A Voice in the Wilderness - Observations and Excursions of a Christian Zealot

Terry Walker's Weblog --- Occasional articles on the Christian Ethic

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Flesh – What Evil Lurketh There?

Imagine if you will this incredible scene. A short time ago I was at a celebration, a meeting of sorts, with a group of friends, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Christmas was just weeks away and there in the corner was the tree, decorated with the memories of bygone years, softly lit and blinking to it’s own indiscriminate rhythm. The fragrance of scented candles lofted about, as everyone lounged comfortably in their chosen places, on soft inviting sofas. To my dismay, even the children were tranquil as they played quietly at their parent’s feet. Soft music filled the room, as preparations for the anticipated feast were finally nearing their end. In another room, a table, elegantly adorned with china finery, patiently waited the setting of the banquet. Tasty fare from regions far and near, were to be served and sampled, as the guest discussed things of God and man. Finally the table could take no more, not another dish could be placed, as the guests gathered around to admire the sight. How indescribably glorious God’s bounty can be. Before us was laid a vast assemblage of land and seafood delights. There were crawdad nachos, and scallops, and oysters, and mussels with pasta and sausage, and salmon with oranges, and crumbled crab, and whiting, and hushpuppies, and steaks, and pork chops, and breads, and rice with shrimps, and salad with shrimps, and mushrooms with shrimps and even more shrimps of every description. Not a word was needed, but many were spoken, as we all took our places. How I wish Jesus could have been sitting beside me. For it was in His honor that this meal was prepared. But alas a prayer was needed to express our thanksgiving for all He has provided. As I looked around the table at the soft glowing faces of my friends, I wondered how many at the table felt as I? How magnificent it would have been to be with Him, to break His bread and to drink His wine. How glorious to be in the very presence of the Master, teaching us with His own spoken word.

Please forgive me dear Lord Jesus, as I am simply not worthy of such marvelous thoughts.

Because, while this was a glorious moment of true joy in thought, I simply do not deserve to be in the presence of Jesus, not now, not ever. I think more about me than I do of Him, I do more for me than I do for Him, I pray more for me than I thank Him. Yet this is not at all what I want to do. I want to do what is right, but this I do not do.

The truth is that my mind is more often than not, a brutal battle zone. There are times I feel like a combat hardened warrior heaving his bleeding, battle scarred carcass, off the front line before all is lost. Like a righteous army of one against the savage evil blitzkrieg, my mind bears the deep gushing slashes of a near constant, warring battle, against sickening sinful cravings. Look here, a festering lesion of unrepentant urges, and here, on my back, a “sliders” cut, an almost lethal blow of near apostasy. And here, an older wound of hypocrisy and another of immorality. And here, is an unequal yoke, the likes of which oxen could barely lift. And then there is this devil’s gash; I went to battle unprepared. And look, right there, a laceration of self inflicted reliance; I tried to save myself. Oh Lord, when will victory ever find me? Must I die before my enemy is crushed? Look at him, he is barely wounded, nary a scratch! He spits at me, and laughs at my beliefs as he draws his sword for another strike. Oh dear Lord, do not deny your servant, spare me from this evil villain. Oh, dear Lord Jesus, trample him under your foot, and leave him with nothing, an empty vessel, and inflict him to overflowing with every form of sanctification. Oh dear Lord, please deliver me from my fiercest enemy. Oh dear Lord, please deliver me from ME! Amen.

I am, without a doubt, my own worst enemy. My eyes are lamps to my body, yet my eyes see darkness. (ref. Luke 11:33) My tongue is such a small thing yet it is full of wickedness, set on fire by hell itself. (ref. James 3:2-12) My feet are swift to shed blood (ref. Romans 3:10). And my heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: even I cannot understand it. (ref. Jeremiah 17:9). What sin have I forsaken? What commandment have I not broken? Have I not lied and stolen? Have I not had idols and coveted the idols of others? Have I not committed adultery and dishonored my parents? Have I not had gods before You and cursed Your holy name? And have I not even killed with my bare hands on the Sabbath day?

But perhaps you think this all a bit excessive or melodramatic? Or perhaps you are wondering what the first scene has to do with the second? In brief let me say that the first is of the glory, overflowing abundance and magnificence of Christ and the second is of the depravity of man, but neither account is exaggerated. If my suffering, to you may seem acute, it is only because God has use for me to suffer, as one must suffer to help the suffering, as I am called. But that is another story.

However, my temptation is but common, my struggles ordinary, (ref. 1 Corinthians 10:12) and my human reactions are all too predictable. But I am not alone in my struggle; even the great and worthy apostles struggled in the same way. So for a moment let us look at the apostles, Peter & Paul in particular and see how they struggled with their flesh, before and even after they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

For nearly the entire time Peter spent with Jesus, Peter thought he was somebody. I believe Peter was a very proud apostle. After Jesus opened his eyes with the sign of a great catch of fishes, Peter left all that he had to follow Jesus. (Luke 5:8-11) Some time later Jesus told Peter and the other apostles “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) But Peter still had a heart for self and later proudly announced his sacrifice of leaving his family and career when he said “See, we have left all and followed You.” But Jesus calmly replied that Peter and the others “would receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30) Then still later Peter, in his own feeble power, proclaimed, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” A vow he quickly broke.

The problem was that, like us, Peter was a proud man who hadn’t yet fully understood, what Jesus meant when He said that we must deny ourselves. Peter thought he had given considerably, but Jesus said, “assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God.” Peter thought he knew something, but the Bible says “if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” (Acts 17:25) Peter thought he was a great servant, but the Bible says “God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:25)

I believe that to die to self, to deny ourselves, to become empty vessels to be filled with what God would wish to fill us, demands, not only the requisite continual denial of sinful desires, but also the understanding that even as Christians we do not give to God. No matter how hard a Christian works or how many good works he performs to the glory of God, he will never be more worthy. It is not in the giving that sets a Christian apart from the heathen, but in the receiving, because all things come from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 says “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to think of anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

But does this give a Christian the right to sit around and do nothing? Absolutely not, as 1 Corinthians 10:31 makes it perfectly clear what our life motivation should be when it says “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It is out of love for Jesus Christ that we should strive to bring Him glory in all that we do, but even the ability for us to bring Him glory came from Him. To understand my position in relation to Christ, it helps me greatly to think of myself as a slave to Christ Jesus. As it says in Colossians 3:22-25 “You slaves must obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Obey them willingly because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites who can get away with evil.”

A slave has no part in giving to the master, as the master has all that he needs in himself. If a slave works hard, harder than all the others, at the end of the day he has done no more than he should have. You are called, as a slave to Christ, to serve with all your ability, glorying Him in all that you do. If tomorrow you wake up and exceedingly glorify Christ, then you have only done as much as you should have. You have not given to Christ something He did not have, as if He needed anything. And if the next day you even more abundantly serve Him, then praise the Lord for He has given you the ability to do so, but you do not add to God something He was lacking. Is this not the context of Luke 17:7-10 (NRSV) “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

God has the right to demand from you, your best effort as He has made you able. As believing servants we will never exceed what God requires, the best we can do is to do what we ought to have done. The problem is that while we are slaves to Christ, we are also slaves to our flesh. And we cannot serve two masters; for either we will hate the one and love the other, or else we will be loyal to the one and despise the other, (Matthew 6:23) and this is the cause of my great internal conflict. While my will seeks to serve Christ, ever more daily, my flesh seeks to serve it’s natural master, evil itself. There will be no permanent relief from this conflict, until the day that I am glorified.

Is this not the same internal struggle that Paul agonizes over when he writes: For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)

If ever there was a message I would like to ingrain on the minds of Christians worldwide it would be this.
Nothing good dwells within you, you worthless wretched man, sin oozes out of you as rain drips from the clouds, fall to your knees, before your Christ, and beg Him to make you worthy to live for His glory alone, for the very air that you breathe you are unworthy to take in.

With such thinking, the goal is mortification of the flesh, denying oneself daily, not a self-glorifying idolatrous depression. We all know that there was not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:28) I take great pleasure and receive great joy in denying my flesh and prideful countenance, because I know that Heaven will be exceedingly joyful. What is 70 years of denial on earth compared to a glorious eternity in Heaven with Christ, you worthless wretched man. But if these statements seem harsh consider this, what sin cannot be traced back to the heart of a man who was attempting to raise himself up to a position he was not created to achieve? As believers we are called to serve our fellow man for the sole purpose of glorifying Jesus, with a life of servitude during which the greatest is the least, and the humble are kings. We are to be as little children, and desire nothing greater than a life of doing as we are asked to do. But every sinner has a heart to raise himself in relationship to God. Think about it!

In Heaven Satan wanted to be God. In the garden, Eve desired the knowledge of God. In Babylon, the people wanted to build above the wrath of God. Just out of Egypt the Jews cast themselves a golden god. In Bethlehem Harod wanted to kill God. In the synagogues Pharisees prayed, but not to God. In the temple the rich made money their god. In Rome the Kings thought they were gods. In Jerusalem the Jews demanded a different God. So they slaughtered the true and living God.

Hell is where we should all be, that is the best that we deserve, but in God’s mercy He chose to save a few for His Glory. Why now that we have been given what we do not deserve, do we take from Him the glory that is not ours? Is the cure for this, not what the wise King Solomon had in mind when he said, “For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.”? Thinking such as this will help you be humble in the sight of God!

By now you might be thinking. “I understand the whole inner struggle thing, but what does that have to do with the Christmas feast you wrote about at the beginning of this article” Well then, if you must know, sit back, relax and imagine if you will, this incredible scene when the bounty of Christ and the depravity of man met in their starkest contrast.

Behold when they had entered the city they found a man carrying a pitcher of water, and they said to Him, “Sir, the Teacher says to you, ‘where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’” So the man showed them the room, which already was completely furnished. The disciples made ready the meal and when all was prepared, they sat about and around the Lord. He said “I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Now while what was laid out before the apostles, on the Day of Unleavened Bread, may not have been a magnificent feast, they did eat, and the Passover Lamb was there.

Imagine if you will, that you were there, serving these men their food, hearing their conversation, occasionally you linger so as to hear the Messiah’s words with your own ears. You eat His words, what a feast indeed, as you indulge your senses and feed your soul. Jesus gets up and begins to wash the apostles’ feet and He says, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is He who is sent greater than He who sent Him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Jesus sits down and after the men had eaten, they converse on one subject and then another, as silence falls on the room as Jesus starts to speak. “Behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me at the table.” You watch as the disciples become exceedingly sorrowful. One disciple fearfully asks “Lord, is it I?” and another “Master, is it I?” Then Judas says “Rabbi, is it I?” You think that strange that Judas, after all these years, would still be referring to Jesus as “teacher”, when all the other apostles refer to Him as Master and Lord. And Jesus said to Judas “You have said it”. The other disciples do not understand that Jesus just identified the traitor, so John; the disciple whom Jesus loved, asked, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus said “the man to whom I give this morsel after I have dipped it”, and He handed it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And Jesus said to Judas “what you do, do quickly.” You watch as the Devil enters Judas and he immediately goes out, and it is night. You stand in stunned silence as you ponder what you just saw. Judas is leaving to betray Jesus. No wonder Judas still thinks of Jesus as a rabbi and not his Lord, Judas has never been reborn, never received a new nature, never walked in the Spirit. Judas is a heathen! You think maybe you should leave and try to stop him, but then you question your own understanding because the disciples, who must be far wiser than you, do not seem to grasp the fact that the betrayer has now been exposed twice.

Despite the fact that the all twelve of the apostles had already eaten, they think perhaps Judas has simply left to purchase more food for the Passover meal or give money to the poor. But then Jesus took some bread blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

You stand and marvel at the significance of the moment, the Last Supper, the Passover meal, the Lord’s table; who knows what men will call it but they will be writing poems and songs and painting pictures of this moment forever! And only eleven apostles were there, the son of perdition having already left. You wonder if men will paint the pictures correctly. Before you can compose yourself in the realization that the Almighty Savior and Lord of the world, will soon be betrayed and become a sacrifice for your sins, fulfilling Isaiah 53, the disciples, who have not yet determined in their own minds, who the traitor is, begin to dispute which one of them is greatest. Can you imagine the shear magnitude of the naivety of these men? Their concern of being the traitor to their Lord, has now so quickly, been replaced by their own desire to receive notoriety, power or fame. No longer were they concerned with, “Lord, is it I that will betray you?” without yet knowing that it wasn’t them, they now wanted to know which one of them was the greatest apostle.

These were God’s chosen men on whom the hope of the world and the church were built. And yet mere hours before their Master was murdered, they had not yet understood their proper orientation. Just as Christ Jesus did not come to the earth as an earthly King, as the Jews expected; the disciples were not to become great men of valor, but mighty in power as humble servants. As Jesus Himself said when He was washing Peter’s feet, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter and the others still did not understand.

So you quickly clean up and follow the apostles as they finished their meal and leave for the Garden in Gethsemane, and you fall asleep with the rest. But you are awakened by great multitude of people with swords and clubs, and you watch as Judas, leading the way, is the first to greet Jesus saying “Greetings, Rabbi!” and betrays Jesus with a kiss, but Jesus greeted Judas thusly; “Friend, why have you come?” (Matthew 26:50) And Peter woefully denied Christ before the sun rose. And when he had done so the third time Jesus looked at Peter, the two were there, together, at that very moment, and with unimaginable guilt Peter wept bitterly and received a godly sorrow, repented and became a slave to Christ and never was the same weak man again.

Brother Terry Walker
Providence Baptist Church
Greer, South Carolina