Mortifying The Flesh

SCRIPTURE

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5, AV

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Colossians 3:5, NLT

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Colossians 3:5, NASB

INTRODUCTION

The word translated ‘Mortify’ in AV is an interesting word. It is the Greek word nekroō and it has several meaning: [1] to make dead, to put to death, slay [2]worn out [3] of an impotent old man [4]to deprive of power, destroy the strength of. I like the NASB, “Consider the members of your earthy body as dead”…reckon them as dead or impotent. But the NLT really makes the message clear, So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

There is a strange theology floating around that denies the sinful nature that lurks within. The most recent proponent of this theology is Neil Anderson. They base everything on 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. The Greek word for ‘old things’ is archaios from which we get our word archaic. It means original, old or from the beginning. It is not the Greek word for ‘flesh’, ‘old man’ or ‘old nature.’

  1. No one is arguing the point that God in Christ makes us new creatures. The disagreement has to do with the process.
  2. Neil Anderson and his disciples believe that God eradicated the old nature, the sinful desires lurking in us. They distinguish the old nature from the flesh while most of us see them as one in the same. The flesh, the old man, the old nature is used interchangeably in the N.T. The Williams translation for example translates flesh as old nature consistently where as some translations go back and forth.
  3. The common Greek word for ‘flesh’ is sarx, old man is palaios anthrōpos, and nature is  anthrōpinos.
  4. Galatians 5:17 is my basic proof text that the old nature, the flesh, the evil lurking in us is still in existence…The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. [NLT] If you prefer the NASB…For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
  5. God is the creator of both the natural and spiritual and the natural is a shadow or dim reflection of the spiritual. The Apostle John, called the Mystic, was the first to capture and convey this truth. Jesus used the natural to illustrate the spiritual. A parable is a natural story that has a spiritual meaning. The universe is governed by the law of opposites. We have light and darkness. There is good and evil. How could you know good if you had no knowledge of evil. You could not know success unless you experienced failure. Electricity is possible the best example: you have a positive and a negative. In terms of propagation, you have male and female.  The opposites we see in the natural world indicate to us that there are opposites in the spiritual world.
  6. When we are converted, the Holy Spirit takes residence in us and He becomes an antagonist to the flesh. A none Christian can enjoy sin but the Holy Spirit will not allow a believer to enjoy sin. We have the capability to sin but not to enjoy sin. To deny that the fleshly nature that is inclined to sin is lurking within us is dangerous. Jesus told Peter, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” He tried to warn Peter that he was not above temptation and yielding to the temptation. Peter learned the hard way.
  7. The Neil Anderson Theology is an attempt to live by the power of positive thinking. It is what I call “Positional Theology.” The emphasis is on who we are in Christ. We are forgiven, liberated, new creations, saints, etc. In your daily life, do you think of yourself as a “Saint” or a “Sinner”. Positionally, I am a Saint, practically, I am still a sinner. Of course their point is believe what the Scripture says you are not what you feel which is a viable point.
  8. My conviction is that we are Saints in God’s eyes but not the world or even in our own eyes. How are we going to relate to a fallen world if we deny our sin. We all sin. Obviously some are not aware of their sin but we all sin. John said, “If we say we have no sin we make God a liar.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we all make mistakes everyday, we all sin and fall short everyday. There is no way we can live up to the glory and the perfection that we see in Jesus. How be it, this is not an excuse to sin but it is impractical, unethical, dishonest and dangerous to deny our sin.
  9. Those who get caught up in this positional theology become obsessed with the theology and their interest is in propagating their theology not the gospel of Christ. They cannot relate to sinners, they only relate to other believers.
  10. The truth is that Believers struggle. Our desire is to please the LORD but we have a tendency to fail. We are caught in a war that is both beyond and within us. I struggle with temptation. I am being honest. If I told you that I did not struggle, would you believe me. If you examine or observe my life closely, will you declare me a saint or a sinner?

STORY

I was riding with a good friend to a conference at Ridgecrest and we got into this discussion. He is an Anderson disciple and a good man. We began debating and it turned into an argument. I called for a time out. I said, “We are arguing and this proves my point.” “What are you talking about?” He said. I said, “Arguing is a fruit of the flesh, it is coming from our old nature, a Saint would not argue.” He did not agree but he knew he was wrong and we changed the subject. I am telling you whether you like it or not, the old nature is still lurking in you and you have the potential to sin, to even bring shame on yourself and Christ.

TRANSITION

Why did God not eradicate the old sinful nature the moment He saved us?

  1. In this life, God will not do anything that makes us totally independent. He has created us to need HIM. You have to be converted before you really sense you total dependency upon HIM. It is by God’s design: The only way to live in victory over Satan, the flesh, and the world is to depend totally upon Christ, there is no other way and God made it so. Christ wants us to rely on HIM and this is healthy. This is the exact opposite of the natural realm. When a baby is born, he or she is totally dependent but they grow toward independence. When I was a baby, my mother took care of me but now my mother is in heaven and I have to take care of myself. I can change myself, feed myself, bath myself and seek shelter for myself. I grew from total dependence to independence and this is healthy. When a kid is 50 years old and living with his parents because he does not have a job and no sense of responsibility, this is not healthy. The child has not matured. He should not be dependent on parents at this age. It is the opposite in the spiritual realm. When we are born spiritually, we retain a lot of our old ways including our stubborn self-will but as we grow and mature in Christ, we become more and more dependent on Him. A mature Christians is totally dependent on Christ.
  2. A second reason why God did not eradicate the old nature is that it is our primary source of humiliation. Although we shun humiliation more than we do suffering, it is a necessary component to our spiritual growth. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Nothing moves us toward this spirit of humility more than humiliation. It works effectively and fast. Peter boasted to Jesus that he would not forsake Him in His hour of need. Jesus said, “You will not only forsake me, you will deny me three times before morning.” Peter vehemently protested, “Never” he said but Peter did exactly as Jesus prophesied. Peter embarrassed and shamed himself. He trusted in his flesh and his flesh failed him as it does you and I. There is one thing about the flesh that you can count on, failure. It will fail 100% of the time. Jeremiah said, This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. I am a Jeremiah disciple and this is one of the first verses that I committed to memory. It is a mistake to rely upon our human strength or flesh. It will disappoint you every single time. God uses this constant failure of the flesh to move us toward a spirit of humility. When I graduated Seminary, the last thing on my mind was being a bi-vocational pastor. I was not aware of it at the time but I had a lot of pride in this area. I looked down on bi-vocational pastors and assumed they either lacked faith, ambition or did not want to pursue their education. It did not dawn on me that Paul had a Phd. and yet was never supported by any church full time but worked as a bi-vo his entire life. The church I was serving in rural Mississippi knew that I would need more income and so one of the folks got me an application to teach school which I could have done at that time but I could not bring myself to fill it out. My thinking was that God did not call me to be bi-vocational. In reality, I thought I was too good to work. I prayed for God to open up a full time church which I assumed He did. We moved in August of 74 and went from $90 per week to $150.00 [no car expense]. After three years without a single raise, we were struggling and I was getting bitter. Providentially, God had my path cross a big Texan Dudley Hall and he straighten me out. He ask, “Where in scripture does it say that your church is to provide your needs? Some of you have made a god out of your employer. The bible says “My God, not my church, will supply all your needs.” He nailed me. I was guilty as sin and I knew it. I went back to the church on Sunday and made a confession about my attitude and then I told them that I wanted to follow Paul’s example and do whatever necessary to be able to preach the gospel. I expected one of two things to happen and neither happened. I thought they would fire me on the spot or give me a massive raise. It did not happen. No one seemed offended or convicted about my speech to go bi-vocational. One deacon came up and said, “I need someone to run a chain saw. I will pay you $20 per load if you will cut my wood. I will furnish the saw, the gas and the truck.” Then this same deacon starting recommending me to his friends and I worked odd jobs as long as I was serving the church. I discovered that the physical labor relieved a lot of my stress. I remain bi-vocational for the next decade or longer. I worked odd jobs until my wife completed nursing school in 1986. Things that seems humiliating in 1974 or no longer humiliating. The point is: God uses fleshly disappointment and failure to draw us to Himself. I am not pretending to be humble but I know that my attitude is better for having experienced what many preachers would consider humiliation.
  3. The third reason I offer as a suggestion as to why God does not eradicate the flesh when we are saved. The flesh being the constant [daily] antagonist that it is, forces us to come to Christ on a daily basis for help. This does overlap with my first point of being totally dependent on Christ but from a slightly different angle. The flesh, the old nature does not go away, we have to face it every single day. There are two trees in every believer’s garden and you have to make a choice daily as to which you are going to partake. God’s mercies are new every day because we need new mercy and grace every day. Pride, lust and the entire fleshly troop do not go away. Perhaps I won a major victory yesterday: that will have no bearing on today. We cannot rely on yesterday’s mercies. We need new grace every day. To win this battle over the flesh, we have to have a daily quiet time with Christ. This is not an option: it is essential. The constant failure of the flesh pushes me toward Christ who is my only source of hope. I absolutely must spend time with Christ if I am to succeed.
  4. One last suggestion: the flesh is relentless. It is a constant thorn in our side. I long for heaven for many reasons but close to the top of my list is my desire to be rid of the flesh. I get so sick of the flesh. I loathe the flesh. Like Paul, I concur that there is nothing good in my flesh. It is vain, selfish and self-serving. There are some things about aging that are not pleasant but the one good thing is that we are closer to being liberated from these fleshly bodies and separated from these fleshly natures. I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians…So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.
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