A gracEmail subscriber in South America asks about living by the flesh and living by the Spirit in Galatians 5 and in Romans 8. “How can the believer sometimes show the works of the flesh? And how can one who has not been born again demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit?”
* * *
Luther said that the Christian is simul iustus et peccator — “righteous and sinner at the same time.” There is never a day when we stand before God righteous because of what God sees in our performance. But there is never a day when, trusting Christ alone for approval by God, we stand any way other than righteous, even though our own lives always come short of God’s perfect standard. The person who is not born again can do good things to a point, but no one can by those good acts ever bridge the gap between self and God. And none of us — believer or unregenerate — can do even good things without some element of sin. Neither our motive nor our performance is ever wholly pure.
As you note, the person who is born again still has an old self or former nature which can be overcome by the Spirit, but which does not go quietly away when left undisturbed. That old nature was crucified with Christ, but it does not like to admit it. We must continually reckon or consider ourselves to be dead to sin, therefore, and act accordingly. When we do think and act in this way (which Paul explains in Romans 6), the spiritual truth becomes practical reality and we live out the life of Christ which he works within us by his Spirit.
The more we say “Yes” to God and “No” to the devil, the stronger our new nature grows and the easier we find saying “No” the next time temptation comes along. The opposite is also true, however, which surely must be part of what Paul meant in warning us not to be deceived, for we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-9). Not all “reaping” occurs at the final judgment.