It is a realization of Christ Himself – the Christ who dwells in each of us.
But how does Christ dwell in a person? Well, when we are saved, we become one with Christ in spirit – that is, His Spirit is united with our human spirit. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (I Cor. 6:17)
So we are ONE with Christ in spirit. We do not become Christ, nor become, “a little version of Christ.” No. Our human spirit becomes one with His Spirit. But even while He lives in a oneness with us in our spirit, He is still the Treasure and we remain the earthen vessel. He is that Spirit and our natural man remains the flesh. That distinction remains.
Christ in Us is ALL
There are some great ramifications of this Truth of, “Christ in us.” For example, it means that salvation isn’t merely something God does TO us. Nope. Neither has God given us a THING called, “eternal life.” No. Rather, God has given us Christ — IN WHOM there is all life. The presence of Christ in us is the presence of LIFE in us. If Christ is in us, we are ALIVE eternally. HE IS our life.
In addition, “Christ in us,” means that God has not merely declared us righteous in a legal sense. No. Rather, He has given us Christ — WHO IS our righteousness – to dwell IN US. (I Cor. 1:30) Thus, Christ contains ALL righteousness. And Christ is IN US.
So we have this division or distinction: We have Christ, who holds ALL that is of God. And we have us, in whom there is nothing of God. And yet CHRIST DWELLS IN US. This is why Christ is God’s gift of grace. He brings ALL. We are merely the recipients.
It is essential to see this distinction between the Christ who dwells in us – who holds ALL that is of God – it is essential to see the distinction between HIM and ourselves – who are merely natural and of the flesh. Unless we do see that distinction, we are liable to be looking at ourselves and expecting to find what can only be found in Christ. This error has caused many to try to be righteous in themselves, and upon failing, to come under condemnation.
If Christ dwells in us – Christ crucified and raised – and if He holds all that is of God, then our faith, confidence, and stand before God, is never to be based on anything about ourselves. It is to be upon Christ – yes, upon what He has done – but upon the Person of Christ who, right now, lives in us.
So Christ in us is distinct from ourselves – we are not Him. We are united with Him in our spirit – this is the new creation – but all that is outside of that, and of the flesh and natural, is NOT Christ. So why do we put our faith in that which is NOT of Christ? Why do we look at that which is OUTSIDE of Christ and based our relationship with God upon it? That is not only futile, but it is a deception.
Now, of course the problem here ought to be obvious: The reason why we look at ourselves, and base our faith upon ourselves, is because most of us have not had Christ revealed IN US. He is not been formed IN US. We don’t know Him. So really, we look to ourselves because it is all we can do – we simply do this by default. It comes natural.
Thus, we must come to SEE JESUS – in an inward way.
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. (Eph 1:15-18)
The presence of Christ in a person creates a division between soul and spirit, that is, flesh and spirit. Before Christ dwells within, there is no division – we are totally of the flesh. But when we are united with Christ in spirit, we become is a new creation IN HIM. This creates the division between what is IN Christ, and what is outside of Him.
Christ brings ALL that is of God to us through our oneness with Him. Contrast this over and against the idea that God gives us THINGS. No. God gives us Christ – IN WHOM are all things. As Paul put it, “In Him dwells all the fullness of Godhood. You are (therefore) complete IN HIM.” (Col. 2:9-10) The vital Truth to see here is that every aspect of the Christian experience has its source in the Christ who is in us – and therefore we can only experience what God intends if Christ is unfolded to us. The Christian walk is an experiencing of CHRIST.
Now, this is especially important because we are warned in the second chapter of Colossians against seeking the things of God from other sources. Paul states, “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge — and this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.” (Col. 2:3-4) Clever words won’t do it. Philosophy or logic, or empty deceit based upon the tradition of men, won’t do it. Mandated religious humility, or the keeping of days, or of laws, will not do it. Only the progressive unfolding of Christ by inner revelation will do. ALL is in Christ.
So it is vital to see that Christ – the Christ who dwells in our spirit – it is vital to see that His very Person is the source of all that is of God. It is essential to see that Christianity is NOT a matter of God giving us things, or of God giving us experiences, or of God making us to know things, or of God doing things to us to make us better people. No. Christianity is a matter of experiencing and knowing CHRIST.
But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: (1 Cor. 1:30)
If we would only realize this Truth it would set us free from looking at ourselves and trying to find evidence of Christianity. It would set us free from thinking that Christianity is a matter of God making us better people, or of God bringing out the best in us. No. Christianity sets US ASIDE through the Cross. This is about LEAVING OURSELVES ALONE and growing to know and experience Christ.
Let’s lay this out in even more clear terms: In Christ is ALL that is of God – and Christ is IN US. We could draw a circle around Christ and say that He contains ALL that is of God. But note that this would mean that everything OUTSIDE of that circle – everything outside of Christ – carries NOTHING that is of God. And our natural man or flesh is most assuredly OUTSIDE of that circle.
What I am saying is this: In Christ is ALL that is of God. Outside of Christ there is nothing that is of God. Thus, our oneness with Christ in the Spirit is the new man, or new creation. Everything outside of that is the natural, or old man. Christ is the only SOURCE of that which is of God. Everything outside of Christ is dead.
Now, can we see a tremendous division here? We have our union with Christ – the Christ who dwells in us and carries all that is of God, and we have everything, including our natural makeup, which is OUTSIDE of that. This is the division of soul vs. spirit. It is the division of flesh vs. spirit. And it is vital that we see it.
A Common Error
If all that is of God is found in Christ, and not in us, then it ought to be obvious that looking for something in ourselves that is of value is going to be a dead end. Yet because we don’t realize this, most of us continue to look for something in our flesh and our natural man that resembles Christ. We seek out some scrap of evidence in ourselves that we are good.
But there is no good. There is NOTHING of value outside of Christ. We have seen the distinction – there is Christ in us by virtue of oneness with Him in spirit, and there is everything that is outside of Him. All that is of value is found IN HIM. Nothing of value is outside of Him – and our natural makeup is most certainly outside of Him. And yet we continue to put our faith in our natural makeup. We continue to become upset and confused because our flesh is not behaving or acting like a Christian. It never will. All that is of value is found in Christ, not in that which is outside of Him.
Our natural man is supposed to be brought under the power of the Spirit. But this is only possible through knowing Christ and through faith. Yet that is quite different than saying that our natural man is to be made LIKE Christ. No. The body is dead because of sin and the spirit is life because of HIS righteousness. This is the state of man in this age.
Confidence in the flesh is what most of us seek – we may not call it that, but that is what we are doing. It takes quite an upheaval for God to break that – God usually has to show us that our flesh carries NOTHING in which to be confident. This requires failure by experience. It means that your very basis for functioning needs to be dismantled and broken – so that you can be free to put all confidence or faith in Christ alone. This will seem like great warfare. It is.
The living Christ who dwells in us must be the sole object of our faith. That means that everything that is OUTSIDE of the Christ who is in us must never be the object of our faith. We must never look to ourselves, to our natural man, or to anything else about ourselves – there is no value there.
Flesh vs. Spirit
Now, all of that is preliminary to our understanding of Paul’s statement to the Galatians. He said, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.” Note the word, “contrary.” This is quite revealing. What it tells us is that our FLESH is not simply, “other than,” Christ in us, and not merely, “outside,” of Christ who is in us by the Spirit – no. The flesh is actually CONTRARY to Christ.
Contrary how? Contrary by nature – which is to say that the flesh is contrary to Spirit of Christ by very constitution. The flesh CANNOT function in harmony with the Spirit of God. It is not a matter of wanting to, or of not wanting to. It cannot. That which is born of flesh IS flesh, and that which is born of Spirit IS Spirit. The difference is really that of LIFE vs. DEATH.
Now, once we realize this, it exposes all the more as utter folly any attempt on our part to find something in ourselves of value. It shows how futile it is to place any confidence at all in ourselves – to look to our obedience, or to our ability to function like Christ. The flesh has NO value. Only Christ has value.
“Confidence in our flesh,” is not usually something people realize they are seeking. Actually, you will DEFAULT to that if you haven’t been exposed as empty without Christ. Any attempt to have confidence in the flesh is the result of being deceived – it is the result of not seeing the Truth about the flesh. You aren’t at the end of yourself yet. Christ is yet to be fully revealed in you, and so your faith simply defaults to what, “comes natural.” You seek to anchor yourself IN yourself – and most Christian people will do this thinking it is true faith in Christ.
Note again – our flesh is CONTRARY to Christ. That means that our flesh is a LIE, for Christ is the Truth. Our flesh can function and react in ways that are utterly contrary to the Truth – and this might upset us. It is possible to know the Truth, and want to walk in it, but for a time for your flesh to be running contrary to Christ. This does not mean that you are not a Christian. Indeed, the fact that you have some awareness to what is going on proves that Christ has opened your eyes. But it is then that we must by-pass all of that and put faith in Christ.
Some of us think that if we put faith in Christ that this ought to make all the reactions of the flesh go away. No. Putting faith in Christ simply aligns us with a greater power, and the Truth. The flesh – emotions and our soul life – this may continue reacting contrary to the Truth. Thus, we must put faith in Christ if everything else about us is presently contrary to Him. We must keep faith in Christ if NOTHING changes. This isn’t a religious exercise. It is a stand in the Truth.
God wants to MAKE US TRUE – which will require the exposure of all that is false about us, that is, it requires that the lie of our flesh be brought out into the open, not just in theory, but as to function. We will have to experience some of the terrible corruption, and frankly, wickedness of it, so that we might see the Truth, confess the Truth, and finally put our faith solely in Christ.
We are here talking about what must happen for Christ to become our life. God has to make it impossible for us to any longer be at home in the flesh. What used to be normal must become intolerable. Sure. The flesh is CONTRARY to Christ. Thus, if life in the flesh seemed NORMAL – but is really CONTRARY to Christ – then all the seemed normal in the flesh must be disrupted and exposed as utterly ABNORMAL.
This isn’t a game, or religion. It is a matter of God MAKING US TRUE – which is what seeing and embracing the Truth will do. We cannot learn any of this except through actual experience. We have to see – and it is progressive – we have to see just how contrary to Christ our flesh, the SELF, really is. It is the only way to be set free.
We must get this settled: If our flesh is contrary to the Spirit, then the ONLY POSSIBLE PATH of coming into the Truth in Christ is that the power and the illusion of the flesh be exposed. And then we have to learn what it means to take our faith completely off of ourselves and anchor it in Christ.
It is an incredibly simple fact – we have to get our faith ENTIRELY OFF of anything about ourselves. We have to have our faith solely in Christ. Our faith has to remain solely in Christ to the disregard of whether we are able to obey God in conduct, and to the disregard of how we feel. All that is outside of Christ is DEAD. And we have to treat it that way. WE are dead, but our life is hid WITH CHRIST IN GOD.
Now, everything I have said is the Truth. But the question is HOW we can come to put all of our faith in Christ? How do we come to have an inner revelation of Christ to where we can actually see and know the Truth about these matters? There is only one method: It is the work of the Cross.
If you are born from above, you already have ALL of Christ dwelling in you. And in Christ, is the fullness of God – indeed, in Him is all that is of God. That is why Paul is able to say, “You are complete in Him.” That is utter. God has wrapped up all that He has, and all that He is, in Christ. Anyone who says you need more is teaching error. That is the error against which Colossians warns.
But if we already have all that God intends IN CHRIST – how do we come to experience Him and know Him? Well, God must deal with what is hindering this. He must remove what hinders us, not so He can ADD more of Christ to us, but so that we might be able to see and know the Christ who is already within us.
And what hinders us? Well, all that is NOT of Christ, that is, the flesh. If the flesh is contrary to Christ, then, by definition, the flesh is hindering Christ and fighting against the life of Christ in us. God must therefore bring the flesh into line with the Truth – it must be brought under the power of the Cross.
Here we must touch on the purpose of God. Many are teaching that it is the will of God to make us like Jesus. That is not correct – especially the way in which most who teach that mean it. Most Christian people think that God wants to take all that is outside of Christ and make it like Christ – that God wants to make our flesh look like Jesus. No. What God wants to do is crucify the flesh so that Jesus can look like Jesus – in and through us. This is what Paul was getting at:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us…always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor 4:7-11)
Upon reading this passage, it becomes clear what God means when he inspired Paul to say that God wants us to, “be conformed to the image of His Son.” Actually, the word in the Greek means, “to be formed together with.” It does not mean that our natural man or flesh – that which is OUTSIDE of the new creation in Christ – it does not mean that this is to look like Jesus. Neither does it mean that we are, in any way, to be made into little versions of Christ. No. We are to be formed TOGETHER WITH Christ. In short, Christ is to be manifested through us, and as He is, we are in concert with Him.
The call to us, if any of this is to happen, is to relinquish ourselves to the Cross – that is, we are to LOSE our lives for the sake of Christ. Central to this losing of our lives will be the losing of all of our self-righteousness. But the result will be that we will shift all of our faith from OFF of ourselves over onto Christ.
But if you think about this, the only way in which we will ever shift our faith from ourselves over to Christ is if God allows us to be exposed as totally unrighteous. This is nothing more than God showing us the TRUTH. And it will never happen just by telling us. We have to learn it by failure. We will have to be brought to the dead end of ourselves.
There ought to be encouragement in this because it means that when our flesh is exposed as terrible, and when we are shown to be utter failures – entitled to NOTHING before the Lord – well, this is normal. It is the Truth. When we begin to crumble under the weight of our own lack – God is simply letting us see a little of the true nature of things without Christ. But God does not intend to leave us in such despair. It is all so that we might finally confess what we are and forever put our faith in Christ.
God will even let the enemy loose on us – maybe not in our life circumstances – but He may allow the enemy to disturb us in a spiritual or psychic way. This will disrupt us and press us to God. In time, it will show us the futility of vesting anything in ourselves. We will abandon ourselves to God by faith in Christ.
We should not be surprised or troubled by the terrible potential that is in our flesh. God has always known about it – and loved us anyways. We need to confess it and LET IT GO. There is nothing there to salvage and nothing to fix. There is nothing to excuse. God is simply showing us – by experiential failure – the Truth about ourselves. But all of thus is so we will see the Truth of Christ.
A Matter of Faith
All of us have faith in ourselves. We don’t have to be conscious of it or make an effort. It is bound into our fallen nature. Even those who lament over their failures, and always feel condemned, and would loudly proclaim that they have no faith in themselves do have faith in themselves. For condemnation of self is the result of a frustrated faith in self. Faith in self is the natural state of mankind. But this is precisely why the flesh is contrary to the Spirit. By nature, we have faith in ourselves. To walk in the Truth, we must have faith in Christ.
We tend to view this issue as a doctrinal issue. It is not – it is a life issue. It is Truth verses darkness. It is life vs. death. To get a person free of faith in self over to faith in Christ requires a new birth. I’m not talking here about salvation as much as I am about the life we life after salvation – for most Christians have no concept of what it means to walk solely by faith in Christ.
For example, take the matter of RIGHTEOUSNESS. We think of righteous as a doctrine. And because we do, we say that we know that our righteousness is not based on works, but upon Christ.
That’s good. But is that it? Have we any idea what it means to walk before the Lord free of our own righteousness, but to have Christ as our righteousness?
In the Bible, this matter of righteousness is central to the NT. That is because you have to be righteous to be saved. You have to be righteous – made right with God — to walk with God. Paul addresses the need for us to become righteous because it is the core essential for life in Christ. He talked about losing his own righteousness and finding Christ. Do we think he was merely talking about a new doctrine he adopted? No. He was talking about a revolutionary tearing apart of his own righteousness – a breaking to pieces of what made him tick – unto the end that Christ alone would be his object of faith. Paul said:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. (Phil 3:8-9)
Paul is asking: Can anything you do, or can anything you are, make Christ more righteous? No. Can any sin you commit, or any sin of omission, make Christ less righteous? No. Well, Christ is OUR righteousness! Thus, your righteousness cannot be added to, or subtracted from, by anything you do are by anything you are. The righteousness of Christ is eternal and unalterable, and the presence of the living Christ in us is our righteousness.
The Battle is Won
The flesh is contrary to Christ in us. So we ought not be surprised that our flesh is continually rising up and suggesting by our conduct – even in our thinking and in our emotions — that we are not in Christ. That is what the flesh DOES. If we have any faith in our flesh our faith will fail.
God has not called us to win the battle over the flesh. No. God has called us to rest in Christ by faith – for if we do, we are resting in the One who has already won that battle. Thus, we are wasting our time if we turn upon ourselves and fight our flesh in an attempt to make it act like Christ. No. The battle is never to make the flesh behave. The battle is to leave ourselves alone and abandon ourselves in faith to Christ.
God has already put the flesh under the Cross. So if we don’t put it there – if we don’t realize we are being upset by that which is dead – we are deceived. The flesh is already put aside. So we need to put it aside – we need to STEP AROUND ourselves – STEP OUTSIDE of ourselves – and rest in Christ, to the complete disregard of our flesh. That is the way of victory.
I did not say that sin was ok, or that when we sin it is not sin. What I am saying is that Christ has already paid the price for that. Thus, how are we going to add to His price? No. Even if we think we are, right now, the worst sinner on earth, without any hope of ever changing – we step around that and come by faith into Christ as our righteousness. He died so we could do that.
Coming to Christ as a needy, defeated person is really the only way we can come because it is the Truth. The flesh won’t like that. But it is unto this end that God wants to bring us so that we might fully see the Truth of His grace in Christ Jesus.
These battles between flesh and Spirit are the result of CHRIST IN US, and the outcome of Him MAKING US TRUE unto God. Thus, the lie of the flesh, and it’s inability to function in God, must be exposed. So really, warfare and suffering along this line, IF we continue to seek God, is good. It is the pathway to freedom.
It is not in anyway about having faith in ourselves or anything else in this life. We can only have faith in Christ. We must battle to come to the end of ourselves and see that if Jesus is the truth then anything else is a lie, even our foolish attempts to be Christ-like.
The flesh does not just go away when we put our faith in Christ, in fact our flesh will fight against being put away and that is what this battle is all about.
To come to Truth, we must see all the lies of our flesh brought into the light of the Spirit. We must experience this battle, we cannot just intellectualize it away. It is not the will of God to make us look like Jesus, but for us to crucify the flesh so that Jesus looks like Jesus in and through us!
The only way we will make the shift from our own righteousness to Christ is if God shows us our unrighteousness, by brokenness and failure. It is much like the law keeping of the Old Covenant that showed mankind their complete unrighteousness before God, and how very much they needed a Savior. It happens to all mankind and it happens to each human, who wants to know the Truth.
Jesus told us that He did not come to bring peace, so that we would be content in the battle-less life of the flesh. No! He came with a sword to tear flesh and spirit apart! To expose the lies of the wide way that seems peaceful, but leads to death. The narrow way is a battlefield, and only a few want to enter in to such a fight for life. For faith in self is the natural state of mankind, one so deeply ingrained that it takes a great battle to give up faith in ourselves and give it all to Christ.
We are not called to win this battle between flesh and spirit, we are called to rest in our faith in Christ, as this is the only way to win, as He has already won it for us!
All Glory be to our most high Lord!
JESUS IS ALL AND EVERYTHING!!