II Corinthians 3:18 tells us that “we will all be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of God.”
This means that Christ is to be reflected, magnified and glorified in our souls and bodies by the Spirit of God in us. God created us for this purpose, and our fulfillment in life will only come when we align ourselves with His design and His plan. Transformation of our soul into the image of Christ is the goal of the Christian life.
Why, then, do we not see this happening more in the Christian body? Where are those believers that reflect Christ? Where is the genuine Love and compassion that the Bible talks about? Where are the victorious Christians?
The heart of the matter is that we have failed to live what we preach. Just because we are endowed with the image of God in our hearts does not guarantee our ability to manifest that image out in our lives. Why? Because there’s a huge war going on in our souls. A war between our flesh (our natural life in our souls) pulling us one way and the Spirit of God (in our hearts) pulling us the other. The Apostle Paul even says in Romans 7:21, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present within me.”
Where Is the Battle Fought?
This war between God’s Spirit and our flesh is usually waged in our minds. Romans 8:6 expresses the result of each way of thinking: “To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
The word “minded” here is phroneo, which means an attitude, outlook or mental state. This Scripture is saying that if we follow what the flesh is telling us to do, then there will be a spiritual death that occurs within us. In other words, God’s Spirit will be blocked, quenched and stopped, and then whatever is produced will be worthless. Romans 8:7 goes on to say that, “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” which means the flesh is opposed to God, and therefore, there is not the slightest chance of a peaceful coexistence. Suffice to say, anything done in or through the flesh does not please God. (Romans 8:8) Even some righteous acts done independently of God, will not be accepted by Him.
In fact, often the better the flesh works, the farther away it is from God. For example, there are many “good” people who are simply unwilling to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If this is the case, all their good works and self-righteousness will do them no good, nor bring them any closer to God. In fact, these “good works” often become stumbling blocks to their ever really coming to know Christ.
There are also many “good” Christians who depend upon their own “flesh” (own strengths) to live a Godly life. The Bible says this is still going to produce “wood, hay and stubble”-worthlessness and meaninglessness in God’s eyes! (1 Corinthians 3:12)
The bottom line is simply those who are in the flesh (no matter how good it seems) cannot please God. This is the final verdict. Regardless of how good we are, how much we love others or how much we do for them, if these things are done in our own power and ability, they will not and cannot please God. Anything performed by the flesh, even though it may seem quite good at the time, if it derives from self (and not God’s Spirit) it will not please Him.
We may devise many ways to improve ourselves and to help others, but if these things come from carnal motives, it will not satisfy the Lord. This is not only true of the unregenerate person; it is also true of the believer. No matter how commendable or effective the works we do for the Lord are, if any of them are done in our own strength, through our own wisdom or by our own love, we will fail to receive the approval of God. God’s pleasure or displeasure is not founded upon the principle of good and evil, but upon what the source is. Is it God’s Spirit in us or is it the flesh?
God looks at the motives of our heart, not just our actions. An action may be quite good on the surface, but the Lord always knows its true origin. The only escape route is to have a mind-set where we constantly nail our carnal selves to the cross and crucify our flesh. Then, God’s genuine, resurrection Life will be free to come forth.
Why is it so difficult to yield ourselves to the Spirit of God and allow His Life to come forth? It’s hard because, even though our “flesh” has been positionally crucified with Christ at our new birth, it’s not dead. It’s still very much alive and constantly raises its ugly head.
Paul confirms this in Romans 6:6-7 when he says our old, evil heart-life (our old man) has been exterminated and done away with at our conversion; therefore, the power of sin’s hold on the flesh has positionally been destroyed. However, in Romans 7:21, he says but “when I would do good, evil is [still] present within me.” This gives us a glimpse of the perpetual dilemma and struggle that is going on within us.
But, as Paul goes on to say, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I serve the law of God [the Spirit]; but with the flesh, the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)
This means that we can (if we so choose) be set free from this war because Christ in our new heart is now the overcoming power to do so. This means that if we choose to obey, trust, and follow God (regardless of how we feel or what we think) we can, in His strength and power, overcome whatever the “flesh” is urging us to do. This is called “putting off the old man.”
Then, Ephesians 4:24 exhorts us to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” And Colossians 3:10 urges the same: “Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.” Paul is referring to Christ’s Life (His Love and power) that resides in our hearts (if we are born again) and that we are daily to “put on” in our lives by faith.
Galatians 2:20 states, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
“Living by the faith of the Son of God” means to continually make faith choices that allow Christ’s Life to come forth from our hearts, regardless of how we naturally think or feel.
Living by Faith
I can’t talk about the subject of living by faith without expounding on the life and ministry of George Mueller, the famous teacher in the late 1800s, who by faith alone established an orphanage in England that fed and housed thousands upon thousands of orphans.
Mr. Mueller believed that his faith rested upon the Word of God. He used to say, “When sight ceases, then my faith has a chance to work.” As long as there was any possibility of human success, he felt faith could accomplish nothing. Thus, his motto was “God is able to do this; I cannot.”
His greatest desire was to live a public life of faith so that other’s trust in God would be strengthened. He felt it would be living proof that faith works, if he, as a poor man, without asking the aid or finances of anyone, could simply by prayer and faith have all his needs met.
When there was no money, as happened often, he would simply say, “The Lord in His wisdom and love has not sent help, but I believe, in due time He will.” He didn’t know how God would do it, but he trusted He would! And, He always did! These are called faith choices. They are simply non-feeling choices to believe God in the midst of trials and testings.
As a result of George Mueller’s life of prayer and faith, he was given the necessary money to build three orphanages, house and feed almost 2,000 children, buy all the furniture and supplies needed to furnish and run the homes and schools, and hire all the needed personnel to manage the facilities. Mueller expected God to answer and expected His blessings on his labor of love. And he always received it, because he lived by faith. Mr. Mueller epitomized Galatians 3:11, “The just shall live by faith.”
What’s so sad is that even as Christians, our faith seems to rest upon what we can see and what we can feel. God knows, however, that we can never truly live by faith as long as we are being manipulated by our senses. His Word reveals that the farther removed we can get from our faith resting on the things that we see and feel, the more deeply we will be able to enter into a life of real faith in God.
Instilling naked faith is one of the reasons why God allows night seasons in our lives. When we are no longer able to see, we will be forced to live by faith. And when our faith finally stops being dependent on the realm of our senses, we will be free to enter into the rest of God. God knows that the less we see, the more faith we’ll have to live by. In Jesus’ words, “...blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Our Choice Is the Key
Let me explain. Every true believer who has given himself to the Lord has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. God’s Spirit has united with our spirit and we have become born anew. Thus, we have Christ’s authority and power to crucify the flesh and attain victory over Satan and sin.
The problem is, God has created us with a free will. In other words, we have the freedom to choose whomever we want to follow. And this, unfortunately, is not just a one-time choice; it’s a choice that we will have to face every day, every hour of every day and every moment of every day! Scripture tells us that we become a servant to whomever we choose to follow. (Romans 6:16-22) The evidence of whom we choose to serve will be manifested in our actions. The fruit from our lives will either reflect Christ or show forth self.
When we choose to follow the Lord, our lives will be filled with the fruit of His Love, joy and peace. Even though we may still face many trials, that strength of faith, that peace of mind and that Love of God will still be there.
If, on the other hand, we choose to follow what we think, feel and desire and make self-centered, fleshly choices, we’ll open ourselves up to oppression by the enemy and lose our peace and our joy. That, too, will be evident to all around us. Even though on the outside it might look like our lives are running smoothly, the “fruit” we exhibit will be the tell-tale proof to whom we have relinquished our lives and whose servant we have become.
“...by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:20-21)* * *
To be continued next month: Overcoming the Flesh. This article has been excerpted in part from Nan’s new book, Reflections of His Image: God’s Purpose for Your Life. See page 37 for details on this book and other King’s High Way products.