Growing into Mature Christians
All Christians start off as newborn babes on the pure milk of the word (1Peter 2:2). However there comes a time when babies are weaned off the mother’s milk and start to eat solid food.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians he was concerned for them and found that he couldn’t speak to them as spiritual because they were acting carnal. There was envy, strife, and divisions amongst them; they were acting like men who know not the Lord. Paul could only feed them milk and not solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
The writer to the Hebrews said, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern between both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14).
The Galatian Christians also had their problems, they had started off well, they had begun their Christian life in the Spirit but then they had fallen to a place where they were now trying to be made perfect in the flesh by keeping the law.
The Corinthian Christians are seen to be acting carnal by indulging the flesh, while the Galatian Christians were trying to become perfect by keeping the law and improving the flesh.
Many Christians suffer this yoyo experience of giving in to the desires of the flesh then feeling guilt and shame and then trying to improve the flesh by self-effort only to find once again that they fail. It is what Paul found in Romans chapter seven. What is the answer to this dilemma?
First we need to understand what the Bible means when it talks about the “flesh”. The flesh can mean humankind in general, the physical body or the sinful nature. Why the flesh is seen as opposed to God is because mankind puts his trust in the strength of the flesh rather than in God (2 Chronicles 32:8, Jerimiah 17:5). God wants us to be dependent on Him but we would rather trust our own ability due to the strength of the flesh. Also because Adam obeyed Satan we have all become the slave to sin, man’s whole being is the slave to sin, however in the Christian it is in the flesh that we have problems with sin (Romans 7:25). Our ego is very much linked to the flesh; if our flesh is subdued by illness or pain then the ego is also subdued. When Paul had received such an abundance of revelations from God, to stop him from becoming exalted above measure a thorn in the flesh was given him, a messenger of Satan to buffet him (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Now we must go back to Romans 6:6 which says, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” A better translation would be, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be rendered inoperative, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” The “body of sin” could be termed the “flesh”, which has been rendered inoperative because the old man is dead. However in chapter seven Paul tells us that sin dwells in him, that is in his flesh, and found its expression through the members of his body, until he got the victory, we get the victory when we know the truth.
Now Romans 6 is dealing with our having been crucified with Christ and reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, while Romans 7 is dealing with our relationship to the law, once that is settled we will have the victory. The problem with sin in the flesh is that it gets its strength from the law, so where knowing the truth of Romans 6 renders sin in the flesh inoperative, to bring ourselves back under the law gives power back to sin in the flesh. We might not deliberately bring ourselves back under the law but to try to improve the flesh by works has the same result.
Paul illustrates our relationship with the law as a marriage relationship. We are married to the law and must obey it. It is a permanent relationship until death us do part. The only thing that can separate us is if one of the parties dies, the law is not going to die, so we are tied to the law until we finally die. The good news is that we have died with Christ on the cross so our relationship with the law is legally ended in our death but it doesn’t stop there, when Christ was raised from the dead we were raised from the dead with Him, a new creation, free from the law and now married to another, that is to Him that was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit to God (Romans 7:1-4).
Now the problem with the Galatians is that they were married to Christ but had turned back to the law. They had fallen from grace, no longer was Christ being formed in them, they brought themselves under bondage, observing days and months and times and years and seeking to be circumcised. They were committing spiritual adultery according to Romans 7.
Paul deals with this in his letter to the Galatians where he gives an illustration of the bondwoman and the freewoman. The son of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh while the son of the freewoman according to promise. Paul quotes scripture saying, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” This is referring to when Isaac was weaned. He was now eating solid food, Abraham made a great feast for him but Ishmael mocked Isaac and Sarah saw it and told Abraham to cast out the bondwoman and her son for she said, the bondwoman’s son would not be heir with her son.
There comes a time in our lives when we acknowledge Christ as heir of all. The flesh will not acknowledge this. The law was given because of the transgressions of the flesh but we are no longer of the flesh but of the Spirit if the Spirit of God dwells in us.
While ever we are in bondage to the law our eyes will be focused on our performance and the efforts of the flesh, when we cast out the bondwoman and her son our eyes become fixed on the glory of the Son of God on the throne in heaven, and then we are changed from glory to glory.
Finally, it isn’t the law that is at fault, the law is spiritual, the law is good, it is our flesh that is at fault, it is not spiritual, it is not good, and it cannot keep the law. What the law does is to expose how sinful we really are and how weak we are when trying to keep the law. We may give a show of righteousness on the outside but God looks on the heart and sees our true intentions. It is not more holiness or love that we need; neither is it the need for more power to live a better life, but rather we need to see it is not things we need that will improve our life but it is a person, a person living in us. The law points us to Christ as the answer; it is Christ Jesus, living in us and through us by faith. “I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live, I, but Christ lives in me; but [in] that I now live in flesh, I live by faith, the [faith] of the Son of God, who has loved me and given Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 JND).
Mark Greenwood March 2019