Friday, February 10, 2012

The Battle Between Flesh and Spirit

The Bible states that Christ-followers are in a serious battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit pulls in one direction, while our natural flesh pulls in another. Which will we choose? Which will win out? What does it take for the Spirit to win?

Consider the following references to this battle between flesh and spirit:
Rom. 8:5-6,9 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace….You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

Matt. 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Gal. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Gal. 5:16-17 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For 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.

Gal. 6:8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Countless times throughout the day we come to a fork in the road of life: follow the Spirit or give in to the flesh. It can be as simple as the flesh telling us to lie, or it can more complicated as our flesh wanting to make a good impression so others will like us. In both cases our flesh tempts us to live for what seems natural versus following the Holy Spirit in what honors God. Flesh can be obviously bad, but it can also appear deceitfully good, as in the case of wanting to look “good” before others.

When we receive Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins, the impartation of the Holy Spirit, and a new nature. This means that we can have victory; we can choose Spirit over flesh; and we can have power to win the battle. Really? Yes. How? By really knowing who we are in Christ and all that Christ has given us in His Holy Spirit. By being in the Word so as to feed this Spirit who jealousy lives within our spirit. By saying “no” to the flesh and “yes” to the Spirit. By admitting our weakness and crying out for His supernatural power.
This battle between flesh and spirit is designed by God to make us stronger in Him. It causes us to see how much we need His power for victorious living.

Determine to not give in to your flesh. Determine to be filled with the Holy Spirit each and every day. Know that you are not in this battle alone. Get others around you who can help you win the battle.

The more we grow in Christ, the more we will desire to follow the Spirit over the flesh. However, the battle will never totally go away, and the flesh will never improve with time. What does get better with time is our knowledge of the Word, our experience of knowing God, and the abundance of tasting God’s blessings for obedience.

As challenging as it can be sometimes, it is definitely worth choosing the Spirit over the flesh!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Father Heart of God

Because of some challenging parenting situations in the last few months, I am gaining a fresh perspective on the father heart of God. Here is a little of what I am feeling and experiencing.

As a father, God longs for us to be intimately connected with Him. He created us to know and love Him; therefore, He wants this close relationship with us more than anything else. Sure, He wants our obedience, as I do with my children. But more important than obedience, is a loving relationship. I want a close relationship with my children much more than mere obedience. I, like God, want obedience to flow out of this healthy relationship. Otherwise, obedience is simply legalistic performance.

Furthermore, as a father, God desperately wants us to listen to Him and heed His advice. He will not force this, but He cries out for our attention. Hear the emotion of God in this passage: “Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” (Ps. 81:8). As a father of four, I can relate. My heart aches when my children want little to do with me. When they are off doing their own thing and forget about me, it pains me. I understand that I cannot force them to listen and ask for my advice, but like God, for their own good I just wish they would come to me more often. And when they do come for advice, I love to give it … because I love them.

Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines those whom He loves, and He chastens every son in whom He receives. When we step out of God’s will, God’s love motivates Him to discipline us. If God did not discipline us, then He would not be a loving father. I know what this is like. When my children disobey, I must discipline them. I must help them experience the consequences of their sin. Oh, how it breaks my heart to discipline my children. The old saying, “This hurts me more than you” is so true.

The story of the Prodigal Son opens a huge window to the father heart of God. We turn our back on God, go our own way, live what we think is a fun, sinful life. Yet, all it yields is pig slop. The entire time we are off living a sinful life, God is patiently and loving waiting for us to return. How His heart must ache every day, awaiting our repentance.

As a father, I know some of what this feels like. It is so hard to wait for a wayward child to repent. As we wait, we pray. And we wait even more, and pray even more. We wish we could force a wayward child to see … but we can’t. They must see for themselves. They must willfully repent. And we lovingly wait still longer for this to occur.

But when the prodigal returned, God received him with open arms. God declared a party to celebrate the repentance of His prodigal son! He demonstrates that His love for His children is indeed unconditional. He didn’t even allow the wayward child to get out his full confession before He assured the son of total forgiveness. Oh, the depths of God’s mercies. They are new every morning!

If we are going to parent like God, then we must completely forgive our prodigals when they return. We must shower them with love and mercy. We must not judge or condemn. We must assure them that we will stand beside them and help them to get their feet back on the ground. As the famous line goes, “There is no place like home.”

Isn’t it wonderful to serve a faithful and loving FATHER? And isn’t it helpful to learn from the Master parent, God our heavenly Father?