Defeating worry

A Reader’s Digest article, “Winning Over Worry,” recommended the following:

“Put aside a period each day when you sit down and deliberately worry about things on your mind. It is easier for most people to stop worrying during the day and concentrate on productive thoughts if they tell themselves that they’ll have a chance to get back to the worry later. Researchers agree that the worry period ought to be 30 minutes long. Don’t use your favorite living-room chair, because the associations might make you start worrying every time you sit there. The researchers have discovered that a shorter worry period might actually increase the amount you worry.”

The Christian alternative is better.

Christians have long advocated a daily devotional time. Choose your favorite chair; open the scriptures and commune with your Heavenly Father. Recite His promises. Sing His songs. Humble yourselves before Almighty God by casting your anxiety on Him. He cares for you.

Let’s not be like Martha, “worried and upset about many things.” Instead with Mary, choose “what is better” by sitting at our Lord’s feet (Luke 10:38-42).

Many people waste too much time and energy on past regrets (leading to guilt and depression) or future fears (causing anxiety and fear). These feelings are intruders; thieves on a mission to steal our joy.

I am not suggesting we ignore the past or become cavalier about the future. Trusting God as the alternative to anxiety must never be used to justify indifference or laziness. God calls us to diligently and realistically deal with the difficulties of life.

Jesus never promised a trouble-free life to his followers. He said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Normal life in a sinful world involves vulnerability, threat, and suffering. Life involves sudden changes, rejection, loss of health, aging, financial collapse, crime, accidents, failure, broken dreams, etc. These are common causes of anxiety for all people.

But God offers himself to us as “a refuge and strength–an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Practicing Psalm 62:8 and Hebrews 4:16 as a daily exercise is one of the best ways to conquer fear and anxiety (see also, Proverbs 3:5-7).

Steve Cornell

 

Mind, emotions and the gospel

“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life.” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).

Mind and emotions

Emotions are based on concerns. They arise because one cares about something that gives occasion to certain feelings.

Emotions are deeply connected to how one chooses to construe her circumstances in a matter related to a real concern. A construal – is an interpretation of the meaning of something; a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, or person.

Emotions and construals

  • To feel indignant is to choose to see myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself.
  • Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
  • To feel despair is to see my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
  • To feel envious is to see myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
  • To feel guilty is to see myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe.

How to dispel emotion

“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some ‘terms,’ to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.”

Control over emotions

“It is important to Christians that emotions are partially within people’s control, that they can be commanded. Scripture commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When Scripture reminds us that love is not jealous, or irritable, or resentful it seems to assume that these feelings are broadly within the control of the reader. Being resentful is not like being five foot six or having congenitally bad teeth.” (R. Roberts, p. 21).

Emotions and the Gospel

The ‘terms’ of the Christian emotions are provided by the Christian story, there is a necessary connection between the Christian emotions and the Christian story” (Ibid. p. 21)

“The gospel message provides people with a distinctive way of construing the world: the Maker of the universe is your personal loving Father and has redeemed you from sin and death in the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus. You are a child of God, destined along with many brothers and sisters to remain under his protection forever and to be transformed into something unspeakably lovely” (Ibid., p. 16).

  • To experience peace with God is to view God as a reconciled enemy.
  • To experience hope is to see one’s own future in the eternity of God’s kingdom,
  • To be Christianly grateful is to see various precious gifts, such as existence, sustenance, and redemption, as bestowed by God.

Not our whole story

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end” (Roberts).

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is first about God

The act of forgiveness occurs first in the presence of almighty God as I surrender my desire for revenge before the God who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). This is why I view forgiveness as an act of worship — as occurring in the context of worship as Jesus taught (Mark 11:25). Forgiveness is first about God. It is a confessional affirmation of God’s prerogative over justice. 

But this is not a “God will get you mentality.” Such an outlook would be an effort to use God not worship Him. Forgiveness happens in response to the God who holds the right of vengeance, but also the God who forgave my sins (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).

This way of approaching forgiveness provides a gospel-focused perspective that frees us from the grudge-bearing vindictiveness and the troubling and infectious root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). It equally empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8; see also,Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). This is how forgiveness liberates us to pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:28).

Yet approaching forgiveness this way does not ask us to downplay commitment to justice with silly clichés like: “It’s no big deal.” or “We’re all sinners.” When I forgive, I bring the matter before the one who is both Judge of all the earth and my faithful and merciful High Priest. No moral neutrality here! This is not a feigned effort at “forgiving and forgetting.”

When my heart allows feelings of hurt and betrayal to lead to desires to “even the score,” I must return again to this place of worship (Mark 11:25). I must reaffirm my confession of God as final Judge. 

What about reconciliation?

With this view of forgiveness in mind (and heart), in cases where an offender is unwilling to acknowledge wrong-doing, sometimes we have to build boundaries around our relationship with him. But, in such cases, we must guard our hearts (and perhaps seek wise counsel from one who clearly understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation) so that our boundaries are not retaliatory but appropriately protective and guided by the hope of restoration.

Quick reset

As forgiven people, we should be open to the possibility of reconciliation (unless personal or family safety are clearly at risk). Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and regain trust.

Forgiveness and reconciliation must occur together in resolving minor offenses. But when behavior is repeatedly hurtful in significant ways or trust has been deeply or repeatedly betrayed, “Pretending” all is well (when it clearly is not) is not a loving option.

As John Stott noted, “If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which by-passes the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Steve Cornell

Do Christians understand forgiveness?

Audio Link: Forgiveness or enabling?  (717) 872-4260

I’ve traveled to many places teaching groups of Christians about forgiveness and restoring broken relationships. There is widespread confusion on these subjects. When people share their stories with me, I find that,

  • Some have sinned in ways that make them feel beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. Trapped in a prison of regret and guilt, they’ve lost their joy.
  • Others have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to forgive. Engulfed in the pain of their past, they don’t know what to do with their hurt and loss.

Most of these people know God is forgiving and that He expects forgiven people to forgive. Yet they struggle to apply what they know. “How could God forgive me when I’ve failed so many times?” “How can I forgive the one who hurt me after what he did to me?”

Reconciling broken relationships presents a greater area of confusion and difficulty for people.“I forgive him” one woman told me, “but I don’t want anything to do with him!”

  • Does forgiveness always require reconciliation with an offender?
  • Is it possible to genuinely forgive someone and withhold reconciliation from him?
  • How does forgiveness relate to reconciliation?

There is widespread confusion about this — especially among Christians.

Cheap versions of forgiveness

Struggling with an irresponsible husband, one wife shared her story:

“He said I am sorry, but this is at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to think. I am told it’s my Christianduty to forgive, so I try. But whenever I forgive him, he changes for a little while and then returns to the same behavior. I have a gut feeling that I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just stay angry. Then I feel guilty. To be honest, I don’t know if I have it in me to forgive him one more time. But I am afraid to disobey God’s command to be forgiving. Maybe God won’t forgive my sins. I don’t know what to do.”

Misguided thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation has produced cheap versions of forgiveness that send people through cycles of anger and guilt. Trying their best to forgive, some people repeatedly subject themselves to the hurtful behavior of others. Then they vacillate between anger and guilt. These people usually acknowledge deep-seated doubts about whether they are handling things the right way.

I repeatedly encounter people who enable others in the name of forgiveness. They struggle to relate to unrepentant loved ones and often excuse their enabling tendencies as an effort to be forgiving. This response reveals that they do not understand how to apply forgiveness and reconciliation to unrepentant offenders.

Lines of manipulation

Some of these offenders use lines of manipulation to hold well-intentioned Christians hostage to their control.

  • “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
  • “You just want to rub it in my face.”
  • “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
  • “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

These lines reveal an unrepentant and manipulative attitude. This study will equip you to respond to those who use lines of manipulation.

Angry with God

When speaking on issues related to forgiveness, I often encounter people who feel angry toward God. Detecting this is sometimes tricky because I mostly speak in Christian settings. People who feel anger toward God but retain association with Christians hide their feelings well. When these buried feelings surface and people gain the courage to approach me about their struggles, they usually start by expressing confusion about how God relates to evil in general. Then they share their own story of being deeply hurt.

Some of them move from confusion to anger and I usually detect it in a change in their tone of voice and facial expression. This is how God detected it in Cain when he asked, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Anger becomes bitterness

Angry people are vulnerable to bitterness. God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey. Anger gains full hold when it turns into bitterness and bitter people are difficult to help. We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27).

When bitterness is a fully entrenched condition of the heart, it is more difficult to dislodge and becomes infectious.  To gain freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism used to guard our cherished resentments. Bitterness can become a form of idolatry that rules the heart in place of God.

Opening Questions

  • Since we must forgive as God does, what does God’s forgiveness involve?
  • Do we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others?
  • Why do people struggle with so much guilt when God is willing to forgive them?
  • When we forgive someone, what are we actually doing? What is forgiveness? Do we confuse forgiveness with other things?
  • How can we possibly forgive people who have deeply hurt us?
  • Does forgiveness require us to enable unrepentant people to continue their behavior?
  • Can we withhold reconciliation from unrepentant offenders? Would it be unforgiving if we refuse to reconcile?
  • How can we know if someone is sorry for the wrong she has done?
  • What does genuine repentance look like?

These are the questions I answer in my series.

Jesus knew our needs:

Unresolved guilt and unresolved anger are two main issues related to forgiveness. These matters emerge repeatedly in my counseling experience. They each affect our relationship with God and with other people. Jesus taught his followers to pray about both issues in the request: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12 NEB). Daily we face the need to be forgiven (addressing unresolved guilt) and the need to forgive (addressing unresolved anger).

Can you identify with these two concerns?

  1. “God must be tired of me asking for forgiveness for my sins. Sometimes I feel I’ll never deserve to be forgiven. Does God ever give up on us when we fail too many times?” (Unresolved guilt)
  2. “He said I am sorry but this is at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to do. I am told that it’s my Christian duty to forgive so I try. But each time I forgive, he changes for a little while and then returns to the same behavior. I have a gut feeling that I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just stay angry. What should I do?” (Unresolved anger)

Steve Cornell 

10 goals in parenting

We desired (like most parents) to build positive character traits in our children. These were traits we knew to be necessary for both surviving and thriving in the world. But my extensive work with people (especially in counseling) taught me quickly about ways that positive traits could become negative. Life is so often a balancing act.

This led us to be more conscious about what I call trimming the positives to protect them from becoming negatives. Discuss with others the 10 contrasts below between positives and negatives. Your strategy as parents will likely have to change based on the personality and temperament of each child. But your example will be the most important factor in shaping their lives.

Positives without negatives

  1. Confident without being arrogant.
  2. Humble without being weak.
  3. Determined without being stubborn.
  4. Teachable without being gullible.
  5. Friendly without being naive.
  6. A servant without being an enabler.
  7. Merciful without being undiscerning.
  8. Discerning without being a critic.
  9. Capable without being overly self-reliant.
  10. Godly without being Pharisaic.

Steve Cornell

Room for sadness

 

Do we have room in our lives for normal sadness? Do we have unrealistic expectations of gregariousness? Are we too quick to identify normal sadness as a biologically based depressive disorder?

These are questions explored in the helpful book, “The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sadness Into Depressive Disorder,” by Alan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakelfield. The authors suggest that standard criteria for diagnosing depressive disorder does not adequately distinguish intense normal sadness from biologically disordered sadness.

Out of concern over what they view as “over-expansive psychiatric definitions of disorder,” they offer helpful insight for distinguishing “sadness due to internal dysfunction” from “sadness that is a biologically designed response to external events.” The chapters exploring the anatomy of normal sadness and the failure of social sciences to distinguish this kind of sadness from depressive disorder should be required reading for all medical and psychiatric professionals — as well as all counselors.

I do not believe a doctor should prescribe medicines for moods or behaviors without confidence that those receiving them are pursuing some form of counseling in a support system of caring people (see: Caring for the whole person).

For further help addressing the emotional and spiritual dimensions related to sadness and depression, see the following:

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

A command with a powerful promise

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is well-known for its twelve step program to help free people from the controlling power of alcohol. In the steps, you’ll discover themes that appear prominently in the first two.

Step #1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step #2 – We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

Most recovering alcoholics admit that these two steps are crucial to ongoing freedom from the controlling power of alcohol (or any other addictive influence). They’ll also quickly tell you that an alcoholic’s unwillingness to admit that he is powerless is a clear warning sign of a potential return to alcohol.

What they have recognized in AA about gaining freedom from alcohol’s power is something Scripture already taught about gaining freedom from the controlling power of the flesh. What is it?

Step #1 – We cannot do it in our own strength. 

Step #2 - We need the power of God to live a life that pleases God (to restore us to sanity).

Truth - God gives this power to us through His Spirit whom He caused to live in us when we believed (see: Ephesians 1:18-20; 3:16).

We are not passive recipients

When we speak of the power of God by His Spirit, we should not see ourselves as passive recipients of this power but as actively seeking God’s power.

When the apostle says, “live” or “walk” – “by the Spirit,” he means, “let your conduct be directed by the Spirit.” 

Command with a promise

It’s a command that requires our obedience and it comes with an emphatic promise based on a double negative in the Greek language — (aorist subjunctive) “you will by no means fulfill the desires of the flesh (or sinful nature).”

Four verbs are used in Galatians 5 to describe the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, (all of them roughly equivalent in meaning).

v.16 – “live/walk by the Spirit”
v.18 – “led by the Spirit”
v.25a – “live by the Spirit”
v.25b – “keep in step with the Spirit”

All of these fit under the command in Ephesians 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit.” And these verbs send a strong reminder of how completely dependent we must be on the Spirit’s presence and power.

Galatians 5:16

“so I say”, (or ςέ “but I say”). This is a common formula, used by Paul, to alert his readers to an emphatic point: “Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15 - “;if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

To protect the community from destructive relationships (15), each member must “live or walk by the Spirit” – present tense —“go on walking…” (16). 

  • Command: “live or walk by the Spirit.”
  • Promise:  “you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (or flesh).” 

The RSV translates this as two commands, the second being, “do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Yet, while we do have similar commands in the NT (e.g. Rom. 6:12-13; 13:14; I Peter 2:11), Galatians 5:16 is a promise or a word of assurance indicating the means for gaining victory over flesh.

He is not saying: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former. This is the error of depending on the flesh to walk by the Spirit.

Conflict

Verse 17 expands on the conflict that confronts every believer. We could look at it as a conflict between two wills:

  • My will and God’s will.
  • Or between: “the ought to” and  “the want to.”

It’s great when these come happily together, when “I will to do what God wills for me to do” Or, “I want to do what I ought to do.”

But so often we experience an ongoing conflict or tension between these two and it sometimes gets incredibly intense and unrelenting (cf. Rom. 7:19, 21-25). So where do we look for the strength and power to overcome?

Galatians 5:16— “Walk by the Spirit…” present tense—“go on walking…” This is not something you must do from time to time. It’s a way of life!  It’s long obedience in the same direction.

There is no way to get to a place where we no longer experience the tension. There is no secret spiritual technique or second blessing that will put us above the battleground. To make this point forcefully, the moment you think you’re invulnerable to the allurement of the flesh — you are most vulnerable.

If you think you have reached some higher plane of spirituality — above the conflict between flesh and spirit — you are perilously self-deceived.

One has written,–“No Christians are so spiritually strong or mature that they need not hear his warning, but neither are any so weak or vacillating that they cannot be free from the tyranny of the flesh through the power of the Spirit… In the battle between the forces of flesh and Spirit there is no stalemate, but the Spirit takes the lead, overwhelms, and thus defeats evil.”

A man came to his Pastor and explained how impossible it felt to live a Christian life. The Pastor fully agreed and the man was taken back! He expected to be rebuked and set right. Instead, the Pastor congratulated him for learning the most important lesson for living the life of victory. What is it? That you can’t do it! You must live in continual dependence on God.

This is not the “let go and let God” approach. This is a constant practice of humbling oneself before God and learning to lean on Him, rest in Him and look to Him.

It involves commitment to all the spiritual disciplines out of a strong sense of need and dependence (akin to hunger and thirst) (cf. Deut. 8:1-3- God will teach you this).

Not without a battle

But, as v. 17 indicates, walking by the Spirit is not done without a battle or conflict. 

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you.” (NIV)

“Does man choose evil, the Spirit opposes him; does he choose good, the flesh hinders him.”

Be encouraged by the presence of such a battle. It’s another evidence that God dwells in you by the Spirit (James 4:4-5; Rom. 7:14-25).

Yet the conflict is real. As one has written:  “In the battle between the forces of flesh and Spirit there is no stalemate.” One wins and one loses, — always in relation to our response! 

We must take an active role with regard to the powerful ministry of the Spirit! It begins with an admission that says, “I am powerless in myself” and “I need God’s power to overcome the flesh.”

If I really mean this, I will humbly pursue all that God has made available to me (see: II Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 8:5; 13:14; I Peter 2:11)

A final thought 

These passages focus on a contrast of desire – what the Spirit desires and what the flesh desires.

Perhaps we struggle so much with wrong desires because we need to become captured by stronger desires. I think of the great command – “To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” This is a positive desire. This is an offensive not just a defensive posture (see: Psalm 42:1-2).

 Steve Cornell

The pathetic idea of flesh trying to be holy

There are countless Christians fighting a battle that is already lost, trying in their own strength to overcome the subtleties of sin. 

That is a battle you can fight all your days, but I tell you now, you cannot win! It is a battle already lost, lost in the first Adam, who was made a living soul, and died; but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, has already defeated sin and death and hell, and Satan himself!  Why not accept in Him the victory that He has already won?

Victory over the flesh is not to be attained — it is to be received.

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). No matter what it is that threatens you, if you walk in the Spirit, you can turn around and face your enemy.  You can find him helpless because God has already bruised the serpent’s head! (see Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In other words, to walk in the Spirit is to assume by faith the victory with which He credits you. God will vindicate your assumption and make it real in your experience.

Now the devil loves to invert truth and turn it into a lie, and probably what he has been saying to you is this: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former.  He knows that in this way, he will keep you preoccupied with yourself, instead of being preoccupied with Christ. 

Nothing is more nauseating or pathetic than the flesh trying to be holy!  The flesh has a perverted bent for righteousness — but such righteousness as it may achieve is always self-righteousness; and self-conscious righteousness is always full of self-praise.

This produces the extrovert, who must always be noticed, recognized, consulted, and applauded. On the other hand, when the flesh in pursuit of self-righteousness fails, instead of being filled with self-praise, it is filled with self-pity, and this produces the introvert. 

The devil does not care whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.  He does not care whether you succeed or whether you fail in the energy of the flesh, or whether you are filled with self-pity or self-praise. He knows that in both cases you will be preoccupied with yourself, not with Christ. You will be egocentric and self-centered rather than God-centered.

Don’t let Satan deceive you into believing that, ‘walking in the Spirit’ is the consequence of your effort not to fulfill the ‘lusts of the flesh’ (adapted from a devotional by Ian Thomas).

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Take time to reflect on this truth. Discuss it with others. Share it.

Steve Cornell