“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Don’t be yourself! Be like Christ! There’s many reasons why you shouldn’t want to be yourself!”
This person yelling at me is extremely serious. Frustrated, it seems, but very stern. They do not want Christians to be themselves, and me advising us to do so has knocked over a hornet’s nest.
But why? Why is this individual so upset about me saying we should be exactly who God has remade us to be? Why are they mad about me pointing out the truth, that we should always be ourselves? The answer is quite simple: They don’t know who they truly are as a Christian.
Because of what they’ve been taught, legalistic roots, false humility, and even self-hate run deep in their minds. Not in them but in their minds. It takes time to till such up and haul it away as debris. They’ve been instructed to not trust themselves, to not like themselves, and most of all, to not be themselves.
Due to double-talk teaching–“Come to Jesus and be made new, just believe!”–but then, “Repent! You backslidden sinner! You will burn in hell for this!” they think God has baited and switched them; that He’s saved them but not really. They’re confused and confusion breeds irritation and anger. The freshly-saved Christian, new-car-smell believer, they want to hang onto so badly. But to achieve this it’s contingent on them staying at battle with themselves. So how dare I say they should be themselves?
“Wrong, Matt! We need to be like Pastor and not like ourselves! You better seek wise counsel and study yourself approved! We should never be ourselves! Ever! We should always be striving to be more like Christ every single day!”
This is sad, but not far-fetched. Look at it this way, imagine if you yelled at a newborn baby, “You better be like your dad or else! You better prove you belong as a member of this family or you’re out! You better get to work and study to find out how you should live your life! Never be yourself!”
Christians are treated this way all the time. We’ve not been taught the truth, that we’ve already been remade exactly like Christ. No more striving is necessary:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
You are in Christ, Christian. That’s what happened the moment you realized He forgave you. He placed you inside of Himself (see Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:13, Colossians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:17, John 14:20). But first, He made you just like Him:
“In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like Him.” (1 John 4:17)
You’re still in this world, dear believer, are you not? This identity passage is talking about now! You’re just like Jesus! This is why you should always be yourself!
“Yeah right, Matt! The Bible is clear that we can walk according to the flesh!”
Friend, I know that, but a walk is not an identity. It’s a walk. Further, what many believers don’t understand is that the flesh is not us. When we begin to think of our physical body as the flesh–don’t. This is where many fall off course, in thinking the flesh is our flesh, skin, and bone; our body. It’s not.
The flesh is the power of sin coming to life through us but it’s not us. The original Greek word is sarx and sarx doesn’t mean physical flesh nor does it mean sinful nature. It simply means the flesh. We don’t have an English translation which is accurate for sarx. For this reason we have to trust the Spirit in order to grasp the flesh’s full meaning based on the context around it.
I have colleagues who call the flesh “a way of getting fulfillment apart from Christ, apart from who we are.” I agree. The flesh can be debaucherous, legalistic, or even philanthropic. It’s not simply drinking to excess, sleeping around, skipping church and partying hard–as the legalist claims. The flesh can appear as good by religious and worldly standards. It’s anything–or our focus on anyone–in which we’re trying to find status other than who we already are.
Unless you’re an unbeliever you’re not in the flesh, even when you act like it. When you do it’s just that, an act, a walk. As Paul listed off examples of living in the flesh for himself, he spoke of his past life as the best Mosaic legalist ever, a supreme religious man. This revealed that religion is the flesh too (see Philippians 3:4-9).
Ultimately, to describe the flesh, this is what matters most: We are not the flesh. As children of God, that’s the bottom line. We have flesh but we are not the flesh. The flesh is the foreign object of sin, hamartia–a parasite which entered our physical realm through Adam (see Romans 5:12)–expressing itself through our members; our hands, feet, mouth, and even brain, creating sinful actions and thoughts (see Romans 7:23).
Paul’s sinful thoughts were religious and covetous (see Romans 7:8). Many of my sinful thoughts were alcoholic, pornographic, self-abasing, and overly-competitive. The power of sin–hamartia–still presents such to me at times but I choose to not let the flesh come to life. I choose to not walk that way, to walk according to the flesh. How? By being myself!
Sin is in us–in our physical being–because we still live on this fallen planet, but sin is not us, as Christians. We’ve been taken out of the realm of the flesh–sin–and placed in Jesus (see Romans 8:9). We’ve been saved from sin completely because sin separates us from God (see Hebrews 7:25). Our one-time faith in the Cross accomplished this feat because the Cross dealt with the sin of the world once (see 1 John 2:2, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Hebrews 10:10).
Anytime you see the word flesh in Scripture look around it. Is it referring to your body? If so, then this is not what you are supposed to be fighting, as many teach. Paul said we are to care for our bodies not fight them (see Ephesians 5:29). Truthfully, even the flesh you shouldn’t be fighting. I’ll explain in a moment, but please know that your physical body is just as holy as your spirit and soul. All of you is blameless, Christian–spirit, soul, and body. Paul informed the Thessalonian believers of this truth (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23). He also told the Corinthians the same, that their bodies were temples of God! (See 1 Corinthians 6:19). God cannot live in unholy places, so guess what your body is? It’s perfect! Your flesh is an exact fit–100% sanctified–for the Creator of the universe to dwell!
So remember, you are not the flesh but you are flesh. Separate these two when you read Scripture. Pause and look at the context. This will help you greatly in understanding the new creation you truly are!
When you know you’re not the flesh, you can begin to comprehend another paramount truth: Christians are never instructed to fight the flesh. The Spirit fights the flesh while we rest.
At no point in the Bible are we advised to go to war with the flesh. Bad teaching says otherwise and the devil loves this because it causes self-hate and sometimes insanity. Aggression then ensues toward those who say to just be yourself. When we commingle the definitions of flesh and the flesh many interpret passages about the Spirit fighting the flesh and think they too have to fight the flesh. Oh no, not at all! We are called to back off out of that fight:
“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)
Do you see that? Who’s at battle here? Who has the different set of desires? The flesh and the Spirit! Where are you, Christian? Are you in this fight? No! But when you try to get into it what happens? You don’t do what you really want to do! Why? Because you’re trying to do the Spirit’s job!
The person who struggles with legalism and doesn’t understand the flesh sees this passage one way, the New Covenant believer sees it completely different! The legalist thinks if we don’t fight the flesh then, “You can just do whatever you want! All that nasty sinnin’!”
But no! That’s not the context! When those two are fighting–the flesh and the Spirit–and we are resting, we are being ourselves and doing exactly what we want! Is it sinning? NO! We don’t want to sin! Sin wants to sin not you! Paul explained this to the Romans as he recounted his past life of fighting the flesh as a sanctimonious Pharisee:
“As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” (Romans 7:17)
What does it look like when we rest and don’t fight? When we refuse to give sin an outlet through Mosaic commandment following or self-made commandment following?
“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (see Galatians 5:22-23)
None of these characteristics can be legislated! They are natural expressions of those who belong to Christ!
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:24-25)
Is this not exciting?! Yeah, it is!
In our efforts to do the Spirit’s job–fight the flesh–we won’t do what we truly want to do which is live by the Spirit, which is keeping in step with Him…walking. Therefore, what do we do? Rest. Be ourselves. Be God’s child and express our true nature, God’s own divine nature which we received in full the moment we placed our faith in Jesus (see 2 Peter 1:4, John 1:12-13, Colossians 1:22, 2:9-10).
So today, my friends, know this: Don’t fake being yourself. Why would God make you new just so you can “act” new. Instead, be yourself. If you don’t be yourself and express your heavenly nature, the world misses out on you. You’ve got too much to offer to not be you!
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me that I am not the flesh. Thank you for teaching me that my body is not the flesh–it’s flesh. This biblical revelation changed so much for me! I was finally able to separate who I am from the power of sin being a barnacle, a leech, a tumor–but NOT me. Thank you! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who’ve been taught they have a good dog and a bad dog inside them–to feed one and starve the other–give them relief today. Let them know, as your child, they don’t have a bad dog. They don’t have any dog. They have themselves. They are holy, blameless, new creations, forever connected to you and sealed up with your Spirit. There’s no need to attempt to starve something within them that’s not there. They simply need to learn more about who they are, and then be. They possess all they need for life and godliness. The work you began in their mind about this holiness of theirs, you are surely going to complete. Amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 3. Check out my other bestselling books here!