New Spirit, Old Flesh By Clarissa Worley Sproul

Photo: Jason Stitt
It’s not an accident that Jesus chose the words (talking to a well-versed and very confused theologian, Nicodemas) BORN AGAIN to describe the whole transition from autonomous human to human filled with God Himself and in His circle. Any words less than this would not have done the trick. God The Father, Son and Spirit are family—sweet, loving, fulfilled family. To become part of their family—not adopted but really, wholly, completely part of their family, well, you know, you’ve got to be BORN into a family to be part of the blood line and all that goes with it.

That’s what we are. If you read Paul’s teachings to the Romans, he says that Jesus was the firstborn of a new family (race) that is filled with God and one hundred percent human. This means that if you receive God into your life, you don’t just start thinking different, or acting different, you actually are a new creature. Still completely human—the weaknesses, the feelings, the fatigue—but now filled with GOD in spirit and thus fully with them in this new family.

This is huge. First, because this means that if you receive God you will never be left alone again. You will be in spirit with God at all times and in every circumstance. You carry Him with you. You rest with Him. You eat with Him. And second, when you turn from the new Spirit of life in you and make poor choices to gratify that familiar drive to live out of your decaying body’s fantasies, He is there to draw you back, there in your new spirit, your new identity, seeing you as new, regardless of your behavior.

This is why Christians can fall again and again and again and still maintain that they belong to God and are His, and part of His family. The bottom line is that our natural self struggles against our new spirit, given by God when we’re born again. That natural self has usually been in control for many years when we take the plunge with God, and then of course our new Spirit, well, is new.

It takes years to grow up in the life of the Spirit and stop giving into the body’s old addictions and coping mechanisms. If you read Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially chapter eight, this is our only way out. In there you’ll find great reassurance. First, that that old self, the “flesh” cannot please God or jive with the new family values. Paul actually says it’s NOT POSSIBLE. Then he goes on to say that if we walk in our new spirit—lit up and reborn in the Spirit of Jesus—literally within us—then all we can do is please God—or, as I like to put it—then all we want is to be close, loving and talking it up with our new family, living out life like they do.

The colossal impact of this on your life cannot be over-stated. Your spirit, born again in the spirit of Jesus, cannot and will not choose death, isolation, lies or confusion… it is not possible. This means that when you are born again, your new self, your spirit, cannot be ruined, smudged or destroyed, it is the new you, who you are, and completely in sync with God. This means that your identity is secured. New and sure, this is where you start every day and deal with every situation—even those brought on by your silly and very present mortal body and its “desires of the flesh.”

I cannot begin to explain how much peace I have found in this teaching. Before I got my mind straightened out, every time my flesh got the best of me and I ran down that road of earthly desire—namely (check out James’ book) pride, selfishness, lust and impatience and malice and anger and all that—and acted accordingly, I would doubt who I was. I felt I was no longer a Christian. How could I be? How was that possible?

Thus, I lived for years, born again, and completely unaware that my identity did not rest on my behavior. Sure poor choices running rampant would cause a ruckus in my life and fight against the power and development of my spiritual life, but no poor choice has the power to claim my identity has changed. Behavior and identity are not one and the same. Behavior changes, Identity doesn’t.

Not only did this trample over my sense of peace and self-worth, it also made changing my behavior really difficult. Identity ultimately drives behavior, so if my behavior was allowed (in my head) to drive my identity, my case was helpless. Talk about going in circles. Talk about torture. Talk about always being in a place of doubt and fear and insecurity. It’d be like telling a small child that you’re their mommy or daddy until they act out and then you’re not. Talk about chaos.

Now that I know who I am (whose I am too, for that matter), my desire to make good behavior choices comes from my identity. It’ll never work the other way around. Not only this, I can now call my bad behavior what it is—me acting under the will of my flesh—and not under the new me, my spirit. How encouraging is that? Once again, just as Jesus said so eloquently, the truth has set me free.
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Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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