I have been wondering what drives me. In other words, what are my desires? And, is there anything I can do about them?
Paul talked an awful lot about subduing the flesh, of making the flesh his slave, and I wonder, how did he do that, without becoming legalistic? Was it all in his head? Was he a strict ascetic? Was he balanced? Did he sway to one end more than the other?
One thing I do know is that my flesh sometimes desires things that are evil. Other times, it desires things that while not necessarily evil, are certainly not good for me. How does one deal with this? And by the way we deal with this, is our walk with Christ defined? Am I “weak” if I do not subdue my flesh? Am I “strong” if I do?
I am learning lately that maybe it isn’t about me. Not that I didn’t already know that grace isn’t about me, and that this world isn’t about me, but that what I do in this world isn’t about me either. I am learning that I live at the mercy, at the good pleasure, of God. How then could anything I do be possible except by His allowance of me at all?
Try coming to that understanding. It takes time, believe me, and it takes a good sound beating, too. No, I have not beaten my flesh; rather, it is my ego which has been beaten, repeatedly. But then I see Paul say, “abstain from every form of evil”, and I wonder, how is that even possible without “trying”?
I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t possible without trying.
I have come to the conclusion that even though Christ’s work on the cross is complete in its spiritual fullness, that fullness pertaining to our flesh, especially with regards to our place in time, is not complete. In other words, we live in vessels that remain unredeemed. It is only by knowing this that I can read Paul saying, “Abstain from every form of evil”, and know that Paul is not a legalist. And yet I can also read it, and know it is possible for us to do.
Does effort then make us legalists? No more than not making an effort doesn't make us legalists. What make us legalists aren’t our actions, rather, it is our attitude toward our actions that has the capacity to make us a legalist.
I admit, there are times I have thoughts the likes of which I believed were gone a long time ago. Thoughts only a hot blooded man can have. When they appear, I am shocked, dismayed, and left wondering sometimes, “where the hell did that come from?” Of this I can assure you, if I do not make the effort to place that thought in the trash where it belongs, that thought will soon drag me with it, not necessarily kicking or screaming. So how can I abstain from doing what the desire is telling me, if not by effort?
I can pray, I can believe, I can hope, I can think other thoughts, I can do all manner of things. But which one of these things isn’t an active thing? If I believe, isn’t it actually me reminding myself of faith which occurs? Because merely believing didn’t stop that thought, did it? So merely believing isn’t going to destroy that thought either. That thought doesn’t belong to faith, to the Spirit, it belongs to my flesh. If I do not take this thought away from my flesh, and claim it as Christ’s, what will happen?
I will tell you what my experience is, and maybe yours is similar, and maybe not. My experience is that if I do not take this thought and subdue it, this thought will in turn take me, and subdue me. Either way, SOMETHING has to happen.
So if I make an effort to abstain from lusts and desires and from evil, what does that make me? Am I a follower of Christ? Or am I under Law? How can I be under law just because I react to something which isn’t good? Is a reaction a law? After all, SOME reaction WILL occur. I will either follow the lust or desire, or I will not. How can not following the desire make someone a legalist?
In fact, isn’t this the very premise under which Paul can say “Abstain from every form of evil” and still not be legalistic? I know this, abstaining is a verb, an action formed from a reaction to a desire.
I think it’s best then for me not even to worry about whether doing something is legalism, or placing myself under the law again, because the fact is, I HAVE to react in some way. Even “ignoring” the desire is a reaction. There is never a time when we are just “being”. We are always reacting to something. So then, it isn’t our reactions that make us under law or not. Rather, it is our attitude towards our reaction that places us in life.
I think this is true. If it is, then “trying” to abstain from evil could never be legalism, for if it could, every one of us would be a legalist, and we wouldn’t even know it, nor have a choice in the matter. Maybe that’s why grace is so important, because it helps us also to see that the efforts we make to “be good” aren’t necessarily bad. I think, possibly, maybe, grace has the power to ordain our efforts as something good, if we just stop trying to judge everything ourselves.