Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Spirit Vs. The Flesh

Barry and Hannah, an old married couple, are sitting on the couch watching TV. Hannah had wanted to go out with friends, but Barry like always wanted to sit at home, watch tv and drink his beer. “You know hun,” Barry told her, “I’d love to go out with your friends, really. But I am tired and the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Frustrated, Hannah called her friends and told them that Barry was being an old stick in the mud again. So that night they were watching an old movie from the 70s, called “Love Story” Do you remember that one? About a man loving a dying woman. So eventually they were speaking about what they wanted in case one of them died and how to prepare in case of death. “Honey,” says Barry, turning to his wife with a serious expression, “I want you to promise me, that if there ever comes a time that I am dependent on just machines and bottled fluid, that you will make sure to  put an end to it.” “No problem hun,” said Hannah, and she promptly got up, turned off the TV, and poured his beer down the drain.

How many times have you had the same feeling as Barry, that the Spirit was willing but the flesh was weak? That saying comes from Scripture, Matthew 26:41 “"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." It was one of the scriptures that we have looked at in our Friday night Bible studies recently. The Disciples were to watch and pray with Jesus right after the Last Supper, but they all had fallen asleep while Jesus prayed. Really, who could blame them, it was right after a big meal! But you would think that at such an important time the disciples would have some well…discipline and pray with the Lord. But the flesh is weak.

How many of us have succumbed to the weakness of the flesh? Easter is coming and of course it is a time where candy is everywhere. Have you ever had a time where you pass a candy bowl and gave into temptation vowing to have just one piece and suddenly you find that one was not enough? It is human nature, we like things that make us feel good and with comfort foods it is hard to have discipline. That is why Lays used to have the ad phrase “You can’t eat just one” in their commercials.

Our New Testament reading for today talks about this very issue, the battle for our will that goes on in our mind. The battle between the mind and our emotions. Lets read it in the New International Version,
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

As Christians we have God’s Holy Spirit residing in us. It is a companion to our conscience, gently nudging us to do what is right. But as humans we all have our human nature. That part of us passed on biologically, our animal nature. That self-centered part of us that wants more. More money, more power, more fame, more possessions. And sometimes it is a battle.
A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn't find a space with a meter. So he put a note under the windshield wiper that read: "I have circled the block 100 times. If I don't park here, I'll miss my appointment. FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS."

When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note. "I've circled this block for 10 years. If I don't give you a ticket, I'll lose my job. LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION." 
Most of the time, the easy way out is to give into our temptations. But the problem is that when we give into our temptations we often find that our decisions have consequences. The person who cheats on their diet gains weight. The alcoholic who gives into temptation finds themselves off the wagon and back in the hole they just dug themselves out of. The married man who gives into temptation and commits adultery risks the destruction of their marriage and lives a life of guilt. When we give into temptation we find out that the easy road, isn’t all that easy.
But God has given us His Holy Spirit to give us strength, His Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts and warns us. And when we do not give in, we win, we gain something. We become closer to God. God gives us peace and the confidence to be stronger next time. It is simple psychological principles, the principles of behavior modification and positive reinforcement. Our behavior often depends upon rewards and punishments. When our behavior gives us positive results, we tend to do that behavior more, hoping for the same positive result. If a behavior gives us negative results, we tend to shy away from that  behavior.
Often times when we give into temptation and sin, we get a positive result in that it feels good. It is only when the impact of our decisions come to fruit and we face the consequences do we feel the negative result of giving into the flesh. That is why its so easy to sin, the positive feelings are immediate and the negative consequences often take time to affect us. So its easy to give in for instant gratification, but we are only fooling ourselves because sooner or later the negative impact of our decisions will come back to haunt us.
But if we live in the Spirit, obeying God, when we resist temptation God reinforces our behavior by strengthening us. Our instant gratification is deeper and broader. God’s Spirit touches our own and lets us know that we did the right thing, we do not  face the negative repercussions that we would have by giving in and in the end we are stronger, we are at peace and we have control of our lives. While giving into temptation might give us an initial rush of emotions in the end it leaves us empty and wanting for more and stronger stimulation. And in the end we will never be satisfied. But exercising discipline strengthens us and in the long run gives us peace and true satisfaction. It strengthens our will and develops character. We will  still have the flesh nagging us to give into temptation, but we have a reserve of strength upon which to draw on for this fight against Spirit and flesh.

So how about you today? Is there something that tempts you strongly, that you keep giving into? No matter what it is, if you constantly give in, soon it will become your master. But God has given us a way out. A way to build up our inner person with character and strength. By bucking up and giving into God instead of giving into our baser animal nature we find that true peace and wholeness that we really desire. So today as we come to the Lord’s table, lets lay these temptations at His feet and ask for the strength to have victory in Christ over the things that would weigh us down and add strife to our lives.

1 comment:

  1. This sermon really speaks to me. Thank you for posting it!