This was the last Sunday School lesson of an eight-week series that I taught a few years ago in our former church. (See previous session here.) Inexplicably, I neglected to finish my notes and post it. In this session, we discussed the age-old battle between flesh and spirit. I invite you to explore with me who we are in Christ. For a deeper dive into this critical topic, see the article I wrote and posted on my blog here.
What have we been studying and discussing, as we looked at a theology of our identity in Christ?:
- With few exceptions, the Bible does not refer to believers as sinners; although we do sin
- To fully understand who we are as believers, it is good to know who we were before Christ
- To know who we are in Christ, we must understand the blessings of the new covenant
- By faith in Jesus, certain things became true of us “positionally”: justified, forgiven, and righteous
- There is an irreversible radical transformation that happens to every believer; it begins at the very moment of salvation when one is born again, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ
- Those radical changes affect everything about us: our minds, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, desires, abilities, and relationships
All along, we have been talking about who we are now as believers. We are not the people we used to be, either in God’s eyes (He sees us through Christ’s finished work on the cross), or in our own experience (we are becoming Christ-like). However, there are many times that our old sinful nature attempts to influence us and impede our progress in becoming the new creatures we already are in Christ. What happens when old meets new? Is there hope? What are some of the keys to success?
1) Read Romans 7:14 – 8:17. (Break it down by sections.)
a) What describes those who live in “the flesh” (the sinful nature) vs. those who live in the Spirit?
b) What is the answer to the problem of this constant internal spiritual battle?
c) Discuss the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin. When are we set free from each?
(Teacher notes: Paul is describing the internal battle between his flesh and his new nature in Christ. All of us can identify with his frustration: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). He has this sinful flesh that he cannot totally escape in this life: “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18). The fact that he want to do what is good (vv. 18 and 21), does not want to do evil (v. 19), and delights in God’s Word (v. 22) tells me that he is indeed a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). He describes this internal battle between flesh and spirit as “waging war” (v. 23). He exclaims, “What a wretched man I am!” (v. 24). Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24). The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. I love how he starts chapter 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Despite our constant struggles with the flesh, if we are in Christ, we have been set free from the penalty of sin, we have victory over the power of sin, and when Jesus returns and we receive our new resurrection body like His, we will finally be set free from the presence of sin forever. Hallelujah!)
a) What actions/attitudes characterize the sinful nature vs. the actions/attitudes of those in the Spirit?
b) What is the secret to spiritual growth?
(Teacher notes: I see this section as an expansion of what Paul described in Romans 7. In the NIV, we read the term “sinful nature”, where other translations use the word, “flesh” (Gal. 5:13, 16, 17, and 19). Paul exhorts the church to “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 and 25), which is in direct contrast with living in the flesh. Those who are in Christ should be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18). Jesus said to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with us and in us (John 14:17). We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11). We can be consistently filled with (or controlled by) the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).)
3) Read 1 John 1:5 – 2:2.
a) Paul contrasts the flesh versus the Holy Spirit. John, however, chooses to use the analogy of darkness vs. light. What is true of those who live (walk) in the light?
b) Why would those who walk in the light need to be purified from sin?
c) What is the purpose of confession? What is actually involved? Are we asking, or are we accepting?
(Teacher notes: Those who humbly submit to God’s authority, are followers of Jesus, and live in the power of the Holy Spirit will live godly lives – in the light, not in darkness. When we walk with God in holiness and truth, we not only have fellowship with Him, but with fellow believers in Jesus Christ. His blood, which cleanses us from past sins, also cleanses us from present sin (v. 7). When we confess our sins, it does not earn our forgiveness; it is already ours. It does restore our fellowship with God.
Where and when do we struggle most with sin? Are you quick to confess these sins and submit yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit? If so, over time, the supernatural becomes natural.
Make an effort to remember who you are in Christ. Focus less on what you are doing (or not doing) and more on what He has already done AND is doing in your life to make you more like Him.
About the author:
Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.