The flesh works to make you forget the design (that you are saved to be holy) and think only of the remedy (if you sin you’ll be forgiven). It preaches half a gospel (a twisted gospel) to us: “Go ahead and indulge – it’s already paid for.” Those who fall prey to such deception are evidently many, since the Scriptures go to such lengths to condemn it (Romans 3:5-8; 6:1-4; Jude 4).
The first degree [of temptation] relates to the mind – it is dragged away from its duties by the deceit of sin. The second aims at the affections – they are enticed and entangled. The third overcomes the will – the consent of the will is the conception of actual sin. The fourth degree disrupts our way of life as sin is born into it. The fifth is the flesh’s goal, a hardened life of sin, which leads to eternal death (James 1:14-15).
The flesh hates everything about God. Since it resists everything about God, it resists every way we try to taste Him and know Him and love Him. And the more something enables us to find God and feast on Him, the more violently the flesh fights against it. It takes its battle to every quarter of the soul: When the mind wants to know God, the flesh imposes ignorance, darkness, error and trivial thoughts. The will can’t move toward God without feeling the weight of stubbornness holding it back. And the affections, longing to long for God, are constantly fighting the infection of sensuality or the disease of indifference.
Your flesh will whisper to you that strictness and anxious care about obedience are legalism – the gospel came to deliver you from such things! And besides, if you really do commit a sin, you can be forgiven later.
You can feel the hostility of the flesh whenever you approach God – it makes real love for Him into work: Digging around the Bible to find a juicy new insight to impress your small group is like sailing the Caribbean, but poring over the Scriptures to find the Lover of your soul is like skiing up Mount Everest. Conjuring up a happy mood with some music you don’t even know the words to is like solving 2 + 2 with a calculator. But savoring the glory of Christ and His tender love until your heart is softened toward Him is like using mental math to calculate pi to the thousandth place. And giving a birthday present to your best friend is like forcing down some double-fudge brownies. But giving up your extra bedroom to a homeless person in the name of Jesus is like eating the Rockies for breakfast.
But every last drop of poison is poison; every spark of fire is fire; and the last bit of flesh that remains in the believer is still enmity. When God’s grace changes our nature, it doesn’t change the nature of the flesh. It conquers it, weakens it, mortally wounds it, so that we are no longer Captain Ahabs by nature; yet his defiant malice smolders in our flesh. By the time Paul wrote Romans, he must have been as Christlike as anyone can expect to be on this side of heaven, and he surely spend his days putting his flesh to death. Still he cried out for deliverance from this irreconcilable enemy (Rom. 7:24).
Will you give your hours to fantasizing about and dwelling on and longing for the vile things that nailed the Lover of your soul to the cursed tree?
Ways to fight the flesh:
1. Meditate on the cross to see the rottenness of your sin and the fullness of Christ’s love.
2. Keeping watch against sin’s deceit.
3. Filling your affections with heavenly things.
4. Applying your will to every means of God’s grace to fight temptation.
5. Renewing your first love for Jesus.
6. Hungering for a glimpse of God’s holy glory.
7. All these must be combined with FAITH.
What you are when you are alone with God, that you are – and nothing more. You may make a great show of love and faith in church, singing like Pavarotti or attracting the masses to your profound Sunday school lectures. But if there is no private communion between you and Jesus – frequent and deep communion – then your religion is worthless.
“My sheep know my voice” (John 10:4). Christ’s faithful lambs know His voice because they are used to the sound of it. Because they commune with Him often and hunger for the words that fall from His lips, they recognize the tone and rhythm of His precious words. They can tell at once whether He or a stranger is declaring peace. They know His voice because it speaks good to their souls. His word of peace humbles souls, cleanses from guilt, transforms lives, melts their hearts, and endears Christ to them.