Yesterday we talked about the importance of self-control in your personal life in order to maintain intimacy with the Lord and experience the Higher Christian Life. We also looked into the testimony of Paul (1 Cor. 9:24-27) regarding his commitment to a life of self-discipline in order to make sure, when all is said and done, he would not be “disqualified” or unapproved, unworthy, worthless, rejected, or deemed a castaway by the Lord. After all, the most important thing in Paul’s life was not the temporal pleasures of sin, but the ecstatic joy of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ through the Person of the Holy Spirit. And Paul, like most of us, recognized he was his worst enemy when it came to grieving the Holy Spirit by living, even for a moment, in the flesh.
It seems Paul had a keen understanding of the power of sin in his life. And also was firmly convinced that the flesh cannot win a war against itself. You cannot defeat sin by keeping the Law in the flesh, no matter how committed you are or how hard you try. The cards are stacked against you. The fix is in. Greater is your flesh than your good intentions or self-determination.
In Romans, he puts his struggle with his flesh and the Law of God this way:
For we know that the law is spiritual (or according to the mind and will of the Spirit), but I am carnal (of the flesh, governed by human nature and not the Holy Spirit), sold under (in bondage to) sin. For what I am doing (by choice), I do not understand. For what I will (desire, intend, purpose) to do (to serve God, to experience intimacy with the Spirit, etc.), that I do not practice (repeatedly, continually, habitually); but what I hate (to grieve the Holy Spirit by sin, etc.), that I do. If, then, I do what I will (desire, intend, purpose) not to do, I agree with the law that it is good (even in showing me a sinner). But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells (live, abide, to pitch one’s tent) in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells (live, abide, to pitch one’s tent); for to will (desire) is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will (desire) to do, I do not do; but the evil I will (desire) not to do, that I practice (repeatedly, continually, habitually). Now if I do what I will (desire) not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells (live, abide, make its home) in me.
I find then a law (principle), that evil is present with me, (described as) the one who wills (desires) to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (the bottom of his heart). But I see another law (principle) in my members (flesh), warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (flesh). O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver (to set free or rescue from danger) 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 7:14-25.
And hence, the struggle we all face. But there is more.
According to what we just read it seems like, at least in the flesh, this turmoil is non-stop, with no clear victor. That is why you cannot wage this war in the flesh, but must let the Spirit overcome the enemy and your flesh by living His life through you. And once again, just in case you might have forgotten, this is the definition of the Higher Christian Life.
Paul, after his salvation, after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, and after being used by the Lord in ways we can only imagine, gives us a glimpse into his personal spiritual struggle and it seems his battle with his flesh was a daily, ongoing protracted campaign, just like ours. He did not pray once and, poof, all his problems were gone. He continually had to surrender himself to the Spirit and discipline his mind and body to not act on their own but be subject to his mind and desires, which were to know nothing but “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Did he succeed? Sometimes. And sometimes probably not. But when he failed, he confessed his failure, repented, received forgiveness and the cleansing from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and then did whatever he could to make sure he never failed again. Paul determined to discipline his body to not act according to its sinful nature, but to be subject to his mind, will, and desire (1 Cor. 9:27). And probably for Paul, and for you and me, this can be a daily struggle.
So what is our first step? Simply this, without self-control and saying, “no” to what we may have previously said “yes” to, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and working against ourselves in the life of holiness. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s practice self-control and discipline. And when it comes to our personal liberty (something we will discuss later), “When in doubt, don’t!”
Until He comes,