We read that God frustrated His creation to bring about our salvation. And He’s continuing to transform us by confronting us with choices of who to trust –our flesh, or Him. (That’s the battle identified in.)
Let’s go back to the beginning –the Bible’s first chapter– to see how this battle can be won.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (from Genesis 1:26). Absolutely, we are not God . . . still, He designed us such that our whole living bodies and natural motivations (bone and flesh) directly correlate to His divine image and likeness (in that order). He formed us such that we are physical representations of Himself.
Just as our whole living body is made up of an earthly physical body, a soul and a spirit, God has a heavenly, eternal body (Jesus showed it to us after His resurrection), God has a soul (His mind, will and emotions are expressed throughout the Bible and are typically attributed to being those of the Father) and God has a spirit (the Holy Spirit).
And just as we have earthly motivations for what we do, God has divine motivations for what He does. (It’s His character, His nature.) In chapter two of First Corinthians, Paul explained that God wants us to thoroughly understand Him, His deepest thoughts, His ways . . . so He put His Spirit within us. He also gave us the mind of Christ . . . after He personally experienced the troubles of this life along with us.
In the allegory of marriage, I compared Eve being made from Adam to us being made from God. And like Adam pursued her after she proved her rebellious nature, Jesus has pursued us. In both cases, the goal was marriage (reunion) and childbirth (a whole new creation).
We believers are called “the body of Christ.” His body is the house for His spirit (the Holy Spirit) and His soul (His mind, will and emotions). We already have His Spirit and His mind within us.
To complete the reunion we merely need to finish living out our time of service in this earthly house. Then He’ll bring us to the celebration –the marriage feast. During this short time on earth we’ll learn just how great His love is for us.
Paul hinted about that final resolution of our situation later in chapter 15 of First Corinthians where he said that both animals and people have flesh and earthly physical bodies that will perish. In contrast, a believer will be resurrected with an imperishable, incorruptible spiritual body. (It will be a glorious change to leave the flesh behind.)
When we accepted God’s gift of eternal life, He gave us the Holy Spirit as evidence (“proof-of-life”) that we will live with Jesus forever in His kingdom. Yet something more took place. Yes, the term does bring up unpleasant imagery, however it’s essential to take in the concept of the “circumcision of the heart.”
The heart is the vault where the law of the flesh is kept. In it are the self-serving rules for navigating through daily-life –the biased standards for judging good and evil –the ever-changing core principles, values and beliefs of what is right and wrong.
In a moment we’ll look at some significant Scripture passages talking about this circumcision. But in the meantime, here’s my simplistic version of what happens . . .
From birth, whenever we had choices to make, we relied on our laws –the gold-standards that we’ve developed– to guide us and justify everything we did. Those laws of the flesh served us well . . . until we realized how futile this life is apart from God. That’s what Solomon wrote about in Ecclesiastes, saying “everything is vanity” –there’s no lasting satisfaction or purpose to be found in this life –it’s empty.
Then, at salvation, the Holy Spirit performs a spiritual surgery to separate our hearts from our minds (our souls). The effect is that our laws don’t command the respect from us that they once did. Our flesh loses much of its bluster so that our spirit –our communicator with the Holy Spirit– can offer guidance with equal influence.
Certainly our flesh –along with these earthly bodies– will be with us until they return to dust. But our souls now hear the Spirit –they don’t solely depend on the flesh. Over time, as we trust Him more, we find that our minds are free to meditate on God’s ways, our wills can be led by the Spirit and our emotions can reflect His peace, patience, kindness . . . joy.
This isn’t just a New Testament concept. Moses described this circumcision in Deuteronomy chapters 29 and 30. There he laid out Israel’s then-future failures of following the Law –the failures of their flesh. Just before saying “Today I set before you life and death, choose life” (from Deuteronomy 30:19) he told them how escaping death and entering that life would be possible –God would circumcise their hearts.
Later, Ezekiel talked about this transformation in regard to Israel (in his chapter 36). God was going to wash them clean and change what motivated their conduct and their actions. He was going to take away their heart of stone –it was dead –separated from Him. In its place He would put a heart of flesh –one that could turn them to a dependence upon Him (for salvation). And to those who trusted Him, He would give a new spirit –new life with the Holy Spirit living within them. (That’s also the thrust of Hebrews chapter six.)
Understanding that your flesh (your natural motivation for life) has lost its prominence is critical for being a secure believer. It’s the basis for saying “God isn’t finished with me yet.”
In Romans, Paul continued the explanation by differentiating between Jews by heritage –and Jews by the Spirit. “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29). Paul amplified his insight in Colossians chapter two . . .
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:8-14)
This parallels his survey in Romans chapter three where he talked about two journeys –two walks of faith. One is faith in ourselves (our flesh) –trusting that we can accomplish what we believe is needed. The other is faith in God and everything that He has accomplished through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection –including the reconciliation (the total forgiveness) of every repulsive deed of our flesh . . . and giving us a brand new, incorruptible life.
When He wrote to the Galatians, Paul contended that the Jewish practice of physical circumcision was a continuation of dependence on their flesh to keep the Law . . . to stay on good terms with God. Only two chapters earlier he asked them why they were being so “foolish” –returning to what was supposed to be a tutor to lead them out of the Law and into faith in Christ by the Spirit ().
The soul has only two sources for guidance: the human spirit and the flesh. As the governor of the body, the soul must choose –one moment at a time– which one to listen to and then act upon.
Our flesh does continue with us until the day we leave these earthly bodies. But as born-again, spiritual beings we’re no longer controlled by it –we’re not anchored to it. We have another source for our minds to listen to –the Holy Spirit (through our spirits). We certainly aren’t held accountable to the Law of Moses since it (in concert with our flesh) led us to Jesus. We’ve been freed from that barren existence.
Many of the New Testament books plainly list (and Old Testament books exemplify) the things that the flesh is known for. The most notorious is found in chapter one of Romans –where the depravity of mankind is contrasted with the character of God. Another is in Galatians chapter five where the acts of the flesh are contrasted with those of the Spirit.
“Crucify the flesh,” “die daily,” “pick up your cross.” –These are pleadings to trust that God has circumcised your heart. Your eternal spiritual being has been freed from your untrusting, naturally independent flesh. And remember that trying to obediently do good gives power back to the rebellious flesh.