Friday, November 11, 2011

Dead to the Flesh, Alive in the Spirit

I am currently in a Bible Study on the book of 1 John. Going in, I was familiar enough with this book to fear it, but now that I’ve gotten to know it a little better, it has become a comforting friend.

If you’ve read 1 John, you know that the apostle John is not known for his “mincing words” ability. He’s hard core. He writes in absolutes. Forget grey areas – this book is filled with black-and-white, light-and-dark, child of God or child of Satan kind of talk.

Take a look at a section of the third chapter with me:

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read that my heart shuddered a little bit.

I mean, what does this mean? “no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him”…. um, say what?

After studying this portion of scripture, and talking with some of the ladies in my study I feel like I understand it a little better, and it’s really been helpful in my walk.

It’s clear from the text and the original greek tense used throughout 1 John, that John is referring to habitual, unbroken sin in the life of a person, and not the occasional “fall from grace” type sin we all manage to stumble (and admittedly, jump) into on a daily basis. While this is somewhat of a relief to me, it is still somewhat frightening as well.

Because the truth is, I have this…. thing…. this area of my life that seems to consistently trip me up. Now, I don’t want to go into details here, but let me be clear in this “thing” is a sin, it is something I really enjoy, and something I’ve struggled with for --- a while (a long while… like over a year).

There are times when I am able to resist, run and seemingly defeat this thing. And then there are times that I decide, I don’t want to defeat it, I want to enjoy it. So….. when I read something like 1 John 3, it starts me thinking.

In my heart of hearts I know that I want to desire God more than this (stupid) thing. But oftentimes when faced with an actual choice…. I fail. I know that it’s sin, I know that I should resist, and yet I don’t – I choose not to. So what does this mean?

What does it mean (Biblically) when a believer struggles with a particular sin, over an extended period of time, a thing that trips him/her up and is just an over all “weakness” in their life (my pastor has called it a believer’s “Achilles heel”)? Is this even possible, for a believer to struggle with a long-time stronghold?

I’ve learned a lot in the past year, as I’ve struggled with some of my own flesh and strongholds. And I have realized for the first time what resisting temptation means, and how it should look. Prior to this particular struggle I never really had a sin that I couldn’t master with just a little resolve and self-control (of my own). It left me highly independent, when what I really needed was dependence on the One that could actually change my heart.

When we actually struggle in the flesh the way that I have been in the past year, we’re forced to come face-to-face with our sinfulness, and let me tell you, it isn’t pretty or easy to experience BUT it is humbling and life-altering (if you allow it to be). I have learned that some things are worth giving up, some relationships and habits are worth breaking, and sometimes our own resolve just isn’t enough.

Lest you think I’ve mastered this all and am speaking from some “higher place” let me put your mind at ease by saying, I’m still struggling, I still fail and I still do the thing that I don’t want to do. But I haven’t given up and I haven’t given in because He hasn’t given up on me, and praise God He never will!!

Throughout this process and studying different portions of scriptures, there have been times that I have actually walked away with more questions than I had answers. Like:

  • What does it mean to be “dead to sin”? And why don’t I feel dead to sin?
  • What does it mean when the Bible says “walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”? (Galatians 5:16)
  • OR how about all of 1 John? How am I to understand ANY of that?
  • Am I saved? Can I desire my sin the way I do and still be a Christian?
  • “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7) Which part of me is my “old self” and why is it still talking if it’s dead?
  • “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) What does the new creation mean, and if I am a new creation, why do I still have old desires?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve asked those questions!! More than once.

In the past week the Lord has been showing me in several different places and ways some encouraging revelation (and clarification) of His word:

When we confess Christ as Lord of our life and experience the new birth, we are in fact a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come. We receive a new-birthed spirit – we are a new being in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17, John 3:5-6) However, we don’t lose our old flesh, it still wages a war within us - which is what sanctification is really all about (Romans 6:22). Our flesh will always be at work against the Spirit (big S) Galatians 5:17 “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Once the Spirit comes to live in us, this creates an internal battle within us. (Romans 7:14-25)

But praise God, this isn’t the end, in the very next verse you will find Romans 8:1-11 which offers us the hope we are looking for

1. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

This is how we are able to overcome, this is the confirmation we’re looking for.

We are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit, and in Christ. The struggle is real, it will exist in us as long as we have our flesh, but we are dead to it, in the sense that it is no longer the part of us that controls our destiny and future. It is no longer the only part of us that we listen to or care about – we have been given a new life with a new purpose and a true Lord to serve which brings an entirely different perspective.

This changes everything.

This means it doesn’t always come naturally for us. It isn’t always going to be easy, and at times, when we allow our guard to drop and the flesh to creep back in it doesn’t even feel like a reality – but what we feel and what really is, can be two different things. When we’re feeling defeated we can know that God is greater than our feelings (1 John 3:20). He has defeated what we could not, and in Him, we can overcome our flesh.

1 comment:

amanda said...

i read this post on my phone the other day and it's a pain to leave a comment, and sometimes doesn't work.
so i love this post.
i love the Bible study.
i love that you are there too.
i don't think i know the "thing", and if i do, i'm an awful friend and forgot it. or you didn't come right out and say THIS is the THING. you know THE thing. at any rate, it doesn't matter. i'm praying for the thing. i get the thing. as i have my own thing. i think we all have our own thing. and it's a dumb thing. really dumb.
again. i love this post. :)
and you too.