At Transformission Mike Reeves spoke of life “in the flesh” and “the spirit of slavery” that dominates those who are in Adam.
When you think of the realm of “the flesh” (or the “sinful nature” – NIV), what do you imagine? So often our minds run to ‘the naughty things’. Gross disobedience. Licentious living.
That might be an outworking of the flesh. But in Romans 8:15, Paul charactierizes life in the flesh as bound by a spirit of slavery. This spirit is contrasted with the Spirit of adoption. It’s whatever is opposed to our gracious adoption by a generous Father. Similarly in Galatians 4, Paul makes the contrast between slaves and sons and the slavery is all about bondage “under the law”. In Philippians 3 the horrific evil of “those dogs” – the circumcision sect – is that, through their legalism, they were “putting confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:1-11).
Life in the flesh might be about sex. But – even worse – it might be about circumcision! Vain self-confidence can be found in the party animal. But how much more can such vanity exist in the champion of temperance. And with the added stench of self-righteousness!
We can be distracted from much bigger battles when our struggles with “the flesh” merely focus on “bad behaviours.” As John Gerstner has said: “The thing that really separates us from God is not so much our sin, but our damnable good works.”
The devilish thing about religious carnality is that it doesn’t appear to us as carnality. Instead the “spirit of slavery” makes us toil away at our “damnable good works”. And just as the licentious sinner gets less and less of a kick out of their drug of choice, so the self-righteous prude finds less and less goodness to take pride in.
Take the example of 18th century moralist Samuel Johnson. At Transformission, Mike read to us from his prayer journals. Each entry is a window onto life “in the flesh.” Here is the diary of a carnal man:
September 18, 1738 – Oh lord, enable me by your Grace to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth, vanity and wickedness, to lead a new life in your faith, fear and love; and finally to obtain everlasting life.
1757 – Almighty God, enable me, from this instant, to amend my life that I may not finally lose the things eternal.
1759 – enable me to shake off idleness and sloth
1761 – I have resolved till I am afraid to resolve again. Yet, hoping in God, I steadfastly purpose to lead a new life.
1764 – I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thoughts, and more addicted to wine and meat. Grant me, O God, to amend my life. My purposes, from this time, to avoid idleness. To rise early. To read the Scriptures.
A few months later: I have now spent 55 years in resolving; O God, Grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions. I resolve to rise early, not later than six if I can.
1765 – I purpose to rise at eight, Because though I shall not rise early, it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lie till two.
1775. When I look back upon resolutions of improvement, Which have year after year been made and broken, Why do I try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary. I try, in hope of the help of God.
It is pitiable, laughable and tragic. This is what “the spirit of slavery” does to a person. And it is every bit as fleshly as the debauched hedonist. Only Christ can save.
Listen to Mike’s excellent talks here.