Flesh & Spirit
By Fred Pruitt
A friend recently
returned from a conference and told me about someone there who could not get
past Paul's statement in Rom 7:18: "For I know that in me (that is, in my
flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." She asked me to write something addressing
that. I apologize that I can't be more systematic. Others do that so much better
than I do. But here's my stab at going over these basics again.
In that person's mind, Paul's statement left him in a horrible state. A state of desiring the good things of God and yet because of a fatal flaw seemingly built into his humanity, he could never hope to have those things in this life. In other words, to him, "no good thing in me" meant that he was, as long as he was in this life, "sinful" or "wrong" in some part of himself. He would never be able to get past that. That and the overriding sense of not only being "wrong" but it being our own fault that we are "wrong" (as if there was something we could do about it).
And in one way or another, using different words but meaning more or less the same thing, most people believe that. Call it "two natures," "lower self/higher self," "human nature," but built into the belief-system of most people is some means whereby we justify and explain to ourselves and to others, "Hey, I'm not perfect! I make mistakes, and will continue to do so. I'm only human."
For me in my early Christian experience it was being taught that Gen 6:5, "that every imagination of the thoughts of [man's] heart was only evil continually," and Jeremiah's 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" were concurrent with the reality of my life in Christ. That is, even though having been born again, so I was taught, nonetheless my heart was still only evil continually and desperately wicked.
And where that left me was the same place as the man who interpreted "in me dwelleth no good thing" to mean the same (result-wise) as having an evil heart. The place it left me was one in which, above all things, I could not trust myself. Of all the creatures on the face of the earth, I had to hold myself in the highest suspicion, because at any time I could be deceiving myself. That might seem not a bad thing, to not be able to "trust myself." But it made all things suspect. And that isn't freedom, but a really horrible bondage.
Actually, Paul's "no good thing in me" and the two passages from Genesis and Jeremiah are not really talking about the same thing, technically. But the point I am making is that in experience they seemed to be the same. If you view that you have this "wild untrustworthy" extension of yourself, called "the flesh," that any given moment can run amuck and probably does most of the time, over which you know you should have control but you just can't seem to ever gain the upper hand since "the flesh" is always about 2 steps ahead and so you just do your best to keep apologizing for it after the fact to whoever it happens to mow down as it plows from one crooked furrow to another, or, maybe not that extreme but just the nagging sense that seems to hang under every moment that you are incomplete somehow, never quite what you should be, could be, the sense of never having done enough, or always needing to do more, or to be somehow different, better, and if I was better then such and such would not be, and if I was better then God would bless me more, fill me more, love through me more -- if that is your life then this is the experience I am talking about.
The answer to this is very good news indeed.
The first very good news is that in Christ my heart is no longer wicked.
It seems so basic, yet tragically missed by the majority of the church.
The new birth is simply the regaining of the citadel of the human heart (spirit) by its rightful owner and King, the Lord Jesus Christ, by His conquering of the devil who himself had usurped that inner sanctuary of our heart, and had hiddenly dwelt there as a deceiver since Adam, infecting us with his own wrath and rebellion and selfishness and pride through the body of sin he created in us which manifests out of us as a tree of judgment, of party spirit, of self-protection, self-promotion and need. What had before been the harmony of nature the devil fractured into a million broken pieces in our consciousness and the image of God was broken and in its place has come a veiled image that is the history of the world, both personal and universal, which is madness at its core but on which is placed a veneer of respectability and progress so that the whole world can continually assuage itself over its good deeds and caring for mankind while insanity and madness rave mockingly in the background.
But the new birth changes that in individuals. The cracked image of God, fallen almost into ruin, Jesus reawakens in us when He comes to dwell in us in the new birth. The ruined landscape, the fields lying fallow, the fences broken and the wells almost dry -- the landscape of our old lives -- now belongs to Him, and not to the old master who drove it all into degradation.
We have received a new heart in the new testament. In the new birth of Christ in us. He is now our heart. Our innermost self. Therefore the "wicked heart" that the Bible says I had was not just "me" with a wicked heart, but the devil in my heart. The "wickedness" in my heart, the "evil imagination" did not originate in my humanity, in my "self," but was of the "prince of the power of the air" who works "in" the children of disobedience.
The "new heart" given us in salvation (Ezekiel 36:26) is none other than Christ come to dwell in our hearts through faith in Him. CHRIST HIMSELF is our new heart! (Simple words -- the deepest truth there is!)
The former master we served unknowingly, Satan, whose deeds we did and thoughts we believed, has been cast out. Romans 6 brings this out like no other chapter in the Bible. The "old man" was the union between ourselves and the false spirit of unrighteousness who usurped the temple of God in our innermost sanctuary, causing us to fulfill "his lusts" while all the time deceiving us into thinking we were just ourselves alone functioning in life.
That's all the "old man" is. The old union, between the human self and the satanic spirit of error, broken permanently in the new birth. Can we get this straight? People tend to think that the "old man" is somebody, some wayward part of us, that we still have to contend with all the days of this life. But that is not true. The "old man" has no reality except in the way lies have reality. They have some validity to those who believe them. But if you have been born again of God, then YOU ARE NO LONGER THE OLD MAN. THE OLD MAN DIED!
You no longer have a wicked heart. Your heart is no longer evil continuously in its imaginations because the ONE who is NOW your heart has only LOVE as His imagination. All His imaginings are stirrings toward life and hope. And His imaginings are now the imaginings of your heart, since He dwells there. You have become His temple. You are a branch which sprouts from the True Vine. You are a member of His body. Physically, organically, spiritually, emotionally, literally the house of His dwelling, the temple by which He shows forth His glory (not yours) to the world. Literally!
God, it says, does not dwell in an unclean temple. In order for the temple of our humanity to be cleansed, so that God could again dwell in us, the uncleanness HAD TO BE cast out. There is only room in the center of our being for one god, either the God of Love or the false god of wrath. Both cannot dwell there. That's why it is PLAIN in the new testament, in many passages, that we died with Him in the Cross, He was made the "sin" that we ourselves had become by taking the spirit of error who had inhabited all humanity into Himself in His death, and thus separating humanity from its false king forever He rose again by the Holy Spirit who fills the newly cleansed temple of humanity with the fulness of God, enacted in us one at a time as we each come to faith.
A new heart, a new life, a new mind, all in Him in the new birth. A "completely new creation." "Behold, I make all things new."
Do we see the shift in consciousness here? From believing that there is something wicked about ourselves to simply believing in Christ, in us? The new testament gives us permission to say adieu to the old man, good-bye forever, and to rise in newness and abundance of life, which is not about bondage and fear but about love and truth and righteousness and holiness that springs out of an eternal well of living water we find within ourselves, which is Christ our Life. From our deepest center, our "heart," springs Christ, the Eternal Son, who is the wellspring into the depths of the Father, wherein are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge -- a wisdom and knowledge not of the flesh, not of this world, but out of the mystery of God.
1 Corinthians 6:17 states possibly the most profound truth about us found in the whole of scripture. Short and sweet, the verse says simply: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." It is the whole truth in the most concise of nutshells -- God and you by the new birth are now joined as one person, one heart, one spirit. You can't be more intimately joined with a person than that. Sexual union between lovers is only a pale representation, because you are always left with two, but with God you are one. What sex only points to, two becoming one, union with God accomplishes. The complete union between persons. In passion and intimacy, fear and trembling, hope and vision, in tears and love, You and God are One, He having taken up dwelling in your temple, He clothing Himself with you as you are raised in your faith-awareness to "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Paul's statement, "in me dwelleth no good thing," is NOT a negative statement about our human condition, contrary to how it's often portrayed. It is said in the same sense in which Jesus replied to the man who called him "Good master":
"Why callest thou me good. There is none good, but one, God."
If the first in-depth lesson of our new birth is that we have a completely new heart/spirit/mind/law within us, then the second in-depth further lesson is what we learn here.
Because we are immediately faced, once we know we have been born again, with now going about to establish our own righteousness as a born-again person, as we attempted to establish our own righteousness in our former days. We want to be like Christ, to live a holy life, to love others -- all the things we know we are supposed to do and be. We are told we should be those things, and we think we can, especially now that we have "God's help."
The "new heart" in us produces an earnestness after the things of God. We "delight in the law of God after the inner man" as Paul said of himself in Romans 7.
But Paul ran into a problem, as does every person of God, in that in trying to accomplish God's will, he seemed to find an opposite principle operating: that is, the more he tried to do God's will, the more he seemed to fail. And not only fail, but he found himself doing the very things he knew he shouldn't be doing, thinking things he knew he shouldn't be thinking.
What gives? Paul asks. I love God, want to please him, try my best, and fall flat on my face, and seem a hypocrite. I'm born again. The "old man" I was has been crucified in the Cross of Jesus, and I have risen with Him into newness of Life. So why can't I now live the way I believe God wants me to live?
Because even more fundamental than finding out how our heart has changed, is finding out who we really are. And God's way of letting us find out who we are is to first give us a good dose of who we're not.
We are born as who we're not. Since Adam all humanity has been born with devil-infected mind and heart, producing the selfishness and lust and greed that drives all human society. Every person on the planet is deceived about who they are, and every one of us believes the devil's chief lie, the "lie of independent self," which stated simply just means self thinking and believing itself to be its own god, its own righteousness or its own evil, its own strength or its own weakness, its own power or its own impotence. And that's the reality we, the whole human race, live in from birth, and it has been so throughout the entire course of our history.
But that is who we are not. Every man born into the world is an image of God, meant to reflect God. Christ is the light that lightens every man who comes into the world. Who we ALL really ARE, is HE. There is no person, anywhere, that is not God, because God is the Only Person there is.
The lie, which as I said above can produce its own false reality, says that there are others besides God, and that you and I are those others. The lie of independent self says that I have my own life, my own will, my own thinking, my own desires, my own power, my own heart, my my my my my my my!!!! The lie of independent self makes me a person sufficient in myself.
And it's very subtle, this "lie." As a Spirit-filled believer, a God-person, the "lie" deceives me into thinking I can accomplish God's will -- with God's help of course, but still "me" putting forth the effort, coming up with the desire, making the "choice," and following through to the end. When Moses presented the children of Israel with the Law, they all said in unison, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do."
And we know the result of that. And it's the same result with us, when we, like the children of Israel, who in their consciousness still saw themselves according to the flesh, i.e. according to the lie of independence, and in that deception we believe, just like the children of Israel before us, that "we" can fulfill God's law, "we" can accomplish God's will, and if we were just a little more disciplined, a little more reverent, a little more prayerful, we would have the whole thing knocked. And our result is the same as that of the Israelites in the desert. We fare no better than they. They fell flat on their faces and so do we.
All according to plan.
First of all, we are MEANT to live in the lie. It is the necessary backdrop to coming to the knowledge of the truth.
Secondly, we are MEANT to think we can live God's life, accomplish God's will. It's the only thing that will break the back of the monster that the spirit of error has created in us. The spirit of error has done us a good turn, in making us conscious of ourselves as selves. But in so doing he created this horrible monster, that always has to have its own way, its own rights protected, its territory defended, and its reputation upheld. He gives us this monster to be our own selves, which in our deception we put on everyday thinking this is who we are.
For reasons which God knows He does not immediately destroy this false sense of self in our new birth. Instead He lets us walk on a while, ignorant of the body of sin that still holds us in our consciousness (even though no longer in our heart), in order that we might FAIL!
And fail we do. It doesn't really matter how the failure manifests. That isn't the point. The point is that at some juncture, we come up against a brick wall, as Paul did with his demon "covetousness," and all the constructs we had built to protect and hold up our "self" are kicked out.
Now we are conditioned for the final revelation about ourselves, which is really twofold as Paul outlined in Romans 7. Paul first realizes that when he does evil, and he has not willed it, but instead "willed" the law of God in his inward man, it is not him that does the evil. He has discovered a principle, that when he attempts, in his consciousness of independence, to "do righteousness," instead he does the opposite. In other words, he discovers that when he "tries" to do good, he does evil instead.
How come? Why would that be? It doesn't seem fair!
It's very simple, really, once you come onto the other side of things. "Self-effort," "trying," etc., are all still offshoots of the lie of independence, which says WE ourselves can be God. And that's the devil's playground, his bailiwick, his ball-game. He invented it, and has refined it a million-fold over the eons of time he's had to work on it. It is the "accursed thing." So, we discover as children of God, that when we play in the devil's playground with his toys, we are once again temporarily back on his turf, where he says what goes on.
In other words, self-effort, i.e. effort from the false sense of myself as someone separate from God trying to be like God or do His will, is really Satan, the devil, masquerading himself in the false sense of myself as independent. Or, as Paul puts in in Romans 7, "it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Understand here, without our going into too great detail, is that when Paul speaks of sin dwelling "in my flesh", he is not speaking of his physical body or his supposed "fallen nature," but rather the false sense of independence that deceives the whole human race. So when Paul talks about "sin" dwelling in his flesh, he is not describing a physical locality but rather a mind-set. A mind-set of independence, or supposed self-sufficiency.
So the first great discovery here, as stated above, is that when he "tries" or "would" do good, evil comes. His second great discovery is that "in me dwelleth no good thing."
As I said above, that is exactly in the same sense as when Jesus said, "Why callest thou me good?" Once we have discovered that not only does the evil come not from ourselves, but from the father of lies, and then further discovered that even our attempts to do good produce evil, which are also from the father of lies, we are then ready for the final revelation of revelations: and that is this: having now discovered no power in myself to do either evil OR good, I am ready to be what consciously what I have been always unconsciously -- a vessel for another.
My humanity has been the devil's beast of burden all my unredeemed days. I didn't know it, even when I was cooperating with it. But like every other human on the face of the earth, I have been the vessel of wrath, the temple of the false god, walking in the pride of life and the lusts of this world. But, as I have discovered now in Romans 7, it wasn't "just me," but the usurper, the liar, IN me.
Now, in Christ, I see, and this IS IT, THE revelation of all revelations, in finding that "in me dwelleth no good thing," that in that emptiness CHRIST manifests Himself. God is a JEALOUS God, He says over and over, and that simply means that He will share His glory with no one, and no flesh shall enter His presence. Rather than being something negative or disappointing, to find that "in me dwelleth no good thing" is now WONDERFUL NEWS, JOYOUS NEWS, because the government has been taken from my shoulders, the government of my life and that of the whole universe, and put on the shoulders of the ONLY ONE who can handle the burden: Christ Jesus, Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
How WONDERFUL it is to say that all goodness, all holiness, all righteousness, all power, all glory, reside in God Alone, and only in Him. And nothing in me.
Hallelujah! What freedom! What love!
To discover that my "own" weakness and emptiness is the EXACT prerequisite for the Life of God to live in me and to manifest in the world is the MOST WONDERFUL NEWS EVER!!!!
So now without reservation I can say, like Paul, that "no good thing dwelleth in me," and at the same time say, "God is mighty in me toward the Gentiles." Why -- because in coming to the place of complete emptiness and "no-self" before the Lord, we are then ready to move into the stage where we are "mighty selves" in Him who accomplish all His will.
We'll take that up at another time.