The challenge that faces all of humanity is their inability to exercise self control in all things. Oh sure, people can exercise self control over many things, but everyone has a weakness or two that will take hold of them when they least expect it and do not want it to happen and …boom! They fall apart and do the very thing they hate.
In my last post I wrote about how Paul suffered in this way from covetousness in his early walk with the Lord and before coming to Jesus. And he is not alone for every person has their own personal set of weaknesses to which they have and will succumb if the conditions are right and they are at a weak point. Let’s face it, even Superman had kryptonite! Only Jesus was able to exercise self control in ALL things and only Jesus conquered the passions and desires of the flesh and lived a life without sin.
But Jesus did all of that for a reason, which we need to take notice of. Jesus suffered in the flesh and died so that through His death we could come to God and be set free from sin and the law. But he did much more than that in the sacrifice he made for us and we need to take this lesson to heart.
It is frustrating living a life as a Christian seeking to walk with the Lord when you recognise that you have failed so many times. It is frustrating thinking back over the things you have done in the past of which you are now ashamed because you know you did the wrong thing before coming to the Lord. It is frustrating knowing that in spite of your best efforts you are going to make mistakes as you continue to walk with Jesus and that you will not always do the right things?
Am I right in saying these things? Do you feel the frustration?
Well…you should NOT be frustrated and you should NOT be concerned about these things. Do not even think about them because when you think about the past you are not walking with Christ. Jesus said in Luke 9:62,
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
You have your hand on the plow now creating a new life with Jesus Christ. You are lowing forward to sow new seeds that will grow into a new life as you follow a straight and narrow path. Can a person plow a straight and narrow path if they are looking behind them all the time? Can you drive a car by only looking in the rear view mirror?
No you can’t. And neither can you walk with Christ by looking back at the things of your past of which you are now ashamed. Those things belong to your life prior to coming to God and prior to being baptised into Jesus Christ for the remission, removal and forgiveness of your sin. Those things are not who you are now, nor who you are becoming so stop dwelling on them and look forward and upward to where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. That is where you future is and where your life is now hid with Christ, not in the things of the past.
Now as for the fact that you will mess up and make mistakes and be frustrated going forward, should this be a frustration? No it should not!
God has taken away your sins and has removed the law so you cannot break it and sin anymore. He has cleansed you by grace through faith and by the redeeming and cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ. You are set free from all of the things that had you bound and now live a free life in Jesus Christ by faith.
Paul recognises there are two forces at work in his body in the first two verses of this section. He recognises there is a force working in his flesh that is based upon human passions and desires, and he recognises there is a force at work in his mind or spirit that is driven by his will. But he is frustrated that he cannot adequately control the passions and desires of the flesh by the force of his will alone.
That is what is so frustrating in this human existence. We can try to exercise our willpower to do what is right, but we will not always succeed. Sometimes yes, but often not for the lusts, desires and passions of the flesh are strong and it takes tremendous willpower to be able to overcome them.
So what happens now when you make mistakes…and you WILL make mistakes! Should you condemn yourself for the error and mope about or get angry or whatever? No you should not, because God has set you free from all of these things as well. We will cover this in more detail in my next posts in the beginning of Romans 8 but for now it is important that you understand you are not being judged when you fall inadvertently.
Thank You Jesus
So what we do see in this section of scripture is Paul continuing to talk about the frustrations he felt prior to coming to Jesus. He recognises the two opposing forces working in his body and his mind, in the passions of the flesh and the power of his will. And he knows that his willpower does not always win, and nor does it in every human that has ever lived on the planet. But then he asks question saying in verse 24,
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
This is the exclamation and cry of exasperation and frustration that Paul gasps as he comes to the knowledge of the competing forces at work in his body. He sees himself as being wretched because he is torn in two directions, on the one hand the desire to please God but on the other the power that seeks to please the flesh.
And we have all been there and experienced the same wretchedness at some time, usually when we have slipped and fallen by doing something we know to be wrong.
But then Paul answers his own question in verse 25 saying,
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Look at the first sentence in this verse. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
This is the answer to the dichotomy that Paul sees himself in and in which all of us stand. We are wretched because of the tugging and tearing in opposite directions of the flesh and the will, but the answer and the solution to this problem has been given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord by God.
We are set free from the failing of the flesh. We are removed from sin and the things that lead us to commit sin through the freedom that is in Christ Jesus, when we learn and understand what it is.
And when we continue to read the remainder of verse 25 we see that the answer is in the separation of the mind or spirit from the body and flesh.
We are going to make mistakes in the flesh in spite of our best efforts not to, but we should not walk in condemnation about it when we do. The ministry of the new covenant is not concerned with the flesh of man but with his spirit. As Jesus says in John 4:23-24,
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
God is concerned with the spirit of man because He is spirit and it is the spirit that lives on. The flesh is physical and of this world. The flesh is like the shell of an egg. Like an egg the shell exists to contain what is in it, the case of an egg it contains the white and the yoke and in the case of the flesh it is the spirit. The life of a chicken resides in the white and the yoke just as the life of a person resides in the spirit of that person.
The ministry of the new covenant is all about transforming the spirit of people who come to Christ so that they can live as He lived. The old covenant of the law dealt with the things of the flesh but the teachings of the new covenant deal with the life in the spirit.
And this is why the things of the flesh are not important and why Paul said “thanks” to God. Paul understood that God was not concerned with his flesh because he knew that his flesh was going to die just like everyone else. And the flesh dies because of sin. But Paul also understood that his spirit would live on into eternity with God and with Jesus Christ through obedience to the teachings of Jesus in the new covenant. And he knew that he would stand with God in his allotted place at the end of the age when Jesus returns to rule and reign over this world.
This body of flesh we have now is weak and subject to failure. It will get sick it will ache and eventually it will die. But the Lord has promised a new body when He returns to establish His eternal Kingdom that will not grow sick, weak or die and that will not be subjected to the bondages of slavery through sin.
For now though we put up with this situation because the work that is taking place in us now is to transform our spirits to bring us to perfection in Christ Jesus. And when that happens then self control will no longer be an issue for one of the fruits of the spirit described in Galatians 6 that will come with the transformation is self control
So I too echo Paul’s words and say… “Thank you Jesus.”
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