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April 30, 2007 / beidson

War in the Graveyard (Part 2)

Our battle against sin is not merely a battle against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places, or against demonic strongholds in our culture, or even against rapists and murderers. Our war with sin finds its greatest climax in our battle against our own flesh. The very hands we use to help our neighbors are the same hands we use to throw things in anger. The very tongues we use to encourage our grandparents are the same tongues we use to curse our enemies. We may conquer every external enemy that ever confronts us, but in the end, we will be left to ourselves, alone, fighting the battle in which our flesh has engaged us.

The war against ourselves is not some mystical, abstract battle that we fight in the corner of our bedroom. It is a very real and very serious battle that engages us wherever we go. We are flesh and blood creatures; we cannot escape our bodies. It is who we are. We are made of bone and muscle and tissue. We need air and food and water to sustain our bodies. We even eat the flesh of other animals for sustenance. Flesh is very much a part of who we are; it is not neutral. It is part of our identity. As fleshly creatures, we are image-bearers of God. But it is precisely for this reason that our flesh has become our greatest enemy. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and sin dwells in our bodies, and therefore, so does death. In our flesh, we bear the image of death.

This is what Paul meant when, struggling with sin, he said, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14). He goes on to say, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (v. 18). And then he says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24). Our bodies are like graves, full of death and disease. Though we may have experienced the resurrection power of Christ in our lives already as believers, somehow it seems that death seems to plague us still.

Why else would a believing woman bid her husband farewell with a kiss at the door, and then turn around and welcome her secret lover with a kiss at the very same door? Why else would a believing man lift his arms in praise to God by his bedside, and then keep his hands in his pockets while he passes by a person in need? Why else would a believing teenager share his faith with a friend at school, only to go home and drink his parent’s alcohol when no one else is around?

The reason these things happen is because we have not yet finished the fight with sin. The battle against sin and the powers of darkness did not end at the cross, or even at the opening of an empty grave. The truth is, we are still headed to our graves (unless the Lord returns). Our bodies are getting older. The effects of sin are taking their toll, even if only in a passive sense. Actively speaking, our flesh is the source of temptation and sin, as James tell us: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). Even in his description of temptation, James uses “fleshy” terms, such as “conceived,” “birth,” and “fully grown.”

Now, “we know that our old self was crucified with him (Christ) in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). But have our bodies yet been brought to nothing? It doesn’t seem to be the case when we are frustrated on the freeway, or struggling with addictions of various kinds.

But be encouraged. If we are trusting in Christ, he has and will save us from sin and the wrath of God. He is Lord over all flesh, being both the Creator and a man himself. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is very familiar with our humanity. He knows the war we fight with the flesh.

Scripture tells us to “put to death what is earthly (“fleshy”) in you . . . for on account of these the wrath of Go is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6). Our fight against sin means that we must learn to put ourselves to death, to murder what is “fleshy” in us. Our physical bodies must be brought under the Lordship of Christ. He made all things good, and he will again restore us to that goodness, into the image of Christ, the perfect man of flesh. Paul said that he had to “disciplin (beat) his body and keep it under control” lest he be disqualified from entering into the presence of Christ on the Last Day (1 Corinthians 9:27).

There will come a day when our bodies will be redeemed from their corruption. “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). Until that time, we continue to go to God in prayer when our thoughts turn to wickedness and violence, when we are tempted to betray our spouses, when we are tempted to steal what does not belong to us, when we are tempted to use our knowledge to our own advantage, when we are tempted to misuse the truth to spread gossip. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). By the Spirit of Christ within us, we murder what is earthly and rebellious and sinful, so that on the Last Day, we may rejoice in the presence of Christ, rather than tremble in utter terror.

And remember, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).

On that day, we will look at the plot of ground on earth to which our bodies had been committed, and with eager voices, agree with Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25-26). And we will see his face, and his name will be on our foreheads (Revelation 22:4). This is why we fight to get out of our graves; this is why we fight against the natural desires of our flesh: to stand, in the flesh, with the Lord of all flesh, and with our flesh, rejoice in his physical presence, forever.

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