This month Randall and I are writing on how to fight spiritually. With hundreds of kids going home from camp we wanted to take the Monday is for Habits blog and focus on one of the most important topics, how we live in the spiritual war that is raging around us. We have a very real enemy that we are told is on the prowl to kill us. That’s no joke, 1 Peter 5 states it so clearly and passionately that it should alarm us how little we think and talk about spiritual warfare. Last week Randall looked at the very real enemy of the world. Randall and I grew up around the ocean and both spent a lot of time in the water and we were regularly warned to watch out for the undertow. Undertow is the water that regresses as a wave rolls in and crashes. If you aren’t careful, an undertow will pull you out to sea. As Randall shared, if we aren’t careful, the world will pull us into places and conform our thinking in ways that will destroy us. For the next two weeks, we want to think about the more common enemy of our flesh.
When we say flesh, you can think about your physical body. The word “sarx” actually can refer to your body or your skin but it is often used in reference to our natures. In Ephesians 2:1-4 where Paul lays out this tri-fold enemy of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the flesh there is referenced in regards to our passions and desires. So, while the verbiage of the fight against our flesh might sound odd, you know exactly what I mean. In fact, sadly, most Christians define themselves in their thinking more by their flesh and what they struggle with than they do by their Savior who died for them. You and I will tend to think of ourselves more by our broken pasts and our painful present situations more than we will by our Jesus who loves us. We all have pasts that we wish we could expunge. We all have temptations and struggles that we wish we could eradicate. Sin is seemingly so personal and so active. That’s what I want to think about this week, the active struggle we have with our flesh. You may not be coming home from camp, but the truth is that this week you will feel spiritually weak and broken. You will find yourself tempted this week to love something or to submit to something that you know you have no business engaging in. Your flesh will prove itself today to be a very real and active enemy.
How do we fight with our flesh? I mean, that sounds dangerous and crazy. Paul gives us some great insight in Ephesians 2:1-3. If our flesh is our desires and our passions, then our fight has to be in the heart and in the mind. We have to “guard our hearts” and we have to “take every thought captive.” The Bible is insanely helpful on this topic. Your heart is a wandering lover. It is constantly looking for something to focus on. You may have never thought about your heart in that way, but that’s exactly the image that the scriptures give us. Our hearts are constantly seeking something to worship. That could be our image, another person, a sport, an ability, an object, or it could be anything. Our hearts were wired to worship God, who alone is worthy. Yet, our fallen nature, our flesh, seeks something at every minute. Our desires and our passions are directional markers that point to those idols.
What happens when we come home from camp is that we step back into the world that is full of familiarity. Our houses have our family, our normal routines, our histories, etc. Camp gives us a break from our normal life where we are surrounded by worship, amazing sermons every night, Christians who are there to laugh with us and cry with us. Camp is awesome, but camp is not home. Home can be really hard. Home can be full of painful memories, broken relationships, addictions, and just heaviness. God designed us to have these intense experiences but to live at home, to grow at home, and to fight the good fight at home. I grew up in an amazingly loving home where my dad was my pastor. My home was a great, but my home was also where my struggle with my flesh primarily took place. Sins usually take place in hiding and home is where we feel we can hide. As soon as you get home from camp, your struggles, your past, addictions, and everything else are waiting to pull you back to “normal.” Fighting the flesh is all about warring against the normal. It’s declaring that everything is new, that everything has changed, and that God is doing something powerful in us.
So, chances are you are reading this in your home. That means that you know again, exactly what I am writing about. What in the world can we do? I can’t leave my house. I can’t leave my body. How can I fight my flesh? Let me give you three quick ideas because if the enemy hasn’t already snatched the seed that’s been sown away, and the world hasn’t already hardened your heart, then the thorns of your flesh are ready to choke out what God has done at camp this last week.
Make No Provision
Paul in Romans 13:14 says that we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Basically, what he is saying is that we are to starve our flesh. This is not a diet, this is speaking spiritually. We are to cut out anything that makes us sin. So, let’s say that you struggle with your image, Paul is saying don’t stand in front of the mirror more than you have to. Don’t scan Facebook and look at everybody else’s photo-shopped images. Don’t put yourself in a position to be consumed with your image. If you struggle with lust, don’t be alone. Don’t watch TV or movies that have sexual imagery in them. Don’t hang out with your boyfriend or girlfriend alone. If you struggle with depression, don’t watch sad movies. Don’t stay up all night. Don’t let you mind dwell on things that you know aren’t true. You see, we all will make provision for our flesh in some way. We tend to toy with our sins instead of uprooting them. I’ll never forget my friend Josh Reavis preaching on Genesis 4 about sin crouching at our door and saying that you don’t make a pet out of your sin because it wants to kill you! Making provision is thinking that you can control your sin and indulge your flesh. We have to start by being wise and discerning and not cultivating our flesh. This isn’t easy, but it’s essential.
Set Our Minds on the Spirit
In Romans 8, Paul shares with the believers in Rome what life in the Spirit looks like. He picks up in verse 5 with this, “For those who live according to the flesh set their mind on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their mind 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.” So, again we get a serious warning and a call to action. You are either actively setting your mind on your flesh or on the Spirit. The outcome of one is life and the other is death. If you came to my house tonight and I set out two sandwiches for you and told you that the first one had poison in it and would instantly kill you but the second one was just a great sandwich, there is no way that you would touch the first one. In fact, you would ask me why in the world I would make a sandwich like that. That’s what Paul is doing here. Why in the world would we give our mind to our flesh? Why would we let our thoughts move towards what will kill us? You have a choice. You and I think in such a way that our actions will follow. All sins begin in the mind and then lead to an action. You will either think about your desires and then act upon them or you will think biblically informed thoughts and glorify God. How do you do that? Well, the first thing you do is watch your thoughts. We have an initial thought and we either move on or we set our minds on that thought. So, you can think about how someone wronged you and move on to focus on something else or you can dwell on that thought and think about how angry you are, how hurt you are, what you would do if you were in that situation again, you can play that situation over and over again in your mind and respond differently in your imagination, etc. What’s the outcome of that? You dwell on that thought and get angrier and will eventually respond in anger to that person or to someone else. Or you can throw that thought out and start thinking about something else. It’s not enough to not make provisions, we also have to control our thinking. If you guard your thinking and you catch yourself before you fixate on a sinful thought, you will find fighting your flesh to be that much easier.
Crucify Your Flesh
Here’s the last thing to do, kill your flesh. Paul in Galatians, after listing the fruits of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit in a contrast, culminates his thought in Galatians 5:24. It states, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Again, this is a war. What’s at stake is your joy, your giving God glory, your testimony, and maybe most painful to us, the way we think about ourselves. Jesus was crucified for your sins. You have been freed to pave the way to worship God not your flesh, think about worthy things and not give your thought life to your sins, and to put to death what is earthly in you. You don’t have to give in to your flesh. You have to take a posture of engaging in war with your sin. John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” You have to fight with your flesh. Don’t fuel it, don’t think about it, don’t keep it alive. Do what you have to do to put to death your flesh. That means that you might have to break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. You might have to get rid of your social media, smart phone, or TV. You might have to plan your schedule so that you are never home alone but that you are always with others. If you wanted to be a professional at anything, you’d work hard to be good at whatever it is. The reality is that you have been called to be a professional Jesus lover. That’s to be your life, knowing and making Him known. If that’s the case, we have to work hard at growing spiritually and not feeding our flesh. We have to crucify our flesh.
As long as you are alive, you will be tempted. As long as you are in your flesh, you will struggle with your flesh. That is totally normal. Here’s the hard part, a struggle implies a fight. I worry that most of us say that we are struggling with something when we are giving it life, dwelling on it, and making provisions for it. You have to see that your flesh is your enemy. It is your fallen nature pulling you down. If you don’t start preaching the gospel to yourself, filling your mind with the Word, surrounding yourself with believers, and engaging in the battle we are in, you will hurt. Sin has collateral damage. As you head home or find yourself at home reading this, take a minute to just realistically think about the war with the devil, the world, and the flesh we are engaged in. Now make the decision to not be attacked daily, but to fight. Start with your flesh and don’t let your spiritual house be on fire. Jesus has freed us to fight and to win. Jesus has loved us and given us everything we need. Jesus is better than anything your flesh could desire. Jesus has already won. So, fight your flesh.