06 January 2009

Stunned, stymied and sidelined by sarkicophobia

by Dan Phillips

New year — new word! Sarkicophobia.

Sar´-kĭ-kə-fō´-bē-ə

Derivation:
In the NT, the term σαρκικός (sarkikos) is commonly translated "fleshly" or "carnal." It is an adjective derived from sarx, "flesh," and means belonging to the flesh, pertaining to the flesh. It occurs in Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 3:3 [twice]; 9:11; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 10:4; and 1 Peter 2:11. Sometimes it is used simply of material things (Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 9:11), and sometimes of attitudes or thinking that is dominated by the flesh (i.e. unredeemed, un-Christian thinking or attitudes; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 1:12).

Formation: Unlike nomicophobia, there actually is an existing (if little-used) English word to use: sarkic. The rest is easy.

Meaning: I would use this of folks who so fear obeying God "in the power of the flesh" that they'd rather do nothing, than do something carnal. Whatever their theory, their practice can be summed up in this motto: better to disobey God outright, than obey Him in the flesh! Or, Better do nothing for God's glory, than do something fleshly for God's glory!

The result is not only paralysis, but a particularly repulsively and repugnantly pious form of paralysis. You dursn't confront these folks for their sin in disobeying God. Do that, and you mark yourself as shallow and — well, carnal! Because clearly, you don't understand: when they disobey God, it's really because they love God so much! It's because they just want Jesus to be all, and God to be all, and themselves to be nothing, like little lead soldiers melted down into the big molten vat of Godness.

It's the "thinking" that underlies the ever-popular (and never-Biblical) mantra for daily living: Let Go and Let God.

Illustration: reading Andrew Murray and the "higher life" sorts will freeze you up like this. Murray will so terrify you of the thought of acting in the flesh, that you'll collapse into goo. You will want to be a glove on Jesus' hand, moving only when He moves, dissolving into nothing that He may be all in all.

Among these folks, it's all clothed with (masked in?) gloriously spiritual and mystical language, and sounds absolutely wonderful. I mean — who wouldn't want that? What Christian wouldn't like to quit striving and struggling and battling and sweating and groaning... and failing? What Christian wouldn't like to be so mastered by Jesus that he lives and breathes and emanates Jesus, so that Jesus lives through Him in the sense of replacing his will and responsibility?

Again, this is seen in the phrase: "Stop trying to live the Christian life, and let Jesus live it through you!"

Aside: do you see, though, that this only moves the goal, the marker? It doesn't remove it? The idea is that I stop getting my grubby hands all over everything, and let Jesus control everything. Stop trying to do things right — in fact, that's the problem: I keep trying to do things right. And that's wrong. I have to stop trying, and let Jesus do it.

Okay, so then... why isn't He? Who's stopping Him? Well, I am. Because I haven't let Him right. I haven't yielded right. I haven't adopted the right resting, yielding attitude.

So you see, it's still me, me, me. It's just that we've moved the focus from my obeying right, in faith and by grace (which is an explicitly Biblical focus), to my yielding right (which is not). And I still fail, because I have to strike the right mystical attitude to shift into "J" for Jesus-life. If I'm not there, there's something more for me to do.

So even apart from being un-Biblical, it's nonsensical. It collapses on itself.

Anecdote: I was infected with this very early in my Christian life. It seemed natural enough to me because of its similarity to the cultic teaching from which I'd been saved. Then we believed that God was all and in all, and we just needed to "manifest" the God-life. This teaching is very similar, only it focuses more on Jesus rather than the mysticized redefinitions of Religious Science.

So, like J. I. Packer and many Americans as well, I tried and tried. That is, I tried not to try. I tried to melt... er, that is, to let myself be melted. (But wait, if I'm doing the not-doing... if it takes me to not take me to... whoa, like I said, this gets really confusing....) And, like J. I. Packer, it made me pretty miserable.

But my circle of Christian friends was also infected, and we all had the same fear: acting "in the flesh." We were afraid of going to church in the flesh, witnessing of Christ in the flesh, praying in the flesh, studying the Word in the flesh, obeying the Word in the flesh. So, for fear of doing any of those things in the flesh, we'd stop doing them altogether. Some of us could be pretty smug about it, too, and could look down on others who were very energetically involved in church, witnessing, and holy living — but we were pretty sure that it was, you know, in the flesh.

It came to a head for me in my first course of pastoral training. It's quite a long story in itself, but the bottom line is that I'd gone from being a lazy, undisciplined student before my conversion, to being very committed to immersing myself in Greek so as to master the New Testament.

But many of my fellow-students wouldn't. They wouldn't study too hard, get into it too deeply. Why? Whyever not?

You've already guessed: all that studying was in the flesh.

The effect of sarkicophobia on me was that I was ever taking my spiritual pulse, ever checking within, freezing up, paralyzed, spiraling down into deeper and deeper morbid introspection. In the name of "looking to Jesus" (revealed in His Word) I was constantly looking to myself, within myself.

And so what should I do? Should I leave off the hard, sweaty, grueling work of study and "let God," for fear of studying in the flesh?

In short: God set me free. Somewhere around that time I began to realize how comparatively simple, straightforward, and in-broad-daylight New Testament Christianity was. Never ever did you see an apostle or Christian on the side of the road, locked in a whirlpool of introspection over serving God by Spirit-enabled, faith-motivated, grace-empowered obedience to Gospel commands in the flesh. Nor did we ever read of an apostle issuing a series of commands in Christ's name, then immediately cautioning his readers against obeying them in the flesh.

Nor was the concept of flesh introduced by Paul to make Christian living more complicated. True, he depicted the fact that the flesh complicates Christian living (Romans 7:14-25); but he never compounds the issue by horror-stories of grace-saved, born-again, Spirit-baptized Christians living for God's glory in the flesh — as if it were some sort of indefinable mystical state of being, more powerful than the Holy Spirit and the new nature.

True, the apostles warned against pride, arrogance, lust, covetousness, divisiveness, bitterness and such things; and, true, these are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). But Paul says those works are "obvious, apparent, plainly evident" (Galatians 5:19). Never would Paul have interrupted an aglow, on-fire, Christ-loving Christian from telling the Gospel, and told him to go to his closet and stop witnessing until he was sure he wasn't doing it in the flesh.

And so I decided — about Greek and a great many other things. I'd give it everything God gave me to give, out of love for Christ, and to be of use to His church. And if it made me arrogant, I'd take the arrogance to the Cross, and deal with it. And get on with keeping His commands.

Because that's what love for God is (1 John 5:3), and that's what people who love Jesus do (John 15:14)..

I wasn't going to use sarkicophobia as an excuse to avoid all-out living for God's glory, through grace, by the Spirit's power, in obedience to the commands of God.

In sum: sarkicophobia creates people locked in perpetual self-absorption in the name of Christ, ever taking their spiritual pulse, immune to direct appeals from Scripture to believing obedience. The last thing it produces is Christ-centered, God-glorifying, robust, hearty, daring, fruitful, pioneering, world-rejecting Devil-defying Christians.

And that's a bad thing.

Dan Phillips's signature

60 comments:

Everyday Mommy said...

Ack! Ack! I think I just hacked up a Richard Foster hairball.

Daniel said...

One of the most difficult struggles I had as a new convert was where do I draw the line between what is "me" and what is God.

I never stopped to think that the only reason I wanted to draw that line in the first place was because I was so against doing anything that I wanted to make sure I didn't do one bit more than was required of me. Genuine as my concern may have been, it was bolstered by unchecked laziness, and continued long in the strength of that sin, even as I dressed it up as piety.

DJP said...

There y'go.

See, I don't think Satan particularly cares why or how Christians are neutralized. He just cares that we are.

Though if we're neutralized for what sound like treacly, syrupy, glossily pious reasons — bonus! That way we feel smug, the bond is secure, and we get to disgrace Christ to more people.

Solameanie said...

Wow! Just, wow. I think this is probably one of the most powerful posts I've read in the last two years. Thanks, Dan!

Frank Turk said...

In my family's church search, we listened to a sermon on Col 3:1-17 Sunday night.

It buttoned nicely into this post. Well done, Dan.

donsands said...

Wonderful post.

Yep, when I don't feel like doing something, like apologizing for being stupid, or something like that, I just wait till the grace of God comes down. And you never, it never does. It's already there.

It may be gut-wrenching and take every bit of courage I can muster up, but I need to pray to the Lord for strength, and then do what the Bible tells me to do, and the Holy Spirit will strengthen us.

I look back and can see where the Lord helped me through hard things, and I look back and see where I simply ised the excuse you speak of here.

"I'm trying not to try, so God can move."

I feel like I'll struggle with this forever. But hopefully I'm learning. Thanks for the edifying lesson.

Andrew Faris said...

I just read my Bible this morning. I didn't want to that badly, but then other times I've read Ps. 1:1-3 and Ps. 119:9-11, so I know that I cannot be godly without doing so, and that's pretty important to me.

Great post as usual. As one who just graduated from Talbot, I've spent some time around the Institute for Spiritual Formation. One of my complaints with the whole SF movement is that it just seems too complicated. Before all of our intensive journeys inward and our lectio divina, how did anyone ever grow in Christ?

Probably from reading the Bible, praying, and being in genuine Christian community. You know, simple stuff like that.

Oh, and trying to obey of course.

Andrew

Gisela said...

Okay. That's helpful. I'm grateful.

Rachael Starke said...

Sarkicophobic - Someone who constantly thinks "I'm fallen, and I can't get up!!"

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"That is, I tried not to try."

That's because you were still engorged and pre-occupied by being in the flesh.

You have to effortlessly "try" harder not to try.

Keep going grasshopper, and one day you'll be able to snatch the coin of wisdom out of Daniel's recedeing hairline and to hear the sound of my one hand clapping for your wonderfully brilliant post.

Daniel said...

Rachael - "I'm fallen, and I can't get up!!"

Hilariously on target.

Nathan Williams said...

I'd like to agree with the previous comments: this is a great post! There is a further application of this thought that I know you don't buy in to, but I'll bring it up anyway. Too many people wait for GOD to work His salvation in them, believing He does all the work. They have been taught that they cannot make the decision to come to God or to be saved because salvation is entirely God's domain. But even those who teach salvation by grace alone aren't really consistent with it. They say such things as: "Just ask Jesus into your heart." WHAT? I thought they just said we do NOTHING to gain our salvation, and here we have to say a prayer?

The main point of contention is usually with baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). They preach we cannot DO anything to save ourselves (despite Phil. 2:12, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"). And they they teach us we must accept Christ into our hearts somehow. WHAT?

This is a good and natural application of your post, whether it is intentional or not. These teachers and preachers have simply moved the marker. They preach salvation is completely on the shoulders of God...and then they preach we must accept Christ. It's still me, me, me, isn't it?

I'd appreciate your thoughts on that.

Tim Bertolet said...

Where does this idea that we can obey in the flesh come from? (I guess some one could object that the Pharisees obeyed God according to the flesh--but I would argue Jesus shows us they actually didn't obey God).

If there is an obedience to any degree it has to be the product of the HS since the mind set on the flesh is unable to please God ('it does not subject itself to God's Law').

But then, how many times have I/we heard these sermons and devos about have the extra specially totally yielded to God sort of piety.

Gisela said...

Sarkicophobic - Someone who constantly thinks "I'm fallen, and I can't get up!!"

Awesome. Totally awesome.

jeff said...

Very well said. As a fellow brother trapped in this way of thinking for many years, I agree that the simple NT teaching that I am actually accountable for what I do is such a breath of fresh air!

Before, I couldn't get over the theoligical implication that all my sin and non-doing-good was all God's fault. If He doesn't make me do what si right I just sit and then when I die, I stand before God, or rather God would stand before me, and I'd have to say, "well Lord, you didn't do much with me now did ya?"

It puts me in the judgment seat. That thought alone made me question this teaching.

SolaMommy said...

We were afraid of going to church in the flesh, witnessing of Christ in the flesh, praying in the flesh, studying the Word in the flesh, obeying the Word in the flesh. So, for fear of doing any of those things in the flesh, we'd stop doing them altogether.

I'd also like to add (b/c this is a thought I get tempted to entertain) "taking the Lord's Supper in the flesh."

Andrew: Before all of our intensive journeys inward and our lectio divina, how did anyone ever grow in Christ?

Probably from reading the Bible, praying, and being in genuine Christian community. You know, simple stuff like that.


I think you'll enjoy this: http://crosebrough.typepad.com/files/lectiodivina.mp3

donsands said...

"Where does this idea that we can obey in the flesh come from?"

"I live indeed in the flesh, but not through the flesh, or according to the flesh, but through faith, and according to faith. ... For I cannot teach, write, pray, or give thanks, but with these instruments of the flesh, yet these works proceed not of the flesh, but are given by God from above." -Luther

JOYce ♥ said...

Where does this idea that we can obey in the flesh come from?

~ Romans 8 and those in the Spirit walking after the flesh rather than the Spirit? Flesh being equated with in human strength and for human glory rather than God's? But then that wouldn't be obedience, would it? And the Bema Seat Judgement sermons. And not doing what told, when told, with the right heart attitude.

There's thinkers for me to chew on further. Thanks for this great post and comments...sweet.

Doug Hibbard said...

Goodness, one more excuse gone. If keep reading this blog, I'll have no choice but to actually do something about my claim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. I can't believe you guys.

Oh wait, that would be a good thing, wouldn't it?

I remember struggling with this same thing. I only want to do what can be done in the right spirit, in the right mind. Then I was reminded of something in my marriage: go ahead and do helpful things for your spouse, even when you don't feel like it. Because your heart will often follow where your behavior leads it.

Kind of helps me understand James a little better: I'll show you my faith by my works. Perhaps when I go ahead and do works, that 'feeling faith' will come back.

Jane said...

Well, we can't obey "in the flesh" if by that you mean by our own efforts apart from the grace of God and the power of the Spirit.

But that's not the problem being addressed here. The problem is that some folks identify doing something "in the flesh" with actually doing it intentionally, as a product of the desire to obey God, and dare I say, with effort (shudders at the mere thought.) IOW, if I'm trying, that's "in the flesh," so I daren't try.

But obeying "in the flesh" in the negative sense doesn't mean that, at all.

UncleChicken said...

This is exactly something I have been running into with the people we 'home-church' with. They have all left 'bad' churches, and are so afraid of doing church wrong that they are more or less content to have no structure or no authority. It is frustrating.

Matt said...

TeamPyro - staying out of both ditches since 2006.

Kristine said...

I liked this alot. It reminded me of what Francis Shaeffer refers to as "active pasivity" in "True Spirituality". This was good to read :) thanks!

Bible said...

O man I fought with this for so long..."stop trying", "are you yielding?"...It made me the nut I am today!

Thanks for a great post Dan!

~Mark said...

O man I fought with this for so long..."stop trying", "are you yielding?"...It made me the nut I am today!

Thanks for a great post Dan!

(Sorry, that last one was mine)

Mark B. Hanson said...

Closely related to this problem is another one: If I obey God but don't feel like it, I'm being a hypocrite. So I'll wait until I feel like it. [Maybe they are the same thing, really.]

My take: It's never hypocrisy to obey God despite your feelings.

pilgrim mommy said...

Thanks for this post, Dan. This is so timely because I have a friend who is in the middle of tremendous spiritual and emotional depression because of this very thing. I would like to share your post with her.

I was in one of the many flavors of deeper life teaching my whole life until God in His mercy rescued me. I can atest to the pietistic paralysis it causes.

I happened to dig out Andrew Murray's Absolute Surrender which I had read in the past. It is very interesting that he freely quotes "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" but he omits "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".

DJP said...

Please do. I pray it'll be of use.

Yes, it can bring terrible bondage and depression. Packer says it would have been his undoing. It moves the focus from the Word and the Lord, to some immanent sense. Rather than exercising faith, one's trying to shift into some sort of ever-elusive gear, some level of experience... it's a killer.

James said...

Even for someone who has been highly suspicious of the whole "Let go and let God" thing, this has been a good kick in the pants to do what is necessary to DO what is needed to combat those things of the flesh which Paul DOES specify (which giving into has recently threatened to throw me into despair and incessant doubting of my salvation....).

This was a good motivator for me to seriously work on disciplined reading and meditating on the word, not just pray "Lord work out obediance in me, b/c I can't do it in my flesh" and not then work out to do just that and trust God when His Word says that all the promises of Christ are "Yea and amen" (meaning "Yes and it's done").

The deeper life folks DO have one thing right, but it gets negated by their severe over-emphasis of it and that is that it IS a pure work of God that we obey Him. He is still a God of means, and not only does He use others to santify us, but He uses US as well. That means US DOING things out of faith even though we don't feel like it sometimes.

During the last year I lived in prescott, AZ, the pastor at my church had a saying about a train that went something like this,

"Emotions make a very poor engine, but make a fine caboose. Make the Word of God the engine."

Marie said...

Dan,

You hit the nail on the head. I was exposed to this "in the flesh" and "striving is bad" line during my several years of flirting with charismania, and being a rather enthusiastic and productive person by nature, it confused me. Like, REALLY confused me.

By this logic, I am supposed to just sit on the coach "soaking" in Jesus all day and waiting for some leading? (Without eating junk food, of course; the more I fast while "soaking" and "not being in the flesh", the better). I just never understood what that was supposed to mean....because....and excuse me for stating the obvious here....then I'd NEVER do ANYTHING.

Go to work in the flesh? Take care of my children (you can bet I do that in the flesh). God gave 'em to me to mother - I don't think they care if I get them their lunch while "in the flesh" or the laundry gets folded while I'm "in the flesh". It just doesn't make sense - this whole teaching.

This was the best sentence: Somewhere around that time I began to realize how comparatively simple, straightforward, and in-broad-daylight New Testament Christianity was.

Indeed. I think there's some stuff in there we're supposed to...like, just DO and stuff.

Meds for your IMAGINATION said...

I have realized the fallacy s that I have been committing. What they are is simply this.

I have been believing a lie about my sin a lie about the "Faith" that I have been not practicing ,but waiting for God to take care of it all.

Sarkicophobia is something that has truly neutralized me to a stand still with the addictions that I have been facing . It has made me witness not for God but for my own self . The neutralizer of all neutralizers .

So now I am making a new blog that is dedicated to the things that are lies in my life , to my growth in God , to the Chronicles of the faith I should have had all along .

It's going to be hard for me to get over Sarkicophobia and actually have faith again that is in God not in my self. It's going to be hard to start practicing justification to learn further about grace and be in the word.

However, I am now not vexed by my sins any more knowing that there is hard work that must be done on my part for me to get them to a manageable level .

The hard work is reading the word daily , praying , practicing the things that God has for me.
1 John 5:3
1 John 15:14

This article put how it was hit me home , and I believe that I can practice obedience in God because he calls me to . He calls me to obey him to fallow his commands so that I can be his friend.

He does not call me to sit back and say that obeying him is being prideful in myself as I have believed .

This fires me up to read his word be in his truth and love him all the more. My faith is now not stagnant like it has been to truthfully obey God I need to give everything that I can to something so that God can be truthfully glorified in the fullest since that he can be in it!

His glory to glorify him because I love him . That is why I am going to give everything that I have to give to the things that have been given to me because I love God ! I want his glory to extend to the farthest reaches of this Earth , and preach his word until I turn blue.

When I go to what ever college I go to next fall semester I will approach it in this sense and approach everything else in this sense.

Things make so much more sense now this is a monumental moment in my life , and I hope that you can realize why it has helped me so much.

And that is what I think...


The blog I created.

http://truthrevealeduntomebygod.blogspot.com/

DJP said...

James, absolutely right. Obviously this post isn't meant to say everything about everything. I not only believe, but know for a personal fact, that no Christian produces anything pleasing to God but by the grace of God, with all glory to God.

But we simply must make sense of the fact that no apostle ever speaks thus: "Wait until you feel God move you to love your wife... then do it"; or "If you feel God leading you to church, go"; or "If the Lord leads you to obey your pastor, do that." No, they just say "Love," and "Do not forsake," and "Submit."

As I argued previously, if we can't simply "Amen" them, then our doctrine is off-kilter.

Daryl said...

Dan,

Growing up Charismatic...you can imagine how this teaching fed my natural laziness well.

I still struggle with laziness, especially with regards to prayer and reading the Bible, but at least now the pretense has been mostly stripped away and I plainly see that my sin is...my sin.

Thanks for hitting my nail again...and again. It's sinking in.

So spricht der HERR said...

Consistently this blog helps me to live the Christian life better to the glory of God.
Thank you
- Greg

Ian Hall said...

Despite the risk of being accused of commenting in the flesh - thanks for that post.

Susan said...

You know, this reminds me of a story that a friend told me a long time ago (supposedly it's true). There was a brother who was so constantly afraid of not being in God's will, he had to ask God everything to the point of being ridiculous. Here's where my memory gets a bit fuzzy. I think my friend said that one day he saw a fly (or a mosquito or the like), and it really annoyed him, so he kept asking the Lord whether he should kill the critter. It was then that he heard a voice saying, "Don't you have any hands!?"

Russ said...

Dan: I envy you having had a friend like Greg; I was too hard for my "Greg" to handle and was abandoned. Have you kept in touch?

Dorian said...

I found Jerry Bridges (especially The Discipline of Grace) to be a great antidote, as far as books go.

templeH said...

"They have been taught that they cannot make the decision to come to God or to be saved because salvation is entirely God's domain. But even those who teach salvation by grace alone aren't really consistent with it. They say such things as: "Just ask Jesus into your heart." WHAT? I thought they just said we do NOTHING to gain our salvation, and here we have to say a prayer?"

I wanted to respond to Nathan Williams' comments, because I'm working on a series on sovereignty, and my last post dealt with predestination.

How to reconcile the differences between Ephesians 1 and the widespread belief that you invite Jesus into your heart?

I believe, from scripture and personal experience, that salvation is God's doing, and I can understand the 'fleshly' desire to lay claim to one's own salvation. we desire to be in control of our lives, and to think that we don't have a say when it comes to salvation, naturally there is some resistance.

i was listening to Chris Tomlin's 'Made to Worship' in which he sings, "you and I choose to believe." I would agree with that line if and only if our choice is to say 'Yes, i agree that God has saved me and caused repentance in my life, and I will actively respond to His grace (proof of my belief) by modification of my behavior through the work of the Holy Spirit.'

Marie said...

I found Jerry Bridges (especially The Discipline of Grace) to be a great antidote, as far as books go.

Dorian, our small group is about to start his "Respectable Sins" next week. Read it? Any thoughts? (derail over)

diaryofabrokenvessel.com said...

Dan Phillips,

Thank you. This is something similar to what I have been wrestling with for...well a long number of years. Everything you discussed I have seen and have dealt with growing up (right down to the same blessed sayings), and I -in part- subscribed to some of this line of thought; always fearing that I was working too hard at times to a point that I was impairing Jesus.

The Lord just lifted some heavy chains and fears from me tonight through you.

Thank you.

Blessings,

Michael

DJP said...

Praise God, and thanks for the encouragement.

In that way of thinking, it's as if "Jesus" is a very, very faint and weak FM signal, that you have to sit very still, and just right, holding your arms just so, to receive.

As opposed to those black words on those white pages, with the flood of grace and the abiding gift of His Spirit.

Darby Livingston said...

"New year — new word! Sarkicophobia."

Dan,

Could you maybe re-do your entire post in more spirit-filled language? I only got that far before I started feeling carnal.

DJP said...

Sorry, my ba-- I mean, my carnal.

Phil said...

Dan, I think I agree with a lot of what you say here. But I think the wider issue is this-Christians can 'walk in the flesh',the root of which is seeking God's love,favour or blessing by their performance(whether that is effort to 'do',or effort 'not to do'. It's self-righteousness - going about to establish one's own righteousness and not (as a rule of life) submitting to the righteousness of God...We died to the law that we might live to God with a spiritual obedience,under an easy and light yoke,and not a heavy one. We quench the Spirit when we live under law as a rule of life. So,here's the thing-both the person you describe and the one I've described are attempting to do the same thing from different angles- to 'kill the old man', or else put off the misdeeds of the flesh, by the flesh. The one you described is making faith into a new law. The one I described is mixing the contra-distinguished principles of faith and law-works...but rather,we are to live beholding ourselves as God does-the righteousness of God in Christ apart from any works, as new creations where the old man is gone and 'all things are new'. And as we grow in this qualitative faith, we are progressively transformed into the same image, by the Spirit of God who brings freedom (2Cor3). And we thus obey the commands readily...I'm a bit surprised that one or two Protestants have made comments implying Paul means our physicality by 'the flesh' in Rom7. He means the patterns of ungodly thinking etc that developed in our humanity when we were controlled by them, dead in sin as old creations. But that is no more,even though those patterns yet remain some. And they are being removed- not by 'dying to self'as an old man, but living to God as a new,by faith.

DJP said...

Gosh, Phil, what a muddled mess.

I'm making a new rule, just for you, and I'm serious about it: do not post without access to a real keyboard with spaces and Enter key. I don't wish on anyone the chore of making it through your comments.

So, bottom-line: God gives commands to blood-bought, born-again Christians. By grace, they need to obey them. Mystical trances and gobbledegook = completely unnecessary, un-Biblical, and unhelpful.

Phil said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darby Livingston said...

"So, bottom-line: God gives commands to blood-bought, born-again Christians. By grace, they need to obey them. Mystical trances and gobbledegook = completely unnecessary, un-Biblical, and unhelpful."

Well said. We're spiritual because of Christ's work for us, not just because of our knowledge of it in us. I fear much of our "spirituality" is really psychology.

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

1. I delayed commenting because I didn't want to do so in the flesh :)

2. Much of what you say regarding general living and acting is akin to what I've learned regarding seeking "the will" of God.

The most important parts of "the will" of God are quite clearly put forth in His Word.

To seek "the will" of God for one's life, when they're not essentially walking in "the will" that He has already expressed, would be humorous if it wasn't so pathetic.

For example, someone who is unloving, unjoyful, and totally lacking in self-control (three simple fruits of the Spirit) seeking "the Lord's will" for a career or a mate or today's agenda, is being silly at best.

3. There is a place for acting slowly, not so much for avoiding acting "in the flesh", as for simple wisdom (an application of being "quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger").

4. It's best to conform inwardly to God's ways "in the Spirit", "in the heart", motivated by a love for Christ and His life expressing itself through oneself.

But it's better for someone to conform outwardly to God's ways than to not conform at all.

For example, it's better for couples to remain married than divorced, all things being equal. Even if they remain married "in the flesh". Or it's better to refrain from murdering someone, even if the motive is the fleshly thought that one might get arrested and imprisoned.

In other words, there is always a "better" (including the "best" of walking by the Spirit). And by definition, the "better" is better than the "non-better".

Let us not choose the non-better, just because we aren't sure if the "best" is not in full operation.

To paraphrase Augustine, "Love God and his Word as best you can, and do what you think is right".

5. As we act, understand that any good that we do is of God, through our new spirit indwelled by His Spirit ("what have you received, O man, that you did not receive?"). Not to be proud of.

And any bad that we do is indeed from "the flesh", from the very sin that indwells our members.

"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh;

"....But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

...."For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,"

(Rom. 7:18a, 20, 22).

Dorian said...

Marie, Haven't got to that one yet, but I've heard good things.

DJP said...

Terry, good thoughts, well-said (and good chuckle, too).

Is it possible that "in the flesh" is usually just plain not a useful phrase? I think it does more harm than good, and we often aren't using it Biblically.

For one thing, hear how Paul uses it in Romans 8 — "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" (vv. 8-9). See, Paul uses it — not to describe some low-octane Christian, but — to describe the unsaved.

Wouldn't it be better just to be specific and Biblical? For instance, you say very rightly, that we should "understand that any good that we do is of God," and it is "Not to be proud of." Amen!

So if someone is acting with pride, nail that, address the pride, take it to the Cross.

Here's the point: sarkicophobic thinking in Christians creates damning polarities. You're either A or B. But the truth is, everywhere I go, there I am - and my flesh with me. You've read the same wonderful Puritanic statements that I've read, and they're true: that our repentances need to be repented of, that our weeping should be wept over. I get some muddy fingerprints on anything I do. Salvation didn't change my performance to lily-white perfection. I'm convinced that I'll be stunned at anything I'm rewarded for. "I did that? When?" Like Matthew 25. Because if I'm conscious of it, pride ripples, vainglory twitches... muddy fingerprints.

Wondering whether I'm about to act "in the flesh" or "in the Spirit" has the necessary effect of focusing my attention on me. Which is pretty much my whole problem.

What say you?

Phil said...

Hoping that this comment is short enough not to be removed, I'd say that to be 'in the flesh' is to controlled by it - unsaved; to act as if we are 'in the flesh' is to seek God's love, favour or blessing by what we do,and to suffer an experience/result that approximates that described in Rom7 on account of it.

James said...

Dan,

You're absolutely right, and I agree along the same lines as the other commentator who said, "Staying out of both ditches since 2006." heh heh heh

We need both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and not jump off the deep end for one while excluding the other. Doing one leads to lots of doing things with true motive (and one could even beg the question whether that person was attempting a works righteousness or not too), and the other leads to lots of not doing things while thinking one is being holy by doing nothing.

Joshua Cookingham said...

I have been wrestling with something very similar. Especially the paralysis part. Basically getting so afraid of messing up that I might as well alienate myself from everyone and everything, hard to witness or do anything for God's glory that way....

Thanks for the post Dan, God bless!

mikehoskins said...

I use to have a touch of sarkicophobia, in the past. Mostly, it was in the form of doubt, resulting in a lack of faith.

I've met people who don't do anything in their ministry, because they're always "praying about it," not feeling "led" at this time. I've literally met people who prayed first, before putting on a pair of pants, to know from God which leg should go in first!

To sarkicophobics of this level, I have to ask whether breathing in and out is a fleshly act.... Hmmmm.

More often, though, I've struggled with doing things myself, without truly consulting God in prayer. When I prayed, it was that God would bless the endeavors I already was doing, rather than praying first.

As one who is a recovering "act first, pray later" [controlimaniac] type, I really need a daily dose of Phillipians 4:6 and Proverbs 3:5.

Pray for me to be balanced, not tending to fall off on either side.

Now, I know this is a bit off-topic, but just yesterday, I had a discussion with someone who had a "third issue". It's about totally putting off the flesh....

He's from the Nazarene church and believes in a second work of grace that eventually leads to total sanctification, as one matures in Christ.

The belief is that the fleshly nature can be completely subjected in this life. Ergo, an total end to sin, this side of Heaven...

Naturally, I pointed to 1 John 1:8-10, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 7:14-25, and 1 Timothy 1:15-16.

I also noted that the sin mentioned was in the present tense, and that the context indicated that even godly people still sin.

Of course, I did stress godly/biblical sanctification - as we mature in Christ, we reflect His holiness more and more. At the same time, however, we see our own imperfections more and more. There is no excuse for sin, but we unfortunately still have a sin nature, until we go to Heaven.

So, now we have sarkicophobics, controlimaniacs, and sanctimaniacs. Oh my. :-)

John D. Chitty said...

Isn't this the malady Melancthon suffered in the oft-repeated story where he so feared sinning, he dared not do even good works? To this fear, Luther reportedly replied in a letter, "Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still," (one version I've heard) or "Sin boldly, then run to the cross and confess boldly" (paraphrase of another version). Luther's point was to not let what you're calling sarkicophobia keep you from loving your neighbor; his point was not to be an antinomian, which criticism Luther's colorful words easily invite.

Ian Hall said...

I'm looking forward to meeting Luther in heaven - an amazing man of God.

David said...

Great post!!!!!!

Jennifer W said...

I'm starting to become addicted to this blog...not really, but it's just so much fun reading these posts and comments from other brothers and sisters and knowing that the temptations that have seized me are common to all of you, too. God bless!

Jeri Tanner said...

"Nor did we ever read of an apostle issuing a series of commands in Christ's name, then immediately cautioning his readers against obeying them in the flesh." Woo hoo! I could have picked any number of such great sentences to woo hoo about. Now I see where your determination to expose all this sort of foolishness comes from. This was my history, too. Great post.