Flesh and Spirit vs. Black and White
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by Dr. Frederick Drummond, Sr.
Getting saved releases us. It sets us free to follow after the Spirit. And whether it be through the sanctifying process as He conforms us to the image of Christ—which, by the way, takes a lifetime, and even then the job won’t be completed until the resurrection—or the stewardship side, it is based on our faithfulness to the Spirit walk, and not walking after the flesh, as opposed to what the Law Covenant believers had to face in their black and white world. Back then they were constantly looking to the law for their approval. Today we have already been approved of through Christ’s sacrifice, “… accepted through the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6), and follow after the leadership of the Spirit through grace.
We aren’t supposed to live with the same dreadful pressure that they faced back then under the Law Covenant, and until you understand what is ours through grace, you will never be a happy or a satisfied Christian. We no longer have to do what Christ has already done for us—fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). We have been given the opportunity to walk in the Spirit’s easy, peaceful leadership, and trust that God, who knows everything from beginning to end, “works in you [us] both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Working it out is a justified faith walk.
Some of the most disillusioned people I have ever known were Christians who didn’t know they were supposed to follow after the Spirit and not the endless black and white list that the Scriptures present. This doesn’t make the list wrong or us right in our behavior when we are wrong. It simply means that there are new principles to observe under grace. We are called to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
Through Christ the pressure is off us to be perfect. This doesn’t mean to suggest that God doesn’t love perfect or that we shouldn’t be perfectly obedient to the Holy Spirit in all things. What it does mean is that without the law hanging over our heads, we have the grace space we need to be perfected without having to be tormented by guilt as the process drags on. For the Christian the whole issue rises and falls on the perfection of Christ on our behalf, and not on our own perfection. Ours is a faith walk, not a works walk. This brings me back to the issue of black and white versus flesh and the Spirit.
The Old Testament religion of the Law Covenant required them to see everything as black or white and teach and preach accordingly, but the New Covenant with its better promises expects us to go a little deeper and see things in terms of flesh or Spirit and teach and preach accordingly. You would be amazed at how many miss this and confuse the two, not realizing that there is a huge difference between them. The one was a ministry of condemnation, based on dos and don’ts, and the other a ministry of justification, based on obedience to the Spirit. Yes, without a doubt, far too many of the well-intentioned have married them in their enthusiasm to live holy lives and please God, making themselves and everyone else miserable. And while I am for their enthusiasm in principle, there are those who have missed the point and taken things too far. We cannot ever afford to forget that we no longer live under the law, but under grace, and that this has changed our view of life. The hot issue isn’t balance; it is newness.
Certainly, black and white still exist, right and wrong have not changed; nevertheless, how we see ourselves, others and life itself most definitely has. It mattered very much that Law Covenant believers kept every detail of the law, fulfilling its requirements to the T in order to properly foreshadow the coming Christ depicted in all of its requirements and ceremonies. This affected how they saw everything, placing a great burden on their shoulders. Hear what the Scriptures say of life in Old Testament times: “through fear of death [they] were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15). This is not the case any more. We no longer fear death as a threat hanging over us when we err. Paul says,
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Herein lies the great shift from black and white to flesh and Spirit. Some might say, “I don’t see any difference at all.” Allow me to explain the New Covenant message more clearly. As I have already stated, certainly when Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf, He didn’t take it away as the righteous standard of God; nevertheless, He did remove it from being a threat over us as a legal document to condemn. This allowed Him to kick the accuser of the brethren out of heaven (Revelation 12:10).
We have something that Law Covenant believers did not have—the Holy Spirit. It is His indwelling presence that enables God to release us to His holy leadership in our lives, instead of using the old legal document of the law. And while black and white haven’t changed, and we most certainly are called to live holy lives, how we go about things is radically different today. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God has given us a new conscience (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22) and a new agenda. We are called to be filled with Him, empowered by Him, gifted by Him, led by Him, and bear His fruit in our lives. The law is no longer the sanctifying agent; the Holy Spirit is, and His work in our hearts is what it’s all about, and not merely black and white.
What’s the whole point of this? Reject condemnation, guilt, fear, unbelief, bitterness, and what they produce—criticism, judgmentalism and unforgiveness, etc. Put them behind you, because they no longer fit in the economy of grace. Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free from the burden of the law (Galatians 5:1), and learn to follow after the Spirit and give yourself and everybody else a break. Isn’t this the very reason why Paul said, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” And why did he say this? Because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:16,17). What exactly are the “old things” that have passed away and the “new things” that he tells us have made us a new creation? That’s easy. The old things are everything under the Law Covenant that used to condemn us, and the new things are everything under the New Covenant that has made us free from the old. What’s the conclusion? Grace has replaced law, the Spirit has replaced the list of dos and don’ts, and we are now walking according to a new ethic: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
By the way, this is the “sting of death” (1 Corinthians 15:56) that Paul was referring to when he addressed the Corinthian church members. It has been removed. We are set free to be spiritual in and because of Christ. Christian, you are a freeborn child of God through the merits of Another. Don’t allow anything or anyone to threaten your right in Christ to stand in His grace all the way.
There is no telling what the Law Covenant’s ministry of condemnation did to the psyche of Old Testament believers. They were thrust into a harsh world of black and white that gave them no rest. They constantly had to make retribution according to the ceremonial law, and they became a nation caught up in the idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and all the other ugly, negative habits that could be formed when you are stuck in a world of black and white. Nothing could be further from how we are called to live today.
Have you ever thought what it must have been like to wake up every morning realizing that any infringement of the law left unattended could cost you your life? This is how they lived. It would make an interesting discussion to hear what modern-day psychology says the results of such an environment would produce. I have no doubt that the awful repercussions would mold society into a negative, vengeful, treacherous place to live. On the other hand, imagine waking up every morning knowing that Christ has satisfied all of the law’s requirements on your behalf, and that you are guilt-free, justified in the sight of God, secure forevermore with the indwelling Spirit there to comfort and to guide you for the rest of your life. Let us pose the same question to sociologists and psychiatrists today under grace and see what their conclusions would be. Such a positive environment would have nothing but good effects, and this is exactly how church life is supposed to be. Herein lies the basic difference between black and white versus Spirit and flesh.
This being the case, real thinkers should perhaps consider these questions anew: “If the issue is ‘walking in the Spirit and not the flesh, versus black and white,’ how am I supposed to know the guidelines for walking in the Spirit? What about the law?” These are great questions, and the answers are given to us in the epistles such as the ones to the Galatians and the Romans. Black and white have not changed. How we respond to them has. Right and wrong have never changed. How we live them out has. It is never right to do what is wrong, and it is never wrong to do what is right. Nevertheless, we are called to be true to the Spirit, and never forget that our righteousness is in Christ alone. We don’t get any credit for being right. There is a world of difference between living a righteous life in the Spirit through grace, and having the law hanging over your head requiring you, on pain of death if you please, to be obedient to it.
In Christ the pressure has been taken off, and His appeal to walk in the Spirit is love-based and not law-based. He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). It gets no deeper than this. Jesus took the legalistic antagonism out of the Jewish religion, and replaced it with “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17), producing a love walk and not a fear walk. Enjoy the difference.