Tag Archives: flesh

The Inconsistent Life

 

So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NCV)

 How are you doing?  Working on that perfection?  Absolute consistency, steadfast faith, unending love.  No mistakes, no compromises, no slips.  How are you doing with all that?

Well, most of us aren’t doing very well, are we?  In fact, most of us are struggling.  We want to do right, but we still do wrong.  We try to stay away from certain things, end certain bad habits, but they continue to draw us in.  We aspire to goodness, but still don’t measure up.  And, honestly, that makes us feel bad.

But the inconsistent life is normal and we should feel good about ourselves.  Think about that for a moment.  When, in the church, were you taught to say, “I feel good about myself”?  Oh my, that would be a prideful and arrogant statement, wouldn’t it?  No one could say that, right?  Wrong!  I can say it.  And so can you.

Now, before I explain what I mean, let me say what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean that we should pat ourselves on the back because we are making progress.  There is no call for progress in the Christian life.  Progress earns us nothing.  Just because we are better than we were last year, according to some measurement, does not make us good.  That may sound discouraging, but we all know this to be true.  We climb up one rung of the ladder and there is always another for us to climb.  Always.  If we base our motivation on progress we will become discouraged very soon as we realize that our progress will never be enough.

Nor should we feel good about comparisons.  We look at others and think we are at least better than they are.  While the church has taught progress openly, it has taught comparison secretly.  But comparison also earns us nothing.  In fact, comparison only brings us further down.  It robs us of our brothers and sisters and it causes us either to live in pride or shame.  If we can find people who are somehow worse than we are, we can also find people who are somehow better than we are.

And let me take away one more common motivation for believers—future hope.  I believe in Heaven and glory and the promise of a wonderful future; but I do not believe that I will be more perfect someday.  We were taught that we would have to excuse bad behavior here, that the battle in us between the old nature and the new nature will only end upon our death.  But then we will finally be free and clean and perfect.  Today we are doomed to live in defeat and discouragement; but then we will be victorious and happy.  No, that’s not much encouragement for today.

The real encouragement comes from knowing who you are.  Those who belong to Jesus have died and are alive today as new creations who live in Him.  He is our life.  Our sins, past-present-future, are washed away forever.  We are as clean and righteous and holy as He is, because He is our life.  This is who we are.

Sin, even something I do today, belongs to who I was.  My flesh continues to struggle to be in control of my thoughts and actions, but when it is, that’s not me.  I am not brought down by my flesh.  I am nothing less because my flesh gets its way once in a while.

Yes, this life looks inconsistent.  That’s normal.  Every Christian has walked this walk.  But we feel good about ourselves because we are already complete in Christ.  He is enough in us.

I can hear two objections already.  First, what about the call to be perfect?  I will answer that and deal with the verse next week.  Second, so sinning is okay?  No—and I will write about that in two weeks.  So hold on.

If the work of Christ is finished (and it is) and the Christian is complete in Him (and we are), then we should feel good about ourselves—even if we see an inconsistent life along the way.

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Giving and Getting

Grace 101

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  That is a quote from Acts 20:35.  It has been hammered into us for so many years that we tend to think it is a life principle.  But is it true in every situation?

The reason I ask is that there are many Christians who seem to think it is more blessed to give to God than to receive from Him.  They are more about what they are doing for Him than what He is doing for them.  In fact, they have formed their religion around what they do for God and they expect to be blessed because of the things they do.  Since it is more blessed to give than to receive, and they want to be blessed, they choose to focus on what they are giving.

Over the years I have heard about the “deals” people have made with God.  ‘Me and the man upstairs, we have an understanding.”  “I work for God and He works for me.”  “I told the Lord I would do that for Him if He would do this for me.”  Besides the fact that these “deals” seem pretty one-sided, they also put the person on an almost equal footing with God.  In other words, they seem arrogant and presumptuous.

Now, most people don’t do this, at least most church people.  But in their minds they still bargain.  They still expect God to keep deals.  I know this because I hear them express their disappointment with Him.  They say things like, “I have tried to be faithful, to do what I was supposed to do, why couldn’t He do this for me?”  Sometimes they are angry.  Sometimes they feel betrayed.  Sometimes they feel unloved.  When they needed Him, God failed.

When we suggest that God has let us down, that we somehow deserve better from Him, or that He has failed to take into account our giving—we betray something of a flesh religion in our own hearts.  When we blame God for our pain, we suggest that He is somehow responsible for making sure we get our way.  We are in charge.  He is the servant.  He is our divine caregiver and He isn’t doing His work.

The flesh system we create as we go through life is all about us.  It makes us look good, feel good, and get good.  If spiritual blessings come through spiritual service, then we understand that we are supposed to work.  And if we are supposed to work, we certainly want that work to be noticed.  Even when it isn’t spoken, the deal system is implicit in the flesh religion.

Let me make this clear.  The flesh system is all about giving because it sees giving as the way to getting.

But grace isn’t about what you give.  It’s about what you get.  God is the Giver because He loves you.  God is the Giver because He doesn’t need what you can give.  God is the Giver because you need what He can give.  You are the one with the need and He is the one with the “everything.”

So grace is about getting and religion is about giving.  Does that sound backwards to you?  That’s okay.  When you are able to rest and let God give to you, then you will begin to understand the truth.  And that truth will set you free.

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Religion Today

Grace 101

 

So what do you think—has religion changed?  I have suggested that people operating in the flesh take the things of the Lord into their flesh system and make religion.

The things God gave for the good of humankind, because of His love, were twisted into rules of behavior upon which people would be judged.  Faith and relationship mattered little because of the system.  The religious person who kept the rules would be judged on the basis of his obedience.   This was the system Jesus exposed.

The Pharisees were the epitome of this system.  They were the separatists, the legalists, of their day.  They made rules to keep people from breaking rules so they had to keep the commandments of God.  Yet, they built loopholes for themselves so they wouldn’t be burdened by the system.  But, even without the corruption, this was never what God intended.  He had given good things for the good of the people.

So now we are in the Christian era.  We know those old Jewish rules aren’t for us.  But we have new things.  The child who can memorize Scripture is considered spiritual no matter what he does to the other kids during break time.  The elder who can pray with eloquence is spiritual even though he cheats the employees of his business.  The mother who serves faithfully in the church is spiritual even when she uses her connections to gossip.  The corruption certainly hasn’t gone away.

Nor has the ability to twist the good things of God.  The flesh continues to incorporate the things of God in its attempt to find spiritual success.  Bible memory, faithful giving, worship attendance—these are things that are used to judge spirituality even today.  Not bad things, but things misused by the flesh.

The point is that religion is the flesh’s substitute for a relationship with the Lord.  The Lord loves us and wants us to walk with Him.  The flesh cannot understand that walk, but tries to create something similar.

It is particularly sad that so many preachers and teachers and churches have been focused on the flesh’s religion for so long.  Religious flesh is still flesh.

Religion hasn’t changed.

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Two Plans in One

Grace 101

 

What do you get if you mix one good egg with one bad egg?  A bad egg that’s twice as big!

By the time Jesus came, the Law God gave to convict the people of sin, cover that sin from His sight, and call the people to Him, had become the religion of the Jews.  The Bible makes it clear that there was almost always a small remnant of people who truly desired and followed the Lord.  The rest were focused on the human system we have called the flesh.  By the time of Noah, it was just a handful of people.  After the Flood, it was just Abraham and his family.  It seems to have continued like that through much of Hebrew history.  There were prophets and a few others, but most of the people cared little about the real purpose of the Law.

But the flesh recognizes power and effectiveness.  God’s Law did work to help the people.  Those who followed it found God’s provision and protection in ways that were miraculous.  So the people were drawn to the Law for what they could get from it.  They saw it as similar to their own system, having morals and religion, and they wanted the special benefits it brought.  So they combined the two plans.

Now, this is a gross simplification.  But the point is that the Law, off and on through Israel’s history, was used as a tool of the flesh.  It became viewed as part of the cause and effect process the flesh loves.  Do this and you will get that.  Mechanical.  Mathematical.  Formulaic.  Obey the commandments and God has to bless you.

I want to be honest.  The Law sounds conditional.  If you do this then God will bless you.  You can see it all through the Law.  But you only see it that way because you and I were trained to think that way by the flesh.  The point was that God was giving the people important advice on how to live.  He wanted to bless them, but their own actions prevented His blessings.  He knew, for example, that certain cleanliness practices would prevent diseases.  He knew that rest was important for people and animals.  He knew that giving helped to release people from bondage to money.  He knew what kept them from enjoying His blessings and He told them how to be free from those hindrances.  It wasn’t “Do this and you will get this.”  It was “I want to bless you and here’s how you can receive the blessing.”

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time are the classic promoters of this “religion of the Jews.”  They taught that the Law was to be kept beyond the letter.  They invented more laws to surround the ones God gave.  They built up the system of cause and effect, obedience and judgment.  But they were not the first and they were not the last.  People who served the flesh believed that adding the Law of God to their system would give them the spiritual life they so deeply desired.  It would give them hope and make them righteous—if they did it right.  So everything was about doing it right.

When Jesus came, He said that He was not going to abolish the Law.  He meant the true and good Law God had given for the benefit of the people.  He would fulfill the Law; accomplish the work God had promised to do for them.  But He would abolish the religion of the Jews.  The idea that people could earn spiritual favor by making sacrifices or performing ritual acts of kindness was going away.  That was never the truth.

This is important for us to understand.  God’s Law was just as good as David and others said it was.  Jesus was the end of God’s Law only in the sense of the culmination, the satisfaction.  God’s Law served an important purpose and that purpose brought people to Jesus.  Jesus was the New Covenant that the Old Covenant pointed to.

But the religion of the Jews was just the flesh, the bad egg only bigger.

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The things we taught ourselves

 

I always chuckle when I hear the phrase, “a self-made man.”  Of course there is no such thing; but, if there were, what kind of man would that be?  What kinds of things would you learn on your own?  If the only things you knew were the things you experienced for yourself, your education would be lacking in many ways.  On the other hand, you would probably be quite convinced of the things you thought you knew.

Let’s see—what kinds of things did we learn from ourselves?  Well, most of us learned that acceptance comes from obedience and conformity.  If we did what we were supposed to do, we would be loved.  Good little boys and girls were rewarded.  However, we also learned that “good” could be faked or even stolen.  We stood by as others took credit for the things we did and we were supposed to be gracious and kind while they did it.  We watched as others cheated the system to get what we wanted.  Then we learned that straight hard work may not always be necessary.  Sometimes what we wanted could come from whining or cheating or some other shortcut.

We learned to flinch when someone raised his arm.  We learned to hide when trouble was coming.  We learned to endure when others were mean.  We learned to fight inside our hearts, rather than with our fists.

We learned that acceptance and love were fickle.  We might do well and still not be rewarded.  Someone else might do poorly and be honored.  We learned not to trust the ones who told us we could trust them.  We learned that the things we loved would be taken away.  And we learned that we had little value to the world around us; that there was no friend, no sibling, no parent, whose love was truly unconditional and lasting.

Let’s face it: we learned some hard lessons.  Those lessons colored our thinking and we became deceived.  The world and the manipulators pushed us into giving them access to our hearts and they used us.  And many of us learned that we existed for others to use.

But it was all a lie.  The things we learned came from broken experiences in a broken world.  There was something more, but we were deceived into believing less.

Then, when we finally found something more—One who truly loved us—the things we taught ourselves continued to promote the lie in our lives.  But that story is for tomorrow…

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Jesus or Nothing

I see it and I recognize it, but I’m going to step in it anyway.  There is a serious debate going on about the connection between behavior and salvation.  The particular question is whether practicing homosexuals can go to Heaven.  Recently the leader of a group known as “Exodus” has made some statements that disturb the system.  In an interview with Lisa Ling, and in reference to people who continue to live in a homosexual lifestyle, Alan Chambers said, “I do believe they will be in heaven with me … if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

This perspective has gotten Chambers into trouble.  People are saying that he should step down from his leadership position.  People are saying that he is a heretic.

But notice what he did not say.  He did not say that a homosexual lifestyle was good or even “acceptable” for a Christian.  He did not say that homosexual behavior was without negative consequences or that it was not sin.  He did not say that homosexuals should not seek to change.  He also did not say that homosexuals were “good enough” to get into Heaven.  He said nothing positive about homosexuality.

What he said was that anyone who has a relationship with Jesus, and I take that to mean a saving relationship based on accepting the love of God in the life and sacrifice of Jesus, will be in Heaven.  His idea of salvation appears to be centered on Jesus, rather than the behavior of people, even people who claim to know Jesus.

So now the question is: Can a gay Christian go to Heaven?  Good grief!

Two things:  First, the gay lifestyle is a search for love.   Yes, it is broken and aberrant and, from the perspective of most of us, disturbing.  But the feelings within the hearts of gay people are usually very deep reactions to the world in which they grew up.  The flesh of the gay person is just as confused and just as wrongly wired as that of the rest of us.

For some people, acceptance and love are found in food.  Some find it in buying things.  Others find it in serving people or recognition at work or in pets or in collecting things.  We do these things because they make us feel what we want to feel.  This is what the flesh is all about—finding ways to feel the way we want.  Some feel much better about themselves in fantasies and indulge in p-rn or romance fiction.  Some go from partner to partner seeking that special feeling.  And some feel better in a close relationship with someone of the same gender.

Feelings lead to actions.  A person addicted to buying things in order to feel good might be tempted to do wrong things to get enough money to continue buying.  A person who eats to feel good can damage his health and become a glutton.  Wrong thinking leads to wrong doing.  Whether it is homosexual behavior or a critical spirit, it comes from wrong thinking.

And, whether we like to admit it or not, we carry a bunch of wrong thinking into our Christian life.  And wrong doing.  I know that I didn’t think and act in the way I thought I should or in the way I wanted when I became a believer.  I still don’t.  And, I’d be willing to bet, neither do you.  It is certainly possible to overcome our feelings, to not let them dictate our actions—but it is hard work and we all know it.  The simple truth is that we didn’t come to Christ by perfect behavior and we don’t have to behave perfectly to remain in Christ.  The only behavior that brings and keeps salvation is Jesus’ behavior.

So is it possible for practicing homosexual Christians to go to Heaven?  Here’s my second point, and it’s important: Christians go to Heaven.  The one requirement for Heaven is eternal life in Jesus.  Those who come to Jesus and place their hope and trust in Him will find Him faithful—even when they are not.  Christians go to Heaven.  Imperfect in this world, broken and struggling and hurting and confused and compromised and sad and wrong and burdened, but Christians.  Just like you and me.

Let’s be honest.  If people who still practice homosexuality, but have a relationship with Jesus, cannot go to Heaven because of their behavior, then there is no hope for any of us.  It is either Jesus, and Jesus alone, or we have nothing.

More tomorrow…

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Having Fun Yet?

The Christian life is a life of victory, joy, peace, and rest.  That’s what yours is, right?  All Christians walk in power and freedom, right?

Why not?

Well, there is this thing in us called the flesh.  I have written about the flesh before, but it just seems to keep coming around.  The flesh is the thinking and feeling system we have built through our lives.  I won’t explain it much more than that here, except to say that you are very familiar with your flesh.  It is what you have called “you” all your life.

When you have said things like, “I want that,” or “I don’t like that,” you are speaking out of your flesh.  Some people love the color orange, or hot peppers, or the smell of coffee, or the thrill of bungee jumping.  Why?  Because something in those things connects positively with their flesh.  That isn’t bad or good; it is just the way things work.  Certain things attract certain people, almost always because of experiences of the past and the thinking that has adapted in the heart of the individual. 

Realtors say that the smell of just-baked bread helps to sell houses.  People with red sports cars believe they get more tickets because officers assume red sports cars are always speeding.  Prejudices, temptations, assumptions—these are all flesh perspectives.  The flesh dwells in your sub-conscious and you don’t have to think to access it. 

In fact, it is just that unthinking influence that gets us into trouble.  When we buy the donuts or the clothes we don’t need because they look so good, we don’t stop to think it through.  We just buy.  When we eat too much or cuss or lust or say something cruel—we probably don’t think about the consequences.  We just do it. 

Our flesh wants certain things, hates certain things, fears certain things.  For most of us, the flesh finds it very hard to trust anything we can’t control.  And we have learned that things that seem too good to be true usually are not true.  People lie to us and we learn not to trust.  We try things and fail and we learn not to trust.  Trust is a big issue with the flesh.

So along comes Jesus.  He says that He will give us rest.  We don’t have to do anything except come to Him.  He will give it to us.  The flesh finds that very hard to believe.  Jesus tells us our sins are forgiven.  Hard to believe.  Jesus tells us our future is certain in His hands.  Hard to believe.  Jesus tells us that we don’t have to worry about anything.  Hard to believe.  Jesus tells us to come to Him and all the things we need in this life and the next will be given to us as a gift.  Very hard to believe.  The flesh knows better.  At least it thinks it does.

This is why the Christian life is not about obedience or service.  We don’t have time to focus on those things.  The Christian life is about learning how to walk in faith with Jesus who loves us.  That’s plenty hard enough for us.  We have a lot of unlearning to do. 

But if we unlearn the things of the flesh.  If we believe that the way of Jesus is the best way, if we let go of the fear and the worry, then obedience falls into place and things like service and worship are easy.  And Jesus said they would be easy.  He didn’t come to make our lives harder. 

There is something new for us, the way of the Spirit.  We don’t have to do what our flesh says any longer.  Yes, it is easiest to follow the flesh.  Yes, it is familiar.  But it is not good for us.  The flesh is what broke us.  The flesh cannot succeed.  So, if we look to Jesus, we will find the mind/thinking of Christ building in us.  More and more we can walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. 

 

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 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 5:16-17

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