Updated: Sep 8, 2021
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17)
The opposition between the spirit and the flesh and vice versa is a conflict of wills rooted in conflicting desires. And these only emerge in those of us who have been born again of the Spirit. Our new birth is a marvelous multi-faceted miraculous reality that transcends time, matter and space because we now live in two invisible spiritual, geographical realms or realities simultaneously. First, we died, and our life is now hidden with God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. And second, because Christ Jesus, our Lord, is now in us. (Cp. Col. 1:27 and 3:3)
On the day we call Good Friday, as our Lord hung on the cross, the entire human race (all who had lived before Jesus, those who were alive while He was crucified, and those of us who had not been born) was grafted into the Messiah physical body. The giving of His body is how He paid for the sins of the world and how He who knew no sin became sin. So, this is how we got to be in Christ Jesus. Then because of His resurrection, ascension, and seating, the moment we believed in His name or received Him as our Lord and Savior, we were born again, and He came into us by the Holy Spirit. And that's how Christ Jesus came to be in us! He is now seated in the heaven of the heavens, at God the Father's right hand, and we are seated with Him. But at the same time, He is also on earth building His ecclesia in us and through us. Therefore, for the rest of the time, we are to live on this earth; we are to know and experience Him as our very life; He in us and us in Him.
Most Christians, I know, only know that their sins were laid on Jesus; very few seem to know, let alone understand, the New Testament revelation of the human race being grafted into the body of Jesus on the cross of Calvary. In His perfect plan and purpose, this spiritual grafting is how God takes you and me out of the Adamic family, which propagates flesh giving birth to flesh and puts us into Himself, the Messianic Hebrew family head who is a life-giving Spirit.
Our spiritual rebirth entails being born of God and being adopted by God. But how can both be true? It seems that it's either one or the other. So, which is it? Am I born of God and have His divine spiritual DNA as His child? Or am I simply adopted into His family through the price Christ Jesus' sacrifice accomplished? And the answer is yes, to both questions. It's not a matter of one or the other but both-and. The same perplexing and conflicting dynamic surfaces when the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian believers that "we have the mind of Christ." But then turns around and tells the Roman believers "be transformed by the renewal of your mind." If it's true that we have the mind of Christ Jesus, why would the mind of Christ Jesus need to be renewed? Because both of Paul's declarations are true. To understand these paradoxes, they need the context of our trinitarian constitutional recreation in Christ Jesus, as spirit, soul, and body.
We were created in the trinitarian image and likeness of the God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But our first parent's rebellion produced the spiritual death of the human race. The image of God in humanity remained, but our likeness to Him was lost until Christ Jesus paid for and initiated its restoration. Before our rebirth, our spirit was dead to God and a slave of sin. Our soul, by default, was also a slave of sin, and as it grew and matured in the pleasures of its physical body, it developed an ever-increasing lust after knowledge, while at the same time a longing that morphed into lust for control. Simultaneously, our bodily passions for pleasure also grew, and we learned to satisfy our bodies and minds. This unholy independent union of our soul's lust for control and our body's lust for pleasure is what constitutes what the Bible calls the flesh. Therefore, the term flesh refers to the soul operating in its limited knowledge along with the body's limited physical abilities and strength.
Now we are finally able to address the conflict between the spirit and the flesh.
Earlier I said that this conflict only arises in those who have been born again. In our spiritual rebirth, we now have the DNA of God, we are one with our indwelling Lord, and we have the mind of Christ. These revelations are confirmed in the Holy Spirit-human spirit union, which equals oneness. Now the conflict naturally emerges as the flesh (soul-body) reacts to the vicissitudes of daily life. That is, as the limited knowledge and historical attitudinal patterns of self-sufficiency that reside in (the mind of) the soul, combined with the physical neural pathways established in our brains, attempt to handle and manage daily living. The natural reaction of the flesh (the soul body alliance) will need to be interrupted, interfered and addressed by the Holy Spirit-human spirit.
The vicissitudes of life are all under the permissive will of God, who uses these as wine presses to teach us how to walk in our Holy Spirit-human spirit union. These God permitted changes in circumstances are typically unwelcome and unpleasant to the historical soul body alliance. These circumstantial turns or changes are the times and places through which the body of sin, the old me, the old you left behind, is destroyed. It's precisely at these junctures where we discover and begin to understand our complete identity as seated, walking, standing sons and daughters of the One True God, who lives in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.
The plan, purpose, desire, will, and mind of the Spirit of Christ, who is now joined to the new human spirit, is one of ongoing transformation into His own image, likeness, and stature. But the mind, will, and desire of the soul-body alliance is one of control developmental, along with a pursuit of physical pleasure and the avoidance of pain at all costs (because it is in our bodies that the law of sin and death is still at work). Therefore, it is precisely at each one of these junctures/events where the mind of Christ is to be released by the new man, the new woman. The release happens as the Holy Spirit-human spirit denies the limited and worldly knowledge of the soul along with all of our natural physical abilities. The result is the breakup of the co-dependent relationship that exists between the soul and the body. This separation is part and parcel of our sanctification and the only means of experiencing our eternal rest.
Remember that only our spirit was reborn and that its rebirth came with a new heart. And though our soul is eternally cleansed and forgiven, her mind must be renewed and therefore transformed. The soul's worldview (interpretive grid ) was developed in the cultures of men, through a diabolical indoctrination of conformity to the flesh (our limited knowledge of good and evil coupled with our physical pleasurable desires and abilities), which are always in harmony with the values of the world and the devil.
God restored His likeness in us in His wise, purpose, and perfect plan by restoring His divine order in and through His only Son by the Holy Spirit. In the Godhead, the orderly flow of authority is always from the Father, through the Son by the Holy Spirit. In every born-again person, the order is to be restored. Now its flow is to be from the spirit, through the soul to the body.
We need to understand clearly that this new order is the new headship in the born-again child. This new human being now has a good and godly leader who can guide their own soul by overseeing its thoughts and attitudes in union with the Holy Spirit. This oversight is our responsibility for the soul is the adopted child in each of us. In Psalm 131:2, we read, "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." As we walk in the Spirit-spirit union, we gradually wean our soul from depending on her limited knowledge and the data the body's five senses provide. We now have an eternal fountain of perfect knowledge – Our Indwelling Trinitarian God!
As we grow and mature spiritually, our souls heal and become less and less reactionary. As they are weaned from the body, they naturally look to the spirit for direction and guidance. And every time they do not, in and from the spirit, we intervene and provide the needed leadership according to the moment's need.