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Devotional - Part 1

28 Feb 2021


The Flesh and How to Overcome it By the Spirit

A Devotional Study


By way of introduction:


I resolve this morning to make a study of the New Testament, searching God’s word as to what He teaches regarding the flesh, by what means it is overcome, and what practices I/we can implement in life in order to do so.


This I have undertaken because I have become convinced, as Paul says, that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells, or as Peter puts it, the desires of the flesh wage war against our souls. As such my flesh is actively trying to kill me. To give in to its desires is to court, and indeed embrace death. To commit to overcoming it is to pursue life eternal.


The overcoming of the flesh is to turn away from sin and turn towards life in Christ, towards Christ Himself. It is the journey of being conformed to the image of Christ and submit to His lordship.


My prayer, as I embark on this study, is that the Lord would use it to train me in righteousness, to conform me to the image of Christ that all my life may be lived and received as an act of worship before and to my God.


Mark 1:1-4


John the baptiser came as a forerunner to the Lord Jesus. He prepares the way, making straight the paths for Israel to receive her Messiah.


John does this by calling the nation of Israel to repentance, and as a visible demonstration of that repentance, to baptism in the river Jordan.


Repentance is the means by which the nation is prepared to receive Messiah, and in just the same way, repentance is the means that our hearts are prepared to receive the Lord Jesus.


What is repentance if not the acknowledgement of the sinfulness of our flesh and our grief over satisfying those desires within us which are sinful leading to brokenness and death.


Without repentance one cannot receive the Lord, and without the Lord one cannot overcome the flesh.

Repentance then is necessary to the overcoming of the flesh.


As conformity to the image of Christ is the Father’s will for all who believe (Rom 8:29-30), then, as Martin Luther rightly states, all of the Christian life must be one of repentance and turning away from the sins of the flesh and towards Christ in/through whom the character of God is fully revealed.


Continual repentance is necessary to overcoming the flesh.


In what way is John’s baptism a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins? Surely if that were the case then there would be no need for the Messiah, the one to whom John’s ministry bears witness and for whom John’s baptism prepares the way?


By his own admission, John’s baptism is only a forerunner, a foreshadowing of the true baptism that will come by/through Messiah. John baptises with water but He will baptise with the Holy Spirit (John 1:8)


John’s baptism is physical and symbolic preparing the way for the Messiah’s baptism which will be spiritual, real, effectual, and final.


John’s baptism is symbolic in that it calls upon the recognised need of his hearers, namely that they are sinners in need of forgiveness. However, like the sacrificial system of the temple, John’s baptism has no final power effecting salvation from sin nor in providing power to the baptised to overcome the flesh.


Presumably, those baptised by John rise from the waters of the Jordan and return to their everyday life including their everyday sins. Although repentant for a time, they rise from the waters every bit a slave to their flesh and the sins its desires produce.


How could it be otherwise? For it to be so on the basis of John’s baptism would mean that the resources to overcome the flesh were found within the flesh itself. But how could this possibly be? What resource could the flesh possibly draw upon in order to overcome itself?


No, true and effectual repentance cannot be a work of the flesh regardless of how severe the regimen imposed upon the body, or how sincere the religious devotion and practice of the individual or community. The flesh cannot overcome the flesh.


The overcoming of the flesh must therefore be effected by the Spirit. Overcoming the flesh is a spiritual act, the power enabling this act coming from without not within.


Baptism in water, in and of itself, regardless of the depth, cannot be effectual in the overcoming of the flesh, only baptism in the Holy Spirit can achieve this.

So in what way does baptism in the Spirit differ from John’s baptism, after all, to say that all of the Christian life is one of repentance implies that there is ongoing sin in the life of the believer for which repentance is required.


In what way is baptism in the Spirit different from John’s baptism then, in what way is it  real, and what is it effectual of?


Firstly, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is real because it brings life to that which was dead.


A spiritual birth takes place with the baptism from above so that we are no longer children of the flesh, enslaved to the lusts thereof, but we become sons and daughters of God, set free from our former slavery to sin to become heirs in our Father’s kingdom of righteousness (John 1:11-13, 3:3-8).


The baptism in the Spirit brings true life from death which the emersion in, and rising from, the waters of the Jordan symbolises.


But if those who are baptised in the Holy Spirit continue to experience sin in this life, how can it be considered effectual? What is this baptism effectual of?


Baptism in the Holy Spirit means that life has been birthed where before there was only death. This life has come from God Himself. As such, at the moment of the entering of the Spirit, it is wholly appropriate to say that the individual is saved; saved from death by life that comes from God into the believer.


Those who are baptised in the Spirit are born of the Spirit, and are at that moment saved.


There is however an eschatological aspect to this salvation in that it is right to say that, in the final judgement at the end of the age, those who have been baptised in the Spirit will be declared forgiven of their former sins, justified and declared not guilty of sin because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and as such, righteous in the eyes of God.


Baptism in the Spirit is a guarantee of final salvation.


So what of the life between the moment of salvation and the final consummation of that salvation?


Being born again of the Spirit grants us a new identity as children of God, however it also grants us a new power to overcome the flesh and the sins its desires give birth to. It is reliance on that resource and that resource alone that empowers us to overcome the flesh in this life.


In relying solely on the power of the Spirit to overcome our flesh, we are recognising and continually rejecting our former life in the flesh as well as the ability in and of ourselves to overcome it. In relying on the Spirit we continually reaffirm our new identity in Christ, living in a way that reflects that new identity out of the power afforded to us in the Spirit.


It is only through the power of the Spirit that we can achieve this, in fact, it is only the power of the Spirit active in us that produces a desire for such a life as well as empowering it. The works of the flesh can and only ever will reinforce our former identity in the flesh. We must reinforce our new identity in Christ through total surrender and reliance upon the Spirit.


As we do so we are immersed deeper into the life of Christ, growing in maturity and conformity to His image. In doing so we march ever closer, day by day, to the final judgement, the day on which our final salvation will be confirmed. On that day, all that is conformed to Christ will be saved while all that is of the flesh will burn as hay and stubble. As such, we walk now in light of the salvation and identity granted to us in Christ. 


The life of the disciple is one that entails dying to the flesh in order that we may live for Christ. This in turn entails continual repentance, a turning away from our former identity with its sins, and towards our new identity in Christ.


No amount of religious doctrinal accuracy, performance, or any other effort can achieve this, only a total surrender to and reliance upon the Holy Spirit can produce these spiritual ends.


This is what discipleship to Jesus looks like.


This is The Way.




If putting to death the flesh means surrender to and total reliance upon the Holy Spirit, what does that look like?


How do we discern between that which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit?

An Invitation to Discipleship

11 Feb 2021

  A New Project. Dear friends. I’m writing this by way of invitation. But before we get to what it is exactly I’m inviting you to, I would like to set the scene, as it were, for what follows.... continue reading...

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