30: I Know that “In Me, Nothing Good Dwells”
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What We Cannot Do, No Matter How Hard We Try
Today we will begin to look at the first of three key truths that will help you overcome the disappointment of trying to live the Higher Christian Life in your own strength and failing— which is a certainty. You cannot, under any circumstances, live in the flesh that which can only be lived through His Spirit. It cannot be done, no matter how hard you try. And the more you try, the more your spiritual life resembles a mouse on an exercise wheel, constantly straining to the point of exhaustion, but going nowhere, still trapped in his cage.
Ever been there? So have many believers before you.
And the reason we continue to go back to something that has never worked in the past with the insane hope it will work today is that we have not taken the time to truly understand the nature of our fallen flesh and what the atonement of Christ did, and didn’t do, regarding it. To begin with, the sinful nature (our flesh) you and I had before being born again (John 3:16) is the same sinful nature (flesh) we have now. The atonement did not change or redeem our flesh. It is something with which we still struggle and will continue to do so until our flesh is redeemed by Christ when we are given a new, glorified, heavenly body, that is conformed to His body (Phil 3:20-21). When talking about the contrast between our earthly body and our resurrected body, the Scripture describes our human bodies as perishable, weak, natural, and corruptable, all because of sin. Yet our glorified bodies are deemed imperishable, eternal, spiritual, and not touched by corruption that comes from sin (1 Cor. 15:42-53). Consider the following:
The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. – 1 Corinthians 15:42a-44.
So the redemption of our flesh, the resurrection of our bodies, comes later in this journey of our salvation. We are buried in our sinful flesh and will be resurrected and raised in a perfect, glorified, sin-free body— a body that no longer has a sinful nature attached to it. But this happens in the future and is not something we experience now.
Hence, our continual struggle with temptation, sin, and inevitable failure.
Why Can’t I Live the Higher Christian Life in My Own Strength?
So what do we do? We try harder. We jump back on the exercise wheel with a renewed commitment to grow closer to the Lord or to try to live a holy, sanctified life by doing all the things we’ve tried before. And to quote Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” It’s not. You cannot live in the flesh something that can only be done in the spirit (or by the Spirit) no matter how committed you are to a spiritual self-improvement program. To do so is futile at best and doomed to fail from the start. Do you know why?
Truth One: You are incapable of pleasing God or producing anything good with your flesh, your sinful nature, no matter how hard you try. It cannot be done, has never been done, will never be done, by anybody, ever.
This truth might be difficult to accept. After all, we like to think highly of ourselves and often take pride in the strides we have made in our Christian life. So you might as well take a deep breath and relax because Truth One is, in fact, truth. And if you still struggle with the idea you are incapable of doing anything good in your flesh, even after your salvation, consider the following:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find – Romans 7:18.
Remember, it was Paul who made this statement. And I wouldn’t want to stack my spiritual life up against his, would you?
Most of us have spent the majority of our Christian life trying to prove Truth One is wrong. We’ve tried to love more, pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17), witness to our loved ones, unselfishly minister to others, “rejoice always” in every situation (1 Thes. 5:17), fervently worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23), forgive as we want to be forgiven (Matt. 6:14), and serve the Lord with the joy and intensity we know should be there, but it’s not. I mean, if we were capable of doing good in our flesh and by our own merits (and we have all tried), wouldn’t our spiritual life right now be the Higher Christian Life? But for most, it’s not, it’s seriously lacking.
Remember, our mission in life is not to produce the fruit as a branch (which we are incapable of doing), but to only bear the fruit the vine produces in us (see John 15). “For without Me (Jesus, the Vine), you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is the essence of Truth One.
So don’t run from this truth. Accept it at face value. Receive it without reservation. Take some time and ask the Spirit to confirm this truth to you. And understand Truth One should not lead you to despair, but to immense joy. For it is in the full acceptance of Truth One that the pathway that leads to deliverance is opened.
And we shall look more deeply into this pathway tomorrow.