We might not like to admit it, but we often experience resistance in relationship with God. God desires that we trust Him with all of who we are … every atom of our being, every inch of our existence. He desires but He doesn’t demand. He calls but He doesn’t coerce. Our response is often one of desire that falls short (or, very short) of surrender. It can be frustrating that we experience this “push/pull” in our faith. We experience the pull and attraction to live a completely Christ centered life but then find ourselves pushing away.
In Romans 8:1-8, Paul describes this as the dynamic of the flesh and the Spirit. The Spirit draws us to the Father but our “flesh” pushes us away. The “flesh” is that desire in us to do life on our own, in our own power. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:8) In other words, when we are controlled by the flesh, we are unable to respond to God’s desire and call for our lives. A sure sign that we are battling the flesh is this push/pull that we often experience.
The flesh has patterns for maintaining control. Let me suggest a few that often plague the most “well meaning” of us. First, we when we respond to the desire of God, we can put on an act. We can suggest to others and even to ourselves that we are living a way that we are not. Second, we can examine the call of God to trust and attack others who are not living this way. Instead of looking in the mirror, the flesh will bring to our mind others who aren’t living this way. Those in the church are often quite guilty of bashing the culture or other churches or whoever, just so long as we don’t have to look at ourselves. Third, we can be tempted to make things abstract. Rather than responding specifically, we can philosophize and intellectualize things and leave things there. The illusion that our flesh creates is that we are taking things seriously when, truthfully, we are deflecting.
In Christ, there is a new dynamic (or, power that is introduced into our lives). It is the dynamic of the Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:2-4) The “righteous requirement of the law” is living a life (the life we desire) of surrender and trust and closeness to God. The Spirit allows us to become who we truly are because of Christ.
But, how do we live “according to the Spirit?” Just as the flesh has patterns, the Spirit has patterns as well. As opposed to putting on an act, we can first come clean as we are honest about where we are in our life spiritually. Romans 8:1 gives us the courage to do just that: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We don’t have to pretend but can come clean because of grace. Our failings and sin do not exclude us from the life of God and when we are honest, the flesh loses power. Second, we can extend compassion. We are compassionate with ourselves which leads us to extending compassion to others. Often, our flesh attacks others because it is trying to defend itself against shame and guilt but when we rest in grace, we know that we have nothing to prove and we are free to love. Finally, we make the truth of God concrete in our lives. Instead of theological abstractions, we make things specific in our lives. Henri Nouwen suggests: “Becoming the beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about and doing from hour to hour.”
When we see flesh dynamics at work, the encouragement is to go to the grace of God and come clean, show compassion, and make things concrete. These are the patterns of the Spirit that weaken the flesh and allow us to grow in being formed and shaped by the Spirit.
Today, what concrete step can you take to bring the truth of God into the “ordinariness” of you life?