Living in the Flesh vs Living in the Spirit

By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.

When we speak of the unbalanced cosmotic personality vs the balanced Christian personality, in essence what we are saying in Biblical terms is the person who is living according to the flesh vs the person who is living according to the Spirit. This requires some clarification, as by flesh we don’t mean body. This is very important. The body isn’t evil in itself. The body of a Saint is holy and good, and will inherit eternal life. The Physical body will be glorified and inherit eternal life.

By flesh we don’t mean the body, we mean someone who lives simply to gratify the desires of the body without any influence from the Spirit. Their one concern is living for this life and for the pleasures of this life. So flesh in scripture means non Spirit led or carnal living.

On the other hand living according to the Spirit, isn’t simply a person who has been baptised. Church membership or attendance doesn’t mean a person is living according to the Spirit. Being led by the Holy Spirit means living ones whole life in and by the Spirit; through a total heartfelt commitment to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. Okay so as we said Cosmotic Living is living according to the flesh, Balanced Christian living is to be led by and live in and through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s have a more detailed look at what it looks like to be living in the flesh. Our first place to find answers to anything that relates to the Christian life is our Bible. This is why we need to read our Bible daily and have a deep love for our Bible and the Word of God. What does Scripture say?

Galatians 5:19-21 – “19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness (which embraces sodomy and bestiality in Greek), lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

1 Peter 2:1-5: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking”

Romans 1:26-31 “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.”

Every single human being has fallen into at least some of the sins listed above. I don’t want to explore each sin individually but do want to explore where these sins came from? How did they manifest in the world, if this world was created good by God? These are important questions if we wish to find a cure.

Before a correct cure and diagnosis can be given for a disease, the source or reason for the sickness needs to be identified. This means we need to understand what has gone wrong in the human condition to create people that desire to live in the flesh and enjoying living in the flesh, with all its perverse sins and desires.

We can see a model of all humanity in Adam and Eve. We see them only experiencing holiness while in communion with God. When they turned away from God and His will, which was the way of love, peace and fullness, they fell into a sick and unnatural condition. The closer we are to God the closer we are to holiness. The further we are from God the deeper into corruption and immorality we find ourselves.

So let us imagine a human being today, created in God’s image and likeness, but that doesn’t know God. He or she has been born into a fallen world, in a family that doesn’t know God, in a world affected by centuries of brokenness, of sin permeating the entire cosmos. This person is a microcosm. Full of desires, dreams, expectations, passions, desires, etc. This person has been created to become like God, to experience union with God through His Spirit, with huge potential, with all the tools to strive to become God-like, to become a Saint.

But the person as we have said doesn’t know God. They’ve entered a broken world flooded and surrounded with a gospel that is Anti-Christ. They are told from a young age: “do what you like, take care of yourself, you’re your own leader”. They listen to music that promotes ego, drugs, sex, power, etc. Watching TV shows that promote sin and darkness: sex, power, ego, greed. The person starts to be moulded into the image of the broken world into which he has been born.

They don’t know about prayer and its affects; they don’t know about sacramental life and its necessity; they don’t know about the Scriptures and the need to be moulded through them into the image of the Lord. They don’t know about the all-loving and merciful God who desires nothing more than to enter into an everlasting union of love with them in His kingdom.

So they create their own cosmos and gospel. They have their own laws, their own gods, whether that be themselves or the multitude of idols that exist and have been erected by fallen man. They make their own choices and decisions without any consequences; they’re the boss.

To add to the world flooding and influencing people through its own gospel, we have the individual’s desires for pleasure and satisfaction. We are wired by God to be satisfied beings enjoying fullness of pleasure, but this is to take place through union and communion with God. Through entering into the love of God in the Holy Spirit we are flooded with His beauty and goodness leading to extreme pleasure and satisfaction. Pleasure and satisfaction seeking are hard wired into us, to find ultimate satisfaction in Christ.

Sadly though without God we turn to anything to find satisfaction and pleasure. It’s in our nature to be satisfied and feel good, so we must find this satisfaction. So we turn to lust, fornication, pornography, drugs, alcohol, excessive enjoyment of food, gluttony and any pleasure. We become slaves to these desires and pleasures and seek fulfilment in anyway possible. Greed and ego dominates as we seek satisfaction, even at the expense of others. This is the world’s gospel; this is the spirit of the Anti-Christ.

Sadly people in this state or condition have become minions of Satan. I know it sounds horrible and it should break our hearts and bring tears to our eyes, but if we’re not with the Lord we are of necessity against him. Our mind, thoughts, and desires become anti-Christ. And without Christ, the enemy can lead any person through their thoughts in whatever way he wills. These people are lost and in deep darkness.

This is why in their natures, the God given desires have been turned away from truth to darkness. Love turns to lust, passion for truth and for God, becomes passion for pleasure. Intelligence given to know God and His ways, is turned to study of fallen things and practices; joy, given to be the fruit of communion with God, is perverted into a twisted and sick happiness experienced through sinful living. Senses given to enjoy God and creation in God, are used to enjoy fallen creation without God.

Natural man has become unnatural. And depending on the depth into which a person enters into darkness they put on the image of the demons to which they have made themselves slaves. They are stripped of their likeness of God and put on the likeness of the demons whom they submit themselves. This is so, so sad. But we can see that the further one drifts from God, the more perverse their nature and sins become. Man cannot be holy without God. It’s only through communion with God in and through the Holy Spirit that a person can become Christlike and have any virtues. When disconnected from God man becomes unnatural, full of sin and darkness and is under the dominion of dark spirits.

Thankfully the story doesn’t end here. As we’ve discussed, many people, perhaps the majority of people are born in this condition, without being born into a Christian faith. They are born into a world that is literally dying and destined for chaos and destruction. They’re also to blame, it’s not all their environments fault. It may sound like I’ve blamed the world and their circumstances completely for their state, but all these people have been created in the image and likeness of God. This means that they have a conscience that is crying out to them, seeking to lead them to God, if they only listen to it. They are less ‘guilty’ than the people who know God and know his word, and continue to live in sin, but they are guilty none the less, as they have trampled all over their conscience in living in sin.

Moving on, the good news is that Jesus has made a way out of al the chaos and brokenness. He has called us all to spirit filled living, to become balanced Christians in word, deed and thought. Let us now see the difference between what we’ve described as the cosmotic fleshly way of living and the spirit led way of life.

Jesus has entered the cosmos with a new Gospel, a gospel that is anti-cosmotic and revolutionary; a gospel that fosters the full potential for humanity and enables it to reach its ultimate destiny, union with God through His Church, His Body. The new Gospel calls man to redirect his energy and desires from self centred living, to God centred service and sacrifice. Man is to turn his heart and mind away from the lust of the flesh, away from lust, sin and darkness, toward Christ.

The first step is faith, to believe Jesus is the Christ and to repent; to change one’s beliefs, opinions and mindset and to align one’s heart with the gospel of Christ. To reject Satan and his gospel and to become a member of Christ. After his radical repentance and confession a person is baptised. They are buried in the baptismal waters and are raised a new creation in Christ. They are united to the Lord and sealed with and receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Chrismation.

Then comes a life long struggle to re-align one’s mind, heart, desires, thoughts, lifestyle, and entire being to doing the will of God in the Church. We strive to love and serve others in obedience to the Gospel. Once again reading of the Bible on a daily basis is essential. If I don’t know the commandments, if they are not etched on my mind and heart then I can’t have them readily available at every opportunity to obey them and take one step toward becoming like Jesus. Man then enters into relationship with the living God. He doesn’t make his own gospel, or accept the world’s gospel; he isn’t led away by the waves of Satan and his devices; but instead finds stability, direction and purpose. Instead of using the human potentialities for sin and self satisfaction, for lust, sex, drugs, he uses them for true love of God and neighbour.

In every human interaction with another person, the Spirit led Christian finds the impetus, the means to become godly. In their home, through obedience to parents and sacrifice for their wives. In their dealings at work by being humble and caring. Every situation is a tool for Godliness. The Christian also realises quite quickly that he cannot do this alone. He realises that the means to become holy is God Himself and his grace. Throughout their life, Christians are burdened by their sins and weaknesses. Don’t forget, the spirit led Christian lives in this fallen world. They are also bombarded by the world’s gospel, they are bombarded with the gospel that is Anti-Christ, they struggle and sometimes have victory, other times they succumb to the temptations and fall.

Through their constant struggle, their tears and sweat, they realise that victory is only possible when the heart totally humbles itself and depends entirely on Christ, through a living and intimate union with Him, unto sanctification and holiness. The more a person craves to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, the more the person clings to Christ, mystically unceasingly calling upon the Lord in unceasing prayer, through this unceasing union in Spirit with the Lord, a person becomes Christlike. Through this unceasing hidden communion of the heart, an unceasing bathing in the Holy Spirit, the person is sanctified, purified and becomes a Saint.

And this is not only for monks. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, St Paul tells this newly established Church to “pray without ceasing”. He tells new believers to pray unceasingly. Why? Because he knows this is a safe and sure path to holiness, transformation, righteousness and eternal life, through being intimately united to Christ in an unceasing communion and union. The Sacraments given by our Lord, confession and Holy Communion also greatly empower this union with Christ and bolster mans humble efforts.

And how can we recognise someone who’s made progress on this path of union with the Lord? Let’s see what the bible says:

Galatians 5:22-25 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Romans 13: 8-14 – “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,”[a] “You shall not covet,”[b] and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[c] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law…. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

This is the fruit of spirit led living: holiness, Christ likeness. We see that in order to be a balanced Christian we need to redirect all our energy, all our zeal toward this goal and make it our number one priority. That’s why God said we need to love Him with ALL our mind, with ALL our heart, with ALL our strength, with ALL our being, because only through giving ALL our effort we cannot become ALL we have been called to become in and through Christ. We see then the radical difference between the person without God and the person with God. One is lost in darkness, the other is bathed in light. It is our duty then as Spirit led, balanced Christians to be a light to those in darkness to try and show those without God, the beauty of God and try and lead them to him so they can start the journey of union with God.

The two ways are diametrically opposed, and there is no in between area. Either we are on a journey of becoming like God, through our deep love for Him, or we are stuck in the darkness and servants of Satan. There is no in between. May God help us all to give everything we have to God; to love Him as best as we can, to allow His Holy Spirit to transform us and heal us and give us life.

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