It is one thing to preach, teach, and discuss the need to “crucify the flesh”. It is another matter altogether to put the idea into practice. That is, how do resurrection-empowered saints “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24)? At least three ways come to mind as we read the New Testament.
The first is to “walk by faith” (II Cor 5:7), another New Testament phrase that needs some explanation. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Faith is believing everything God has said is true even when temporal evidence – what we see, hear, and touch – would suggest otherwise. Faith is believing God is active along the lines of His promises even when His work remains unseen. Faith is believing in a world ruled by the Sovereign of the universe that operates in ways that are counter-intuitive to our natural way of thinking. Faith is following God’s lead even when the path forward is dimly lit and the answers to our burning questions are slow in coming, if at all.
How “walking by faith” affects our moral decision-making or responses to temptation is best understood by comparing it to its opposite, “walking by sight”, since “we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7). Walking by sight sees the world as an amoral cause and effect relationship between my choices and my desired results. If I cheat on my taxes, I will have more disposable income. If I become angry enough at the store manager, he will resolve the situation in my favor. If I squash my co-workers in a subtle (so I look like a team player) but effective manner, I will move quicker up the company ladder. If I lie about this particular situation, I will get out of a jam.
All of these “walking by sight” choices see the world as a natural cause and effect relationship. Walking by faith sees an unseen world governed by God’s commands that empowers us to resist temptation. Practically speaking it looks like this. Because I trust God for my finances, I resist the temptation to cheat on my taxes. Because I trust God for the results of this business transaction, I will treat the store manager with respect and kindness. Because I trust God for my career, I will put the interests of my co-workers above myself. Because I trust God’s commands to be life-giving, I will tell the truth even when it appears to cause me harm. This is living by faith. And it has a very direct effect on our moral decisions.
When I walk by faith, I am believing what God said about His empowering me to make moral choices that line up with my new identity. The New Testament focus on “walking by faith”, “walking in the Spirit”, and “walking in a worthy manner” all equate our “walking” with how we conduct ourselves in light of who we are as God’s seed, God’s children. The Apostle Paul summed it up this way, in concluding that faith is not just for our initial salvation, but the very foundation of how we live the Christian life, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).