Originally published February 17, 2010. This version has some minor formatting and content edits.
Last week we looked at the importance of declaring war against our own sinful flesh and we uncovered and examined some truths about the nature of this war. In brief summary, we outlined 3 key strategies in declaring this war:
- Don’t conform to the world (Rom. 12:1)
- Renew your Mind (Rom. 12:1)
- Put on Christ and realize your identity in Him (Rom. 13:14)
If you remember, this third strategy is where our true power lies, by realizing that this fight of the flesh in our battle toward holiness cannot come from any internal power of our own, but instead from the power of Christ living in us. It’s on this point that we must advance and avoid the wartime ambush.
Picture it like this, you’ve declared war against sin, against your own sinful nature, against your fleshly desires of anger, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, money, power, selfishness, racism, hatred, every ungodly impulse that runs through your body and you’ve developed your battle plan, a list of do’s and don’ts that are sure to make you victorious. Just like the troops ready to storm the beaches at Normandy, you too are ready to begin your war.
There’s only one problem, that list of do’s and don’ts, the warfare strategy that you thought would be so helpful, has actually disarmed you and is sending you into battle with no weapon in hand. This is quite the precarious situation, because surely you cannot do battle without a plan, yet to proceed into war without a weapon would be spiritual suicide. This is why the third strategy from above is so critical; your warfare strategy must come from a total reliance on Christ. It is He that arms you with His Spirit.
Let me attempt to put this in terms we can relate to. Suppose in your declaration of war, you resolve that you will not lose your temper toward your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, etc. for 6 months. That’s a goal you’ve created in order to wage your war. What happens when you lose your temper and get angry after the first week? Have you already lost the battle? Will you start the 6-month period again? What would be the point in that?
A second scenario might be that you’ve decided to avoid all lusts of the flesh and after a few months have passed you are able to look back and say, “I haven’t committed a lustful sin in 7 months 4 days and 3 hours.” This is equivalent to building the Titanic and declaring that God Himself cannot sink it. That “sinless” streak will end nearly as soon as your Pharisaic declaration has been made. How then did our “list” strategy fail us? Especially when we had intentions of doing good.
These lists that we like to create are really no different than what the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans chapter 8, because just like the “Law” that he speaks of, our lists cannot sanctify us, only Jesus Christ working in us through His Spirit can bring us progressively closer to Christ-likeness.
In Romans 8:3 ESV Paul states,
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
The law that Paul speaks of here, namely the Mosaic Law (10 Commandments), is perfectly Holy, perfectly good, but our sinful flesh is unable to uphold them, just like we are unable to keep those lists we created. If you remember, in our last post we said that legalism was “doing” works, i.e. law keeping, in attempt to gain right standing with God. Legalism (“law-keeping/list-making”) can’t improve our standing or justify us, just like it can’t move us toward holiness, or sanctification. The same principle is at work here; we must be totally dependent on Christ trusting in Him that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV
Our instruction from Jesus is to obey the law, to follow the commandments that God has outlined for us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 ESV The law however, reveals areas of personal weakness (Romans 5:20) in our hearts that needs to be changed. But the law, and to a lesser extent our list based on the law, isn’t a personal improvement plan; it’s a standard of holiness, one that without Christ at work in our lives any attempt to uphold it would be futile. How then can we move toward holiness and progress in our sanctification without checking off a list of do’s and don’ts? By loving Jesus. If you love Him, you WILL keep His commandments. It’s conditional on love, not on list keeping. Do you want to move toward victory in your war? “This land cannot be entered by moral effort or by moral attainment.” (A. Redpath). It can only be entered by the redeeming blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit within us. Run to Jesus and love Him, treasure Him, obey Him, and you will have victory.
“Absolute triumph is achieved only in response to utter obedience.”
“For the greater the obedience, the greater the discipline, the greater the faith, the fuller and more complete the allegiance to our precious Lord, the more does the heart expand and receive more and more of Jesus.” A. Redpath- Victorious Christian Living