In our last blog, we discussed John’s message that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of God (1 John 2:29). Using different language, Paul also described the Christian’s new way of being human. Paul taught, “For those who are in accord with the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who are in accord with the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Sprit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). Both Paul and John were describing the believer’s new way of being, which, when pursued, brings tranquility and harmony to one’s soul.
In his biography of the Apostle Paul, scholar N.T. Wright offered this description of the burgeoning Church in Antioch:
To say that this new project, this new community was going to present a challenge is a gross understatement. The vibrant and excited group of Jesus-followers in Antioch was doing something radically counter-cultural. Nobody else in the ancient world was trying to live in a house where the old walls [the Old Covenant] were being taken down. Nobody else was experimenting with a whole new way of being human.
In my mind, N. T. Wright has hit the nail on the head. Our New Covenant Spiritual Life is no less than a “whole new way of being human.” Yes, the Holy Spirit had an important ministry in the Old Testament, but since Pentecost occurred around AD 30, we believers have the potential to experience a significantly new and enhanced ministry of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). We have an enhanced power and capacity from the Spirit to experience a “whole new way of being human.” As Paul explained, “to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).
Every believer is challenged to lay hold of this new way of being human (1 Tim. 6:12). In my mind, Paul’s best description of this new way of living is found in Romans, Chapter 8, although Paul’s letter to the Galatians also provides some key insights. Paul taught that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who walk after the Spirit, but not in those who walk after the flesh (Rom. 8:4). We are all born with “fleshly desires,” and such desires are a natural part of how God made us. However, it is easy for our natural desires to dominate us. It is easy for human desires to follow a familiar pattern wherein a normal desire becomes a lust (inordinate desire), and then sin, followed by spiritual death (insensitivity to God) (Jas. 1:14-15). As an example, there is nothing wrong with having or wanting possessions. However, a lust for possessions can morph into envy, covetousness, or even stealing. Additionally, when humans buy things that they cannot afford, they can also fall into financial difficulties or ruin. Every normal and natural desire can be distorted.
In our new way of being, we allow the Holy Spirit to block or interrupt our inclination to follow our normal pattern of desire to lust, then sin, and, ultimately, spiritual death. We are required to follow the principles of the Word of God and listen to the Spirit. First and foremost, we must be “spiritually minded.” Along the way, we will all also experience our share of discipline from God. If we are not humble, we will become hard of heart to the Holy Spirit’s prodding. We will become weary and drift away from the New Covenant Spiritual Life (Gal. 6:9).
Paul taught that those who live in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). In other words, the Spiritual must have priority over human feelings and desires. Our human bodies enjoy many natural and normal experiences, to include enjoying a wonderful meal and social life, experiencing athletic activities, traveling to new destinations, appreciating the great outdoors, or sitting on a beautiful beach. The list is endless. However, God is proposing a human existence wherein God’s will always take precedence. Under such circumstances, we allow God to function as the God of our lives.
If our lives are inordinately focused on the flesh, we will experience spiritual death (Rom. 8:13). However, if our lives give primary focus to the Spirit, we will discover true living (Rom. 8:13). The authentic (and experiential) Children of God discover this new way of living (Rom.8:14). Paul taught that he died with Christ (Gal. 2:20). He said, “[I]t is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). To live by faith in the Son of God is to live in trust of God (Gal. 2:20). We trust that He will bring blessing to us in His appropriate timing. Our new existence is one in which fellowship with God is our number one priority. Paul explained that if we walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). In contrast, most humans are inclined to pay inordinate attention to our fleshly desires. Within all Christians there is a struggle as to which will predominate, the Spirit or the flesh (Gal. 5:17). It is God’s will that the Spirit take the lead.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, and have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The deeds of the flesh are characterized by excessiveness, imbalance, disharmony, and selfishness. On the other hand, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-24). Every Christian is challenged to enter into Kingdom Living, wherein doing God’s will is our number one priority. In such an existence, we allow the Spirit to moderate and regulate human desire. The result is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Like John, Paul taught us to walk by the Spirit and love our neighbor (Gal. 5:13-16). If our primary focus is on the desires of the flesh, we will reap self-destruction from the flesh, but if our primary focus is on the Spirit, we will reap eternal life from the Spirit (Gal. 6:8).
God, the Holy Spirit can teach us how to, more and more, live a balanced and harmonious existence. In such an existence, we can enjoy life in a material, fleshly body without being dominated by its desires. The human body was created by God and declared to be good. The early Church was attacked by a heresy called Gnosticism, which held that the human flesh was inherently evil. In fact, Gnosticism denied the humanity of Christ. However, we know that Jesus Christ was and is both Divine and human. This reality is a critical part of the Christian message. During His earthly ministry, Jesus was our model that the flesh must be subordinate to the Spirit. In living a life subordinated to the will of the Father, Jesus lived a sinless life and was the perfect Lamb of God.
 Wright, N.T. “Paul: A Biography.” iPad Ed., San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018, p. 91 of 465,