Friday, July 24, 2015

Defining terms: e.g. the flesh, the Spirit, living in and by the Spirit, living under or by the law etc

There are several words or phrases in scripture that are often misunderstood causing a great deal of confusion over their true meaning. The following is an attempt to define these terms and phrases based on the context in which they're found. 

All of these terms or phrases have something to do with the law and how we are to relate to it.

What is the purpose of the law?

The law is given by God because he loves us and seeks our best. It is God's loving directions to show us how we might bring him highest honor and experience his highest good, which ultimately is knowing God himself. In short it's operating according to who God is and who we are i.e. our design.

The law is not given as a means of obtaining righteousness i.e. making ourselves right (approved), acceptable and therefore loved by God or lovely to him. Obedience to God never **causes God to love us.

God loves us for several reasons:

1. He is love. 
2. We are bearers of his very own image and ***able to enjoy his greatness and reflect him to others (which he loves about us). 
3. He has provided a way to remove the barrier between us and him through Christ, freeing God, so to speak, so he could legitimately pour out that love that he is, on us. 

Obedience to the law is an indication and demonstration of how we love God, and evidence of that love, not an effort to cause God to love us.

Common terms and phrases related to the law in the New Testament:

works or works of the law or law of works or works of the flesh - our attempt to gain God's acceptance, approval and love through our efforts/activities/ actions; through our efforts to live according to the law. Love based on merit not grace. 

flesh or in the flesh or by the flesh or according to the flesh -  that disposition or orientation towards life that believes we can earn/gain God's love, acceptance and approval through our deeds/acts/actions/efforts i.e. merit based. Our natural or "fleshly" orientation of how we operate verses actions promoted by the Spirit. 

confidence in the flesh - a belief and disposition that my efforts and my achievements and the acquired status through these things are what cause me to be loved by God. 

This "fleshly" orientation:

• is how we naturally (due to our rebellious distrust of God) approach everything in life i.e. a performance based approach i.e. a view that we can earn God's love, approval and acceptance through doing good deeds. 

• is deeply embedded in the core of our being. Apart from the Spirit, it is the center out of which we operate; out of which all our actions spring forth. It is the core disposition characterized in scripture as "being our own god."

• is the mode we naturally and automatically go to until God reveals to us we are operating in this way and we turn (repent) from this mode of operating and pursue Him instead out of love, gratitude and a desire to honor him. 

• is something we must be ever vigilant and on guard for; diligently seeking to identify and abandon it wherever and whenever we become aware of operating this way. 

performance - any and all efforts/actions taken with the intent of earning/gaining love, approval, meaning, value etc. primarily from God but from others as well. 

under the law - acting under the obligation to obey the law in order to be approved, accepted and loved by God (thereby avoiding his rejection and condemnation). The belief that we can only obtain a right standing with God by our efforts and if we do not obey the law, we are condemned and rejected by God. The belief that there is no other solution.

the law of sin or of sin and death - living in and under condemnation, guilt and shame due to our inability to live up to the perfect standard of God's law.

law of the Spirit of life - operating out of love for God because we are freed from condemnation, guilt and shame due to Christ bearing all this for us. There is therefore now no condemnation. Rom 8:1

by the Spirit, according to the Spirit or in the Spirit- any actions that are a response to the fact that we are already loved by God based on the merit of Christ, not our own and regardless of what we do or don't do. To operate in the Spirit is to operate under or by grace. It is living by or according to the gospel. It is operating out of trust in God's provision of grace and loving him as a result i.e. in response to his first loving us. 

by grace - To live in faithfulness to God out of a love for Him and a desire to honor him, in response to him loving us first, knowing we are already fully and totally loved and received by him in Christ. 

by faith or the law of faith- living believing all the above is true. 

law - generally the objective moral standard set forth to us in scripture, which is rooted in the character of God by which we are to conduct ourselves. Also, a governing principle (law) based on God's design, by which something always operates; like the law of gravity. 


Being loved by God and *experiencing that love are not the same. 

Being loved by God is based on Christ's efforts alone, not ours. 

*Experiencing that love is based on our pursuit of God out of love for him and trust in Him, creating a desire to honor Him in response to His fully and completely loving us in Christ. 

We can be in Christ and therefore fully loved (objectively) by him. But that does not mean we are *experiencing (subjectively) all that love He has for us fully available in Christ.

*For more discussion on experiencing his love click here and here.  

**Though obedience doesn't cause God to love us but it certainly is pleasing to him when we pursue him faithfully. For more on this click here

***For a further discussion of being valued by God as bearers of his image click here

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Grace to you
Jim Deal