The Enemy Within
© C. O. Bishop 1/6/16 THCF 1/10/16
Last time, we noted that, due to our new position in Christ, there is no condemnation awaiting us. This is “Positional Truth”: entirely dependent upon the fact that we are in Christ, and not at all dependent upon “how we are doing” in our walk with Him. This is an important distinction, because we tend to be far more conscious of how we feel or how we are acting at the moment—our condition—and we assume that God sees us the same way. Nothing could be further from reality…that is exactly the reverse of the truth. We see ourselves inaccurately, while God sees us clearly, and we need to adjust our thinking to match His, not the other way around.
The Christian has three major enemies. We frequently list them as
- The World,
- The Flesh, and
- The Devil.
That is true, but it doesn’t give any information by which we may defend against those enemies.
“The World” (Greek kosmon), as used in scripture, can refer to the people, but in this context, it is the system of thinking and behavior that influences us all from outside our bodies. It may include peer pressure, advertising, propaganda, philosophy, human reasoning and entertainment of all sorts, none of which are evil in themselves, but all of which can be used to feed our natural bent to turn away from God and pursue our own interests and desires. It is mostly visible, though sometimes very subtle, and it is outside the gate, so to speak. It is all around us, some good and some bad; we are immersed in it, to one degree or another, and we are heavily influenced by it; but it is still outside us. It is the Enemy without the gate, so to speak.
The Devil, or Satan, is the Spirit controlling the pattern of the World’s thinking; he who desires to destroy all the works of God in us. He is the unseen hand behind the evil of the World. We can see the result of his influence, but we cannot see him. He will play along with us, and lure us to destruction through the World and the Flesh. But we don’t see him. He is the Invisible Enemy.
The Flesh (Greek sarka) is the Enemy within. Today we will focus on this enemy, and try to shape our thinking to match what God says.
Defining the “Flesh”
To begin with, I think it is appropriate to remind ourselves that the “flesh” in this case, is not the physical body. At other times in history, people have referred to this entity as their “lower nature”, as if it were some link to the animal world, but that is not appropriate, either, because, ironically, animals do not suffer from this affliction of sin. Animals (with the exception of the serpent, who was under Satan’s personal control) were not involved in the fall. They did not sin; they have never been given a free will with which to rebel against God.
In the Old Testament, Jeremiah 17:9 refers to the flesh, the Adamic nature, as “the heart”. It says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Do you think that the scripture means the “central circulatory pump”, when it says “the heart is wicked, and deceitful?” Of course not…but neither is it speaking of the new creation which God describes, when He promises, “I will take away your stony heart and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) The heart God proposes to give is a new creation—the same as the New Testament promises. Language being what it is, then, with all the possible ambiguities, it is important that we carefully read the rest of scripture, and carefully consider the intent, before we jump to conclusions that may wrongly use the Word of God.
The scripture consistently calls the Sin Nature the “flesh”, but contrasts it with “our bodies”. In this chapter, we are told that the “flesh” cannot be subject to God. The body certainly can be, however—it does exactly what we choose to do with it, and, in Romans six we were told that we are to yield our “members” (physical bodies) as “instruments of righteousness” for God to use to His own glory. That would be impossible if the physical body cannot be subject to God.
In Romans five we are informed that we were once “enemies” of God. Now why would that be? How could we become God’s enemies? Ephesians 2:3 says we “were by nature, the children of wrath”: We were born that way! But God intervened and provided a substitute, so, instead of every sinner dying for his or her own sins, one perfect sacrifice forever satisfied the righteousness of God, and allows us access to God through faith in that blood sacrifice. Believers were each given a new nature, created by God at the moment of saving faith, and that is our “new identity”. God no longer deals with the identity of our old nature (our Adamic nature; our Sin nature) though it is still there. He calls it the “Old Man” in Ephesians 4:22, and confirms that, even in a believer’s life, it can neither be redeemed nor repaired. It is irreparably corrupt, and just continues to get worse, if we feed it. What a hopeless situation it would be if we were left to fight this battle alone, like a toddler left alone to fend off the attack of a rabid skunk.
But We Are Not Alone!
No such thing has been suggested: Jesus promised, “I will not leave you comfortless.” (We are not alone!) He promised that he and the Father would make their abode with the believer, and that the Holy Spirit would indwell each believer personally. (John 14:16-23… read it!)
One may wonder, then, why the believer ever has a problem with sin: the answer is: In terms of day by day choices, the Lord has not reneged on His gift of a free will. He longs for our fellowship, but will not force himself upon us.
With all the above information as the backdrop for the message of Paul, we are invited to examine the source of our struggles in detail: We are told that Jesus condemned Sin in the Flesh by living a perfect life, and dying a perfect sacrifice, and we are told why:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
So, the result of our being set free from our enslavement to sin is that the righteousness reflected in the Law of God (not the condemnation, and guilt) could be showcased and fulfilled in us. We are free to serve; but we can only do so via the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Why is it so Hard to Live for God?
Because the old nature is actively sabotaging our efforts! And it always will!
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
I don’t like to keep hammering on this point, but: in case anyone has missed it; the concept of “death” in the Bible is a little different than how we think of it in our culture. We have been taught to believe that “when you’re dead, you’re dead!” …which doesn’t really explain much… but the fact is, when we are physically dead, our spirit and soul have been (usually permanently) separated from our physical body. When Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, he and Eve died instantly, as promised, but it was not physical death. There we saw the first example of spiritual death—the spirit and soul of Adam and Eve were separated from God. Were they happy about it? No; they could no longer even stand to be in the presence of God. They fled from Him because they were guilty sinners; no longer the innocent creatures they had been. Not happy!
So…which kind of death is warned of, here in verse 6? Is Paul warning that if you sin, you will lose your physical life? Obviously not, because he just finished telling us of his own struggle against sin, in chapter seven. He did not die, physically, but he begged to know how he could be delivered from “the body of this death!” (What body? What death?)
As long as we live in these mortal bodies there exists the possibility of sin, and, with it, the repeated separation from fellowship with the living God; so that, far from loving His presence, we flee from Him, either in fear or resentment. That is separation from God, though it is a temporary condition, and, here in Romans Chapters 7 and 8, as well as other places, it is called “death”. And notice that in verse 5, he states that those who are living in the flesh focus their minds on the things of the flesh—they pursue their old carnal concerns and desires. Many of those old ways seem no different than the new; for instance, I still go to work when I am in the flesh, as well as when I am walking with God. But my motives are not the same. I am blind to the opportunities to honor God when I am “minding the things of the flesh.”
What’s the Problem?
In Romans 8:7, 8 we see why this is true:
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
The old nature has not changed its allegiance! Remember, it was an enemy of God by birth: that is where we got our old nature: Being born of Adam, we received the Adamic, fallen nature. Being born from above (born of God, born again), by Grace, we have received a new nature. But the old nature remains unchanged and unrepentant. The result is that as an unbeliever still “in the flesh” (positionally, that is—still unsaved) I cannot please God…period.
And, when I revert to sin, even as a saved man, I am functionally “in the flesh” again, though I already have been permanently transferred to the kingdom of God’s Son. Remember, God no longer sees me in Adam! He sees me only in Christ. He says that the Adamic nature is no longer the person He will deal with. The old nature has been separated from me as far as identity and authority, but not residency; just as Adam and Eve were separated from God in terms of fellowship, but not physical presence. They wanted out of His presence, because of their sin. I want to be separated from my old sin nature, just as Paul wanted to, and for the same reason. But God says it is already a “done deal”.
How Can We Escape our Bondage to the Flesh?
9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Here again is the issue of “positional truth:” If you have the Holy Spirit, then you have a new nature; and that new nature is the only one God chooses to address: He says that you (the new creation) are under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. Paul addresses this issue a little differently over in 1st Corinthians 3:3. There he is speaking to immature Christians who are allowing the old nature to control their lives and their decision-making: he says they are “carnal”—fleshly. (The NIV translates this to say “worldly”, but the Greek word is “sarkikoi”, from the same root as “flesh”—“sarka”. “The world” is a different enemy, though it is certainly in partnership with the flesh and the Devil.)
He goes on to state that if you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you are not saved…you do not belong to Jesus. Every believer has been baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and has become a permanent part of the Body of Christ; the Church universal. Corresponding to that position, every believer has also been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus says He will be with us forever. (John 14:16) Our gifts are often different, but our position is the same: in Christ.
Finally, he says, since Jesus Christ is in you (via the Holy Spirit, you are actually indwelt by the entire Trinity), then the body alone is subject to death: you (the new creation) have eternal life, and your spirit is alive with the Holy Spirit, and is forever separated from the death of the old sin nature. He also reiterates that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to your account. He says that the “Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Whose righteousness? That of Christ!)
Again, Paul is quick to let us know that the “flesh”—the old sin nature—is not the same as our physical bodies, as we noted in the introduction. He says:
11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
The word “quicken” means to “bring to life”. What would be the point of condemning the body, only to bring it to life again? It is the physical “mortal body” to which God will again grant life. The old Adamic nature is lost and cannot be redeemed. It remains the enemy of God.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
You don’t owe your old self anything. You can’t improve it in any way, though it can temporarily look as though you did. The core issue remains the same: the old nature is not subject to God, and it cannot be made subject to God, no matter who does the re-training. Also, you cannot hope to “get it out of your system” by succumbing to its demands. That is like “eating all the brownies so they won’t tempt you.” That really doesn’t help! Don’t give in!
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
When I am living according to the desires of the enemy within, in terms of fellowship, I am currently separated from God. 1st John 1:5-7 says I cannot walk in darkness and simultaneously have fellowship with God. That is the “body of death” from which Paul begged to be freed.
But notice how he says we are to be freed: He says “Through the Spirit” we are to mortify the deeds of the body…the “body of this death” from which Paul sought freedom.
And that is the key to Romans chapters 6-8: Faith in the indwelling Holy Spirit! Please notice that we were not admonished to “change our ways”, “get right or get left”, “turn or burn”, or any other such tripe. People have smugly quoted these and other pious warnings for centuries, and such thoughts define the heart of religiosity; but they have nothing to do with either salvation or sanctification. It is only the self-satisfied prattling of the self-righteous religionists…not the voice of God. It is based on works, not faith; Law, not Grace.
What Shall We Do, Then?
Jesus originally called us to place our faith in Him for Salvation, by Grace. Now He calls us to confess that we cannot produce righteousness on our own, any more than we could save ourselves from sin. John 15:5 says, “…without me ye can do nothing.” He didn’t say “without me you can’t do as much.” He said “…without me ye can do nothing!”
We are called to allow the Holy Spirit to live through us, by faith…and He will produce the Fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:16, God says “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” Remember, it’s a blanket promise: if the Holy Spirit is in control of your life, then the old sin nature will have no say at all… you will do the things God has called you to do.
Lord Jesus, by your Holy Spirit, enable us to do the things you have called us to do, and to be the men and women of God you have called us to be.