We are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die (Romans 8:12, 13).
When I was in the Navy, we called the captain of our ship “the Old Man.” Our Old Man was tough and crusty and nobody liked him. He used to go out drinking with all his chiefs while belittling and harassing his junior officers and making life miserable for the rest of us. He was not a good example of a naval officer. So when our Old Man got transferred to another ship, we all rejoiced. It was a great day for our ship.
Then we got a new skipper–a new Old Man. The old Old Man no longer had any authority over us; he was gone–completely out of the picture. But I was trained under that Old Man. So how do you think I related to the new Old Man? At first I responded to him just like I had been conditioned to respond to the old skipper. I tiptoed around him expecting him to bite my head off. That’s how I had lived for two years around my first skipper.
But as I got to know the new skipper, I realized that he wasn’t a crusty old tyrant like my old Old Man. He wasn’t out to harass his crew; he was a good guy, really concerned about us. But I had been programmed for two years to react a certain way when I saw a captain’s braids. I didn’t need to react that way any longer, but it took several months to recondition myself to the new skipper.
You also once served under a cruel, self-serving skipper: your old sinful self with its sinful nature. The admiral of that fleet is Satan himself, the prince of darkness. But by God’s grace you have been transferred into Christ’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13). You now have a new skipper: your new self which is infused with the divine nature of Jesus Christ, your new admiral. As a child of God, a saint, you are no longer under the authority of your old Old Man. He is dead, buried, gone forever.
So why do you still react as if your old skipper were still in control of your behavior?
Why do you still react as if your old skipper were still in control of your behavior? Because while you served under it, your old self trained and conditioned your actions, reactions, emotional responses, thought patterns, memories, and habits in a part of your brain called “the flesh.” The flesh is that tendency within each person to operate independently of God and to center his interest on himself. An unsaved person functions totally in the flesh (Romans 8:7, 8), worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Such persons “live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15), even though many of their activities may appear to be motivated by selflessness and concern for others.
When you were born again, your old self died and your new self came to life, and you were made a partaker of Christ’s divine nature. But your flesh remains. You brought to your Christian commitment a fully conditioned mind-set and lifestyle developed apart from God and centered on yourself. Since you were born physically alive but spiritually dead, you had neither the presence of God nor the knowledge of God’s ways. So you learned to live your life independently of God. It is this learned independence that makes the flesh hostile toward God.
During the years you spent separated from God, your worldly experiences thoroughly programmed your brain with thought patterns, memory traces, responses, and habits which are alien to God. So even though your old self is gone, your flesh remains in opposition to God as a preprogrammed propensity for sin, which is living independently of God.
Be aware that you no longer have to obey that preprogrammed bent to live independently of God. You are a child of God, and you are free to put to death those fleshly deeds and obey Christ.
Dr. Anderson, Freedom in Christ and Harvest House Publishers www.ficm.org