By the Spirit or the Flesh: A Matter of Life & Death
At the age of 5, my first daughter, Adelyn, is already a master negotiator. Knowing she doesn't like to do certain things (like eating her veggies), we offer her a reward like a yummy treat in exchange ... but often to no avail. Usually, our conversation will go something like this:
John: Addy, you have to eat your broccoli. If you eat all of your broccoli, I'll give you ice cream.
Addy: I don't like broccoli.
John: But broccoli is good for you - you have to eat it.
Addy: *Whining* I don't like broccoli. I don't want it.
John: But if you eat it, you get ice cream!
Addy: No. I want just ice cream. No broccoli.
John: You can't have ice cream if you don't eat the broccoli.
Addy: No broccoli. I want only ice cream.
John: You can't have both things your way. You have to choose one or the other: Eat your broccoli & then have ice cream or don't eat broccoli & don't have ice cream.
As cute & entertaining as this scene may be, I think it's a fairly accurate description of what our attitude in approaching God [& life] so often looks like.
We want benefits without sacrifice, transformation without the process, new life without death.
Simply put, we want the benefits of making the "right" choice without the sacrifice that the right choice sometimes [often] requires. We want to have the freedom to travel, to live adventurously ... all while somehow increasing our financial stability. We want to be physically fit without the proper diet & exercise required. We want to save more money without having to cut on spending. We want to lead without first learning to follow. We want to be the best at something without having to put the required time, energy, & effort into it. We want to become more holy without prioritizing the disciplines of being in the word, fasting, & prayer. We want to reap the benefits of living by the Spirit without relinquishing the desires of the flesh.We want ice cream but no broccoli.
"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." [Romans 8:5-8, ESV]
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." [Galatians 5:16-17, ESV]
The bible makes it very clear that there are only two choices - we can either choose to live by the Spirit or we can choose to live by the flesh - and the results of the two are vastly different.
God's Word says to set the mind on the flesh (to live by the flesh) is death but to set the mind of the things of the Spirit (to live by the Spirit) is life & peace. These two ways of living cannot co-exist. We cannot live by the Spirit without fully surrendering the flesh. In order to live by the Spirit, we must first crucify the flesh - which is hostile to God & does not ... cannot submit to His law. It is for this reason that Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" [Luke 9:23, ESV]. This choice to deny the flesh & walk by the Spirit is a daily choice.
One option is clearly better than the other.
If someone had the choice between death & life, suffering & peace, I don't think he or she would have a difficult time coming up with a decision. Yet, sometimes, it's difficult to choose that which is clearly better simply because the cost, which is actually not much of a sacrifice at all in light of the promised result, seems too great to pay. Addy would not consciously choose to be unhealthy. Yet the [small] price of having to eat broccoli seems to hinder her decision [and I can't blame her ... I'm the same way with vegetables]. To choose between life & death is simple. Yet to choose to fast, to surrender our future, to forgive our brother/sister, to stand up for the sake of the gospel, sometimes seems like too great a cost.
During this past whirlwind of a summer, Lydia and I experienced first-hand how much better it is to live by the Spirit. We had the joy of witnessing the Spirit work in incredible ways in, through, & around us as we laid down our agendas, thoughts, worries, & fears.
Our lives were meant to be so much more exciting than a weekly rhythm of a 9-5 job & weekend church services. If we would simply allow God to interrupt our routines & lead us in our daily lives [taking up our crosses daily], the dynamics of our lives would change drastically.
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, ad may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." [Philippians 3:8-10, ESV]