The Scriptures teach that we human beings are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27). We know that God is spirit, so we’re not talking about his physical appearance, but rather the imago dei is about reflecting his goodness into the world as beings with a special standing and calling—to lovingly rule as caretakers of creation.
As Stanley Grenz has written, “God has designated us as his representatives so that through us creation might experience what God is like. We are to mirror the divine character and thereby reflect God’s own nature” (Created for Community, pg. 77).
Think about this with me: God, who is spirit, became an embodied soul in Christ. Human beings were first body, but then became souls when God breathed life into us in Eden (Gen 2:7).
It’s clear that God thinks the joining of the spiritual and the physical realms is a darn good thing. Incarnation is what he wanted all along. And it will come to completion in the future resurrection.
But there is something about the “flesh” that needs to be understood.
Identity Crisis & Confusion
The New International Version translates sarx (flesh) as “sinful nature” when the NT is referring to that part of human beings that is familiar with sin, that which seeks to root our identity in evil desires and actions—distorting the image of God. The translators did this as not to confuse human “flesh” to mean “sinful” when speaking about Jesus (e.g. Jn 1:14).
I understand wanting to differentiate its meaning, but “sinful nature” is terribly misleading in what it says about us.
Greg Boyd explains it this way:
“The flesh is not a nature that is essential to someone’s identity. It is rather a deceptive way of seeing and experiencing oneself and one’s world and thus a deceptive way of living in the world… It is a way of existence that comes naturally to fallen creatures, but it is not itself a “nature.” Indeed, it is sinful and destructive, and believers are exhorted to live free of it, precisely because it is against the nature God created in us and the new identity God gave us in Christ. In other words, the flesh is a worldview that is based upon a lie and that therefore opposes truth.” Greg Boyd, Seeing is Believing (pg.35)
A self-identity of “flesh” began in Eden when the first humans bought into the lies of the serpent and experienced the fall from their original position of knowing God, themselves, and the world.
- Lie 1: Being made “in his image” isn’t best.
- Lie 2: You are self-sufficient and know better that God.
- Lie 3: You can obtain life by doing something.
These lies are at the root of every sin we commit, though they can take many different forms. This identity of flesh is maintained by what Paul calls the “pattern of the world” and we’re told to resist it by being transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2).
Therefore, the “sinful nature” is actually a lie. It’s not the true you.
This “flesh” is the identity that is formed as a result of sin, while living in sin, and through the constant shaping of outside influences (e.g. family, society, culture, etc.). These forces often can and do seek to mold us into an image that is contrary to what God says about us in Christ (Rom 8:1-2).
We are created in his image, but we are broken and not as we should be. Thankfully, Jesus came to repair the damage done and offer us a new identity.
A New Identity in Christ
The apostle Paul said that we believers have died with Christ, even been crucified with him (Gal 2:20), and the life we now live is done so from a position of being “in Christ” and Christ living in us.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
Christ is the perfect image of God, and offers us a new identity rooted in him.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV
Jesus says his Spirit is available for the creation of new life—an identity where sin is not natural—where “sinner” is not your name. What you feel or have been shaped by with the “pattern of the world” is to be denied for belief in a deeper truth: You are a new creation in Christ!
Over and over again the Scripture says that we are to shed the old identity by taking control of our thoughts and turning our gaze upon the truth of heaven (Col 3:1-4; Phil 4:6-8). We must be intentional in this pursuit.
The one who conditions the heart and mind to embrace the new identity will gain control of his body, effecting the whole course of his life.
Isn’t it time to say farewell to the identity called “flesh” that enslaves you? The following scene from Peaceful Warrior (2006) illustrates this spiritual feat.
What’s keeping you from dashing the false image and ego? Let go of your flesh and choose to daily embrace your new identity in Christ.
D.D. Flowers, 2014.