a Fleshly Walk for a Spiritual Walk?
5:16-26; Ephesians 5:15-20
Tourists throughout the centuries have
visited the famous Acropolis, the ancient hilltop religious citadel in
Athens. Thousands of sightseers from all over the world have picked
up marble chunks as souvenirs.
Why hasn't the supply of pieces been exhausted
long ago? The answer is very simple. Every few months a truckload of marble
fragments from a quarry miles away is scattered around the whole Acropolis
area. So tourists go home happy with what they think are authentic pieces
of ancient history.
We can be deceived with spiritual kinds
of imitations also. Religious language and music, religious objects
and services may fool us into imagining that we are experiencing a firsthand
relationship with God when in reality we are simply going through empty
Something is authentic when it conforms
to what it is represented or claimed to be. It has to do with consistency
between words and actions, and between claimed values and actual priorities.
Inauthenticity means that we claim to be one thing, then prove to be something
We may find ourselves teaching theology
without the inner desire to practice it. At the 1993 annual meeting
of The American Heart Association, thousands of doctors, nurses, and researchers
met in Atlanta to discuss, among other things, the importance a low fat
diet plays in keeping our hearts healthy. Yet during meal times, they consumed
fat-filled fast food—such as bacon cheeseburgers and fries—at about the
same rate as people from other conventions. When one cardiologist was asked
whether or not his partaking in high fat meals set a bad example, he replied,
"Not me, because I took my name tag off." (Boston Globe (11-10-93);
Stephen Nordbye, Charlton, Massachusetts)
The greatest threat for me is substituting
a fleshly walk with God for a spiritual walk with God. A person
who is walking in the flesh may not appear to be much different than one
walking in the spirit. Both may do exactly the same things. Both may recognize
the same moral code by which they must live. Both may attend church, give
of their means and sing the same songs, while one is motivated by the flesh
and the other is motivated by the spirit of the living God. One’s trust
is in the works of the flesh, and the other’s trust is in God’s life giving
A man related a story that transpired in his
life when he was a child, my minister father brought home a 12-year-old
boy named Roger, whose parents had died from a drug overdose. There was
no one to care for Roger, so my folks decided they'd just raise him as
if he were one of their own sons.
At first it was quite difficult for Roger
to adjust to his new home—an environment free of heroine-addicted adults!
Every day, several times a day, I heard my parents saying to Roger:
"No, no. That's not how we behave in this
"No, no. You don't have to scream or fight
or hurt other people to get what you want."
"No, no, Roger, we expect you to show respect
in this family." And in time Roger began to change.
Now, did Roger have to make all those changes
in order to become a part of the family? No. He was made a part of the
family simply by the grace of my father. But did he then have to do a lot
of hard work because he was in the family? You bet he did. It was tough
for him to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude
for the incredible love he had received.
Do you have a lot of hard work to do now that
the Spirit has adopted you into God's family? Certainly. But not in order
to become a son or a daughter of the heavenly Father. No, you make those
changes because you are a son or daughter. And every time you start to
revert back to the old addictions to sin, the Holy Spirit will say to you,
"No, no. That's not how we act in this family." (Craig Barnes, from sermon
"The Blessed Trinity").
Growth is a real Challenge
The soul is hungry for God.
The hunger is the same for the person in the White House or the person
in a shelter for the homeless; it is the same for the latest Hollywood
idol and the devoted wife and mother. It is as real for Bill Gates as it
is for the common working man. It doesn’t matter how much we have or don’t
have, there is a hunger for more—something richer, deeper, prettier, tastier,
faster, or more satisfying.
When I find myself hungry for something
more than what I have, it drives me deeper into the message of God. Sometimes
it is an indication that I am trying to walk in the flesh rather than in
the Spirit. Thank God that there is a restless relentless endless hunger
within each of us that nothing but God can satisfy. Many
recognize their hunger and try to satisfy it in socially acceptable ways:
education, career, family, friends, or public service. There are countless
others who never realize that the emptiness is common to everyone. They
become angry, and try to satisfy it in socially unacceptable ways: alcohol,
drugs, illicit sex, violence, etc.
Our deepest inner self is longing for
spiritual transformation. It is a transformation that takes training.
Spiritual transformation is a long-term endeavor. It involves both God
and us. John Ortberg likens it to crossing an ocean. Some people try, day
after day, to be good, to become spiritually mature. That's like taking
a rowboat across the ocean. It's exhausting and usually unsuccessful.
Others have given up trying and throw themselves
entirely on "relying on God's grace." They're like drifters on a raft.
They do nothing but hang on and hope God gets them there.
Neither trying nor drifting are effective
in bringing about spiritual transformation. A better image is the sailboat,
which if it moves at all, it's a gift of the wind. We can't control the
wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts
the sails accordingly.
Working with the Holy Spirit, which Jesus
likened to the wind in John 3, means we have a part in discerning the winds,
in knowing the direction we need to go, and in training our sails to catch
the breezes that God provides. That's true transformation. (John Ortberg,
"True and False Transformation," Leadership (Summer 2002), p. 104).
Billy Sunday said, "I sometimes wonder whether
the church needs new members one-half as much as she needs the old bunch
made over. Judging by the way multitudes in the church live, you would
think they imagined they had a through ticket to heaven in a Pullman palace
car, and had left orders for the porter to wake them up when they head
into the yards of the New Jerusalem." (Billy Sunday in The Real Billy
Sunday. Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 14.)
Too much comfort is dangerous. Literally.
Researchers at the University of California
at Berkeley did an experiment some time ago that involved introducing an
amoeba into a perfectly stress-free environment: ideal temperature, optimal
concentration of moisture, constant food supply. The amoeba had an environment
to which it had to make no adjustment whatsoever.
So you would guess this was one happy little
amoeba. Whatever it is that gives amoebas ulcers and high blood pressure
Yet, oddly enough, it died.
Apparently there is something about all living
creatures, even amoebas, that demands challenge. We require change, adaptation,
and challenge the way we require food and air. Comfort alone will kill
us. (Chris Peterson, "Optimism and By-pass Surgery," in Learned Helplessness:
A Theory for the Age of Personal Control [New York: Oxford Univ. Press,
Need to be filled with God’s Spirit
Being filled with the Spirit of God
is the true mark of a Christian. Often we try to imitate the worship
of the first century by duplicating what they did. We try to practice what
they practiced, but merely going through the motions practicing what they
practiced may leave us empty of God’s Spirit.
Soren Kierkegaard said, "There are, in the
end, only two ways open to us: to honestly and honorably make an admission
of how far we are from the Christianity of the New Testament, or to perform
skillful tricks to conceal the true situation. (Soren Kierkegaard, "What
Madness," in Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard
(Plough, 1999), p. 180)
There are two persons who want to fill
our hearts . . . Satan and the Holy Spirit. Peter said, "Ananias,
how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have
lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you
received for the land?" (Acts 5:3 NIV) Ananias was seeking to substitute
a fleshly walk with God for a spiritual walk with God as he sought to lie
to the Holy Spirit.
Paul admonishes us to be filled with
15 Be very careful, then, how
you live-not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity,
because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand
what the Lord's will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another
with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart
to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. NIV
These verses have prompted our non-instrumental
worship as we emphasize the need to make a personal response to God as
we are filled with his Spirit. The command in these verses is to
be filled with the Spirit of God. The proper kind of worship is the kind
where individuals are filled with the Spirit of God to the point where
their hearts burst out in praise to God. The emphasis in these verses is
on our individual role in worship, rather than how well others perform
When we are filled by the Spirit of
the living God it takes us beyond worship into a living relationship with
God that has a transforming effect upon us and others. When the
Grecian widows’ needs were being neglected, the apostles gathered the believers
in Jerusalem together and said, "It would not be right for us to
neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers,
choose seven men from among you who are known to
be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility
over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of
the word" (Acts 6:2-4 NIV)
It is obvious that the first century church
grew as Spirit filled disciples were appointed to carry out the work. I
believe that it is the enabling power of the Spirit of God that fills the
Christian as it brings her/his life to fruition.
There is a great contrast between the
work of Spirit and the works of the flesh. Although it may not
always be easy to distinguish the spiritual walk from the fleshly walk.
There are times when both may appear vastly different.
16 So I say, live by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful
nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary
to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you
do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not
19 The acts of the sinful nature
are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and
witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition,
dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I
warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit
the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit
is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness
and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong
to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and
desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. NIV
Many of the things mentioned in these
verses would be very obvious manifestations of a fleshly walk.
They may be totally contrary to the way we know we should live. Sexual
immorality, debauchery, fits of rage, drunkenness, orgies and the like
may be very obvious.
However, it is possible for a fleshly
walk to be disguised as a spiritual walk.
9 To some who were confident
of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told
this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee
and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about
himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers,
adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and
give a tenth of all I get.'
13 "But the tax collector stood
at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast
and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14 "I tell you that this man,
rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Pharisee placed all his emphasis
on externals. The greatest threat to authenticity comes when we
place more emphasis on external methods than on internal change, which
results in attempts at a form of godliness but lacks the power of God.
The Pharisees sought to clean up the
outside without ever being truly converted within. This happens
when we seek to convince ourselves that we can live a godly life solely
through the efforts of the flesh. This happens when we are doing things
for God in our own strength. This usually leaves us wretched.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
3:1 But mark this: There will
be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves,
lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,
ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control,
brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers
of pleasure rather than lovers of God- 5 having a form of godliness but
denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. NIV
It is obvious that religion itself can
become a work of the flesh which breeds hatred, envy, dissension, discord,
selfish ambition and factions. Thomas Shepard wrote, "A Pharisee's
trumpet shall be heard to the end of the town but simplicity walks through
the town unseen." (Thomas Shepard in The Parable of the Ten Virgins.
Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 10.)
The English poet John Keats wrote, "Nothing
ever becomes real till it is experienced . . . Even a proverb is no proverb
to you till your life has illustrated it." To be authentic we must
move from speaking about Jesus to letting him speak within me, from thinking
about Jesus to letting him think within me, from acting for and with Jesus
to letting him act through me. I know the only way for me to see the world
is to see it through his eyes. (Henri J. Nouwen in Jesus and Mary: Finding
Our Sacred Center. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 13.)
We are living in an age that seeks to
sanctify the fleshly walk as a spiritual walk. It can become very
confusing because the fleshly walk is sanctioned by seemingly reputable
6 I am astonished that you
are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ
and are turning to a different gospel- 7 which is really no gospel at all.
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to
pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven
should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be
eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If
anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let
him be eternally condemned! NIV
There were those in the churches in
Galatia that sought to win members over but they were up to no good.
17 Those people are zealous
to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you [from
us], so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous,
provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am
with you. NIV
We may be surprised at how quickly we
can be moved away by a perversion of the gospel of Christ. A. W.
Tozer says that there are areas in our lives where in our effort to be
right we may go wrong, so wrong as to lead to spiritual deformity. To be
specific let me name a few:
1. When in our determination to be bold we
2. When in our desire to be frank we become
3. When in our effort to be watchful we become
4. When we seek to be serious and become
5. When we mean to be conscientious and become
over scrupulous. (A. W. Tozer from That Incredible Christian. Christianity
Today, Vol. 29, no. 17.)
When this happens the flesh has quenched the
Spirit’s desire to lead us in the path of righteousness. When the flesh
quenches the Spirit of God it creates in us a restless relentless hunger
that only God can fill.
How do you solve a personal problem?
Let’s say you have a fondness for gossip or quarreling. How do
you stop? Or suppose you have a life-controlling addiction to alcohol or
drugs or sex. How do you get free?
Sometimes the answer is something that
seems totally unrelated. For example, in the middle of winter when
your feet are cold, you may try putting on thicker socks or a blanket.
Still your feet may be icy. One secret to warm feet is to stop focusing
on your feet and look at your head. That’s right, go to the other end of
your body and put a hat on. Although your neck and head have only 10 percent
of your body surface, in the cold that’s where you lose a whopping 30 percent
of your body heat. Having nothing on your head is like opening a window
in your house in the dead of winter. If you keep that heat in your body
with a hat, your blood will carry it down to your toes.
In the same way, when people have problems,
spiritual leaders often recommend that they do something that sounds unrelated--such
as read the Bible, pray, go to church, or focus on serving other people.
These seemingly unrelated things bring grace to help overcome problems.
(Craig Brian Larson, editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Reader’s Digest
(December 2002), p. 186)
1 Timothy 4:7-8
7 Have nothing to do with godless
myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all
things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.