The Battle of the Flesh and Spirit
What I am going to talk about is war – not war between nations, but war between natures – namely: the flesh and the spirit, the old and the new, the dead and the living. Some of us don’t realize that war is upon us, a war inside of us. But a battle it is – and it must be fought and won with purpose and resolve.
Indeed, inside of us live two natures – before we came to Christ there only the flesh ruled, living after it’s desires – out for self gratification only and incapable of having a relationship with God. When we came to Christ Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So then we have a part of ourselves that is spirit – a part that has a permanent relationship with God.
But when we come to Christ, the body, the flesh, doesn’t go away. On the outside you don’t seem any different, at first. So then these two natures have to live together until we go to heaven. But they don’t get along too well. The flesh still wants to gratify its desires, while the spirit wants to draw close to God.
It’s this battle that Paul focuses on in Romans chapter 7. In chapter 6 Paul helps us realize that we have died to sin by putting it to death on the cross of Christ, and that we should no longer offer ourselves as slaves to sin but as slaves to rightness. That is easier said than done – and Paul knows it. So here he compares the two natures and shows us a way to defeat the flesh and give superiority to the spirit.
First Paul sets the stage by talking to the Jews about the law – something they and he were very familiar with.
Rom. 7:1 Do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to men who know the law-that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
So Paul uses a practical example of how the law ceases to have authority when there is death. You can ‘t be convicted and executed for murder if you are already dead – you can’t be sued to libel if you are dead – and etc.
Now the Jews would have thought that obeying the law meant that as long as I didn’t do anything wrong, I was okay in God’s sight. But Jesus came to reveal that the law isn’t physical – what I do or don’t do, it is spiritual – it’s about my attitudes. Jesus declared that by obeying the law you can’t have a good standing before God – that’s the point of it – in other words – give up on trying to win points with God by obeying the law.
4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
You can’t bear fruit to God by obeying the law – by obeying any law really – the 10 Commandments, or some other moral code.
In Gal. 5:19-21 Paul tells us that the fruit of our flesh is sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like
That’s because all flesh is self centered by nature. To bear fruit to God we must have His Spirit living and working inside us. Paul goes on in Galatians to say:(Gal 5:22-23). 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23).
Jesus said: If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; (John 15:5)
So the key here is abiding in Christ, instead of relying on ourselves, our fleshly nature. Next, Paul gives us a startling reality – something that should set each of us free.
Romans 5-6, “5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Jesus’ death and our death with Him has released us from the nature to which we were enslaved. Before I became a Christian I sinned because I was a sinner – I didn’t have a choice. Now Christ has made it possible for me to choose – I can choose not to sin. Instead I “serve in the new way of the Spirit.”
The new way is that the Spirit of God now rules my heart – and I rely on His power within me to guide my life, not the passions that once ruled me. So how does that relate to God’s law – does it still exist? Does it matter? Let me share with you some verses from Romans, chapter seven.
Romans7: 7. “ What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."
So again, Paul tells us that the Law functions to point us to Christ by pointing out our inability to follow it. Now listen to this:
Verse 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.
Have you ever told a 2 year old not to touch something? What’s the first thing they do – go out and touch it. I’ve heard parents joke about how to get their kids not to do harmful stuff – by encouraging them to do it because kids will often do the opposite of what we tell them.
That’s the way the law works. When we hear we aren’t supposed to covet – our old man, that fleshly nature in us, says “man, I suddenly feel like coveting.”
Romans 7:812: For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
You might argue – if I only do wrong when I know its wrong, then do away with the law and I won’t do wrong any more. To use that argument we could do away with all speeding laws and then none of us would get a speeding ticket – but it doesn’t work that way. Just because knowing the wrong makes us want to do it, doesn’t make the law wrong – only sin.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
The law helps us to know that which is sin and that which isn’t. We don’t find justification through obeying it – in fact as we saw earlier, Jesus gave us righteousness apart from the law through His pure life and willing sacrifice. So we can use God’s moral law as a way to gauge our behavior – but always trust in Jesus to create that rightness in us.
The next paragraph sums up our struggle against sin very well.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Flip Wilson used to do this skit on the old Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In show. No matter what he did wrong, he always said “the devil made me do it.” I think sometimes we like to act like Flip when we sin – “Officer, I was going this fast because all the other cars were going that fast.” Or: “My friend told me to take that drink, so I did.”
We do the things we know we shouldn’t, and don’t do the things we know we should – but it’s not the devil, the other cars, or our friends – but sin in us – sin that needs to be confessed, forgiven, and cleansed by the blood of Christ through the work of His Spirit.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
Isn’t that the truth – ever notice how quickly you get sleepy when you start to pray – or how many pretty girls walk by when you are witnessing to someone about Jesus Christ? The devil may not cause us to sin, but he sure knows how to stack the deck.
22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
Folks – there is a war going on inside of you. When we pretend its not there then sin wins every time – remember: Paul said that in our flesh dwells no good thing. My old man is always there, always working, always “waging war”, trying to make us a prisoner once again of sin. How awful!
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
I hear ya, Paul. Is there any way out – YES!
25 Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Jesus provides the way to escape the rule of the sinful man.
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Now this doesn’t mean that we go out and sin and then blame the “flesh.” Instead of saying “the devil made me do it,” we say “the flesh made me do it.” But we recognize the fact that 1. there is a fleshly nature, 2. it lives in us, and 3. it wants us to sin.
So – how do we escape this old man warring inside of us?
As I mentioned before, this is war people! And like The U.S. build up against Iraq, we too must wage war against the flesh – so I’ve borrowed a few concepts from warfare in order to apply them to this battle.
1. Understand the Purpose
President Bush suggests the danger of Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction is the purpose behind war. For us – the purpose is simple:
Remember vs 18? I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. We need to recognize that our flesh is bad and will seek to kill us, spiritually, if we let it reign.
“An army travels on its stomach” – a famous saying that tells us we cannot just march into battle and expect to win. You need provisions and support. We prepare by reading and remembering God’s Word, coming to fellowship, praying, worshiping.
3. Perform Reconnaissance
We need to survey the world that surrounds us, our universe, to be aware of what things will pull us toward the flesh, and what will urge us in the spirit. Look out for mine fields of the flesh and avoid them. The flesh doesn’t go away, it just goes into hiding.
4. IFF – Identify Friend or Foe
Many of us think we can handle the flesh – but you can’t change the flesh, you can only kill it. That’s why you need to be aware of what’s flesh and what’s spirit in your life. How do you do that? There are some general guidelines – and we won’t turn for lack of time but refer to: Galatians 5, and James 3, especially verses 17 and 18. Basically, that which brings you and others closer to God is of the spirit, those things that drive you or others away is of the flesh.
5. Keep the Communications Lines Open – and Obey Your Commander’s Orders
Keep praying, keep talking to God, keep fellowshipping with other believers who are going through the same struggles as you. It may not feel good to do battle against the flesh, but you are just following orders.
6. Watch Your Perimeter
Just when you think your life is pretty stable and the war with the flesh is over – that’s when you need to watch what’s going on in the perimeter of your life – your flesh, you see may be dead, but it sure acts like it’s alive and will strike when you least expect it.
Paul said: 1 Cor 10:12
12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
7. Don’t wait to be attacked
Don’t just sit around waiting for the flesh to rear its ugly head – attack! Ask God to reveal areas where your flesh rules and then kill them – how?
8. Use Overwhelming Force – but not your force.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Rely on the Spirit – ask His Spirit to fill you each day, every day. Then, desire God, and let Him provide what you need when you need it.