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The Battle with the Flesh

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 22, 2024 12:01 am

The Battle with the Flesh

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 22, 2024 12:01 am

As Christians, we are continually at war with the flesh. But what is "the flesh," and how can we overcome it? Today, R.C. Sproul explains this biblical term and provides wisdom for defeating this enemy.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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R.C. Sproul

That's the struggle of sanctification. Though the power of the flesh is broken, and the power of the flesh is now subordinate to the spirit to a very real measure in regeneration, the flesh, ladies and gentlemen, is not totally annihilated at conversion. The war goes on.

As you just heard R.C. Sproul state, we are in a battle. We are in a war with our flesh.

But is that how you view your sanctification, your pursuit of righteousness? Today, Dr. Sproul will remind us not to let our God down. This is the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. Each weekend, we are working our way through R.C. Sproul's practical series on Christian growth, simply titled, Pleasing God.

If you'd like to own this series and the study guide, or perhaps work through this study with your small group, you can request the series on DVD at with your donation of any amount. To help prepare us for this war, for our battle with the flesh, here's Dr. Sproul. In Paul's letter to the church at Rome, in the 13th chapter, he makes this comment, the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. Now, I'm sure that many of you who have just heard me read this text are aware of a very unusual historical incident that is associated with this passage. Centuries ago, there was a young man who was very brilliant and very wild, whose mother was a Christian and whose mother prayed for him daily, hoping that this young man would see the error of his ways and so on.

And on one occasion, after allegedly having been out all night carousing and he now is in a stupor or a hangover of sorts, he was making his way along the side of a garden, and there were some children playing in the garden, and they were playing a child's game where a refrain was used in the game that the kids called out one to another, and the refrain was this, tola lege, tola lege, tola lege, which literally, though not for the purpose of the game, but literally could be translated to mean pick up and read, or take up and read. And this man who was walking by stopped in his tracks and had this overwhelming sense of the intrusion into his life of divine providence, for there in the garden, he saw a copy of the New Testament, and he had just heard these children shouting, pick up and read, pick up and read. And so he walked over, and he picked up the Scriptures and allowed the text to fall open wherever it did. And when it did, his eyes fell upon these words, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. And when he read those words, it was as if each word of that text were an arrow that pierced his soul, and his conscience was so agitated by it that on the spot, he was converted to Christianity. His name, as I'm sure you recognize by now, was Aurelius Augustine, later the Bishop of Hippo and considered by virtually every historian to be the greatest theologian in the first 1,000 years of the Christian church.

Augustine was converted by a passage that spoke directly to the conflict in life between the flesh and the Spirit. I remember just a few years ago that Rod Serling, who was the creator of The Twilight Zone, was assigned the task of writing a critical review of St. Augustine's famous work, The Confessions. And in his review, he said in scathing remarks of criticism that in his judgment, this book was one of the most overrated books in the history of Western literature.

He said it simply does not deserve the status and the fame that it has enjoyed over the centuries. And in this criticism, the point that made him so severe was he was convinced that the book was written by somebody who had a neurotic preoccupation with guilt. And he called attention to one passage in The Confessions that would illustrate his judgment that Augustine had this adolescent neurotic preoccupation with guilt. And it was the story where Augustine recalled as an old man the things that he had done in his life about which he was most ashamed. And he recalled an incident that took place when he was a teenager where he became involved with some other young guys in an adolescent prank where these fellows went into somebody's private orchard and denuded a pear tree.

They helped themselves to the pears that belonged to somebody else, stole all these pears, and then left. And Augustine now, 50 years later, is mourning over this childhood prank. And Rod certainly says, give me a break, Augustine.

I mean, what's the matter with you? I mean, people are out here guilty of adultery and of murder and of grand larceny and these serious things, and here's this guy all exercised over stealing a few pears when he was a kid. But Augustine explained what it was that made him feel so remorseful.

It wasn't the bare act of stealing this fruit. But he said, as I considered my life and I consider the things that I have done that were evil, I could see that there were certain sins I fell into that, though they were not excusable, they were certainly understandable. Yes, Augustine confessed to all kinds of sexual sins as a young man, fathering illegitimate children and so on. And he had remorse for that. He said, but that I can understand.

There's a strong biological drive to become involved sexually, and that temptation can befall a person when they are at a weak moment, and anyone can succumb to it. He said, that I can understand. It doesn't excuse it, but I can understand it. He said, and I can understand a man who is starving stealing a loaf of bread. I don't think a man who is starving has a right to steal a loaf of bread, Augustine said, but I can understand the force of the temptation to do it. He said, but I stole pears when I didn't like pears. That is, there was nothing that would stimulate my passions to steal those pears except one thing.

And that was the sheer joy in doing something that I knew was wrong. What Augustine was lamenting was the exercise of his fallen nature, of his flesh, for the sheer joy of doing it. Paul speaks of a state of humanity that he calls the flesh. And we've already noticed that Luther said that the great triad of enemies for the Christian growth contained the world, the flesh, and the devil. And when we're talking about the flesh, I want us to understand, without getting into the technicalities of it, that when the Bible talks about the struggle that we go through with the flesh, it is not simply talking about the body, that the struggle between the flesh and the spirit cannot be equated with a struggle between the body and the soul or the body and the mind. But rather, what the New Testament is talking about when it talks about this fierce struggle that goes on in the Christian life between the flesh and the spirit is the struggle between the power of sin in our natural fallen humanity against the influence of God, the Holy Spirit, in our lives so that the whole struggle and process of sanctification involves what Paul calls warfare.

There's a war going on, and it's a war between the flesh of man and the spirit of God. Now, I get so irritated when I hear preachers stand up and say, you know, come to Jesus and all your problems will be over, because that's just simply a lie. My life didn't get complicated until I became a Christian. Before I was a Christian, though I was not happy, I had a relative degree of peace. I knew that I was doing things that I ought not to be doing. I mean, I had not totally annihilated my conscience, but I was on the way to it. By repeating certain actions, you can so sear the conscience and put calluses upon the soul that where you once perhaps felt a little twinge of guilt, now you can do these things through repetition that don't bother you anymore, and you experience what the Bible calls hard-heartedness. But when I came to Christ, I found a new conscience.

And so now things that I didn't worry about before became matters of ethical concern, and life was complicated. And wouldn't it have been nice if I would say, well, what I did when I was converted was I traded in the flesh, bought into the spirit, and lived happily ever after. That's the struggle of sanctification. Though the power of the flesh is broken and the power of the flesh is now subordinate to the spirit to a very real measure in regeneration, the flesh, ladies and gentlemen, is not totally annihilated at conversion.

The war goes on. Now listen to what the apostle says in chapter 8 of Romans. He says in verse 4 that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the spirit the things of the spirit. To be carnally minded is death, and to be spiritually minded is life and peace, because, listen to this, the carnal mind is enmity against God. For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

Now what is the topic of this series of lectures? Pleasing God. And here the apostle says those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But God is not pleased, He's never pleased, by a lifestyle that is characterized by the flesh. Now when he says that, does that mean that what God hates is physical things? So often that's the way this verse has been interpreted and other verses like it, and so Christians think that to be spiritual means to deny the body and that anything that has anything to do with physicality must necessarily be wrong. That's why we've seen incidences arise in church history where Christians have got involved in all kinds of rigorous forms of asceticism, forms of self-denial and self-flagellation where you go and you hide in a cell like a hermit and you beat yourself and you deny yourself food and you get skinny as a rail and you take all kinds of vows for celibacy because sex is wrong not only outside of marriage but inside marriage. Food is wrong.

Anything that brings physical pleasure is considered wrong. Ladies and gentlemen, that was invented by Manicheanism, not by Christianity. The first affirmation of the God who makes a physical world is what? He looks at that physical order and he says that's good.

That's good. Plato came to the conclusion that anything physical is so far removed from pure spirit that by its very physicality it is imperfect and so that the ideal of the Greek for redemption would be to be released from the body. The body is seen as the prison house of the soul. Not so Judeo-Christianity. Christianity doesn't believe in resurrection from the body but resurrection of the body. And so when the Bible talks about the warfare between the flesh and the spirit, it's not saying that matter is evil and spirit is good.

No, no, no. If you look in Galatians where Paul sets forth the works of the flesh, what does he say? The works of the flesh include such things as drunkenness, adultery, fornication.

Now let's just stop there for a second. Those would indicate what? Physical sins.

Drunkenness is something that happens when we have a physical appetite, a physical desire for alcohol and we overindulge ourselves in those things and so we get blotto. We can obviously see the connection between the body and the action there. Adultery is a physical sin.

It's succumbing again to biological instincts and passions where God has said no. But if you look at that list, he goes on and speaks about envy, hatred. Now obviously you can't envy and hate outside of your bodies, but they are not physical actions, are they?

They have to do with attitudes and dispositions of the heart. You look at vandalism. Why do you suppose vandalism takes place? Vandalism is simply the outward action of inward envy.

The basic attitude of the vandal is this. If I can't enjoy what you possess, I'm going to make sure that you can't enjoy it either. He doesn't simply steal it for himself, but rather he destroys it so that no one can enjoy it. Do you have any idea how destructive, for example, to human relationships, envy is? How many ways people are violated that are motivated by envy? How many times you've been slandered, you've been attacked unjustly because of someone's envy? You ever wonder why in God's ordering of priorities God puts envy in the top 10 of the laws? Thou shalt not covet. The New Testament teaches us that if somebody else receives a benefit, something good happens to them, we're supposed to rejoice in their good fortune rather than to rejoice in their fall. There's an expression, a cynical expression in golf. I don't like it.

And it is this. Every golf shot makes somebody happy. Every golf shot makes somebody happy. If a guy hits it in the water, it doesn't make him happy, but it certainly makes his opponent happy. But what I love to see in a golf tournament is where everybody's rooting for everybody else to play their very best and to have somebody win it rather than somebody else lose it. There's a difference. You're not wishing bad fortune on another person.

That's what we do when we succumb to envy. So what I'm trying to get at is this, that the flesh refers to the old fallen nature. And the Bible says that to be carnally minded is death.

To be spiritually minded is life and peace. And the carnal mind is at enmity with God. And He said, but you are not in the flesh, but you're in the Spirit. But here's the problem. You may be in the Spirit, ladies and gentlemen, but you still lie.

And you still envy. And yes, even still committed altering and still get drunk. In other words, we continue to perform the works of the flesh even though we're in the Spirit. Now, I know there are some who say you're either in the flesh or in the Spirit, that you can't be a carnal Christian. Some people have devised theories that there are different kinds of Christians, a carnal Christian who doesn't have the Spirit of God and a spiritual Christian who's no longer carnal. Ladies and gentlemen, anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ is not a carnal Christian. He's a carnal non-Christian, okay? So in that sense, carnal Christian is a contradiction in terms. If a person is only flesh, what the New Testament calls flesh, with not the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, then he is outside the kingdom of God. He can't possibly please God. And yet, if a person has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, that person may do carnal things.

That person may still struggle with the flesh. But he is a spiritual person. Now it becomes a matter of degree, of how much we submit to the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons I want to be careful about that is that the best example that we find in the New Testament of a carnal Christian, one who was struggling with the flesh, was who? The Apostle Paul, he makes this statement, I am carnal, sold under sin. Paul the Apostle called himself a carnal person. Now someone would get away from that passage and say, well, he had to be referring to his pre-conversion days. This is certainly beneath the dignity of one of the status of the Apostle Paul.

I think that's an act of pure despair. If you look at that passage and read it carefully, and look at the literary structure and the grammatical syntax of it, I think that there's only one conclusion you can come to, and that is that Paul was describing his present struggle with ongoing inclinations to evil. Ladies and gentlemen, when we are converted, we are translated from flesh into spirit, from darkness into life, but the struggle against the flesh goes on. And we deceive ourselves if we think we don't have to worry about the inclinations of our old fallen nature coming along and inclining us to evil. But rather, the New Testament teaches us to be aware of those tendencies of the flesh, and as much as we possibly can, put them to death, so that we feed the new man, we feed the spirit, and we starve as much as possible the old man that he is dying daily. But he dies hard.

He doesn't die easy. And the struggle goes on throughout life. It is the battle of the Christian life, again, not between the body and the soul, although there may be elements of conflict that involve the physical and the nonphysical, but between the style of the flesh and the Spirit of God. A person who pleases God is a person who seeks the fruit of the Spirit in his life.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Thanks for being with us. Dr. Sproul mentioned the fruit of the Spirit at the end of today's message. If you'd like to learn more about the fruit of the Spirit, follow the Renewing Your Mind podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.

And the Sunday sermon two weeks ago was on Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit. Today's message on our battle with the flesh is from Dr. Sproul's series, Pleasing God. You can gain lifetime digital access to this series and the study guide. Plus, we'll send you the series on DVD. Perhaps you'll donate the DVD to your church library if you prefer to watch the messages in the free Ligonier app. When you give a donation of any amount at or by clicking the link in the podcast show notes. Your generosity today is helping Christians around the world have free access to trusted teaching. So thank you for showing your support at As we heard today, the battle is real. And next time, R.C. Sproul will address our battle with the devil. Be sure to join us next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-22 03:10:08 / 2024-06-22 03:18:50 / 9

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