Saturday, November 17, 2007

Follow-up on "Doing Hard Things Starves the Flesh"

In the comments on the last post, Gracie said some things which got me thinking. Since my post was also featured on The Rebelution there was some good discussion which followed and I recommend to the readers of this blog. This post, however is to share the thoughts Gracie's comment provoked, and what the Lord has taught me on the subject.

In the months since I wrote the last post, I have learned first-hand that it is utterly impossible to rely on doing Hard Things to starve the flesh and "become godly." For the mature child of God especially, this is very much to be minimized.

My point was possibly more applicable to a less mature Christian. For example, parents may train their children to obey without asking questions. Unconditional obedience builds habits and behavior patterns that are extremely influential in a lifetime of things to come. There's no question that's good training. However, as a child grows older and more mature, it is increasingly important for the parents to back off on the legalistic do-it-because-I'm-your-father approach and in lenience test the young person's training and love for his parents.

This is what God does with us, too. When we were dead in sins, His commands were burdensome because they only showed us our incapacity to obey and brought condemnation upon us. When we place our faith in Christ's death on our behalf, our relationship with God is based on grace, not law (as Romans 7 says, we are now dead to the law).

Being based on grace, our relationship to God is not conditional upon our performance. I shall repeat: our relationship to God is not conditional upon our performance. He bought us while sinners; He will not "dump" us because we sin after we're saved.

My emphasis on doing in order to keep the flesh in subjection was undue. It is helpful only a little bit, especially, as I said above, in areas of more spiritual immaturity.

Moreover, this Doing to keep the flesh subject is of "no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:23).

Let's look at Colossians 2:20-23 (NASB)

"If [since] you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of this world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom [a good thing] in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." (Italics and brackets mine)
These verses speak of the things we need not and should not bother with if we have died with Christ. Notice that they are all things in the physical world (like Doing Hard Things). Admittedly, such things are easier to remember to do, and they appear to be wise things to do, but actually have no power in themselves against indulging in the fleshly lusts. I find they are ineffective for two reasons.

First, being things (Hard Things) we do with our physical bodies, in which is still the residual sin nature, they are in essence done with our bodies against our flesh. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when, with a subtle shift of focus, the become things done with our flesh against our flesh. You can immediately see the result: "if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mark 3:24).

Second, everything we do flows out of our spirit. Whether you do good or evil, "The good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things; the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things" (Matt. 12:35). Thus the decision to sin, to indulge in fleshly desires, comes from the spirit. And no matter what your body is doing, if you are inclined to sin, no self-abasement in the physical realm will prevent the sin. Therefore the safeguard against sin lies instead in the spirit, and not in the flesh!

While my original post was rather on the subject of Doing Hard Things, the subject was more about how to starve the flesh. But seeing from God's Word that Doing Things is ultimately of no use against fleshly indulgence, how can we overcome the flesh?

Gracie put it well in the comments when she wrote,

"[W]hen we are tempted to sin we can say, '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 gave Himself up for me.' (Gal 2:20)"
That is the essence, I believe, of Paul's command to "reckon yourselves dead to sin" in Romans 6:11. Let's also look at this in the context of Colossians where we were.

Chapter 3 goes on to indicate growth in Christ and suppression of the flesh is effected in the unseen, spiritual realm to which we have been made alive: "seek the things that are above, where Christ is....Set your minds on things that are above." It’s not a physical activity required to prevent you from sinning; it’s a change of focus, a shift of reference point from the earthly to the realm to which you really belong: the heavenlies.

Romans 13:14 is also indicative: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Putting on the Lord Jesus is prerequisite to beating out the flesh.

Setting your mind on Christ, and knowing your life is hidden with Him in God—resting in the fact that nothing of your condition will affect your eternal position—is a primary cause of reckoning yourself dead to sin.

1 comment:

BrittLeigh said...

I've been reading through Randy Alcorn's poignant little book, "the Grace and Truth Parradox" (a book I would recommend to any and all Christians!), and so much of what you shared in this post has been along the same lines of what the Lord has laid on my heart as a result of that book.

"When we were dead in sins, His commands were burdensome because they only showed us our incapacity to obey and brought condemnation upon us. When we place our faith in Christ's death on our behalf, our relationship with God is based on grace, not law."

EXACTLY!!! Thanks for sharing this well thought-out and articulated post. I appreciate the thoughts expressed.

The cost of redemption and grace, as Alcorn points out, "Cannot be overemphasized. Christ took the hell He didn't deserve so we could have the heaven we don't deserve. If you're not stunned by the thought of grace, then you aren't grasping what grace offers you, or what it cost Jesus."

May we find rest in the Sabbath He has provided through His Son.