by Mike Ratliff
“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 6:13-15 ESV)
Genuine Christians are regenerate. They are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means a great deal, but what it does not mean is that Christians have instantaneous and complete victory over our enemy within, which is the flesh. The Puritans understood this very well. John Owen’s masterpieces The Mortification of Sin and Indwelling Sin in Believers show Christians why they have trouble with the sin which clings so close. In our day there is a great deal of false teaching going around to the effect that God doesn’t really care about the sin in professing Christians. After all it was all paid for at the Cross, right? The problem is that that argument is totally unbiblical. Repentance is part of the true Christian walk. The other extreme is the false teaching that it is possible for Christians to become perfect in this life even to the point of never sinning. That too is a totally unbiblical teaching. The truth is in the middle. All true Christians are forgiven and are viewed by God as righteous in His eyes. This is possible because He has imputed Christ’s righteousness to their account. However, as John makes very clear in 1 John 1:9-10, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
The issue for the Christian is one of peace. Is it possible for the Christian to be involved in fleshly pursuits and remain at peace with God? Is it possible for the Christian to make the mistake of assuming this peace when it does not exist? First, we must understand that God is sovereign and it is His prerogative to give His grace to whomever He pleases (Romans 9:18). Even those with whom He has chosen to call, justify, and purify, He reserves the privilege to declare peace to their conscience. You see, it is the conscience that tells us if we are at peace with God or not. According to 2 Corinthians 1:3 we learn that He does impute His comfort to His children when and how He pleases. He alone creates peace for His people when they sin.
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him. (Isaiah 57:15-19 ESV)
This peace with God is vital to the spiritual health of the believer. However, our enemy within, the flesh, is a counterfeiter. It wants believers to believe they are at peace with God by giving them a false peace. Is it possible for us to know when the peace we believe we have after sinning is from God or our flesh? Yes, there are four distinguishing marks that reveal whether we are abiding in the easy peace of the flesh or the true peace from God.
We know it is our flesh talking when the peace comes and yet we don’t abhor the sin. This should be a no-brainer, but I have fallen for this one myself. What is the only remedy for our sin? It is the mercy of God through the blood of Christ. When we are wounded by sin and feel the alienation from God and His people, we look to Him for healing. We seek the quieting of our heart from the message, “Everything will be fine. Christ died for my sins. All is forgiven. Praise the Lord!” However, if this “quieting” is not accompanied by our hearts swelling with hatred of the sin that has wounded us, those words of peace are our own and not God’s. This is the deceit of our flesh. We learn to detest our sin by coming to the one who was pierced for our sake. We meditate on what it cost our Lord for our forgiveness. True detesting of sin is seeing it the way God does. Instead of looking at the consequences of sin, we look at the cost. This is why we must learn verses such as 1 John 2:15, which says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Then we weep with self-hatred. It is as we humble ourselves this way that God will then console us with His mercy in Christ and we will experience the true peace with God instead of the false, deceitful peace of the flesh.
We know it is our flesh talking when peace comes only by logic. It is possible, without the work of the Spirit, to use human reasoning to apply sacred Scripture to soothe our conscience. I have done this and it is a deceitful thing. In our tormented conscience we could turn to Isaiah 55:7 and read, “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” From this, we could then reason, “In my mind I have turned from my sin; therefore, based on this promise, God has freely pardoned me.” As we look for other passages of scripture to sooth our condemning conscience, such as Hosea 14:4, we could conclude that God is speaking to us through these verses and has turned His anger away. However, this sort of reasoning is NEVER the basis for peace with God. This is only more deceitful work from our flesh. We know that this is a false peace because it has no power to change our lives. It is not the root of repentance. The real peace with God comes as we truly repent and in that we find our sin slain by His tender mercy.
We know it is our flesh talking when we take peace lightly. The evidence we are doing this is when we find that we are treating sin and forgiveness as an everyday thing. Look at the passage at the top of this post. The flesh tells us that if we have any faith at all then that is all it takes. All we have to do when we sin is look a the precious promises to believers. However, will this sort of deceitfulness heal the conscience? No! According to Hebrews 4:2, “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” We must look intently into the precious promises from God to His people with faith. This looking intently is not a quick thing. It is time spent with God, His Word, and confession at the throne of Grace. On the other hand, if all we do is believe the lie that only a glance at these precious promises is enough to bring us peace then what we will have is the deceitful, false peace of the flesh and it won’t take very long for our sin to overwhelm us again before we know it.
We know it is our flesh talking when peace is selective. This is where most of us stumble. We seek peace about some sins, but not others. If we believe we have peace with God when we successfully hide other sins then the peace we find is nebulous at best. It is the deceitful false peace of the flesh. Peace with God and clear conscience are products of full repentance born from a humble and contrite heart.
Christians who know the true peace of God are those who humbly spend time with Him. They know His voice because they are used to the sound of it. They also recognize when the voice of peace is from Him or from their flesh. The Lord’s word of peace humbles souls, cleanses from guilt , transforms lives, melts their hearts, and endears Christ to them. Those who learn this and walk before the face of God this way can rest in the Lord’s comfort. Also, their flesh will grow sickly and pale, drained of its power by a renewed taste of God’s mercy in Christ’s blood.
My brethren, I based this post on chapter 12 from the book, The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend that you do. It has opened my eyes to the deceitfulness of my own flesh and many bad habits I have allowed to develop over the years. I know that there is a party of professing Christians who detest this sort of thing. I pray that God will draw them into the light and cause them to repent unto salvation. For those of you pricked in the heart by these truths, I rejoice that God is working in you to draw you to walk before His face on the narrow path of spiritual maturity.
Soli Deo Gloria!