OceanSide church of Christ
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THE BATTLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN
Victor M. Eskew
Youth often obey the gospel around the age of twelve or thirteen. At first, they are excited. As they age, they join a youth group. They seem real, genuine, and on fire for the Lord. Then, something changes. They lose interest in spiritual things. They no longer desire to be participants in worship or in various works of the church. Many of these young people will leave the church and search for God in man-made religions. Many times they just give up their search. They still believe in God and Jesus Christ. They still pray. They, however, are far from God. These young people have fought what I call, “the battle of the individual Christian, and have lost.
There are some Christians who fight “the battle of the individual Christian” later in life. These Christians have been faithful in their service for years. They have gone through the motions and have supported the local church well in the past. One day, however, they admit that their Christian walk lacks both joy and enthusiasm. In their hearts they know their religion is the right one, but they do not experience any fulfillment in their service. These individuals have also lost “the battle of the individual Christian.”
Some might think that we are talking about our battle with Satan (I Pet. 5:8-9). This idea seems too general, too distant. “The battle of the individual” that we are discussing is really closer home. It is fueled by Satan, but it is a battle within the heart of the believer. It is the conflict between flesh and spirit. It is the fight between self and the spiritual. It is the war between the old man who desires to sin and the new man who longs to submit to the will of God.
This war is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. One of the clearest texts is Galatians 5:16-17. The apostle Paul writes: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The battle is simple. My will, the flesh, battles, against God’s will, the Spirit.
We see a simple illustration of this in an incident in the Garden of Gethsemane. The entire text is found in Matthew 26:36-45. When Jesus and His disciples entered the garden, Jesus said to them: “Watch with me” (v. 38). The disciples, however, were tired and weary. Their eyes just could not stay awake. Jesus departed from them three times to pray. Each time He returned, He found them asleep. The first time He came to them, He rebuked them mildly, and described the battle they were fighting. “And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (vs. 40-41). The disciples needed to be engaged in the spiritual discipline of prayer. They, however, yielded to the needs of the flesh and slept.
Isn’t this the battle that every Christian faces? Prayer is not exciting. Prayer is not easy. Thus, we close our eyes in sleep and give rest to the body. Bible study is what the Spirit requires. The inner man is in need of being fed. The flesh, however, desires a good book or an entertaining television show. The Spirit exhorts us to worship the Father in spirit and in truth, but the flesh needs to rest, or have a day of recreation, or to have a little time with family. The Spirit commands us to serve oth3ers, but that service requires time, effort, and money that could be “better” spent on self. If we really consider all of the choices we have to make each day, they often fall into the category of either flesh or Spirit. Yes, our will and wants stand in constant opposition to the will and desires of God.
There is only one way for us to win this battle. Every one of us will have to put the flesh to death. This death was supposed to have occurred at our conversion. The old man of sin was crucified and buried in the waters of baptism (Rom. 6-4a). We arose from those waters to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4b). In Romans 6:6, Paul says: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” He picks up this thought again in Romans 6:11-12. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”
Romans 7:12-14 also reveals that if Christ is in us, then we are not in the flesh. The reason is because we have mortified, that is, put to death the deeds of the body. “”Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” In Galatians 5:24, Paul again writes about the crucifixion of the flesh. “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”
In parallel passages in Ephesians and Colossians, the inspired apostle mentions this subject again. To the Ephesians, he addressed these words: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). The parallel passage in Colossians says: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth…and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col. 3:5, 10).
Why are so many Christians unfulfilled? They are still trying to please the old man. Why are so many Christians unhappy? They have not crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Why are so many leaving the faith and seeking entertainment and pleasure? They are still carnally minded instead of being spiritually minded. Dear reader, it is simple. To truly serve God, to truly enjoy the blessings that are in Christ, to feel fulfilled in Christ, WE MUST SLAY SELF!
When Jesus was on the earth, He taught this lesson to His followers. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Until we completely defeat self, we will fight a horrible battle in our spiritual lives. Sadly, it is a battle that we will lose. Until the flesh is put to death, the flesh will be a powerful force that operates against successful, fulfilling Christian living.