However, this does not mean that the flesh system is altogether gone in the life of the new believer (nor even the old believer). Because the flesh is a system of habits and conditioned responses, the believer may choose to live his remaining days and conduct his relationships out of the flesh. It is what has been normal for so long. The reactions of the flesh are deeply ingrained in his thinking. Thus, a believer may live “according to the flesh,” as Paul says, and may use sinful actions to attempt to satisfy his needs. He may know in his heart that the Lord is the only One who has ever met his needs, but his old habits are hard to break and often come first in his thinking. The difference in his new life is that he has a choice. The relationship he has with Jesus has filled him with the Spirit and he is able to choose to live “according to the Spirit.” The admonitions of Scripture against sin have the purpose of exposing the dangers of certain actions and attitudes and the desire to protect believers and those around them from that danger.
What it does mean is that the believer, although still quite capable of sin and probably often participating in it in some form, is no longer defined by it. Whereas the believer was once stuck with his flesh as the only system for coping with life, he now has the life of Jesus Christ within and the Spirit to enable him not to sin. He has become a new creature. So Paul says to the Corinthians that they “were” defined by their sins and now they are defined by their relationship with Jesus. (1 Cor 6:11)
Thus, a person could still exhibit narcissistic characteristics because that is his deeply ingrained flesh pattern, but he is no longer a narcissist. He has been set free from the definition of that sin (and all others).
Here’s an example: I have a good friend who became a believer while still an alcoholic. He says that he was a “saved drunk.” For several years after his repentance and conversion, he struggled with his addiction to alcohol. Eventually he came to understand that he no longer needed what he thought alcohol gave him. He found that Jesus provided what he was looking for. He stopped drinking with no side-effects and believes that God gave him a miracle. He finally understood that, in Christ, he was no longer a drunk. So he began to live out of who he really was, instead of who he had always been.
That’s the victory over the flesh!
So, should believers repent? That’s tomorrow…