Tag Archives: new creation

Farewell to the Flesh

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.


Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book One

N.T. Wright is one of the leading voices within New Testament scholarship today. Wright taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities. He presently holds the Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Wright, a prolific author, has written over forty books, including both scholarly and popular works. His major academic series Christian Origins and the Question of God is making no small contribution to NT studies. There are six proposed volumes in this series. The fourth volume is anticipated as being Wright’s magnum opus on Paul.

Wright undoubtedly stands at the summit of NT scholarship. I sincerely believe he is the most important of Christian thinkers alive today. His writings offer fresh insight and a stimulating challenge to evangelical Christianity.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise as to why I have chosen one of his books as the first in a list of five books offering up a new vision for evangelicalism.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Feb. 2008), Wright challenges the notion of “going to heaven when you die” and spending an eternity in some bodiless future. For if this was the case, Wright says, “then what’s the fuss about putting things right in the present world?”

Is our evangelical language of our future existence reflective of NT orthodoxy? Do we have a consistent biblical message on “life after death?” Wright doesn’t believe so, and he claims we have instead embraced a Gnostic view of the future that fouls up our presentation of the gospel in the present. He believes we have lost sight of the biblical vision for the future.

Our future home is not “heaven”—for this is where God is presently—another dimension altogether. Our hope is in this spiritual heaven coming down to earth. The climax of all human history is the consummation of God’s spiritual realm (heaven) breaking through to our earthly existence. Therefore, in Wright’s view, it is “life after life after death” that we find our hope, and a hope for the world.

Wright’s greatest emphasis is on “resurrection” and “new creation” that has already begun in this world. It is time to realize the great significance with that which is at the heart of our faith in Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-28). He writes, “it is (resurrection), principally, the defining event of the new creation, the world that is being born with Jesus.”

It is in the resurrection of Christ that happened in this old creation that gives us hope for a new creation taking place right now in the 21st century.

“Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible…” (pg.75).

This “new creation” should not be confused with baptizing the culture into Christianity and attempting to enact a utopian dream, as some evangelicals have embraced. Wright says that his misplaced trust in the myth of progress does not work because it does not fully account for evil.

This myth may sometimes run parallel to our Christian hope, but it “veers off toward a very different destination” that ignores the need for the cross of Christ upon the natural fallen creation. It doesn’t see the need for change within, only uniform capitulation to a set order of ideas.

Wright declares, “What matters is eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come), not ontological dualism (an evil “earth” and a good “heaven”)” (pg. 95). Evangelicals have also been guilty of preaching the apocalyptic demise of the space-time universe! Therefore, we all must get ready to be raptured for another world altogether.

This belief in a Platonic escapism has pervaded our theology and demanded that we adopt a popular dispensationalist view of the future—a future where we “fly away” and are “raptured” to spend an eternity in a glorified retirement home in the sky.

Wright believes that embracing the biblical vision of the future will lead us to a proper practice of the church. If our beliefs about heaven and the resurrection are wrong, then we are not entirely about the Lord’s business in ushering in the Kingdom of God, more specifically in ways keeping with the example of Christ who has revealed what it means to be human.

It is time we abandon this empty belief for one that appreciates the hope given to us in the NT—a hope where God restores his good creation and finishes the work he began in the universe. Wright states, “What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (pg. 107).

Wright draws our attention to Christ’s ascension as well as his resurrection. Because of the ascension of Christ, we not only have a savior who is indwelling us and present with his people, but a Lord who is at the same time “gone on ahead of us” by being the first to enter into our promised resurrected existence.

In other words, the work of Christ is finished and yet to be realized. It is reflective of the “already, but not yet” tension of the Kingdom of God.

We await a savior to complete the work he began in us. This completion shall come by way of the parousia or his “coming.”  Wright very simply writes, “he will in fact be “appearing” right where he presently is—not a long way away within our own space-time world but in his own world, God’s world, the world we call heaven” (pg. 135).

Wright challenges our traditional picture of our journey being completed upon death. He argues that there is indeed a temporary “paradise” for believers awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the completion of all things. But if evangelicals ignore the finished work of Christ through the final resurrection of the dead, then we miss the entire Christian hope.

God’s judgment is a good thing, something that believers ought to celebrate—for evil will be dealt with once and for all and heaven will make its home on earth. On the other hand, the judgment gives the unbeliever much to worry about.

While Wright calls into question our modern interpretations of hell that are reflective of a theology from the Dark Ages, he finds it impossible not to believe in some sort of “ultimate condemnation” for those who have rejected God’s purposes for the earth. He says that these folks will cease to bear the divine image, and by their own choice become “beings that once were human but now are not.”

Wright believes that whatever “hell” is in reality, beyond the bizarre biblical metaphors, it should suffice for evangelicals to agree that it is a horrible end. And that should be enough. It is time to stop arguing over evangelical views about hell. Belief in a literal hell is not the true test of orthodoxy.

Wright’s main idea is this:

Heaven and hell ought not be the focal point of the Gospel.

The resurrection and ascension is not designed to take us away from this earth but instead to make us agents of transformation, anticipating the day when, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

Wright looks at the themes of justice, beauty, and evangelism. What do these look like in light of this radical message of hope? What does this look like in retrospect to the resurrection of Christ and the promise that we will inherit the same? Furthermore, what should the mission of the church be in light of this biblical hope for the future? Wright believes it is “to live consciously between the resurrection of Jesus in the past and the making of God’s new world in the future” (pg. 213).

Finally, I have chosen Surprised by Hope as the first book in this series because it is a much-needed theological challenge to popular evangelicalism. It gives us a biblical vision of God’s good future for heaven and earth.

I pray that Wright’s message will begin a move among evangelical churches to return to the biblical hope for the future, and offer the world more than an escape from a devil’s hell for a distant realm in a bodiless heaven.

For those interested, you may also purchase the 6-session DVD study with this book. It is an excellent resource for both independent and group study.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Read the next post: Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Book Two

* See the first post Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism, Intro for information on the free book giveaway at the end of this series.


%d bloggers like this: