All I'm about to say is tied to the theme of the last three parts of the good. the bad, and the ugly post. The understanding of that theme is essential. If you haven't read the first three parts you will need to at some point to fully comprehend what follows.
There are, it seems to me, at least four ways a christian may choose to live life that reflect the flesh and that are tied to the good, the bad, the ugly. These four ways are often inadequately understood. There are many more I'm sure. But these I've seen, counseled, heard and experienced.
All I'm about to say now must never be seen to excuse behavior. But understanding what we often choose and why we choose it can help us ultimately I believe. I'll keep it in the first person for clarity
I CAN CHOOSE to hide behind the GOOD and pretend the BAD isn't there. But this often leads to my being a hypocrite at best [Pretending something that isn't true because the bad IS there. I'm just hiding it.] or a Pharisee at worst. [I really believe I'm only good and there is no bad in me.] I can appear quite religious, even baptist religious, and be admired by many for this kind of behavior. Doing religious activities and doing them well can feed this and give me a good measuring stick to determine how I'm doing with my good [religious] life. I readily condemn those who disagree with my list by which I measure a good life and use shame on others who fail my list as a tool to correct them. [Never to correct myself since I have it all together.]
Both of these [being a hypocrite or a Pharisee] will keep the Spirit from doing what only He can do in making Christ real in relationships. Which is what real Christianity is all about after all. But these also deny the true Grace of God which is our only true good and remember that true Grace [which is my good] will never deny the bad present in me. So when I choose to live according to this pattern of life I am producing only human good [or human evil] and am eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil continuing the same mistake as did the original Adam. No wonder Paul the apostle saw the flesh at war with the Spirit.
I CAN CHOOSE to hide behind the BAD and live as if the GOOD isn't there. But this can lead to my being a rebel [in my actions] at worst or an extreme introvert at best and live my life between the wallpaper and the wall hiding from most of life out of fear.
When I am the introvert my choices in life will perpetuate a victim mentality and even as a christian I will always NEED someone else to love and affirm me. I become the person most people hate to see coming because I'm always sucking FROM others. I leave the people who try to minister to me dry and empty . There is an atmosphere of death instead of life pervading all my relationships. I'm the one who gets to a worship service last and am the first to leave. But I'm then the first to complain about the unfriendliness of a congregation. No one ever treats me with the love and acceptance I demand from my personal perspective.
When I'm the rebel I flaunt my rule violations as freedom and try to recruit rule keepers into joining me and shame them if they don't. Of course real freedom in Christ is not the right to do what I want but the power to be what I've become by His Grace but remember we're talking about the flesh here. Some pretty weird belief systems can come about in that arena of life.
I CAN CHOOSE to deceive myself believing I can do GOOD sufficiently [even underscoring my efforts with promises] to be a good person worthy of love and acceptance so I set out to please people [or a person] by earning their love and acceptance with that good behavior. I can make appropriate decisions as a man, husband, pastor, whatever, and be admired by those who live at a distance from me personally. But what I wind up doing is making those people close to me [perhaps that person closest] an idol in my life because I'm performing to get their approval. That's regretable. That's sin. At some point I will obviously fail to perform [ I'll make a choice for the BAD] and love and acceptance won't come. [This is from my perspective remember.]
My problem really is I can't see the difference in them not accepting my behavior, which they shouldn't, yet still loving me as a person. So I may try to hide my bad behavior or develop strong arguments why I can't be wrong and if they just understood my motivation they would be not be upset with me. You can see the pressure I apply to get them to not think of me as bad at all. I'm then left alone with myself having failed by identifying myself with my good behavior and assuming others will/ought to as well.
They don't identify me by my behavior, good or bad. [Thank the Lord.] Those who REALLY love me, are just wise enough in their understanding of the real Grace life to separate how I act and who I am. I'm not that wise having identified myself with my performance instead of the performance of Christ. That's why I try so hard to do good. What a rat race that becomes. Trust me...I know.
I CAN CHOOSE to be the Lone Ranger and not even think about pleasing or not pleasing people because, after all, no one is better than I am and I don't think I'm worse than anyone else. So there. I can wear a white hat or a black mask if I want to. I'm my own person. I belong to no one else. [This is close to the original choice of the garden fiasco I think...independence.]
Some one may wonder which of these four has been my modus operandi. in life. I'll let those who know me the best and love me the most answer that. But all four choices will result in a life that is fearful, unfaithful and sinful even at it's best since only what is of faith is victory in the believer. [The bible doesn't say that faith BRINGS the victory but that faith IS the victory.] The tragedy is that so many christians are not able to identify these as patterns of the flesh and will not know the true power of the Spirit and life of faith until they do.
When the scriptures talk about not walking after the flesh I think it is safe to assume that what is being talked about is far more than a lustful thing only. What's being refered to is a way of life that we've developed from early on even before our conversion to Christ and, as I've tried to show, can be dangerous long after that conversion. We must awaken to it's reality.
In conclusion...religion can be a thing of the flesh. Self confidence can be a thing of the flesh. Shyness can be a thing of the flesh. Setting of goals and achieving them can be a thing of the flesh. Regret can be a thing of the flesh. But all of the just mentioned things can also be things of the Spirit. The difference in the things of the flesh/world and the things of the Spirit are not the things themselves but what drives them.
You can see WHY making new years resolutions can be a dangerous thing. You can see why regret over failures of the past year can be dangerous. What is needed is an understanding of walking by faith in the Grace of God which is our true identity. THAT'S to be the true driving force for the believer's life. That's what I'll speak to in the next and final installment.