Last night, after several lead-up conversations with my kids, I finally dropped the “f-bomb” with them.
It was time — I used the f-word and told them what it means.
My wife and I were about to go out for the evening, and my parents were coming over to watch my six-year-old and seven-year-old. We pumped them with invectives about the importance of respecting my parents in our absence and the weeping and gnashing of teeth that would come if they didn’t. (Ok, it wasn’t quite that strong.) Then it hit me: It was time to point out the flesh.
I sat down with them, and tried another approach. They’ve both confessed faith in Christ, so we started with the indwelling Life. “Let’s talk about Jesus real quick,” I said. “Jesus, when he was on earth, we know that he respected his mother and father. He lives in you, and he’s inviting you to do the same thing. You can say yes to his leading."
My ever-honest son replied, “I want to say ‘no’ to that invitation.”
“Yep, you can do that. That would be the flesh.”
“The flesh here is obviously not our skin and bones, but it’s that attitude in our hearts that makes us want to live life on our own. It’s that thing in us that makes us want to say ‘no’ to Jesus.
“Because we have spiritual union with Jesus, the flesh is not who you are. But still, it’s that weakness in our souls — that propensity in our thoughts, wills, and emotions — that compels us to try to do life independent of Christ.”
Flesh vs. Spirit
Let's face it, at the end of the day, we all have needs that need to be met. Every person that draws breath yearns for love, affection, security, and affirmation. When we come to that point, we have two source options: Rest in Christ's provision for us or strive to get it on our own. The first is what Paul describes as “in the Spirit,” and the second is “in the flesh.” The Spirit and the flesh war against each other for this reason — the source is different, and the result is greatly different.
Romans 8 tells us that sowing to the flesh always reaps death, but the Spirit brings life and peace.
Let that sit on you for a bit. When you look at your life, are you experiencing life and peace?
Every time you or I choose to meet our needs on our own terms, what we reap is death. It’s about all those coping mechanisms we employ to feel loved, cared for, secure, or affirmed. For some, like me, we work hard, hoping that our performance will achieve affirmation and will accumulate security based on what we’ve accomplished. Or maybe you have kids, and your need for love and affection gets pointed right at them, where you begin to attach your sense of identity to how they are doing in life. Or sometimes we try to shut out our needs and run to things like substance abuse, over-eating, or simply binge-watching our favorite show in order to numb the pain of unmet needs. It can be any number of things, and each one of us has our list of go-to coping behaviors.
But there is a different option. Christ stands with open arms, ready to speak truth over us. He wants to be — and is fully able to be — your source, your supply. Here’s what I mean:
- When you need love, he is the one who knows you most truly and intimately (Psalm 139).
- When you need affection, he is the one who cares for you without shifting shadow (1 Pet. 5:7).
- When you need security, he is the rock that is unmovable (Heb. 13:5).
- When you need affirmation, he is ready to sing over you the truth of the new creation you really are (2 Cor. 5:17).
We run to Christ to meet our needs. In this way, we open ourselves up to the influence of the Holy Spirit, and we turn our backs on the flesh.
Simply put, we say 'yes' to him.
I recently heard a sermon where the pastor explained four key (or 'source') idols to which we tend to run: comfort, control, power, and approval. It struck me that they potentially correspond with the four soul needs in consideration here:
- Could it be that when we idolize comfort, we’re often seeking affection?
- When we idolize control, we’re seeking security?
- When we idolize people pleasing, we’re seeking affirmation?
- When we idolize power, we’re often seeking love (a.k.a., admiration, value, importance, identity)?
Because the need isn’t the issue, the source for meeting that need is. When we try to steal those things from the world around us — our circumstances, our possessions, or our human relationships — we are coping in the flesh instead of filling those needs in the Spirit with what Christ offers to us.
We all do it, and we do it often. The goal isn’t Christian perfectionism — that would be our effort. Christ brought us into spiritual union with him so that we might live in moment-by-moment dependence on his Life. And when we fail, his grace and forgiveness remain rich and unmoved.
As the Spirit reveals those triggers that make our minds and hearts jump to fixing our own problems in our own timing and our own ways (i.e. the flesh), we offer ourselves to Christ in those moments — submitting our wills, retraining our thoughts to his truth, and pointing our emotions to God’s reality.
How about you? Will you say 'yes' to his source and his leading in this moment?
Such divinely sourced dependence is what we were created for.