The spiritual conflict that the New Testament designates as the war between “the flesh” and “the Spirit” began in heaven eons ago with Lucifer’s rebellion. Adam’s fall created the pit into which his descendants were born, with sinful natures inclined away from God, away from “the Spirit,” and toward “the flesh.” This is the battleground of the covenants. The cosmic conflict between the two great powers of good and evil in the universe—Jesus Christ and Satan—is focused like a laser on every human heart: the one fights to enslave us to “the flesh”; the other, to set us free in “the Spirit.” Whether we spend much time thinking about “religion” or not, we will feel those two great powers striving within us. The one is pushing and pulling us toward eternal destruction; the other, loving and wooing us toward an eternal inheritance to which we were destined from the beginning. We are not merely students studying about this war; we are participants in it. We are not only being fought over; we are also soldiers in this war, fighting for one side against the other.
The war between “the flesh” and “the Spirit” for the hearts and souls of humanity is trans-generational, crossing dispensational (Old and New Testament) lines, with the stakes equally high on both sides. Even though the war is not described as “flesh” versus “Spirit” until the New Testament era, the story of Cain and Abel attests to the existence and effects of this war from the fall of Adam to this very day. The first gospel promise, made in Jesus’ first post-fall covenant with fallen man (Gen. 3:15), assured Adam and his descendants that a seed of the woman would one day win the war on humanity’s behalf, though He would be wounded in the process. But, while the battle has been won historically and cosmically, it still rages in every human heart.
The war of the covenants is not between the historical covenants; they are all gospel partners allied against the powers of hell that are seeking “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10) (note Lesson 1’s chart). The war of the covenants focuses on how people respond to the gospel presented and the appeal made in the historical covenant(s)—“the flesh” designating an old covenant experience destined to death, “the Spirit” designating a new covenant experience destined to life (note lesson 2’s second chart). “The flesh” and “the Spirit” are not terms that apply to God’s historical covenants, but only to the experiential responses made to those covenants. It is hard to overestimate how important this concept is to understanding the New Testament’s teaching on the old and new covenants. To miss this point is to miss the evangelistic appeal in the covenant(s) entirely. The evangelistic appeal of God’s covenant(s) has been practically silenced due to centuries of theological misinterpretation of the New Testament’s teaching on the old and new covenants.
In the next six lessons we will be doing some serious analytical work to put this understanding of the covenants to the test. It will be vitally important during this intense investigation not to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. As we analyze six critical, often misunderstood and misapplied New Testament passages, be asking yourself, What does this passage we are studying in this lesson teach me about what it means to respond to the gospel so as to avoid an old covenant experience that results in death, and to gain a new covenant experience that results in a life of purpose now and eternal life ultimately? How does this passage help me to that end?