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by Jacob Ninan
We are far too much occupied with what happens outside us – what people do to us or do not do for us, the circumstances of our life that affect us, the political scene, etc. – and may be even unaware of a fight that is constantly going on inside us. We are also far too much occupied with the impression we create on the outside in the way we speak and behave in front of the others compared to being aware of what goes on inside us. Perhaps this is because we feel safe thinking nobody can know what goes on inside us.
Those comparatively rare people who look inside themselves are even labelled by many as those with an unhealthy approach to life. Many who have looked inside and found there some unpleasant, unpalatable, unpresentable and unenjoyable things have decided to leave those alone and to try and look instead at things that will soothe their feelings or stir up enjoyable feelings. Some of them have fashioned out a nice-sounding philosophy to justify their approach and call it 'being positive' which aims to eliminate all 'negative' thoughts and feelings. But that is just wishful thinking, even if it appears to succeed for a short time, because life, in reality, has a lot of negative things, and trying not to think of those does not actually eliminate them! On the contrary, the negative things in our life that are pushed out of our awareness continue to remain in our mind behind the curtains and cause us real problems! The negative things that we come across in life have to be addressed and dealt with in a positive way in order to minimise the damage they can cause to us.
Before a person comes to Christ, the fight that he experiences inside is between his conscience and his natural desires. A few people listen to their conscience and aim to do everything within their ability to comply with their conscience. Some of them come to terms with the realisation that they are unable to stick with their conscience all the time and therefore they adjust the promptings of their conscience to what is feasible. The others among them live with a constant sense of failure as they recognise their limitations. On the other hand, the majority of people learn to give in to their own desires ignoring their conscience, especially if they can ensure that they can get away with it. As result, their conscience gets dulled in many areas over a period of time, and most pricks of the conscience disappear from their mind. They may think it is fine, but this is actually a very dangerous position.
But it is quite another thing when we become born again through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the beginnings of a new nature that has a strong desire to stop doing the sinful things we used to do. Now we seek to obey God and to walk in His ways. But at the same time we are caught between two strong pulls within us – the Holy Spirit through our new-born nature prompting us to choose a godly way of life and our old nature with the sinful, selfish desires pulling us back towards our old way of life (Gal.5:16,17). The apostle Paul uses the word 'flesh' in a special sense in many places, e.g., v.24, to refer to the old nature with its passions and desires using the Greek word sarx which is different from the word used for body, viz., soma. The sinful desires in the 'flesh' are enough to tempt us and cause us to be conflicted in our mind (Jas.1:14,15). But the actual situation is worse in that the flesh is now also fuelled by Satan (and his demons) placing suggestions in our mind just as he did with Eve and with Jesus, and also by the 'world' enticing us with its attractions (1Jn.2:15,16). These 'external' pulls find support from us because we have corresponding desires within our flesh to which these attractions are appealing!
God has given us promises that we can overcome sin and become like Jesus (2Pet.1:3,4). What He has done to start the process is to give us a new mind that wants to stop sinning and start following Him (Jer.31:33). He has given us His word in which He shows us what the life of Jesus is like and the way we should walk. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to help us to overcome our fleshly desires (Rom.8:13). God forgives our sins when we fail (1Jn.1:9), and gives us help to grow stronger and overcome next time (Heb.4:15,16). In other words, He works in us, and with the understanding and strength we receive from Him, we learn to live the kind of life He wants us to live (Php.2:12,13). But we face a battle throughout our life because of temptations.
While Paul talks about Jesus having been crucified for us on the cross, he also mentions that we have been crucified with Him (Gal.2:20). He clarifies in another place that it is our 'old man' that has been crucified with Christ (Rom.6:6). The difference between our old man and our flesh may be understood in this way. Our old man was our old mind which agreed to sin, which has now been replaced with a new man when God wrote His laws on our heart and mind. It is because of this that we no longer want to sin but we want to obey God in everything. But our flesh has not disappeared when God did this in our mind. Our flesh with its sinful desires still remains within us because of which we are constantly being tempted to sin. Our fight is between the new man which is being strengthened by the Holy Spirit and our flesh which is being fanned up by Satan and the world.
When the apostle Paul described the Gospel and the life of a Christian in the Book of Romans, he took time to describe this battle too (Rom.7). In his own words, there were two laws working in him, the law of God and the law of sin (vv.22,23), causing him to want to obey God at all times and finding in reality that he ends up doing things he never wanted to do. This is just another way of describing the fight described above between our new man and our flesh.
The presence of the new man in us tries to turn us away from the desires coming up from our flesh. In other words, when we take our position with the new man, we try to keep the flesh crucified (Gal.5:24). Whenever we are tempted to yield to the desires of the flesh, we are expected to put those desires to death (keep them crucified). On the other hand, if we yield to any of the desires of the flesh at any time, it is the same as allowing the flesh to come off from the cross or the old man to be revived. Death on the cross takes time, and we can only put our sinful desires to death if we keep them crucified. If we allow these desires to be fed now and then with our indulgence, that will only prolong their life. But if we deny ourselves by taking up our cross daily, our desires will become weaker and weaker till they trouble us no more.
This is a description of what is going on in a disciple's life all the time. A faithful disciple grows in his understanding and ability to deal with temptations and becomes more and able to overcome them. There may be failures here and there due to carelessness, ignorance, unpreparedness, etc., but it is God's plan that we go on from faith to faith (Rom.1:17) and grace upon grace (Jn.1:16) in our practical life.
Some Christians do not agree with the description of the conflict as given above. They claim that Romans 7 only describes Paul's experience before he came to Christ and that Romans 8 is the true description of a victorious Christian life. If only if was true that when we come to Christ we are no longer troubled by our sinful desires! But just think of how Jesus could have been tempted in the wilderness after He had been a 'Christian' for 30 years and never sinned! It shows us that we can be tempted at any time and that temptation is real. If there is a real temptation, there is also a real battle between our old desires and our new life. Actually, people who have been truly closer to God than the general crowd have all testified in different words to the presence of this fight within them.
Sometimes, the Bible describes what God has prepared for His children using words that present things as if they have already happened. For example, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom.8:2) seems to say that we have no more problems with sin anymore! But when we look at real life we can understand that this is really an ongoing process where the law of the Spirit is gaining more and more supremacy over the law of sin and death in the life of a faithful disciple. If people take this verse to mean that it has already taken place fully and that we are totally free now, it will end up in making doctrinal bubbles that do not relate to practical life.
If we are taught to believe that once we come to Christ our life is going to be one where there is always total victory without any struggle, confusion, uncertainty, doubts, etc., we are likely to get terribly shocked when the battle hits us. Preparedness is a part of the foundation for victory.
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