What the Bible says about
Struggle against Carnal Nature
(From Forerunner Commentary)
What would it be like to live in a human society in which there was no set standard or rules by which its members were expected to conduct their affairs? Life would be pretty chancy. God was so saddened by this state of affairs that He felt that the only thing He could do was to wipe it out and start over again.
In that kind of society, every excursion outside one's door would be a venture into a societal jungle in which pain, fear, violence, and possibly death lurked at virtually every step. Indeed, if everybody were "a law unto himself," one would not be safe even within his own home because the people there, too, would be living by their own rules. It does not sound as though life would be very fulfilling or enjoyable because only the strongest or the most clever would survive. This kind of life can only be described as a constant, fearful struggle. Community life under these conditions would be impossible because community is possible only when everyone adheres to the same rules. God is creating a Community, a Family, a Kingdom.
Now a second scenario: What would it be like to live in a human society in which there were set standards, but people abided by them only when they felt like it? This might be a definite improvement because people might feel like obeying the rules at least once in a while. There would be more chance for agreement and decidedly less conflict, anxiety, injury, or death.
A third scenario: What would it be like to live in a society in which there were set standards, and people generally agreed with them, and for a variety of reasons, many restrained themselves from breaking them, even when they did not feel like it? However, if a person or community really felt pressure - if one felt that his need or the community's need was great enough - then he or it would break those standards, even to the point of mass murder - war. Again, this is an improvement over both of the other two scenarios, as the chances of peace and stability are increasing.
A fourth scenario: What would it be like to live in society in which people or a community overwhelmingly agree on the standards and, for a variety of reasons, restrain themselves to obey them even when they did not feel like it? This scenario is downright Millennial.
A fifth and final scenario: What would it be like to live in a community where the standards were absolutely engraved in each person's character, and no one has even a thought of transgressing them? Every thought is for the well-being of each individual and the community. It is not difficult to choose which scenario would be the most pleasurable to live in and would produce the most and the best.
As things now are, we live in the third scenario. Which of these five will allow people to concentrate their creativity and energies into producing prosperity in every lawful and edifying field of endeavor - without ever having to be anxious or having their abilities or energies dissipated by conflicts with their fellows? It is easy to see that the fifth scenario fits best.
Of course, the standards are the basic laws of God regulating relationships between men and God and between men and other men. Yet, we are often told that we should obey God because we want to and because we love our fellow man. This is a statement that sounds good at first because it appeals to our vanity about what we think about ourselves and about God. We like to think that we love God and would never harbor any ill feelings toward Him or His rule in our life. We like to think that we do not really do wrong things - we are only misunderstood.
There are no offenders in prison, are there? Everybody in prison is "innocent." It was the fault of that dumb judge, who was prejudiced. Or, the evidence was twisted, causing the inmate to be unfairly convicted. Or, the witnesses lied. Convicts can come up with all kinds of reasons to justify their incarceration.
I Corinthians 3:3 should be considered in this light, because the Corinthian people were converted! They had repented, been baptized, and had received the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, the apostle's assessment, his judgment, of these people was, "For you are still carnal."
These converted people did not love one another very much, nor did they love God very much. They were not obeying God much, as the rest of the epistle plainly shows. The reality is that we do not always love God, and we do not always love those who belong to Him, our brothers in the faith. We do not always feel kindly disposed either toward God or toward our brethren.
People have told me that they are angry with God. What they are really saying is, "I don't deserve all of this trouble. I don't deserve to be treated this way. I'm innocent!" Did Job feel kindly disposed toward God? Job acted carnally from time to time. There is a powerful lesson in the book of Job.
If we "obey God because we love Him," it might sound good, but in reality, we are in trouble because we will frequently wander off the way. We must discipline ourselves to obey Him and love our brethren - even when we do not feel like it. Our nature is so self-centered that God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurably sick.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Two)
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
This beatitude presents us with yet another paradox. The other beatitudes show that a Christian can be filled with a joy that he cannot fully express, yet lament over things that the carnal consider as insignificant. He has a deep and abiding sense of satisfaction, yet groans daily and sincerely. His life-experiences are often painful, yet he would not part with them for the great wealth, acclaim, and ease that the world offers. Though the world exalts those filled with pride, self-esteem, and assertiveness, God exalts the humble and meek. The world displays its approval for war-makers by giving them ticker-tape parades, putting them into high office, and remembering their achievements by naming streets, cities, parks, and schools after them—yet God blesses peacemakers. In line with these other paradoxes, this last Beatitude also states a paradox: All we receive for well-doing is to earn the antipathy of our fellow men.
We need to understand the connection between righteousness and persecution because not every sufferer or even every sufferer of religious persecution suffers for righteousness' sake. Many suffer persecution for zealously holding fast to what is clearly a false religion. Often, a rival religious group or civil authority—just as ignorant of God's truth—are the persecutors. At any given time, persecutions of one form or another are taking place. In the recent past the Japanese persecuted the Koreans, the Chinese, and the Nepalese. In Africa, the Moslem Sudanese are persecuting nominal Christians, while in Europe, the Slavic Eastern Orthodox are persecuting Moslem Kosovars. In the history of man, this familiar beat of persecution continues endlessly with nary a connection to righteousness.
Some people become victims of their own character flaws and personality disorders. They foolishly take comfort in Matthew 5:10-12, claiming persecution when others merely retaliate against their displays of evil speaking, haughtiness, or self-centeredness. Such people are just reaping what they have sown.
Psalm 119:172 says, "My tongue shall speak of Your word; for all Your commandments are righteousness." This is a simple, straightforward definition of righteousness. It is rectitude, right doing. God's commands thus describe how to live correctly. They teach us how to conduct relationships with Him and fellow man. This beatitude is written about those who are truly doing this. They will receive persecution because they are living correctly—not because they have irritated or infuriated others through their sins or because they belong to another political party, religion, or ethnic group.
Does anything illustrate the perversity of human nature clearer than this? We might think that one could hardly be more pleased than to have neighbors who are absolutely trustworthy; who will not murder, commit adultery or fornication, steal, lie, or covet one's possessions; who rear respectful children; who are an asset to the neighborhood; who so respect God they will not even use His name in vain; who submit to the civil laws and do not even flaunt the codes and covenants of the neighborhood.
However, this description does not mention the relationship to God that really brings the persecution. These are things moral people of this world might do, yet they lack the true God in their lives and are not regenerated by His Spirit. An element of righteousness is still missing. Paul writes in Romans 8:14-17:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by which we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
The source of true persecution is Satan, and his target is God. Satan not only hates God, but he also hates all who bear His holy image in them by means of His Spirit. Satan works in and through people just as God does, and he incites them to do all in their power to vilify, destroy the reputation of, put fear in, or discourage God's children to cause their disqualification. He will do anything to get us to retaliate as worldly people do, because then we would display Satan's image rather than Jesus Christ's. Satan knows those who have the Spirit of God, and just as he tempted Jesus, he will also single out His brothers and sisters for persecution.
The righteousness needed to resist these pressures and respond in a godly manner goes far beyond that of a merely moral person. This righteousness requires that one be living by faith minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year. It is a righteousness that is ingrained into a person's very character because he knows God. He is intimately acquainted with Him and His purpose rather than merely believing academically that He exists.
Following on the heels of this beatitude is another statement by Jesus on righteousness: "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). He focuses on a righteousness that is not merely legal, resulting from God graciously justifying us by Christ's blood, but one inculcated within the heart and mind by constantly living God's way. Such a person's righteousness comes through sanctification. He is striving to keep all the commandments of God, not merely those having to do with public morality. He has made prayer and study a significant part of each day, along with occasional fasting to assist in keeping humble. He is well on his way toward the Kingdom of God.
These are not normally things that one does publicly; his neighbors may never know much of this person's life. Nonetheless, Satan knows, and this person's living faith will attract Satan's persecution, the Devil's attempts to derail him from making it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 8: Blessed Are the Persecuted
True Christianity is not an easy way of life. Yet many of this world's religious groups that call themselves Christian would have us believe that accepting the blood of Jesus Christ is the end of all of our problems.
That claim, though, is misleading at the very least—and an outright lie at the most, depending on the material supporting such a claim. Many influences attempt to knock a Christian off the path entirely or in any case cause him to stumble. A Christian must be discerning, taking great pains to maintain his balance against three primary enemies: his human nature, the world, and Satan. Regardless of his age, social status, education, or gender, these foes dog his heels.
The Christian truly has a fight on his hands, if he is serious about glorifying God by his life and achieving the growth that will give God abundant evidence of his sincerity in seeking Him and being in His character image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
What did He give "these twelve [whom] Jesus sent forth"? What is an apostle? It is one sent forth with a message. Thinking about the principle in Romans 10:17, that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, Jesus gave the same words to those He sent forth! They are the ones who have the message that will produce saving faith!
When we read about fracturing of the church during the first century—in the books of James, I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, and Jude—we find direct and indirect references, sometimes very strong, in which the apostle writes, "Remember what we have taught you." Other messages were coming into the church, and people were falling for them because they were susceptible to them—they were too weak to reject them and to discern the deceit in them. They believed them, and then what was the result? Disobedience. This factor separates those who believe from those who do not. Those who believe will obey God. Those who do not believe will not obey Him because "the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
We find ourselves in a battle, a struggle, between the carnality that remains, which is attracted by false messages, and the truth of God, which is the right message, the proper faith. Paul describes it in Galatians 5:17 as a war going on in us (see also I Peter 2:11). By the power of God's spirit, we have to make the choice as to which one we will submit to.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wisdom of Men and Faith
The Kingdom of God will be the recipient of slings and arrows and wars and temptations, and its own people will need to be violent in return. He means "forceful." It will take a titanic struggle to enter it because so many things are acting against us. Jesus warns us it will not be easy. We are going to have to work vigorously and "violently" at times, to force ourselves to do what is right, because the Kingdom of God is now under siege in so many ways. Therefore, we have to fight as warriors in battle and violently engage the enemy.
From John 17:11-18, we know that the Kingdom functions in the world, and Jesus is not going to take us out of it. But He asks His Father to give us His protection from the Evil One so that we can at least have that added strength. We must constantly deal with the world, human nature, and the Evil One himself, as well as his demons.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
Paul is not confessing that he continually practiced sin in his daily life, but that the threat of practicing it was always with him. He always had to be on guard against it to keep it from breaking out. And, at times, it did indeed break out, reminding him not only of its presence, but also its strength. There is no doubt Paul was a mature Christian. Therefore, this serves as a reminder to us that, no matter how spiritually mature we become, human nature will still always be with us.
Paul died spiritually and was buried in the waters of baptism. Therefore, baptism and the receipt of a new nature by which we are to conduct life do not take human nature away. We, like him, sincerely desire to do the right thing. We believe God's Word. We love God and aspire to glorify Him. Nevertheless, because human nature is always present, we do not always follow through. Instead, human nature overpowers us; we are taken captive, as it were, and revert to following its drives instead. This can be very disturbing, piling guilt upon us and making us fearful of separation from God.
Thus, because we are similar to Paul, and despite the wretchedness we may feel, we have assurance, knowing we will be delivered from this peculiar situation, one that is somewhat akin to having a dual personality. Our deliverance is through Jesus Christ; there indeed is an end. However, unlike many Protestant groups that proclaim that we do not have to keep the law because all is done for us, we know that we must strive to walk even as Christ walked—and He never sinned. I John 2:3-6 emphatically states:
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
Though we are under no condemnation, we still must yield to the Spirit of God to our utmost abilities. We are to "go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1), endeavoring to grow "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Paul says, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). Despite the difficulties involved, any failures that occur, and any feelings of guilt that arise, we are still required to strive to keep God's laws as Jesus did.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Seven): The Sin and Trespass Offerings
Was Paul a novice in the faith when he wrote the book of Romans? God would hardly allow a novice to write Scripture. The apostle Paul was one of the most mature Christians who ever walked the face of the earth. But he saw himself being torn—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Paul was in the middle, having to make the choice. If he had not grown spiritually, he would never have seen the conflict; his mind would have passed right over it. Thus, on the one hand, Paul delighted in his understanding of the purpose and perfection of God's law, yet on the other, that insight produced much dismay in him because he could see how far short he fell, from time to time, of its perfection.
The existence of this inward conflict is not a sign that the person is not sanctified. As long as we are in the flesh, we will never be entirely free of this struggle. Human nature does not go down without a fight. It must be overcome! In a way, this evil entity within us actually becomes part of the means of our perfection.
Overcoming is a long process, and it requires diligent and humbling effort to subdue our human nature. However, we must never allow ourselves to fall into the attitude that all of our effort is somehow justifying us before God—even though it pleases God and gratifies us. The holiest of our actions, the holiest of the actions of the holiest saints, are still full of imperfections and defects. Even some of these are done from the wrong motive. They could even qualify as being nothing more than a splendid sin in God's sight. Nevertheless, we are saved by grace through faith. Even with that, God requires that we make an effort to do what we can on our part.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)
The closer a person draws to God, the more opportunities he has to grow in righteousness (Isaiah 55:3, 6). The more righteous he becomes, the greater appreciation he has for God's law and the more sensitive he will become to his own corruption. Paul's words in Romans 7, written about twenty years into his conversion, reflect his own growing sensitivity to sin, leading to his famous utterance: “O wretched man that I am!”
However, we can easily be overwhelmed by the revelation of our tainted condition. We may feel shame and self-disgust and tend to withdraw from our fellowship within the Body of Christ, drifting away from our only hope—our only solution: God. We are readily discouraged, and if we are not careful, such discouragement often leads to even more sin, further drifting, and a vicious circle that can take us down quickly. We will always struggle with our carnal nature, but just as Paul found encouragement in his relationship with Christ, we, too, can turn to our divine Brother. In Him, there is always hope (Romans 7:25)!
Because of our carnality and our deceitfully wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9), we will always struggle to see our sins as God does, but that is our goal. With God's help, a lot of patience, and persistent effort, we can learn to become more righteous. With daily prayer and Bible study, we can discover how to become more holy. With hard work within the fellowship of the Body of Christ, we can understand what it means to become pure as God is pure. While we must learn to respect and fear the corrupting power of sin, we can become more aware of, intimate with, and faithful to the superior power God grants His children to overcome its corrupting effects (Romans 6:5-6).
We do not need to remain weighed down by the dead body of our sinful, carnal nature. We must, instead, call upon the faith our Creator provides each of us and learn to trust in His promises. He will be faithful!
If we remain faithful, enduring to the end, God, through Jesus Christ, will completely renew us and cleanse the stench of our sinful ways, releasing us from “this body of death.” Then, God willing, we can become a sweet savor in His nostrils.
The author of Hebrews provides us with the perfect summation and conclusion in Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares [and shackles] us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Ted E. Bowling
This Body of Death
1 Corinthians 2:13-14
Without God's Spirit, we were limited to producing only things within the capabilities of the spirit in man coupled with the influences of Satan. Though we could produce wonderful material things, the spiritual and moral fruit was overwhelmingly bad. What else can Satan's spirit produce? But now, as the saying goes, "the sky is the limit" because access to the Spirit of God empowers us (with God's help, of course) to produce the life God Himself lives—eternal life.
However, doing this will not be easy because the Christian becomes a man with two natures. The old nature, ingrained with the thinking patterns and habits learned in this world, which lies under the sway of the evil one (I John 5:19), and the new divine nature, received as a new birth from God (II Peter 1:3-4), exist together. These two are irreconcilable antagonists—with the Christian in the middle, forced to make choices between them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
The context in which these verses appear is important to understanding the production of the fruit of the Spirit. This immediately precedes the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, showing that Paul means that they will be produced through much internal conflict.
This is true because obedience to God's Word is required to produce the Spirit's fruit, and the Christian is being pulled or led in two directions. The one tries to make us satisfy the desires of our old nature, and the other leads us toward producing the fruit of the new. Paul expresses his experience with this in Romans 7:15-19.
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
Christians, as Martin Luther stated, "are not stocks and stones." As humans, we are creatures of desires, drives, and emotions. Certainly, as we learn to walk in the Spirit, we increasingly subdue our flesh. But flesh and Spirit remain, and the conflict between them is fierce and unremitting.
We need not become discouraged over this conflict, though, because Paul also gives us a very hopeful solution. In Romans 7:24-25, he exclaims: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."
Every Christian striving to produce the fruit of God will experience this combination of lamentation over sinfulness and joyous expression of gratitude over the certainty of deliverance. The unconverted do not feel the agonizing struggle against sin with the same intensity as the converted. The converted have their peace disturbed and can feel wretched in their conscience.
But this has a good side to it as well. We know it is degrading to the divine nature, and it humbles us to know full well that we have succumbed to evil passions. We then realize more fully that the law cannot come to our aid, neither can other men, and our strength has already betrayed us. Therefore, if we really desire to glorify God and produce spiritual fruit, this conflict will drive us to God in heartfelt prayer for the strength only He can give. God's Word and eventually our experience prove that without Christ, we can do nothing!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
Sometimes we seem to consist of a whole clamorous mob of desires, like week-old kittens, blind of eye with mouths wide open, mewing to be satisfied. It is as if two voices are in us, arguing, "You shall, you shall not. You ought, you ought not." Does not God want us to set a will above these appetites that cannot be bribed, a reason that cannot be deceived, and a conscience that will be true to God and His standards? We must either control ourselves using the courage, power, and love of God's Spirit, or we will fall to pieces.
Adam and Eve established the pattern for mankind in the Garden of Eden. All of us have followed it, and then, conscience-smitten, we rankle under feelings of weakness. They were tempted by the subtle persuasions of Satan and the appeals of their own appetites for forbidden fruit that looked so good. To this they succumbed, and they sinned, bringing upon themselves the death penalty and much more evil besides. What is the use of appealing to men who cannot govern themselves, whose very disease is that they cannot, whose conscience cries out often both before and after they have done wrong, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" It is useless to tell a king whose subjects have overthrown him to rule his kingdom. His kingdom is in full revolt, and he has no soldiers behind him. He is a monarch with no power.
A certain Bishop Butler said, "If conscience had power, as it has authority, it would govern the world." Authority without power is nothing but vanity. Conscience has the authority to guide or accuse, but what good is it if the will is so enfeebled that the passions and desires get the bit between their teeth, trample the conscience, and gallop headlong to the inevitable collision with the ditch?
The solution to this lies in our relationship with Christ:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
This is the only thing that will give us complete self-control, and it will not fail.
In Luke 11:13, Jesus makes this wonderful promise of strength to those who trust Him:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
Trust Jesus Christ, and ask Him to govern. Ask Him for more of God's Holy Spirit, and He will help you to control yourself. Remember, II Timothy 1:7 says this is a major reason that He gives us His Spirit. He will not fail in what He has promised because the request fits perfectly into God's purpose of creating sons in His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
If God, having foreordained us to be in His Kingdom, is not willing that any should perish and has thus called us, led us to repentance, and given us His Spirit, why should we be careful to "maintain good works" (Titus 3:8) or "exercise [ourselves] . . . to godliness" (I Timothy 4:7)? Why is such work necessary, since God is so determined to have us in His Kingdom?
The reason is both simple and profound. It is essential we understand it because it captures the essence of the issue of God's sovereignty. The reason is, simply, because it is His will that we do them. We must do them or we may destroy ourselves by refusing because we thus show Him that He is not really sovereign in our life. The works, of course, have other purposes as well. In fact, they have many purposes, for God rarely creates or commands anything for which He does not have multiple uses.
It should be enough for God's children to do as He wills simply because He has bidden us. Nowhere does Scripture teach or even encourage an attitude of fatalistic indifference to our circumstance. The Bible everywhere urges us not to be content with our present spiritual state. We have a long way to go to grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This is a major reason why the "welfare mentality," dragged into the church from the world, is so damaging. It destroys human responsibility to God and each other, greatly hindering one's submission to God's will. Submitting to God's will entails some measure of work because human nature, Satan, and ingrained habits must be overcome.
In Philippians 3:14, Paul proclaims, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." God has summoned us to salvation. Salvation is the prize that goes to those who yield to His will, showing by their lives that God is indeed their sovereign. Jesus admonishes us to, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). God's Word exhorts us to proceed energetically and solve the problems of life according to His instructions.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven
The word picture in Philippians 3:12-14 is of men straining to win a foot race. The Christian life is especially like the longer races where the runner must sustain a winning frame of mind over a longer period of time. We cannot run our race like the hare of the "Tortoise and the Hare" fable, in which the hare took a nap during the race.
Paul illustrates that after having received God's grace, our responsibility is to return full effort to God in striving to perfection in moral, ethical, and spiritual areas. He did not see the struggle against sin, fear, and doubt as being accomplished by God alone. The apostle is here urging his erring brothers to follow his example in persistently concentrating on our common goal.
Life for us now consists of discarding wrong attitudes and habits accumulated in the past. In modern, psychological terms, we must lose our baggage. For us, the past is dead, buried in the waters of baptism. With that behind us, we must diligently make unwavering progress in putting out the leaven of sin, growing in God's love, producing the fruit of God's Spirit, moving toward the Kingdom of God, and putting on Christ's perfection, His image in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
Christ's physical life was not spared the calamities we commonly face so that He would be prepared for His responsibilities within God's purpose. He was made to share our experiences to perfect, complete, or mature Him. In other words, if we might have to flee for our lives, then God was not going to excuse Jesus from that kind of a trial. He allowed Jesus to get into situations where indeed He might have to flee for His life. Did Jesus just presume that God would rescue Him because of who He was? No. In writing this, the apostle Paul wants us to understand that Jesus sinlessness was the result of conscious decision and intense struggle, not merely the consequence of His divine nature or the Father's protection or intervention.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 2)
1 John 3:9
Sometime in the past, one may have heard that "cannot sin" applies to Christians when resurrected as spirit beings. This is probably not correct because the whole context of the passage involves the here and now—today, during our physical lives. John is describing a situation in which we have opportunities to sin or not.
"Cannot sin" does not mean that it is impossible for us to sin, but rather, it is an act that we will not permit ourselves to do. Many of us have likely said to a child, "You can't do that!" Yes, they could do it, but we have determined that it is totally unadvisable. This is the gist of John's meaning: A person who is born of God is unable to sin habitually.
Why? Because of the divine nature being within him! This does not mean that he will not slip or that he will not even sin willingly and willfully from time to time, knowing full well what he is getting into. There is still weakness in human flesh. However, the converted person will repent and fight the weakness tooth and toenail. He will not live in sin! God will not abide in sin, and if His Spirit is within us, and we choose to continue in sin, then He will withdraw His Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eight)
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 150,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.