The Bible often uses the term flesh to illustrate what Jesus strongly warned against: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Here the term flesh is used to describe that part of our nature which stands in contrast to our spirit. It is the carnal nature of man, the root of our sinful passions.
Our flesh encompasses body, mind and soul—that part of us which is able to function without ever submitting to God. Know anybody like that? It’s very important to understand that the flesh follows us into our new life in God. It continues to have a life of its own, even as our spirit is reborn and made alive. Regardless of the fact that we’re now focused on the desire of the Spirit, we find ourselves constantly embroiled in a battle with the desires of our flesh, as Paul so emphatically states in Galatians 5:17. Thank God there’s help!
Understanding our nature is tremendously helpful as we strive for spiritual growth. Why are we the way we are? Curiosity drove me to examine myself, because my behavior seemed to prove that I was a very different person than what I thought I should be. God knows who we really are. When He said, “Let Us make man in Our image,” He unveiled His purpose for all of creation.
We often think of our spirit as being our true identity as human beings. But being a person means a whole lot more than having to endure a physical body before our spirit is cut loose to inhabit eternity with God. Man is a complex mixture of body, soul and spirit—anything less simply means being less than human. We are none other than the pinnacle of God’s created order! And His plan demanded that we be fashioned in a specific way, since He could accomplish His eternal purpose by no other means.
Because suffering plays such a vital role in God’s destiny for us, we can’t just sweep it under the rug. It’s tremendously helpful not only to understand suffering, but to embrace it as well. God wants us to experience joy and fulfillment, and even lots of pleasure as we live our lives for Him. But He did not create us for earthly happiness alone, no matter how bountiful life here might turn out to be.
It doesn’t matter what wealth or prestige we gain in life, or even how wonderful our relationships might be. Mature Christians know that none of this holds a candle to what we’ve really been designed for. None of us are exempt from the challenges and hardships that inevitably come our way. Trials are common to all believers. But it’s certainly not due to lack of interest on God’s part. Just the opposite, actually: He allows suffering because He deeply cares about us.
Why does God allow us to encounter so much conflict and hardship in life? How does it all fit in with His plan to bring us into union with Him? Choice is the answer!
Our redemption does not merely rest on our initial decision to make Jesus Lord of our life. It’s true that receiving Christ as Lord is the bedrock of our salvation, but our relationship with Him is built on a series of decisions we make over the course of a lifetime. And because life’s circumstances are tough, these choices are rarely easy. God allowed sin to exist for this very reason.
If God had designed things so that it would be easy to follow Him, our choices would have little meaning. Our pursuit of Jesus, while forsaking our own selfish desires, is what He wants. And He’s created the ideal system to measure our progress—life here on earth.
Scripture says that God “conforms us to the image of His Son, so that Jesus would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Think about the implications of this incredible statement. Considered to be His brothers and sisters? Really?
We like to describe our faith as a relationship rather than a religion. So we talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus (sometimes kind of flippantly). How often do we stop to think about what that really means? Well, I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of personal relationship with Christ, but I’d like to add something. What Jesus has going with us is not merely relationship: it’s RELATIONSHIP—a powerful, intimate, living relationship in which we are welcomed to share in the very life of God Himself.
But this raises a question: given the magnitude of the glory set before us, why would God create us like He did? Why this flesh with its countless problems?
Millions of Christians have been lulled into thinking that God’s purpose for us boils down to little more than a fulfilling life on earth with the added bonus of a heavenly reward later. With this mindset, it’s only natural to focus on what God can do for us here and now. While this belief fits in neatly with our human appetites and ambitions, it merely serves to derail our spiritual growth. This clever deception of the enemy has always been a blight on believers—all the more so in this age of prosperity.
Life is really all about glorifying and enjoying God. And He also wants to enjoy us. In His infinite wisdom, He’s engineered a program to accomplish both goals. In what way might God enjoy us as fully as we enjoy Him? By making us His very own sons and daughters. God fashioned us the way He has, frailties and all, to accomplish this very purpose.
“Dad, I’ve always felt I was destined to do something great,” my son once told me. Pretty cool, huh? It spoke volumes about our God-given ability to dream. Dreaming can be rooted in the pride within us all, but I think it goes deeper than that—much deeper.
Why does fantasy come so easily to us? Is it just for fun, or merely an escape from reality? Possibly. But just maybe we’re reaching into the very depths of our being, into the realm of the Spirit—tasting a little of God’s ultimate purpose for us.
Have you sensed being cut out for something great—that you truly are more than what you appear to be? Of course you have! If nothing else, it took place as a child. It happened before the rigors of life smothered it—before you decided that it was more reasonable to settle for the mediocre. That sense of purpose can be reenergized.
Paul’s goal was to explain the meaning of Christ’s coming—to make absolutely clear who Jesus is and what He came to do. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s promise to us.
Hope is first born in our heart through God’s promise. Hope is a catalyst. It’s the great motivator. Hope that God will do as He promised ignites the faith that pleases Him. But faith is much more than a superficial belief in God.
We inherit God’s promise through what the Bible calls the obedience of faith—thriving faith which ultimately is proven genuine by our behavior. The Gospel holds marvelous privileges for us. But the sheer magnitude of God’s promise raises questions as to how Jesus works it all out in our lives. It’s mysterious! Yet getting to know Jesus makes spiritual growth a piece of cake.
The freedom we have in Christ can be a bit confusing. The Bible says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” But don’t you find that a little surprising? We tend to think about freedom from sin only as being liberated from the problem of sinning. So how could being freed from law have anything to do with sin losing its power over us? Well, in fact it has everything to do with it! But if you’re like most Christians, your grasp of this truth is probably a little fuzzy.
Don’t feel alone; you’re in good company! I’ve often asked believers: “How many of you feel like you are truly free from the power of sin?” I haven’t had anyone jump up yet shouting, “that’s me!” Though we may accept by faith the fact that we are free from sin’s power, we commonly don’t experience it as a reality in our daily lives. That’s just the way it is. No worries; there’s a solution to this bewildering problem.
I love Paul’s writings. So practical! So honest! In Romans 7 he exposes what we like to keep as a closely guarded secret. It’s this: “I’m not the model believer I appear to be. There are problems with my heart I don’t even want to admit, or that I blatantly hide in an attempt to appear more righteous than I actually am.” Our inborn pride strongly resists any admission of failure. After all, people might discover what we’re really like!
Paul knew that if we are ever to successfully walk in God’s purpose we must first come to a sound understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And since the gospel impacts every facet of a person’s life, a good grasp of who we are in Christ requires that we be aware of at least three very important things: First of all, God’s purpose and plan for our life. Secondly, our own nature as human beings. And finally, the implications of being redeemed in Christ, but still impacted by a worldly environment dominated by sin.