Most believers can easily explain how sin happens; it happens when someone isn't obeying God's commands. "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not dishonor one's parents." We could call failures in these ways, "bad flesh" - when the flesh acts out in ways that are in disagreement with God's law. But there is a more insidious case of fleshliness, one that is much, much harder to discern from the Spirit. Why is it harder? Because it looks and acts just like someone who obeys God's laws. At least, as far as most believers can detect on a less intimate level.
What does "good flesh" look like?
When I'm in good flesh, sometimes, I'm quoting scripture. Sometimes, I'm leading someone through the gospel. Sometimes I am getting groceries out of my pantry for a neighbor, or helping a friend across town. Sometimes it's when I raise my hand in Sunday School. I can be in good flesh and start a blog post. (Okay, I'm praying right now to get me out of good flesh, because believe it or not, this is difficult to deny in myself!)
Don't all those things sound so Godly?
Don't be deceived. I'm trying not to be.
|"But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way..."|
Let me explain what is at stake, the best way I know how. Anytime anyone takes you on a tour of God's commands to disciple you, what happens in your soul? I will tell you what happens in mine. When someone shows me God's standards, I have tried to be the most willing and pliant of people. Unfortunately I hear only at a certain depth, the first time I am told about God's goals for me. This first depth is almost always, "good flesh." It tries. It is ready for a challenge. It wants to grow, to develop, to be proven a good student. It wants to perform when told there is something important at stake.
And there is a negative response in "good flesh." It feels pressure when the discipleship program comes back for round two, three, ... fifty. "Good flesh" looks at the same challenge on some days, and doesn't get excited. It wants to hide. It wants to avoid. The mind gets foggy, not knowing where they are and where they are ultimately going. It causes hurt. It causes confusion. Then later, the fog lifts because the soul gets tired of the path of pressure. Just like it became tired of challenging itself. There is a constant oscillation of "I'm ready for a challenge, again!" and then disillusionment and confusion come back once more.
There is no middle ground, with "good flesh."
Fortunately for us, God uses the law in a Spiritual way, oftentimes, for us after our first hearing. He has mercy on us and intercedes for the will of God in our lives. If our hearts are truly repentant, we will "hear" later, that same program of discipleship all around us. We will hear it in the words of other believers and even unbelievers. We will hear it in the Bible when we were reading for another purpose. We'll hear it in our escapist tv programs. And most importantly, in our experiences and our attempts to understand God's will in the moments of our lives, we'll hear it when it's time to attempt a new level of obedience.
I have a feeling that Paul's number one concern of sin in the Epistle of Romans, is "good flesh," not "bad flesh." Think about chapter 2 when he tried to reason with the righteous as measured by God's law. Think about chapters 6 through 10 which Paul uses to save us from the mistakes of Israel and their fate in Romans 11. He wants our experience of salvation to be actual "saving" from the flesh in every aspect of life. Let's read through Romans 7 and into Romans 8, 9 and 10, with the idea of "good flesh" being enemy #1. I'm so glad God showed this to me recently. Romans 7:6, 8-9 -
But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! ... But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law, sin is dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.Any program of discipleship or shepherding using commands and ideals from God's Word cause good flesh to respond. It is an imperfect program of sanctification. Not because the law itself is bad. The law is Spiritual. But we still have flesh and it wants to respond. Does the law not tell you, "perform"? Of course! And this is exactly why, after some time of investing heavy personal efforts, those who are taking us through a tour of God's Word say... "Umm, you still don't demonstrate that you get it." How frustrating! I call this stage, fog. I think Paul does, too. Romans 7:15,18, 22-25
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. ... ...for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. ... For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.Anytime we fall short of perfection, guess which realm made it happen? The flesh. Our minds can "hear" on that first level every single day what God is leading us to become. But how to become it, defies us, as soon as our will is to manifest it.
The good news is, God understands the problem very well. Let's read Romans 8:1, 3-4 -
There is now no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. ... For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us....Jesus stood in the place of attempting the will of God; His attempts stand in the place for our attempts. He gave us a way of being in response to the expectations of God, and have complete and utter victory. So this is what is at stake: we can walk in what Christ accomplished, or we will walk in the realm of getting all fired up to live up to the challenge of God's Word. Every Christian deed we attempt will be judged this way: Romans 8:13 -
For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.The law was meant to sanctify us. Even though it can't. There is still a way that it can. "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Romans 9:6). Let's read Romans 10:5-9 -
For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, 'The man who does those things shall live by them.' But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, 'Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, 'Who will descend into the abyss?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe that in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."There is a perfect picture of the silly maze of good flesh. It either gets pumped up to rise itself to the occasion (ascends), or it wants to run and hide in fog and surrender (descends). But faith offers a sane middle road. It believes what Romans 8 just taught. What the flesh could not do, God did by sending Jesus Christ on behalf of sinful flesh. If we want to escape good flesh - we call out Jesus Christ as Lord. If we put to death the deeds of the body through resurrection power (Rom 8:11), we will live!
Remember, Paul asked "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24).
Israel stumbled over and rejected the righteousness available by faith. Faith says this when it hears the law: "The word of God is near you." Another words, The Word is a Presence! He is in your heart (Jesus was raised from the dead) and He is in your mouth (confess that Jesus Christ is Lord).
Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame (Romans 10:11). Paul experienced that shame as a Christ follower in Romans 7, he even called himself wretched. Christ followers are thus taught how to escape the error that the Israelites made - they did not call on God in Isaiah 28:16 -
Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.My hope for myself, is this. When I hear the Word of God, and a fellow believer most thankfully has aspirations to see my life embody it, I will stop where I am and not be inspired to try. I will believe that Jesus is available and ready to obey it perfectly in my place. He is the sane middle road.