Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Flesh vs. the Spirit

I used to think that walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh as having to do merely with moral behavior. I have come to realize that it goes much deeper than this.

"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess 2:13).

"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Tit 3:5),

This tells me that the Spirit sanctifies me and renews me. This renewal means that I put off the old self and put on the new self. It also means that I am no longer conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind. The transformation needs to come from the inside out. My mind needs to be renewed. I need to walk AND think according to the Spirit.

Walking according to the flesh can take on the appearance of religion, yet be devoid of the Spirit of God. Several years ago, I remember reading a book by Gayle Erwin entitled, The Jesus Style. In it, he talks about the "style" that Jesus conducted his ministry in. First of all Jesus is born in a barn to a Jewish working class family in a backwater place called Israel in a insignificant town called Bethlehem. That would be like being born in Toadsuck Arkansas. He is given a very, very common name, "Jesus," which is a Greek form of the Hebrew name, "Joshua." Jesus chooses a band of ordinary people to be his disciples, which included people such as fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot, which would be like having a member of the KKK and an African American on the same team. Then there is the way he died - crucified on a cross. In 1 Corinthians, Paul said that the cross is foolishness to the Greeks. I couldn't fully relate to this because we do not use crosses the way they were used in the 1st century world. A modern day equivalent would be an electric chair, gas chamber, or hangman's noose. If people were to hear a preacher say, "Take up your hangman's noose and follow Christ," or sing a song that said, "At the electric chair the electric chair where I first saw the light…" or say, "I am gassed to death with Christ nevertheless I live…" we would be ridiculed and mocked.

My flesh would want to do it all differently. I would want the savior to be born in a wealthy and powerful family with influence where he could receive the finest education and be groomed for being a ruler from birth. He would need to have a name other than something so common as "Josh," perhaps Joseph Witherington III, or something like that. He would need to assemble a dream team worthy to carry out the mission. He would need to go to the finest universities and theological schools and get a couple of Bible scholars and theologians to expound intricate theological questions. He would need to go to Hollywood to find a couple of good-looking guys with charisma to be the front men for his organization. He would also need to go to Wall Street and get a financial guy to manage his enterprise. He would need to get an architect that could build and impressive headquarters with its own zip code. Finally, he would need to go to Gold's Gym and get some body guards and put them in black suits with dark sun glasses. My flesh would want to have him die on a battlefield in a glorious battle, not in a gas chamber or electric chair. My flesh would want to clean it all up and make it socially palatable and acceptable. I would want to make gold jewelry out of the cross. I would want to build ornate, breathtaking, beautiful church buildings. There should be no low-lifes, losers, or people like that in the church. They need to be cleaned up to look "respectable."

I remember meeting a lady who bragged about her church of over 1,000 people. It had impressive architecture, a modern art sculpture out front, a foyer that rivaled a shopping mall, numerous programs, a school, a counseling center, a fleet of buses, and a professional ministry staff that would rival CEO's of any cooperation. One of the guys on the ministry staff had an MBA. What is all of that compared to a little church in Toadsuck Arkansas? I have preached in places like this where the building is aging, little white wood frame building on a hill. The parking lot is gravel, the carpet is worn, the pews are run down, and a retired guy and along with a preaching student serve as the preachers. It appears that there is no comparison between this lowly, backwards church and the huge, successful church in the city. But when I think of that little church in the hills, I don't think of the building. I think of people like Clint, who would drive you over 2 hours to Little Rock if need be. I think of Brenda who would invite you over to her place for lunch. I think of George who had the spare room that he would offer out hospitably. I think of Clara who was wealthy but generous with any need that arose. I think of the bedridden Mrs. Chamblis who couldn't get out of bed, but faithfully sent letters to World Bible School Students. I think of Glenna who would listen to you like you were the most important person in the world. When I think of that little church, I don't think of their aging building, but of wonderful, sweet, godly people.

Isn't this what God looks at? My flesh may look at stained glass windows, ornate decorations, impressive programs and things of this nature. However, if I am in tune with the Spirit, I will see it as God sees it. All the stuff that my flesh sees is invisible to God. He looks past the fa├žade and into the hearts of his people. As Jesus demonstrated, ministry is all about people.

There is a reason why Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit before they went out. They needed to go out in the Spirit rather than in the flesh. I notice that they didn't try to clean up the foolishness of the cross. They gloried in it and spoke the message boldly. The power of God was displayed in their weakness. This is a challenge for me because my flesh often wants to rely too much on human philosophies of management, leadership and wisdom. I sometimes have the tendency to evaluate spiritual things with fleshly measures of success. My flesh wants what makes me look good. I sometimes want to have a contingency plan for everything before moving forward, which tells me I may be relying on my flesh rather than on the power of the Spirit. I sometimes make ministry more complicated than it really is. I need to be filled with the Spirit and walk according to the Spirit and think according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

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