The Dichotomy A Christian Dilemma That Was Then-This is Now!

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-6 NKJV

The Christian life is a wonderful life. However, it is a life filled with dichotomies. If you have been a believer in Christ, you soon experience many dichotomous moments of difficulties. The words of Jesus ring true as the difficult dichotomies break in on us.

“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7:14 NKJV

The difficulties, except for persecution against Christ, are not problems which you would not have as a nonbeliever. We are in the world, surrounded by people and temptations, financial ups and downs, temptations and emotions, diseases and cancers. The difficulty comes from the person we yield to in order to handle the problem. A born-again believer must deal with the dichotomy of two natures. The first nature is the person he/she was. The second nature is the new person he/she is. For both men and women, the first nature is known as the old man. The second nature is known as the new creation. We can simply state this as, “That was then, and this is now!”

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8 NKJV

The Christian dilemma is learning how to walk in the light and not the darkness we once were.

“That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”  Ephesians 4:22-24 NKJV

How are you handling this dilemma? Perhaps, you are like me, a little frustrated because the old seems to win more than the new man? What is then, seems stronger than what is now! However, this is a false narrative we have chosen to believe. God said, believers in Christ are a new creation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV

If we break this verse down, we learn what the then was and what the now is. God said before Christ, we are an old thing, that was then. He further says, in Christ you are now a new creation, this is now.

The ability to leave the old and enter the new is incumbent for us to do. We must understand the two natures and the work of God who destroys the old and creates the new. This must be grasped by faith. Since faith comes by hearing the Word of God, let us examine, this was then, and this is now of Ephesians 2:1-6. If you are not born again you will have a difficult, if not an impossible challenge to understand this dichotomy. You may understand the difficulties of right over wrong but will never know the war within between the old and new. Perhaps, a drug addict would comprehend the agony, as they struggle with addiction and drug freedom.

“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5:17 NKJV

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” James 4:1 NKJV

We have established the fact of the Christian dichotomy dilemma, let us take a deeper look into it in Ephesians 2:1-6, and study the then and now.

  • And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.
  • The Then: Although we are living, we were the walking dead. Our sins and trespasses against God have us on death row.
  • The Now: God has taken the dead and made us alive. In Christ, we are living for the first time since the Garden of Eden. The walking dead are gone and the living alive is now.
  • In which you once walked according to the course of this world.
  • The Then: We thought as the fallen world thought and our behavior reflected it.
  • The Now: We are to walk according to the Kingdom of God. We must think Scripturally to walk spiritually!
  • According to the prince of the power of the air.
  • The Then: The devil was our boss. We obeyed him.
  • The Now: Jesus is our boss. We obey Him.
  • The spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.
  • The Then: We were disobedient sons of Satan, allowing him to work his evil in us.
  • The Now: We are obedient children of God, allowing God’s Spirit to work His good in us.
  • Among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
  • The Then: We were behaving with the disobedient against God.
  • Our conduct was in the lusts (selfish desires) of our flesh (sinful nature).
  • We lived (paramount reason) to satisfy the desires of the flesh we craved.
  • We lived to fulfill the desires of the mind (the imaginations of cravings).
  • Our nature of evil made us children under the wrath of God. In fact, sinning against God is a sign of a nature of wrath.  All this was then.
  • But God, who is rich in mercy.
  • The Now: The mercy of God is richly given for all to receive.
  • Our need is to take His mercy, now.
  • Because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses.
  • The Now: The active love of God is great towards the children of wrath.
  • Our need is to take His love, now.
  • Made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
  • The then and now meet. The dilemma of the dichotomy begins here.
  • The Now: By accepting and believing in God’s mercy and love in the sacrifice of His Son, the grace of God makes the walking dead alive with Christ.
  • And raised us up together.
  • The Now: We are raised from the dead with Christ.
  • We are to learn how-to walk-in newness of the risen life, now.
  • And made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
  • The Now: Physically, we are still living and breathing in the world.
  • Spiritually, we are seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father.
  • This is the dichotomy and the dilemma. We are still physical beings on earth but spiritual beings in heaven. This causes the stress of choice of behavior.

We have much to think about here. The difference between the then and now is striking. The difficulty in leaving the then (old man) and walking in the now (the new man) is problematic. The reality of the prince of the power of the air is still something we must deal with. The then and now are real. The devil is real. God is real. God is above all and has acted to give us victory in life through His Son, Jesus. This is the now, keeping our center of attention on the new creation in Christ we are and not the old. The devil wants us back. The old man wants to come and retake his life in us. God wants us to stay in Him. The dichotomy is before us in every moment of the day. Therefore, what disciplines can we follow to keep us in the now and not fall back into the then?

Paul said he was caught in the dilemma of the dichotomy. 

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” Romans 7:15,21-22 NKJV

Paul said he was in a battle with the prince of the power of the air.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7 NKJV

Paul knew he was in a struggle with the world system of evil people. Look what happened to him in Philippi.

“Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” Acts 16:22-24 NKJV

What discipline did Paul employ not to allow his flesh to come back to life? It is obvious, to the reader of Romans; chapter 7, Paul tried to beat the flesh in his own power. The result of this was a failure. How did he finally win the battle of the flesh vs Spirit?

  1. He realized his own weakness in the battle of flesh vs Spirit. He said, “For what I will to do, that I do not practice.” 
  2. He came to his senses and the need of the Savior. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin,” Romans 7:24-25 NKJV.
  3. He realized his need for the living Christ in this battle. He stopped wrestling with the sin and began to look to Jesus. He wrote in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” Hebrews 12:2 NKJV.
  4. He actively set his mind to place Christ into the battle. “I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved,” Psalm 16:8 NKJV.

Therefore, if the greatest of all the Apostles was totally dependent on Christ, should not we be also? In our battle against the flesh (the then) to be in the Spirit (the now), what is the way to victory? How do we look to Jesus, when our minds are flooded with evil thoughts and desires?

  1. Follow the teaching of King David as Paul did. “I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies,” 2 Samuel 22:4 NKJV.
  2. When the battle of the flesh and the temptations of sin begins (We know this happens multiple times a day) do not wrestle with it but begin verbally in the mind or out of the mouth calling on the name of the Lord to be saved from your enemies. Therefore, choose a name of the Lord, which is special to you. The name could be Jesus, Christ, Immanuel, Wonderful, Lord, Shepard, Yahweh, Adonai, or Elohim. Start repeating the name in the mind until you are focused on Jesus and drawn back into the Spirit. Then listen for a scriptural encouragement to you from Jesus and walk in it. This is a centering prayer; the prayer of calling on the name of Jesus. In doing this you choose the Spirit over the flesh.
  3. This is simple, yet difficult to do. However, Paul gives us one more item of encouragement. He taught us how he ultimately was able to live above the flesh and obey the Scriptures. “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:12-13 NKJV.
  4. Therefore, we also can do all through Christ, if Christ is our center.

Let us move on to Paul’s second problem, the problem of the prince of the power of the air.  This is a problem of the then and now. The Apostle Paul had a demon problem, “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me!”  The great apostle who could cast out demons could not cast out the demon against him. In the city of Ephesus Paul did mighty works, “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them,” Acts 19:11-12 NKJV. However, Paul’s demon did not leave him. This bothered him immensely. “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me,” 2 Corinthians 12:8 NKJV.

Therefore, if the Greatest Apostle had to deal with a demon, just like we all do, how did he do it? Paul had to obey God’s command to live by His grace and so should we.

“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV

What advice did the Lord give to Paul concerning his battle against the demonic?

  1. Paul was admonished to understand; in himself, he is weak concerning the battle against darkness and walking in the ways of God.
  2. Paul was admonished to rely on God’s grace only as his sufficiency.
  3. Even though he was an Apostle, Paul learned he was not above the problems and battles of the rank and file Christian. He needs God’s grace, just like us.
  4. In his wrestling with the principalities and power of the air, Paul had to rely on God’s grace through the tactic of resistance and submission. He learned from James the brother of Jesus to do this. James taught, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James 4:7.
  5. He learned from Jude, the brother of Jesus and James how to resist in God’s grace. To resist is not to get in the mud and wrestle with the devil but to give the devil over to God, just like Michael the archangel did. “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”  Jude 1:9 NKJV
  6. Paul followed Jesus’s example in the battle by standing on the grace of God through the written word spoken (Read Matthew 4).
  7. In Paul’s understanding, God’s grace is found in putting on the armor of God, which is truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit breathed word Of God and prayer (Read Ephesians 6).

Since Paul learned to resist the devil by God’s grace, we also need to comprehend this lesson also. The whole of salvation, in the now, should be lived this way.

Finally, let us move on to Paul’s third problem; the problem of living with the world system of rebellion against God. Paul understood these words from his fellow Apostle, John, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world,” 1 John 2:16 NKJV.

Paul understood the truth of Jesus words, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My word, they will keep yours also,’” John 15:18-20 NKJV.

Paul certainly experienced the problem of the new creation suffering in a world which hates you. How does his autobiography read? Is it filled with streets of gold and blessings upon blessing? No, it is a sad story of world persecution against him.

“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep,” 2 Corinthians 11:24-25 NKJV.

Well, the man who “Once persecuted the church beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13), now receives the same treatment. How did Paul handle this problem? Let us look at one of the beatings and imprisonment to find out how he handled it.

“And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” Acts 16:23-25 NKJV.

  1. Paul was in great pain. It would be easy for him to complain and have a pity party about his situation. However, Paul prayed about his situation. He sought God’s help.
  2. Paul could have been angry and complaining about what happened to him. He did not do this. Instead, he sang hymns to God. The praises of God were on his lips.
  3. In applying these disciplines as a Christian, in the now of the world, he was blessed by God. In Philippi, “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed,” Acts 16:26. He told Timothy, “Persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me,” 2 Timothy 3:11 NKJV.

Paul faced many horrendous situations as a Christian. He handled them, in the now, with prayer and praise. He did not deny the problems but prayed through them with praise, trusting God.

The dilemmas and dichotomies of the Christian life are real. We all face these problems. It is written, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.” The problems of the flesh, the devil, and the world are real. God calls us to a high standard of action to walk His way because, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it,” 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV.

If we practice the disciplines mentioned above, we will find the way of escape. God Bless You In This Endeavor!

© Guy Peter Calandra -Author- The Inside Word.


Thoughts on Centering Prayer, See the Book:

Centering Prayer

Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form

By M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.

Image Books Doubleday, New York London Toronto Sydney Auckland


2 comments on “The Dichotomy A Christian Dilemma That Was Then-This is Now!”
  1. Rick says:

    love this study of the flesh and the spirit, we area new creation and with Jesus we win the battles of the flesh.

    Liked by 1 person

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