“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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:16-26)
The Greek word sarx ("flesh") has a variety of meanings in the Bible. It can mean ordinary flesh and blood, or it can mean a bent in us towards selfish bevavior which is in full rebellion against God. The latter meaning is discussed here. The flesh shows up when we attempt to live the Christian life by self effort, by trying harder. This never pleases God, nor earns His favor.
The flesh, the self life in each of insidious! It diminishes God and makes us each of us believe God needs our help, that we are a key part of His plan and program.
“For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3)
God is glad to have us on His team but He can’t use us until we see we are only containers, clay pots.
“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure (Jesus) in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-18)
In order for Jesus to express Himself into our broken world, He must have our permission---to take over our lives and most importantly to kill, to put to death our old natural life inherited from Adam! This is seen in the Bible as an already done-deal for those who know Jesus as Lord! We lose big time when we deny what God says is true, whether we are informed or ignorant.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:17-21)
God does not need our help nor is He asking for it! From the time He and the Father and the Spirit counseled together to bring the universe into being, Jesus has been in a central place of authority in the universe. After His triumph over death and hell 2000+ years ago, the very title deed to the earth and the future has been in the hands of Jesus.
Many professing Christians end up left-out and left-behind because they were merely religious, but never allowed themselves to know Jesus personally. Reality as God has defined it is very different from the glory and fame we claim for ourselves!
“Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Romans 14:7-13)
For thus says the Lord,
Who created the heavens,
Who is God,
Who formed the earth and made it,
Who has established it,
Who did not create it in vain,
Who formed it to be inhabited:
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I have not spoken in secret,
In a dark place of the earth;
I did not say to the seed of Jacob,
‘Seek Me in vain’;
I, the Lord, speak righteousness,
I declare things that are right.
“Assemble yourselves and come;
Draw near together,
You who have escaped from the nations.
They have no knowledge,
Who carry the wood of their carved image,
And pray to a god that cannot save.
Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
“Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.
He shall say,
‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.
To Him men shall come,
And all shall be ashamed
Who are incensed against Him.
In the Lord all the descendants of Israel
Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ ”
Does not consideration of God’s version of reality put to shame our feeble and worthless efforts to placate God and imitate Him by all our self effort? Will we not fall at His feet in wonder, gratitude and awe, when we see Jesus as He is now? Having tasted the real, how can we be satisfied by the counterfeit?
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.
Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He guards all his bones;
Not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.
The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.” (Psalm 34)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:22-40)
"Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, “Give us water, that we may drink.”
So Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?”
And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!”
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.”
And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17)
In spiritual warfare the people of God prevail when we obey God, not when we reply on our own strength.
Are we trusting God to met our needs, expecting Yahweh to act?
Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
As Amalek personifies the opposition of our fallen humanity to everything God seeks to accomplish in the lives of His people, so also this same principle is embedded in the history of His people Israel. Never mind that all the Jews as a people forgot about trusting their God in their subsequent history.
In Spiritual Warfare the people of God prevail when we obey God, not when we reply on our own strength or our own mustered resources.
Are we allowing God to fight our battles for us?
The Jewish People divided into two groups in the days of Isaac and Jacob, which is where the dichotomy betwen the spirit and the flesh is clear. The dchotomy between Jews who know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob today and those who remain secular today is very great. But God is utterly faithful and always keeps His promises. He is bringing Jews from every land (since 1948) and the story of their restoration is very exciingt to read about in the Bible.
Every follower of Jesus needs to know how twin brothers Jacob and Esau chose different paths of life with very different ends as a result.
Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
And the Lord said to her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Esau Sells His Birthright
Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom.
But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.”
And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?”
Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.”
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright." (Genesis 25:20-34)
When Joshua and Caleb brought the second generation into the land, they met fierce opposition from the Cannanites who were squatters there. Here is one of many word pictures from our Lord to help us discern between the flesh and the spirit:
God’s Commission to Joshua
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go...” (Joshua 1:1-9)
And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowland and in all the coasts of the Great Sea toward Lebanon—the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite—heard about it, that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord.
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.”
Then the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you dwell among us; so how can we make a covenant with you?”
But they said to Joshua, “We are your servants.”
And Joshua said to them, “Who are you, and where do you come from?”
So they said to him: “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan—to Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth. Therefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take provisions with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say to them, “We are your servants; now therefore, make a covenant with us.” ’ This bread of ours we took hot for our provision from our houses on the day we departed to come to you. But now look, it is dry and moldy. And these wineskins which we filled were new, and see, they are torn; and these our garments and our sandals have become old because of the very long journey.”
Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them.
And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors who dwelt near them. Then the children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim. But the children of Israel did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers.
Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them. This we will do to them: We will let them live, lest wrath be upon us because of the oath which we swore to them.” And the rulers said to them, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation, as the rulers had promised them.”
Then Joshua called for them, and he spoke to them, saying, “Why have you deceived us, saying, We are very far from you,’ when you dwell near us? Now therefore, you are cursed, and none of you shall be freed from being slaves—woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.”
So they answered Joshua and said, “Because your servants were clearly told that the Lord your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing. And now, here we are, in your hands; do with us as it seems good and right to do to us.” So he did to them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, so that they did not kill them. And that day Joshua made them woodcutters and water carriers for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, in the place which He would choose, even to this day.
Now it came to pass when Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai and had utterly destroyed it—as he had done to Jericho and its king, so he had done to Ai and its king—and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, that they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty. Therefore Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish, and Debir king of Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, that we may attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.” Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered together and went up, they and all their armies, and camped before Gibeon and made war against it.
And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Do not forsake your servants; come up to us quickly, save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the mountains have gathered together against us.”
So Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have delivered them into your hand; not a man of them shall stand before you.” Joshua therefore came upon them suddenly, having marched all night from Gilgal. So the Lord routed them before Israel, killed them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, chased them along the road that goes to Beth Horon, and struck them down as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And it happened, as they fled before Israel and were on the descent of Beth Horon, that the Lord cast down large hailstones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword.
Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon;
And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,
Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
But these five kings had fled and hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah. And it was told Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.” So Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them. And do not stay there yourselves, but pursue your enemies, and attack their rear guard. Do not allow them to enter their cities, for the Lord your God has delivered them into your hand.” Then it happened, while Joshua and the children of Israel made an end of slaying them with a very great slaughter, till they had finished, that those who escaped entered fortified cities. And all the people returned to the camp, to Joshua at Makkedah, in peace.
No one moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel.
Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring out those five kings to me from the cave.” And they did so, and brought out those five kings to him from the cave: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon.
So it was, when they brought out those kings to Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the captains of the men of war who went with him, “Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.” And they drew near and put their feet on their necks. Then Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; be strong and of good courage, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” And afterward Joshua struck them and killed them, and hanged them on five trees; and they were hanging on the trees until evening. So it was at the time of the going down of the sun that Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, cast them into the cave where they had been hidden, and laid large stones against the cave’s mouth, which remain until this very day.” (Joshua 9:1-10:27)
What Does the Bible Mean by "the Flesh" ?
There are many references to “the flesh” in New Testament Scripture, especially in the letters of Paul. The phrase confuses some who think it synonymous with the physical body. It is true that there are many times when Scripture uses the word “flesh” to refer to the physical body. However when the definite article “the” is placed before the word “flesh” we are dealing with something else. Only very rarely does the Biblical phrase “the flesh” (ἡ σὰρξ (he sarx), in Greek) refer only to the physical body (eg. John 6:53; Phil 3:2; 1 John 4:2) , but almost always the phrase refers to something quite distinct from the physical body.
What then is meant by the term “the flesh” (ἡ σὰρξ)? Perhaps most plainly it refers to that part of us that is alienated from God. It is the rebellious, unruly and obstinate part of our inner self that is operative all the time. It is that part of us that does not want to be told what to do. It is stubborn, refuses correction, and does not want to have a thing to do with God. It bristles at limits and rules. It recoils at anything that might cause me to be diminished or something less than the center of the universe. The flesh hates to be under authority or to have to yield to anything other than its own wishes and desires. The flesh often desires something simply because it is forbidden. The Protestants often call the flesh our “sin nature” which is not a bad term in summarizing what the flesh is. In Catholic tradition the flesh is where concupiscence sets up shop. Concupiscence refers to the string inclination to sin that is in us as a result of the wound of Original Sin. If you do not think that your flesh is strong, just try to pray for five minutes and watch how quickly your mind wants to think of anything but God. Just try to fast or be less selfish and watch how your flesh goes to war.
The flesh is in direct conflict with the spirit. “The spirit” here refers not to the Holy Spirit but to the human spirit. The (human) spirit is that part of us which is open to God, which desires him and is drawn to him. It is that part of us which is attracted by goodness, beauty and truth, which yearns for completion in God and to see His face. Without the spirit we would be totally turned in on ourselves and consumed by the flesh. Thankfully our spirit, assisted by the Holy Spirit draws us to desire what is best, what is upright, good and helpful.
Perhaps it is good that we look at just a few textswhich reference “the flesh” and thus here in Lent learn more of the flesh and its ways. This will help us to be on our guard and to rebuke it by God’s grace and learn not to feed it. I make some comments in red with each quote.
1. The Flesh does not grasp spiritual teachings – [Jesus said] The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)
Having taught on the Eucharist, most of his listeners ridicule his teaching and will no longer take Jesus seriously. So Jesus indicates that their hostility to the teaching on the Eucharist is of the flesh. The flesh demands that everything be obvious to it on its own terms. The flesh demands to see physical proof for everything; demands that it be able to “see” using its own unregenerate power. And if it cannot see based on its own limited view, it simply rejects spiritual truth out of hand. In effect the flesh refuses to believe at all since what it really demands is something that will “force” it to accept something. Inexorable proof which faith demands takes things out of the realm of faith and trust. Faith is no longer necessary when something is absolutely proven and plainly visible to the eyes of flesh. The flesh simply refuses to believe and demands proof.
2. The flesh is not willing to depend on anyone or anything outside its own power or control – For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless….I [now] consider this rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Phil 3:3-9 selected)
The flesh wants to be in control rather than to have to trust in God. Hence it sets up its own observance, under its own control. And when it has met its own demands it declares itself to be righteous. Since the flesh hates being told what to do it takes God’s law and makes it “manageable” based on the flesh’s own terms. So, for example, if I am supposed to love, let me limit it to my family and countrymen but I am “allowed” to hate my enemy. But Jesus says, no, love your enemy. The flesh recoils at this for unless the law is manageable and within the power of the flesh to accomplish it, the Law cannot be controlled. The flesh trusts only in its own power. The Pharisees were “self-righteous” That is to say, they believed in a righteousness that they themselves brought about through their flesh power. But the Law and flesh cannot save. Only Jesus Christ can save. The flesh refuses this and wants to control the outcome based on its own power and terms.
3. The Flesh hates to be told what to do – For when we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. (Rom 7:5)
The disobedience and rebelliousness of the flesh roots us in sinful behavior and prideful attitudes. The prideful attitude of the flesh is even more dangerous than the sins that flow from the flesh since pride precludes instruction in holiness and possible repentance that lead to life. But the flesh does not like to be told what to do. Hence it rejects the testimony of the the Church, the scriptures and the conscience. Notice, according to the text, the very existence of God’s Law arouses the passions of the flesh. The fact that something is forbidden makes the flesh want it all the more! This strong inclination to sin is in the flesh and comes from pride and indignation at “being told what to do.” The flesh is refuses God’s Law and sets up its own rules. The flesh will not be told what to do.
4. Flesh is as flesh does – Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:5-6)
The flesh is intent on things of this world, upon gratifying its own passions and desires. On account of the flesh we are concerned primarily with ourselves and seek to be at the center. The flesh is turned primarily inward. St Augustine describes the human person in the flesh as “curvatus in se” (turned in upon himself). But the spirit is that part of us that looks outward toward God and opens us the truth and holiness that God offers. Ultimately the flesh is focused on death for it is concerned with what is passing away: the body and the world. The human spirit is focused on life for it focuses on God who is life and light.
5. The Flesh is intrinsically hostile to God – The mind of the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)
The flesh is hostile to God because it is pridefully hostile to any one more important than itself. Further the flesh does not like being told what to do. Hence it despises authority or anyone who tries to tell it what to do. It cannot please God because it does not want to.
6. The Flesh abuses freedom – You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13)
The flesh turns God given freedom into licentiousness. Licentiousness is to demand freedom without limit. Since the flesh does not want to be told what to do it demands to be able to do what ever it wants. In effect the flesh says, “I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong.” This is licentiousness and it is an abuse of freedom. It results in indulgence and paradoxically leads to a slavery to the senses and the passions.
7. The Flesh Demands to be fed – So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Gal 5:16-17)
Within the human person is this deep conflict between the flesh and spirit. We must not be mistaken, the flesh is in us and it is strong. It has declared war on our spirit and on the Holy Spirit of God. When the spirit tries to obey the flesh resists and tries to sabotage the best aspirations of the spirit. We must be sober about this conflict and understand that this is why we do not do what we most know is right. The flesh has to die and the spirit come more alive. What you feed grows. If we feed the flesh it will grow. If we feed the spirit it will grow. What are you feeding? Are you sober about the power of the flesh and do you and I therefore feed our spirit well through God’s word and holy communion, through prayer and the healing power of confession. What are you feeding?
8. The Flesh fuels sin – The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-210)
This catalogue of sins for Galatians 5 is not exhaustive but is representative of the offensive and obnoxious behavior that flows from the flesh. Be sober about the flesh, it produces ugly children.
So here is a portrait of “the flesh.” It is ugly. You may say I have exaggerated, that the flesh is not really this bad. Well I am not, just buy a newspaper and see what the flesh is up to. You may, by God’s grace, have seen a diminishment in the power of the flesh in your life. That is ultimately what God can and will do for us. He will put the flesh to death in us and bring alive our spirit by the power of his Holy Spirit. But step one is to appreciate what the flesh is and understand its moves. Step two is to bring this understanding to God through repentance. Step three is, by God’s grace, to stop feeding the flesh and start feeding the spirit on prayer, scripture, Church teaching and Holy Communion. Step four is to repeat steps 1-3 for the rest of our lives. God by his grace will cause the flesh to die and the spirit to live by his grace at work in us through Jesus Christ.
What is the flesh?
Answer: John Knox (c. 1510–1572) was a Scottish clergyman, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, and a man who is considered to be the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland. Knox has been admired by contemporary theologians as someone who personified a zeal for God and a commitment to the truth of Scripture and holy living. Yet, as he grew close to death, this saint of God admitted his own personal battle with the sin nature he inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12). Knox said, “I know how hard the battle is between the flesh and the spirit under the heavy cross of affliction, when no worldly defense but present death doth appear. I know the grudging and murmuring complaints of the flesh..."
Knox’s statement sounds remarkably like that of the apostle Paul who openly acknowledged a personal struggle with his sin nature: "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:14-24).
Paul states in his letter to the Romans that there was something “in the members” of his body that he calls “my flesh,” which produced difficulty in his Christian life and made him a prisoner of sin. Martin Luther, in his preface to the book of Romans, commented on Paul’s use of “flesh” by saying, “Thou must not understand ‘flesh,’ therefore, as though that only were ‘flesh’ which is connected with unchastity, but St. Paul uses ‘flesh’ of the whole man, body, and soul, reason, and all his faculties included, because all that is in him longs and strives after the flesh.” Luther’s comments point out that “flesh” equates to affections and desires that run contrary to God, not only in the area of sexual activity, but in every area of life.
To get a solid understanding of the term “flesh” requires examining its usage and definition in Scripture, how it manifests in the life of both believers and unbelievers, the consequences it produces, and how it can ultimately be overcome.
A Definition of the “Flesh”
The Greek word for “flesh” in the New Testament is sarx, a term that can often in Scripture refer to the physical body. However, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature describes the word this way: “the physical body as functioning entity; in Paul’s thought esp., all parts of the body constitute a totality known as flesh, which is dominated by sin to such a degree that wherever flesh is, all forms of sin are likewise present, and no good thing can live.”
The Bible makes it clear that humanity did not start out this way. The book of Genesis says that humankind was originally created good and perfect: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ . . . God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Because God is perfect, and because an effect always represents its cause in essence [that is, a totally good God can only create good things, or as Jesus said, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18)], both Adam and Eve were created good and without sin. But, when Adam and Eve sinned, their nature was corrupted, and that nature was passed along to their offspring: "When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth" (Genesis 5:3, emphasis added).
The fact of the sin nature is taught in many places in Scripture, such as David’s declaration, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). David does not mean he was the product of an adulterous affair, but that his parents passed along a sin nature to him. In theology, this is sometimes called the “Traducian” (from the Latin term meaning “from a branch”) view of human nature The Traducian view is that a person’s soul is created via his parents, with the child inheriting their fallen nature in the process.
The Bible’s view of human nature differs from that of Greek philosophy in that Scripture says the physical and spiritual nature of humankind was originally good. By contrast, philosophers such as Plato saw a dualism or dichotomy in humanity. Such thinking eventually produced a theory that the body (the physical) was bad, but a person’s spirit was good. This teaching influenced groups such as the Gnostics who believed the physical world was mistakenly created by a demi-god called the “Demiurge.” The Gnostics opposed the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation because they believed God would never take on a physical form, since the body was evil. The apostle John encountered a form of this teaching in his day and warned against it: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).
Further, the Gnostics taught that it did not matter what a person did in his body, since the spirit was all that mattered. This Platonic dualism had the same effect back in the first century as it does today—it leads either to asceticism or licentiousness, both of which the Bible condemns (Colossians 2:23; Jude 4).
So contrary to Greek thought, the Bible says that humanity’s nature, both the physical and spiritual, were good, yet both were adversely affected by sin. The end result of sin is a nature often referred to as the “flesh” in Scripture—something that opposes God and seeks sinful gratification. Pastor Mark Bubek defines the flesh this way: “The flesh is a built-in law of failure, making it impossible for natural man to please or serve God. It is a compulsive inner force inherited from man’s fall, which expresses itself in general and specific rebellion against God and His righteousness. The flesh can never be reformed or improved. The only hope for escape from the law of the flesh is its total execution and replacement by a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Manifestation and Struggle with the Flesh
How does the flesh manifest itself in human beings? The Bible answers the question this way: "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Examples of the flesh’s outworking in the world are evident. Consider a few sad facts taken from a recent survey on the effect of pornography in America. According to the study, every second in the U.S.:
• $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography
• 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography
• 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines
And every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is being created in the United States. Such statistics underscore the statement made by the prophet Jeremiah who mourned that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The Consequences of the Flesh
The Bible says that living in the flesh produces a number of unfortunate consequences. First, Scripture states that those who live according to the flesh, and who never desire change or repent from their sinful behavior, will experience separation from God both in this life and the next:
• "Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the [sinful practices] of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death"(Romans 6:21)
• "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live"(Romans 8:13)
• "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life"(Galatians 6:7-8)
Further, a person also becomes a slave to his/her fleshly nature: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). This slavery always leads to a destructive lifestyle and deteriorated living. As the prophet Hosea said, "For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).
The fact of the matter is that obeying the flesh always results in breaking God’s moral law. Nevertheless, in a very real sense, a person can never break God’s moral law, although he can certainly disobey it. For example, a person can climb up on a roof, tie a cape around his neck, and leap off the roof in hopes of breaking the law of gravity. However, he will quickly learn that he cannot fly; he cannot break the law of gravity, and the only thing he breaks in the end is himself, while proving the law of gravity in the process. The same is true of moral actions: a person may disobey God’s moral law through fleshly living, but he will only prove the moral law of God true by breaking himself in some way via his own behavior.
Overcoming the Flesh
The Bible provides a three-step process for overcoming the flesh and restoring oneself to a right relationship with God. The first step is a walk of honesty where a person acknowledges his sinful behavior before God. This involves agreeing with what the Bible says about everyone born of human parents: people are sinners and enter the world in a broken relationship with the God who made them:
• "If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)
• "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10)
The next step is a walk in the Spirit, which involves calling out to God for salvation and receiving His Holy Spirit that empowers a person to live rightly before God and not obey the flesh’s desires. This transformation and new walk of life is described in several places in Scripture:
• “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." (Galatians 2:20)
• "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."(Romans 6:11)
• "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."(Galatians 5:16)
• "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
• "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."(Romans 13:14)
• "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit"(Ephesians 5:18)
• "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You." (Psalm 119:11)
The last step is a walk of death, where the flesh is starved of its desires so that it eventually dies. Even though a person is born again through the Spirit of God, he must understand he still possesses the old nature with its desires that war with the new nature and the desires that come from the Spirit. From a practical standpoint, the Christian purposely avoids feeding the old, fleshly nature and instead practices new behaviors that are driven by the Spirit:
• "But flee from [sinful actions], you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11)
• “Now flee from youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22)
• "But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.“ (1 Corinthians 9:27)
• "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry."(Colossians 3:5)
• "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."(Galatians 5:24)
• "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;"(Romans 6:6)
• "But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."(Ephesians 4:20-24)
Susanna Wesley, mother to the great preachers and hymn writers John and Charles Wesley, described sin and the flesh this way: "Whatever weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes away your relish for spiritual things, in short – if anything increases the authority and the power of the flesh over the Spirit, that to you becomes sin however good it is in itself.” One of the goals of the Christian life is the victory of the Spirit over the flesh and a change of life, which manifests in righteous living before God.
Although the struggle will be very real (which the Bible makes clear), Christians have assurance from God that He will bring them eventual success over the flesh. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Recommended Resource: Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie
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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)
Extra Credit: Major Ian Thomas “The Saving Life of Christ.” (1961)
The Amalelites in the Bible
Amalek (Hebrew: עֲמָלֵק, Amaleq, Arabic: عماليق ‘Amālīq) is a nation described in the Hebrew Bible as enemies of the Israelites. The name "Amalek" can refer to the nation's founder, a grandson of Esau; his descendants, the Amalekites; or the territories of Amalek which they inhabited.
According to the Bible, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz (himself the son of Esau, ancestor of the Edomites) and Eliphaz' concubine Timna. Timna was a Horite and sister of Lotan. Amalek is described as the "chief of Amalek" among the "chiefs of the sons of Esau"] from which it is surmised that he ruled a clan or territory named after him.
The Amalekite people were considered to be Amalek's descendants through the genealogy of Esau. In the chant of Balaam, Amalek was called the 'first of the nations'. One modern scholar believes this attests to Amalek's high antiquity, while traditional commentator Rashi states: "He came before all of them to make war with Israel." First-century Roman-Jewish scholar and historian Flavius Josephus refers to Amalek as a 'bastard' (νόθος) in a derogatory sense.
Battle with the Amalekites, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1860), representing Exodus 17:8-16.
According to the Bible, the Amalekites inhabited the Negev. They appear to have lived a nomadic or seminomadic lifestyle along the fringes of southern Canaan's agricultural zone. This is probably based on the association of this tribal group with the steppe region of ancient Israel and the area of Kadesh (Genesis 14:7).
As a people, the Amalekites were identified as a recurrent enemy of the Israelites. This role appears in several stories:
In Exodus 17:8–16, Amalek makes war against Israel in the wilderness. Joshua is ordered by Moses to lead Israel in battle, and Moses watches from a hillside. When Moses' hand is raised, Israel prevails, but when it is lowered, Israel falters. So he keeps his hand raised through the entire battle, even having assistants hold him up, so that the battle will go to Israel.
According to 1 Samuel 30:1–2, the Amalekites invaded the Negev and Ziklag in the Judean/Philistine border area towards the end of the reign of King Saul, burning Ziklag and taking its citizens away into captivity. The future king David led a successful mission against the Amalekites to recover "all that the Amalekites had carried away".
In 2 Samuel 1:5–10, an Amalekite tells David that he found Saul leaning on his spear after the battle of Gilboa and killed him and removed his crown. The intention behind the removal of the crown was for the Amalekite to present it to David, presumably to earn some kind of reward from him. David, however, condemns the Amalekite for killing the anointed king, using his own testimony as reference, and orders his men to execute him.
Ray Stedman was masterful in digging out symbols in the Bible which teach us deep truth we might otherwise ignore. A man named Amalek shows up in Exodus> He typifies the flesh in opposition to God. Here is some background from Ray.
"The Old Testament is particularly designed of God to make the great truths of the New Testament come alive for us. We need this to happen in our Christian experience. So many of these truths are simply academic knowledge as far as we are concerned until they come alive when we see them interpreted in the dramatic presentations of the Old Testament. This is especially true of the first five or six books of the Old Testament, for here God lays out the foundational pattern of his workings. In a panoramic view of Scripture, the first six books, Genesis through Joshua, trace out God's pattern of working in human life. His pattern will be exactly the same in your life as it was in the lives of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and all the others. It will follow the pattern that is developed for us in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. In these books we will see how God moves in our lives.
It is necessary therefore when we are studying in these books to relate each one briefly to the others. Genesis is the book that reveals the need of mankind. Genesis is all about man -- man's creation, man's sin, the new world that followed the flood, and man's slow journey through time, groping after God. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph -- four men who followed God -- set forth the need of men for justification, sonship, sanctification, and glorification. Most significantly, Genesis ends with the words "a coffin in Egypt." All you can say about man when you have said everything there is to say, is that he lives in the realm of death.
But Exodus is all about God. Exodus is God's answer to man's need and God's supply for man's sin. It begins immediately with God's activity and throughout the whole course of the book you see God mightily at work. The book is the picture, therefore, of redemption, of God's activity to redeem man in his need, in his sin, in his degradation and misery. As such, it is a beautiful picture and contains tremendously instructive lessons to us of what redemption is; that is, what God has done, is doing in our lives, and what he intends to do with us -- the steps that he will be taking.
Now redemption isn't complete in this book. You will never get the full story of redemption in Exodus. You must move on into Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Then the full picture develops as you come into the book of Joshua, where you find Israel brought into the land and into the place of triumph and victory over their enemies -- a picture of the triumphant, victorious Christian experience. Israel, then, is a picture of the people of God, of the church of God, and of you as a child of God. These books are marvelously designed of the Holy Spirit for they describe actual historical events which occurred in such a way under the overruling government of God that they act out for us great redemptive truths. This is why Paul says in writing to the Corinthians, "These things happened to them as a warning [literally, types] but they were written down for our instruction." (I Corinthians 10:11) Therefore, it is well to give heed to them.
The book of Exodus opens with the birth of a baby. God's finger is in evidence at the very beginning of this book for this is the story of a baby born under the sentence of death, but whose life was marvelously preserved by the intervening hand of God. With a delicate twist of irony that is wonderful to observe -- I hope none of you miss it -- God the Holy Spirit moves in such a way that, despite the law of Pharaoh to put all the Hebrew male babies in Egypt to death, Moses is not only saved, but Pharaoh hires Moses' own mother to take care of the baby! Such a design is surely one of those delightful expressions of the humor of God. If you haven't yet discovered that God has a sense of humor, there is a great discovery in store for you. Humorous glimpses appear throughout the Old and New Testaments. I can't read my Bible without occasionally breaking into gales of laughter over some of the clever ways in which God, through these ironic twists, adroitly turns the tables on someone. Such is the case in the story of Moses.
The interesting pattern is that when God wants to do something, he almost invariably starts with a baby. We don't. We think babies aren't very important. Back in 1809 the whole world was anxiously awaiting the news of the battles of Napoleon who was threatening to be the world dictator. He was the Hitler of his day. Napoleon held the whole world in fear of his tyrannical desires and egomaniacal impulses. But that same year there were babies being born in houses and families around the world -- and what babies! In England there was Tennyson, Charles Darwin, and Gladstone, who was later to become prime minister of Great Britain. Over in this country in a Kentucky log cabin Abraham Lincoln was born. Also Oliver Wendell Holmes and still other men who, upon coming to manhood, were giants who shook and changed the world. All this is to say that when God wants to change history, he doesn't start with a battle, he starts with a baby.
So God began with this baby. As Moses grew up he was raised in the court of Pharaoh and had access to all the learning of the Egyptians; he was trained in the best university of the greatest empire of the world of that day. He was the foster son of the king himself and every privilege, every advantage was his. But when he came of age, God spoke to him and he realized that he was intended to be the deliverer of Israel. So he went out, trying to do his job, he thought, and ended up murdering a man and having to flee into the wilderness. As you trace the story through you find that Moses left the land of Egypt and herded sheep for forty years in the wilderness. Here it was that God found him and dealt with him in the remarkable confrontation of the burning bush. God called him back to his original task, for which he was completely unprepared until he learned that God himself is all it takes to do anything in his name.
Coming back to the structure of Exodus, you can understand the story of the book if you remember four things. The whole book centers around four great events. The first one is the Passover. Chapters one through fourteen lead up to it and climax in that great event. The second event is the crossing of the Red Sea, which is described for us in chapter fourteen. The third great event is the giving of the law at Sinai and the fourth is the construction of the tabernacle in the midst of the camp of Israel. These four events sum up the book of Exodus.
The first two events relate closely to each other, as do the last two. The Passover and Red Sea are but two aspects of one great truth -- the deliverance of God's people from the bondage of Egypt. They portray in the Christian experience one great thing, that which we call conversion or regeneration, the deliverance of an individual from the bondage of the world; and if you want to know what God did with you when you became a Christian, study the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea. We'll explore these in a moment.
The other two events also tie together. The giving of the law and the construction of the tabernacle are absolutely inseparable. Remember that the pattern of the tabernacle was given to Moses when he was on the mountain with God, at the same time that the law was given. We must understand why these two are inextricably linked together -- the law and the tabernacle. We shall see why shortly.
First, let's come back to the Passover. You know the story -- how God called Moses, challenged him, and sent him back to Egypt. At first he was reluctant to go. There are wonderful lessons in all of these stories. Here, for example, when God said to Moses, "Moses, I want you to go down and deliver my people." Moses said to God, "Oh, Lord, I can't do that; I can't speak; I am not eloquent; I am not able to talk. I can't stand before Pharaoh." God didn't rebuke Moses for saying that. He wasn't angry because that was merely Moses' human inadequacy displaying itself. There is nothing wrong with that. We were made to be that way. God never holds us guilty for feeling inadequate when he asks us to do something.
But then God said to Moses, "I know you can't talk but here's what I will do. I'll be a tongue for you. I will speak through you. You go down to Egypt and I will be your tongue and I will speak through you." And Moses said, "Well, Lord, I think you had better get somebody else." Then it says, "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses." (Exodus 4:14) The first time Moses was saying, "I can't do this. I am just a man." And God says, "Yes, I know, I made you that way. But I will do it through you." When Moses, the second time, said, "Well, Lord, you had better get someone else," what he was really saying was, "Lord, I can't do this and I don't think you can do it either." When Moses challenged God like that, the anger of God was kindled against him. Now that is a good point to remember whenever God challenges you to do something.
He is never concerned when your initial reaction is to draw back. But after he has reminded you that he is with you to do this thing in you and through you and then you draw back, you have insulted God because you have said, "I don't think you can do it either."
Now Moses went on. He went down to Egypt, taking the rod of God with him, and immediately came into conflict with Pharaoh. Nothing is more dramatic in all the Old Testament than this tremendous conflict of wills between Pharaoh and Moses, the representatives of Satan and God. God had to move in mighty power against Pharaoh and it is almost incredible to read the story of how God would send some dreadful plague throughout the land of Egypt. And then we read, "Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the people go." Again and again this took place.
There were nine plagues in all, and Dr. Graham Scroggie points out that each one of those plagues was directed against one of the gods of Egypt. God was ruling in judgment against the gods of Egypt by these terrible catastrophes that gripped the land. If you are interested in the scientific aspects of this, I recommend that you read a most fascinating book, Worlds in Collision, by the Russian scientist Emmanuel Velikovsky. He has some very interesting theories as to why these plagues and other stirring events of Moses' day occurred. I am not saying that everything in his book is true, but it is a fascinating approach to the story.
As we move on. God has all the people together. He has sent Moses to them and at last Pharaoh's heart is overcome. His will is overwhelmed by the display of the power of God. He consents, after the death of his first-born, to let Israel go. It is very important to notice that when Moses went down to Egypt, the people of Israel were not a nation. They became a nation when they passed through the Red Sea. That is the meaning of those words from First Corinthians, "All were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (I Corinthians 10:2) They were made a body in the sea. They were a disorganized mob before. They came out a unit, a unit in Christ, when they passed through the Red Sea.
This is a beautiful reflection of the truth that every Christian discovers. Before he becomes a Christian he is simply an individual struggling to make his way through life. But when he has gone through the experience of the Passover, when he has seen the blood of the Lamb nailed to a cross for him, sprinkled on a cross for him, and has rested in the fact as the people of Israel rested in the symbol of the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorposts of their houses on the night of the Passover, and until he has passed through a Red Sea experience, burning his bridges behind him and moving forward onto a Christian stand, having declared himself for God -- thus symbolically passing through the waters of the Sea -- he will never fully understand that he has now become part of a body, the body of Christ, and that he is joined together in a living unit with all other Christians. This is pictured for us in the book of Exodus.
The Passover is a picture of the cross of Christ. What a beautiful story it is! How the angel of death passed through the land and all the first-born were slain -- all but those Israelites who by faith, simply by faith, took the blood of a lamb and sprinkled it on the door-posts and lintels of their houses. They were then perfectly safe within the house. This pictures for us the simple act of faith by which we rest on the fact that Jesus Christ's dying has settled our guilt before God. The angel of death passes over us. The angel of judgment will never pass our way because we are resting under the blood of the Lamb of God. A wonderful truth.
But that is not the whole story. Remember the Passover is never of value until the Red Sea experience is linked with it. The Red Sea experience immediately followed the Passover. They left the safety of their homes, went out into the wilderness and came to the shore of the Sea. They were still in Egypt when they got to the edge of the Sea, and the case looked hopeless to them. It looked as though there they would lose all they had gained. The people began to cry out to Moses and ask him why he had brought them here to die in the wilderness.
Moses' answer is wonderful. He says, "Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exodus 14:13). It was a cry of faith. But God's word came immediately and said, "Go forward. Don't stand still, this is not the time for that. Go forward." "Well," they said, "where? The water is in front of us, the Egyptians are behind us. Where can we go?" And Moses said, "Never mind, God says go forward, now go forward."
The Lord had told him to stretch out his rod over the sea and when he did, the waters rolled back and they passed through safely onto the other side while the Egyptians, following them, were caught in a rush of the waves and were drowned in the sea.
What does the Red Sea typify in your life? Well, it typifies your break with the world. Egypt is now on the other side. Once they got through the Red Sea they were in the wilderness, true, but they were out of Egypt. Now there was a river of death that had rolled between them. Exactly the same river of death that has rolled between you and the world when you claimed Jesus Christ as your Lord.
Now, notice something about this. When they were going through the Passover, they rested in their houses. They didn't do a thing. They simply sat there. They were depending upon the work of another. When they came to the Red Sea, though, it was God's power and God's might that rolled the waters back and made the escape possible, but activity was demanded of them. Their wills were challenged. They were asked to move through.
Here is the reason why many professions of Christian faith never materialize into anything. There are people who are willing to sit under the Passover blood, who are willing to receive Jesus Christ as Savior, but they are not willing to walk through the waters of the Red Sea. They never take that step which burns their bridges cuts them off from the world. In their mind and thinking they are still back in Egypt. They will not move forward through the Red Sea, and until that happens they are still under the bondage and control of Egypt.
Notice, in chapter fifteen, that it was only as Israel came through the Sea that they began to sing. The first thing they did when they walked through on the other side was to break into song. There had been no songs in Egypt. That was a place of bondage, of heartache. of misery, and of unremitting toil and danger. But when they came into the wilderness and onto the far shore of the Red Sea, they broke into song. Real deliverance brings a song. Have you a song of deliverance?
I see this pattern worked out so frequently in life today. A young man came to me not long ago. He was having a struggle with drinking and evidently had come to a crisis in his life. He wanted to be set free. Somehow he realized that there was strength in Christ to set him free. He came to me and we talked together. He bowed his head at last and received the Lord. But about three weeks later, I got a telephone call from him and he was back in the same old mess. Exactly the same. I called him over and we sat down again together. I said, "What happened to you when you went home three weeks ago after you said you had received the Lord? Did you do anything about this?" He said, "No, I didn't. I just went home." I said, "What were you expecting to happen?" He said, "I don't know. I just went home and I guess I just forgot about it." I said. "If you had made a decision to enter into some business relationship, if you had decided you wanted to get into a certain job and there were certain necessary steps to take, would you then go home and forget about the whole thing?" "Oh, no," he said, "I would start moving in that direction." "Well, " I said, "do you think you can convince me that you have really made a decision for Jesus Christ and that your life is going to be under his control, if, when you have made it, you go home and sit down, fold your arms and forget about it." He replied. "No, I guess not."
Decision is one thing. Decision brings the power of God to bear on our lives and sets us free from the guilt of the past and we can rejoice in that. God's word is true. But there is also the experience of passing through the Red Sea, that call to move forward, and cut off your ties with the world, and take steps that will allow the river of God's judgment to flow between you and the ways of the world. When you take that step, you move out into that place where God dwells within you. As you see here in Exodus, chapter fifteen, God never touches his people, or comes among them, until they have passed through the Red Sea. When they have passed through, then God dwells among them...
As we read on in chapter fifteen a most interesting picture develops. We have the story of the waters of Marah, the place of bitterness. This immediately follows the crossing of the Red Sea. In order to cure these waters, Moses cut down a tree which the Lord showed him, threw it into the water and the water became sweet (Exodus 15:25). In terms of the picture of our lives that this story portrays, you will see that this comes in just the right place. What it is telling us is that the cross, the great tree upon which the Lord Jesus hung, is God's answer to the bitterness of life. When we have been through the Passover, trusting in his blood, then through the Red Sea, cutting ourselves away from the things of the world, we discover then that the cross is forever the answer to all the bitterness that sin may have brought into our life in the past. God's answer to bitterness in any person's experience is this experience of the cross -- cutting away all the unhappiness of the past and all the frustrations of the present by sweetening the waters of our life.
Immediately following this they came into the wilderness. and there the manna falls. Here is the beginning of God's fatherly care. Didn't you discover that when you became a Christian? The minute you became a Christian, and cut off your former life, and had passed through the Red Sea, didn't you immediately discover God's fatherly care? He watched over you. He fed you and bore you on eagles' wings, as he did here to these Israelites. But, even so, there was the murmuring of the people. There is so much of that in our lives, complaining against God, isn't there?
Then comes the battle in chapter seventeen, the first battle with the flesh. This is always a startling thing to new Christians. After then have gone through the glory of the Passover, the Red Sea, the mighty deliverance from sin in their lives, the sense of his fatherly love in the giving of the manna, and have found fellowship with Christ in the new life, they discover they still have a battle with the old flesh. It can be a shocking realization. But here it is. Amalek comes and fights with Israel, but God declares unending war with Amalek (Exodus 17:10) "For the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other" (Galatians 5:17). You can never make peace with Amalek.
So, as we come through the typical teaching of this book to chapter nineteen, we arrive at Sinai; that is, the law and the tabernacle, the third and fourth major sections of Exodus. Let us bring these two together. At Sinai we have, of course, the giving of the law. Now what is the law? It is simply a picture of the holiness of God, that is, the character of God. Let me put it another way. It is the unchangeability of God, the unrelenting character of God. This is why the law and the giving of the law is a time of terror. because there is nothing more terrible to human beings than to face squarely up to the fact that God is absolutely unchangeable, that nothing will change him. This gives wonderful comfort to us when we think of his love and care and grace, but it is frightening when we think of his holiness, his anger, and his wrath. This means that God can never be talked out of anything. God can never be bought off. We cannot get him to lower his standards in any degree. The law is the absolute, irrevocable standard of God's character, which is what we discover as we come into the experience of the Lordship of Christ -- he is absolutely unchangeable. He will never lower his demands in our life.
Now the law by itself, therefore, is a frightening thing. God's holy character terrorizes us. Do we really take seriously what God says to us about himself? Listen: "You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew. 5:48). Do you take that seriously? Well, most of us spend a lot of time trying to water it down somehow. Be perfect! That is frightening! How can I be perfect? God's answer to that question is the tabernacle -- the ritual and the sacrifice connected with it. That is why on the mountain, yes, the very same mountain on which he gave the law, which is the revelation of his character, he also gave the tabernacle, his provision for dwelling with man. For in the tabernacle, God dwelt among his people.
I like to visualize the camp of Israel. You remember they were divided up, all the tribes; some on the east, some on the north, some on the west, and on the south. They were arranged in orderly fashion. Right in the center was the tabernacle. Over it, and over the whole camp, was the great cloud by day and the fiery pillar by night. I have often thought the camp of Israel must have looked very much like the city of Los Angeles, lying out there in the desert, spread out in a fashion, and over it a cloud -- of smog, of course, in Los Angeles -- but in Israel it was a cloud which betokened the presence of God. Here was God dwelling among his people. He could do it only by a most intricate system of sacrifices and rituals and a very complicated procedure of bringing the people into his presence.
If you went into the camp of Israel, you would pass through all the tribes on whichever side you entered and find your way at last to the center of the camp, where the Levites were. As you continued through the Levites you would come to the tabernacle. At first you would pass through a great gateway into the outer court where you would find certain articles -- the brazen altar and the brazen laver -- and then there was an inner building with a veil across the entrance into which no one dared enter unless he were a priest. The priests alone went into the holy place. Behind another veil inside the holy place was the Holy of Holies. The only piece of furniture in it was the ark of the covenant including the cherubim of mercy with their wings touching each other over the ark. Into that place, we are told, only the high priest could go, and he only once a year, under the most rigid and precise conditions.
Now what does all this teach? Simply that God is absolutely changeless and holy. He can dwell among people only under the most rigid conditions. The trouble with the tabernacle was that it only permitted the people to come before God representatively, but, actually, they were excluded from his presence. The common people could never come before him. Only the high priest could. and he in fear of his life, and only once a year, that's all. That is the restriction of these Old Testament rituals.
You see, the trouble with the Old Testament and the saints of that time was not the law. There was nothing wrong with the law. The law is absolutely good. Paul says so. Sometimes we speak of the law as though it were wrong, but it isn't. The law was absolutely good. It still is. The trouble was with the tabernacle, and the system of sacrifice. It wasn't complete enough. It wasn't real enough. It was only shadows, just pictures. It could never really do anything. That is why, when we come to the book of Hebrews the whole book is dedicated to teaching us that the law of God is still unchanged, but the approach is completely different, for we come to the One who is the antitype, the reality, symbolized by all these shadows. We read in Hebrews "we have confidence to enter the sanctuary" (Hebrews 10:19) without any fear whatsoever, for in the blood of Jesus and by means of the cross, God has set aside all that separates, and has brought us near to himself.
The great message of the book of Exodus is that by means of the cross, God has made it possible for a holy, unchangeable God to dwell with us. The whole of the tabernacle is a picture of God's dwelling with his people. The great truth for us here is that God has now settled so totally the problem of sin in us, absolutely settled it, that as Paul says in Romans eight, "There is now no condemnation" Romans 8:1), none whatsoever. None whatsoever! We have perfect access to the Father through the Son, and God's indwelling Spirit will never leave us or forsake us. He has taken up his tabernacle in our hearts and lives.
One of the things I am in perpetual enmity against is the practice among Sunday School teachers (for they are the ones most guilty of this) of teaching children that a building is the house of God. The reason I don't like that is primarily because it is not true. There was a building which was the house of God in the Old Testament, the tabernacle, but it was a mere shadow. The temple in Jerusalem took its place. It, too, was a shadow. But when you come into the New Testament you never find a building designated as the house of God. The house of God in the New Testament is a human body. "You are the temple of God," Paul says (I Corinthians. 3:16). Therefore, you are never out of church. I think we have taught our children one of the most deadly of errors when we teach that a building is the house of God. When we say that, it is very difficult for them to grasp the idea that their bodies are the temples of God.
That is what God wants us to learn -- that we are never out of church. That Jesus Christ himself is dwelling in your body which is his temple and it is built exactly like the tabernacle. It has a three-fold structure. The outer court is this body of flesh and bones which we see. The holy place is the soul -- the realm of emotions, mind and will. That area in which we have free intercourse one with another as we talk and share experiences together. But deep at the center is the Holy of Holies, your spirit. In that place the Spirit of God dwells.
So each of us is a walking tabernacle. This whole book of Exodus is to impress upon us, as we read it through, that great New Testament truth -- the glory of living with God himself in the midst of our life and the demands that truth makes upon us, the responsibilities it brings upon us and the privileges it gives us. The great need is for a walk resting upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, alone, making this all possible for us.
Still, Exodus isn't enough. We need to go on into Leviticus and see what this demanding law does to us in its effort to correct us and guide our lives. In Leviticus you will find another great truth which, if you have not yet learned, will explain why you find yourself bound, hampered, and fettered in a continual up-and-down experience." Background.
First Samuel: King Saul
When the Flesh Rules
Overthrow the Flesh
Death vs Life (2 Corinthians 3)
Dangerous Confidence (Philippians 3:1-7)
The Weapons of our Warfare (2 Corinthians 10)
The Enemy Around (2 John 2:15-17)
The Law of the Spirit (Esther)
Carnal and Spiritual Christians (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
Born of the Spirit (1 John 3:1-16)
July 6, 2019
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