In part one we looked at a primary obstacle to abundant living in Christ–the problem of the “flesh.” The simple prescription of Galatians 5:16 is: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
But how do we know when we are (or are not) being lifted by the Spirit above our fleshly tendencies? We can gain discernment about this by learning to identify our flesh patterns–we each have a unique set of them! We are defining “flesh” functionally as your body, mind, will, and emotions under the influence of anything other than Christ. A friend who just attended a Grace Life Conference was impressed with the discovery that there is positively-oriented “flesh” and negatively-oriented “flesh.” Consider five varieties of flesh patterns.
1. The Well-Adjusted Person
Characteristics: outgoing, happy, accomplished, and usually kind
2. The Religious Person
Characteristics: devout, active in the church, following the rules, possibly a church leader
3. The Self-Depreciating Person
Characteristics: usually down on himself/herself, false sense of humility (form of pride), maybe thinks he/she is useless to God
4. The Passive Person
Characteristics: lets others take the lead, never initiates, just does what is told, can’t make decisions
5. The Self-Centered Person
Characteristics: usually thinks of his/her own gratification, things always have to be his/her way, needs others to do what he/she says, usually is talking about himself/herself
6. The Violent Person
Characteristics: usually vents his/her anger, is verbally and/or physically abusive; has a murderous attitude
The negative patterns are obvious, but we are prone to assume that the positive patterns are derived from the Spirit. Not necessarily. People can do “marvelous works” apart from vital union with Christ (Matt. 7:22). Common grace equips even unbelievers to be civil (sometimes more so than Christians!). And Paul identified and renounced his “positive”, self-righteous programming as flesh (Phil. 3:3-10).
The unsaved person is “in the flesh” positionally and has no spiritual power to overrule these tendencies. The regerate person, however, is “in the Spirit” and has the potential and calling to demonstrate a new quality of life (Rom. 8:8-11).
As a descendant of Adam you have flesh patterns, but as a child of God your identity is not based upon them; instead, your identity is based upon your union with Christ!
“For we are His workmanship [grace-based identity], created in Christ Jesus for good works [behavioral responsibility], which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
God has given His new nature to the believer’s spirit: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22).–That’s the REAL you!
If your real spiritual identity is based upon your union with Christ, how can you bring your actions and character in line with your identity?
Evan Hopkins used the analogy of a furnace’s effect on iron to illustrate the Holy Spirit’s effect of the life of the abiding disciple.
“If a piece of iron could speak, what could it say of itself? ‘I am black; I am cold; I am hard.’ But put it in the furnace, and what a change takes place! It has not ceased to be iron; but the blackness is gone, and the coldness is gone, and the hardness is gone! It has entered into a new experience. The fire and the iron are still distinct, and yet how complete is the union–they are one. If the iron could speak, it could not glory in itself, but in the fire that makes and keeps it a bright and glowing mass. So must it be with the believer. Do you ask him what he is in himself? ‘I am carnal, sold under sin.’ [Rom 7:14]. For left to himself, this inevitably follows; he is brought into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members. But it is his privilege to enter into fellowship with Christ, and in Him to abide. And there, in Him, who is our life, our purity, and our power–in Him, whose Spirit can penetrate into every part of our being–the believer is no longer carnal, but spiritual; no longer overcome by sin and brought into captivity, but set free from the law of sin and death and preserved in a condition of deliverance. This blessed experience of emancipation from sin’s service and power implies a momentary and continuous act of abiding.
Christ’s call to abide in Him is in the present tense; it involves a moment by moment dependence on Him. Some look for freedom and victory as phenomenon to experience or a state at which to arrive. Instead, abiding is a relationship to cultivate, a condition to be maintained.
Hopkins continued the analogy of iron in a furnace:
“The believer cannot glory in himself. He cannot glory in a state of purity attained, and having an existence apart from Christ Himself. He is like the piece of iron. The moment it is withdrawn from the furnace, the coldness and hardness and blackness begin to return. It is not a work wrought in the iron once for all, but by the momentary and continual influence of fire on the iron that its tendency to return to its natural condition is counteracted.
The believer’s new nature in Christ is now at home in the holy ways of God, yet the flesh patterns continue to pull the soul toward carnality–unless counteracted by the indwelling life of Christ. This condition is maintained by continually abiding in the Lord Jesus who declared, “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples” (John 15:8,NIV). Only He can exchange the “blackness, coldness, and hardness” into the bright, warm softness of the Spirit’s love.
Part 2 of 2
 Evan Hopkins (1837-1918), The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, p. 53.
 The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, p. 54. CLCpublications.com
For further info on the varieties of flesh patterns, see “Manifestations of the Flesh”
Copyright, 1999 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and GraceNotebook.com. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson).
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