Before you came to Christ you were spiritually dead. Among other things, there was one thing you had no ability to do: wage war against yourself (see previous article for more on that).
Trying to grow spiritually apart from Christ looks like chopping down one idol only to swiftly replace it with another. It looks like propping yourself up on the backs of other people, and when they fail you everything falls apart. Parting from sin feels like putting a knife to your own heart. Perhaps you turn to self-help books, and build a great facade, but inside, there is nothing but empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). Spiritually you are headed nowhere but closer and closer to death.
Pretty depressing isn’t it? But it is not so for the redeemed! Believers have new spiritual realities, as they have been “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1Peter 1:23).” That “word is the good news that was preached to you (1Peter 1:25).”
You believed in the gospel with faith, and have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1Peter 1:3).” Your hope is alive, and your hope is a person, who is always faithful and ever present.
Nevertheless, the Christian life is war. It is war that we declare primarily against ourselves, against the sin that remains in our flesh. We must wage this war every single day. If we don’t engage the flesh wins out.
I think of Jesus’ words to the disciples as they slept through Christ’s turmoil in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”
Galatians 5:17 expresses this so well: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
There is a sense in which the same old reality remains: You cannot wage war against flesh in the flesh. Paul said “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).” Notice that Paul qualifies his statement by saying “that is, in my flesh.”
So then, we have an enemy within. The good news is that God’s word teaches us that Jesus Christ died and was raised so that “we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).” This abundant “newness of life” is something we have been granted, and something we must “walk in.”
How can you walk in a reality that you are not remembering? Paul acknowledge that he could not live out Christianity in his own flesh. Do you know what that means? It means that this is not a battle to be fought by personal resolve and willpower alone. Why? Because your flesh has no strength to obey. Neither can it be silenced just by grieving its’ reality and hating its’ presence. To quote a great hymn “Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, these for sin could not atone…”
You can’t begin to war against your flesh today without remembering and walking in the new realities that have been granted to you in salvation. Sorrow over sin and resolutions will quickly drive you low if you fail to cast yourself on His promises. Stay tuned for my next article (God willing)- which will be on God granted realities for waging war.