by Mike Ratliff
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:8-14 ESV)
In the late 1980′s I was asked to teach a Sunday School class at the church (SBC) my family attended. I had never taught anything at any level before. The class was the 5th grade boys and girls. Even though I had not taught before I did have enough discernment to know that the curriculum they gave us to teach from was pathetic. It was about that same time that I took a class at church on Sunday evenings called Masterlife. I had been a Christian about two years at this time and did not know much about theology.
As I look back on Masterlife and the curriculum I was asked to teach from, I marvel at the foundation of sand on which much of it was based. For instance, the Masterlife course taught that there were three types of people. There are unbelievers who are spiritually dead. There are spirit-filled or spirit-led believers who walk in a close relationship with God. These are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the writers of this course included a third group. This group was made up of Christians, but they were carnal or fleshly. The course contended that there was not much difference between them and the lost person other than the fact that they had made a profession of faith, which guaranteed that their spirit was not dead, but alive.
If we compare that with the passage I placed at the top of this post we will see that there is a serious problem with the concept of there being two classes of Christians. It wasn’t until many years after I took that class that I learned that the writers of it were of the “Free Grace” movement and considered Lordship salvation to be heretical. No Christian is perfect. No, we all still sin, but God uses our struggles with it to grow us and test us in the fire. All in Christ are debtors to God, which means we are not debtors to the flesh, to live by it, but we are debtors to God to live and walk according to the Spirit. Professing Christians who the Masterlife writers would consider to be carnal Christians are more than likely not regenerate. They are only religious with no spiritual life in them at all. On the other hand, those who are truly in Christ owe much to God because of what He has done for them and in them.
As God’s creatures, we are all debtors to Him: to obey Him with all our body, and soul, and strength. Having broken His commandments, as we all have, we are debtors to His justice, and we owe to Him a vast amount which we are not able to pay. But of the Christian it can be said that he does not owe God’s justice anything, for Christ has paid the debt His people owed; for this reason the believer owes the more to love. I am a debtor to God’s grace and forgiving mercy; but I am no debtor to His justice, for He will never accuse me of a debt already paid. Christ said, “It is finished!” and by that He meant, that whatever His people owed was wiped away for ever from the book of remembrance. Christ, to the uttermost, has satisfied divine justice; the account is settled; the handwriting is nailed to the cross; the receipt is given, and we are debtors to God’s justice no longer.
But then, because we are not debtors to our Lord in that sense, we become ten times more debtors to God than we should have been otherwise. Christian, pause and ponder for a moment. What a debtor thou art to divine sovereignty! How much thou owest to His disinterested love, for He gave His own Son that He might die for thee. Consider how much you owe to His forgiving grace, that after ten thousand affronts He loves you as infinitely as ever. Consider what you owe to His power; how He has raised you from your death in sin; how He has preserved your spiritual life; how He has kept you from falling; and how, though a thousand enemies have beset your path, you have been able to hold on your way. Consider what you owe to His immutability. Though you have changed a thousand times, He has not changed once. Thou art as deep in debt as thou canst be to every attribute of God. To God thou owest thyself, and all thou hast-yield thyself as a living sacrifice, it is but thy reasonable service. – C.H. Spurgeon
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
This is what we owe to our God, to be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him. We grow and mature into these living sacrifices by continually not being conformed to this world by being continually transformed by the renewal of our minds. This is the spirit-led walk of denying self, taking up our crosses and following Christ by continually forsaking what our flesh wants and, instead, renewing our minds by immersing them in the Word of God, worship, prayer, and devotion with all that we think and do. This is the Spirit-filled life of submitting to others as God commanded us to do (Ephesians 5).
Do you have some sins in your life that seem to have power over you? Be honest with yourself on this self-examination my brethren. If so, then it is imperative to enter and pursue the process of mortifying those sins. We may not be able to bring all of these sins to their death in our life time, but we must try. We may very well, through God working in us by His grace, to put some them to death, to see them lying dead at our feet with no power whatsoever over us. This process is closely linked to be a living sacrifice my brethren. If we are God focused in all we think and do then we will not be entertaining fleshly thoughts which lead us into servicing what our flesh wants. However, if we are not being living sacrifices then we are being fleshly and that means we are seeking to be fulfilled through some fleshly pursuit. To kill this or to keep it from gaining a foothold in our hearts we must not allow our flesh any avenue within us. That means when our flesh demands to be fed we deny it by pursuing God instead.
We are fulfilled when our conscience is not condemning us. We are content, which is to say that we are fulfilled, when we are walking in the spirit. This stops very quickly when our self-focus kicks in and then that fulfillment from the conscience stops. This is when we are the most vulnerable to the sneak attack from the flesh.
One last thing, the fleshly part of our hearts is sly. It knows that we are seeking fulfillment from God alone so it actually deceives us into doing these things from our own strength instead of from our weakness. When we are weak then we depend on God to give us the grace and ability to pursue Him and be fulfilled in Him. However, when we do the same things, such as prayer or reading the Bible or whatever, in our own strength then it is counterfeit and we will soon find ourselves in empty religiosity which is not fulfilling at all.
Soli Deo Gloria!