September 16, 2012

Crucified Yet Deadly

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Galatians Scripture: Galatians 5:24


Crucified Yet Deadly

Galatians 5:24
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith

Contrary to the way the Christian life is often painted, we have learned over the past few weeks that there is a fierce battle going on. Paul said in Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." As the verse teaches, our pleasure as Christians is to walk in the Spirit, to please God. But continually seeking to pull us away from Christlike living is something called the flesh. The flesh is a personified relentless monster dwelling within us. And the battle is fought right there on the turf of our own hearts.

At every particular moment of the day we are walking either in the Spirit or in the flesh. We can know simply by analyzing our attitudes and actions. If we are in the Spirit, there will be the display of things like love and joy and peace and gentleness and faithfulness and self-control. These are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. And if we are in the flesh, our lives will show stuff like immorality and jealousy and outbursts of anger and idolatry. These are mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21. If our lives are characterized by these sinful things, odds are, as verse 21 teaches, we are not born again. As Paul said in verse 21, "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (cf. 1 Jn. 3:9). On the other hand, if we are aware of the struggle, engaged in it and observing the Spirit's fruit in our lives, we can rejoice because God's presence is clearly evident. Remember a Christian is not a person who never sins. A Christian is a person who is aware of his sin, hates it and seeks to do battle with it!

Though we covered a lot on this subject already, I would like to spend one more week discussing this topic of the flesh before we move into chapter 6 of Galatians. Much of this sermon will simply be some random thoughts that I have gleaned from other authors, primarily from a great book called "The Enemy Within" that is available in our bookstore. This sermon is an attempt to tie together what we have learned and provide some additional insight into this matter of utmost importance.

For starters, let's first make sure we understand exactly what the flesh is. All unbelievers have a sinful nature. We are born with it! But when we come to Jesus Christ, that sinful nature is dealt a fatal death blow and it is replaced with a new heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives. We now are under the lordship of Jesus Christ. God has become our Father.

But even though we are "a new creation" in Christ (Gal. 6:15), we have the remnants of the old self still waging war against our new nature. While mortally wounded and awaiting its death, the flesh as the Bible calls it, is still powerfully seeking to push us in every direction that is contrary to the leading of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:17).

Can you identify in this struggle with me? I trust all of you in Christ are able to identify what is wrong and what is right. I want to believe that you know the consequences of wrongdoing and the blessings of obedience. I am confident that your ultimate goal in life is to be found pleasing to the Lord, right? So if all this is true, why is doing the Christian life at times so difficult? Why is serving God sometimes like skiing up Mt. Everest backwards? Answer: the battle with the flesh that is seeking to dominate and the more we permit it to dominate, the more we will struggle to serve our great God and King!

This piece says it all:

  • Funny how a $100.00 bill looks so big when you take it to church, but so small when you take it to the mall.
  • Funny how big an hour serving God looks and how small 60 minutes are when spent playing golf, fishing or shopping.
  • Funny how long a couple of hours spent at church, but how short they are when watching a movie.
  • Funny how we get thrilled when a football game goes into overtime, but we complain when a sermon is longer than the regular time.
  • Funny how laborious it is to read a chapter in the Bible and how easy it is to read 200 pages of a best-selling novel.
  • Funny how we believe what newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.
  • Funny how we cannot fit a prayer meeting into our schedule with yearly planner but we can make arrangements for other events at a moment's notice.
  • Funny how much difficulty some have learning the simple gospel well enough to tell others, but how simple it is for the same people to understand and explain gossip about someone else.
  • Funny how we can't think of anything to say when we pray, and don't have any difficulty thinking of things to talk about to a friend.
  • Funny how we are so quick to take direction from a total stranger when we are lost, but are hesitant to take God's direction to be found.
  • Funny how people are so consumed with what others think about them rather than what God thinks about them.
  • Funny how so many churchgoers sing "Standing on the Promises" but all they do is sit on the premises and refuse to serve.

Can you identify with this battle? I sure can. Even the apostle Paul understood this fight! He mentions his struggle in Romans 7: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good" (Rom. 7:18-21). Do you want to do right? Are you engaged in the war or simply content just surrendering to the flesh, living a defeated Christian life?

As Gal 5:24 says, it is our responsibility to crucify the flesh and keep it from rearing its ugly head. "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." This is the battle every Christian faces this side of heaven. And this warfare is relentless and bloody and oftentimes painful.

One pastor put it like this: "Picture your flesh - that old ego with the mentality of merit and craving for power and reputation and self-reliance - picture it as a dragon living in some cave of your soul. Then you hear the gospel, and in it Jesus Christ comes to you and says, 'I will make you mine and take possession of the cave and slay the dragon. Will you yield to my possession? It will mean a whole new way of thinking and feeling and acting.' You say: 'But that dragon is me. I will die.' He says, 'And you will rise to newness of life, for I will take its plan; I will make My mind and My will and My heart your own.' You say, 'What must I do?' He answers, 'Trust Me and do as I say. As long as you trust Me, we cannot lose.' Overcome by the beauty and power of Christ you bow and swear eternal loyalty and trust. And as you rise, He puts a great sword in your hand and says, 'Follow Me.' He leads you to the mouth of the cave and says, 'Go in, slay the dragon.' But you look at Him bewildered, 'I cannot. Not without You.' He smiles. 'Well said. You learn quickly. Never forget: My commands for you to do something are never commands to do it alone.' Then you enter the cave together. A horrible battle follows and you feel Christ's hand on yours. At last the dragon lies limp. You ask, 'Is it dead?' His answer is this: 'I have come to give you new life. This you received when you yielded to My possession and swore faith and loyalty to Me. And now with My sword and My hand you have felled the dragon of the flesh. It is a mortal wound. It will die. That is certain. But it has not yet bled to death, and it may yet revive with violent convulsions and do much harm. So you must treat it as dead and seal the cave as a tomb. The Lord of darkness may cause earthquakes in your soul to shake the stones loose, but you build them up again. And have this confidence: with My sword and My hand on yours this dragon's doom is sure, he is finished, and your new life is secure'" (John Piper, Sermon, Galatians 5:19-26).

For the believer, Jesus Christ has defeated the flesh through His work on the cross. He has overcome its rule, weakened its power and killed its root so it cannot bear the fruit of eternal death in our lives. We have the promise of victory. It is God's will, John 15, that we bear "much fruit" for Him (Jn. 15:8). Yet the flesh, though defeated, is still willing and able to grab believers by the throat and toss us around like a rag doll if we do not take this warfare seriously and equip ourselves with the right strength and tools.

Just how powerful is the flesh? I suppose the best way to test it is to see what it can do to the godliest out there. For instance, if Michael Jordan can easily beat the best basketball player in this church with one hand behind his back, there would be no doubt that he would be able to take me! Likewise, let's put our best unguarded saint against the flesh and see how he or she fares. How do you think he or she would do? Let's even go outside of us and choose a legendary figure from the Bible. Let's pick the man who walked with the Lord for decades, understood the deceitfulness of sin and the greatness of God. Even a man who wrote much of what we read in our Bibles. Even a man called a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). David! If anyone could stand against the flesh on his own strength it would be David! And as we know, this was the man who spots a woman bathing on a nearby roof and dives into adultery and lying and murder. Don't ever doubt the power of the flesh!

The flesh is powerful! I believe many Christians fail because they do not understand their enemy within. We are told not to be unaware of Satan's schemes (2 Cor. 2:11), perhaps we need to analyze the schemes of the flesh and be aware of how it operates so we will be more aware of how it attacks.

First, the flesh is a parasite. Just as no con-artist will come out and directly and reveal his intentions; the flesh is sneaky and elusive to achieve its diabolical goals. In other words, you could right now be walking the flesh and you might not even know it. It will play off your temptations in getting you to believe that whatever desire you are experiencing is from the goodness in your heart. It will also play off your weaknesses using vices you overlook like laziness and selfishness to get you to do what it wants. And like a parasite, you will feed it and not even be aware that it is sucking your life out from under you.

Second, the flesh will twist Scripture. Take for instance 1 John 2:1: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The flesh will get your focus completely on the forgiveness offered in Christ at the expense of the beginning of the verse that commands us to avoid sin. The Gospel then only becomes a deliverance from the penalty of sin while omitting the fact that the Gospel is also deliverance from the power of sin. It is the flesh that gladly gets people to sing, "Saved by grace - Oh the blessed condition! I can sin all I want and still have remission!"

Third, the flesh will justify sin. To avoid purity the flesh will say, "How can something that feels so right be wrong?" To avoid confronting another or standing for righteousness the flesh will say, "Who am I to judge someone else." To avoid honesty the flesh will say, "Why pay your taxes when the country is run by corrupt politicians." The flesh hates to obey the Bible and will dress sin with the most sophisticated clothes.

Fourth, the flesh delights to keep you ignorant and naïve. Without knowledge of what the Bible says we will not be able to live sold-out for Christ. Since the Bible is "a light to [our] path" (Psm. 119:105), without an understanding of the Word we will never, Ephesians 5:10, "Find out what is pleasing to [Him]." The more the flesh can keep us in the darkness and out of the Word, the more the flesh is assured to gain victory.

Fifth, the flesh has no problem with outward religion. If the extent of your spirituality is occasionally showing up on Sunday mornings and living a moral life throughout the week, the flesh will do all it can to assist you in the process. It is only when we surrender to God as He demands and give Him our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, even our thoughts, longings, finances, families, time and dreams that we will immediately encounter a battle. The flesh will prop up everything you seek to do on your own strength, especially when the intent is to please others. Looking for a juicy verse to impress your small group - no problem! Pouring over the Scriptures to reveal the sin in your heart - forget about it! The flesh will get you to sing, "I love you Lord" on Sunday morning and then "I Did it My Way" throughout the remainder of the week.

Neville Chamberlain returned to England from a meeting with Adolf Hitler. They reached an agreement. Proudly Chamberlain said to his people, "I believe it is peace for our time." When Hitler rolled over Czechoslovakia things looked less optimistic. Less than a year later, England was at war with Germany. Not being able to discern its enemy resulted in great death and destruction for his people.

In the same way, the flesh promises a false peace. It wants you to believe that everything is fine while it is relentlessly bombing your soul day in and day out. One of the fruits of the Spirit as we have learned (Gal. 5:22) is peace. True peace comes from Him, but too many professing Christians settle for a counterfeit peace from the flesh. They are deceived into believing they are right with God, but in their hearts they are acting as His sworn enemies. Thus deceived they claim to be in the battle, but they are fighting to their own marching orders.

James gives us some of the best instruction as to how the flesh succeeds in drawing us away from Christ. In chapter 1 (verses 13 and 14) of his letter he says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (his flesh).

James knew that for a fisherman to be successful he would need to bait the hook to be alluring and desirable and attractive. To catch a fish, the hidden hook would have to seduce a fish. Likewise, as James teaches, the flesh uses temptation in the same way. It makes sin look more appealing than righteousness. There is a progression: It first captures your attention, your thoughts. Then it captures your affections, your feelings. Then it captures your will, your actions, and you begin plotting ways to make the thought become a reality.

Those living in the flesh fall for it hook, line and sinker and pounce on the eye-catching bait only to get entangled on a sharp treble hook so masterfully concealed. James continues, "Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren" (Jas. 1:15-16). Then their life is a disaster and they blame others for their misfortunes and even doubt God's ability to bless when the problem lies in their desire to be the masters of their own fates and settle for a false sense of peace.

So What Can I Do?

First of all, you need Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit only resides in those who are God's people. Because of your sin, you have separated yourself from Him. Your only hope is what Jesus accomplished on the cross in dying for that sin, removing the sin and bringing forgiveness. We can receive this free gift of grace simply on the basis of faith - faith that submits wholeheartedly to Christ as your new Master. As Jesus said in John 15:5, "Apart from Me you can do nothing."

Second, you need to walk in the Spirit. Perhaps you are a Christian. That does not guarantee you are presently walking in the Spirit. Are you abiding in Christ through the spiritual disciples (Bible, church, prayer, service, evangelism, fellowship)? As Jesus said in John 15, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me" (Jn. 15:4). Is there evidence that you are bearing the fruit of the Spirit and not the deeds of the flesh?

Third, you need to give the flesh no foothold, no quarter. Romans 13:14, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Know where the flesh likes to poke its head around in your life and don't give him an inch. Be radical! Go as far as it takes to amputate sin and the temptations toward sin in your life. Discern what God wants from you, and then through His Spirit do all that you possibly can to make those things a priority. That might mean losing the TV, cancelling the country club membership, trading in your car, scheduling certain events with a permanent pen on your calendar, waking up earlier, dropping Facebook, finding new friends, getting firm accountability.

Fourth, guard your heart. Proverbs 4:23, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." Since everything flows from the heart, keep it pure with all diligence. As I said, affections of the heart soon become actions of the will. Instead of polluting it with garbage or focusing on things in this world, Hebrews 12:2, "[fix your] eyes on Jesus," Colossians 3:1, "keep seeking the things above." That will guarantee godly actions. Anything less feeds the flesh and is called idolatry (which is also a deed of the flesh-Gal. 5:20).

Fifth, starve the flesh. Like a hurricane, the flesh can gain momentum if it is fed the proper diet. The more you give into the flesh, the more of a monster you will create. On the contrary, starve the flesh! Practice self-control and self-discipline (a fruit of the Spirit). Learn to gain mastery over your lusts and desires. Be humble! If there is anything that the flesh hates it is humility. Humility is always guaranteed to starve the flesh of the sustenance it needs.

Last week I asked you to ask a family member or close friend where you need to grow as it relates to the fruits of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh. After dinner one night my wife out of the blue asked us as a family to lovingly provide some feedback as to what we see in her life. That's humility! And her actions prompted all of us to ask the same question of each other. It's definitely not easy, but the flesh will never survive in that environment.

In Romans 7:15 Paul said, "For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate." This is biblical thinking! Paul wrote in Romans 8:8, "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." We should all want to please God, but the flesh is a powerful enemy!

In "The Enemy Within" Lundgaard said, "The flesh hates 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" (p. 48).

Why the battle? I suppose if there were no battle, we would not long for heaven very much. I also suppose that if there were no battle, we'd get very comfortable in our Christian lives. I also suppose if there were no battle, we would never experience the depth of God's love and power. Therefore we engage ourselves as God expects, but we do so with the confidence that He is with us, empowering us through the Spirit and allowing us to partake in the victory that He accomplished for us at Calvary.

other sermons in this series

Oct 14


Harvesting Peace and Harmony

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Galatians 6:11–18 Series: Galatians

Oct 7


Sowing and Reaping

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Galatians 6:6–10 Series: Galatians

Sep 23


The Spirit-Filled Church

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Galatians 6:1–5 Series: Galatians