This sermon is number 3 in a series of 5
Sins We Have Sanitized - Part 3
by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, thank you again to brother Bertie, it's good to be here this evening. We have been looking each week at this subject 'Sins We Have Sanitized' and, if you haven't been with us in previous weeks, we took this title for the reason that the word 'sanitized' simply means 'to be made acceptable', more acceptable. We've been hitting sins, really, in the areas of Christian lives that we have learned to live with as believers. These have been, of course, internal sins - we saw that these are the more dangerous ones, because they tend to be hidden and secret - but we highlighted this great fact that secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. Secret sin is no less serious sin to Almighty God - in fact, it could be more serious because of its hidden nature and the hypocritical manner in which we engage in it.
Now, if you were with us two Thursday nights ago, we looked at 'Mental Sins'. We concentrated particularly on the whole area of the mind. Last week we looked at 'Verbal Sins', and we took the subject of the tongue, our speech, our words. We saw, you remember, that the word expresses the thought, and that's how we manifest and actualise our thoughts: by expressing them in words. We can infect the minds of other people and spread our thoughts in this manner, by the words that we speak - but we'll not say any more about that tonight. I have two more subjects: 'Spiritual Sins', or 'Religious Sins' we could call that, that's what we're going to deal with tonight. Next week, in the will of the Lord, we'll look at 'Cultural Sins' - and you might not know what I'm getting at by that title, but come back next week, in the will of the Lord, and you'll find out.
We're going to turn to Galatians, the book of Galatians please, and we're not going to read the scriptures just yet, at least from Galatians - but I want you to have this passage open, because this is where we'll be dealing with in the Bible mainly, although we'll be looking at several other scriptures and we want to let the word of God do the work tonight.
Hosea's prophecy chapter 4 and verse 6 says: 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge', and you may remember that on a previous night I highlighted the fact that Christian people and people in general do not understand the anatomy of the whole man. I don't speak of the physical anatomy only, although that is part of it, but more so the spiritual anatomy of how we are made up as human beings, created in the image of God. Now I did touch on the fact that I believe the Bible teaches, and I think it's reasonably clear, that man is a trichotomy - that means he is made up of three entities. We're going to look at that now.
Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 and verse 23: 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole', now watch these words, 'spirit and soul and body' - spirit and soul and body, three aspects of the man - 'be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ'. Now not everybody agrees with this, some see the man made up as soul and body alone, but I think that verse would indicate that there are three aspects to the man. Another verse, just to hammer this home, Hebrews 4 and verse 12, and in reference to the word of God the writer is telling us how it affects the man, and he says: 'For the word of God is quick', living, 'and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart'. Now the joints and the marrow in the bone are very hard, at times, to separate - but we know they are two separate things. The soul and the spirit, at times, are very difficult to separate in Scripture and in practice, and yet they are spoken of here as two separate, or at least distinct, entities.
So what we are saying is: the man, you, are made up of body, soul and spirit. Now we've got to spend a bit of time on this if we're going to understand what we're going to say tonight about spiritual or religious sins. The body is the part of us that is world-conscious. The soul is the part of us that is self-conscious. The spirit is the part of us that is God-conscious. Now, come with me on this: the body, world-conscious. It is how we relate to the physical world, we do it through 'eye-gate', through 'ear-gate', through 'nose-gate', through 'mouth-gate', and through the gate of feeling. The five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch - that's how the body relates to the external world around us. The soul, however, is self-conscious. It is the seat of the personality, if you like, and it is made up also of three aspects: the mind, the emotion, the will - what we think with, what we feel with, and what we act with - that is what makes up the soul. Then there is the spirit, and this is the God-conscious part of us that worships God, that is able to have communion with God, to know God and indeed contain God. When we are born again, I believe that this is the holy of holies of the man, this is the part where God relates to us and indwells us - the spirit.
Now come with me right back to the beginning till we see this, to Genesis chapter 2 please, and verse 7: 'And the LORD', that is, Jehovah, 'God formed man of the dust of the ground' - now there is the body, God formed our bodies from the dust of the ground. Now that means that the same essential elements that are found in the flesh of men and women, and the flesh of beasts and animals, is found in the soil of this planet - that's what that verse is telling us. Now years ago scientists would have said that's a lot of nonsense, but this is something that has been discovered in recent times, modern times anyway, as fact: that we are essentially made up, as human beings in our flesh, the same way as animals are in their flesh, in the same makeup as the soil of the ground - nitrogen, oxygen, calcium, etc. Yet God's word declared it before scientists discovered it. This is our bodies: made of the dust of the earth.
But there's more than just flesh involved in the human being: 'The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'. Now that word 'breathe' in Hebrew, which of course the Old Testament is written in, is the same Hebrew word that means 'spirit' - God breathed spirit into the nostrils. Then finally we see that it says, 'and man became a living soul' - there is the word 'soul'. Now, if you turn back a chapter, you will see in chapter 1 verse 24: 'God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so'. Now the expression there 'living creature', the word for 'living', 'life', is the same word for 'living soul' as we find in chapter 2 and verse 7. So this life is the same thing that the animals have - but of course we know, and have believed, that there's a difference between animals and mankind. What is this difference if animals essentially have 'soul', 'life' as God gave it, and 'flesh' as God gave to man as well? Well the answer is found in the fact that in verse 26 of chapter 1 we see: 'God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'. The beasts of the field were not made after the image and likeness of God, and there is a distinct difference: God gave life from a distance to all of creation and all of the beasts of the field, but when He came and breathed life into Adam, He did it very intimately, directly, through his nostrils gave his spirit - and it was when He gave his spirit that he became a living soul. What we're talking about is spiritual life, He did not give that to the animals, He gave it to man.
Proverbs 20 and verse 27 bears this idea of the spirit out, I think, where it says: 'The spirit of man is the candle', or the lamp, 'of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly', the inward parts of the man. So it was when God breathed his spirit into the flesh of Adam that he became a living soul. Now I hope you're following with me, because this is important. So what we're saying is really: the soul, it serves as a linchpin, if you like, between the body and the spirit. If the spirit is the part that we relate to God with, and the body is the part that we relate to this world with, in order for the spirit - the part relating to God - to influence the body, the soul has to bring them together like a linchpin. I was driving to another meeting last night, and I just said to the Lord: 'Lord, I want You to give me an illustration to try and make this clearer in people's minds, because this is difficult'. Right away I just got this idea of, remember years ago - I don't remember, of course - but there were phone operators. You didn't just pick the phone up and dial a number, and you got right through to the person receiving the call - you had to go through the operator. You first of all called the operator, and then the operator would join the caller and the recipient and they would be able to converse. Well, the operator is like the soul, the caller is like God who wants to communicate with mankind and affect man's body, and the body is like the recipient of the caller - but the operator is the one who brings the two together. Now that's the way man was created, and that's what God wants to do in the redeemed and renewed man - but we all know what happened, the great tragedy of the fall.
Now when the fall happened in the Garden of Eden, man's spirit died, his spirit died - the part that relates to God! Now when we talk about death in the Scripture, 'death' does not mean 'cease to exist', death never means that in the Scripture! What death speaks of in the Bible is separation, and when man died in the Garden of Eden his spirit was separated from God, and he couldn't relate to God any more. Now, you know what happened then? Once the spirit went out of action, the soul became completely related to the body, to the physical, and effectively the soul and the body united together in what the Bible calls 'flesh'. Flesh is not just the body, flesh in the Bible is the body and soul related together - and we read that this 'flesh' is directly opposed to 'spirit'. Are you still with me? Some of you are giving me some blank looks, but this is important - hang in there!
Turn with me to Galatians 5 and verse 17 - I venture to say that many people have never really got to grips with this, and it's so important - Galatians 5 and verse 17. Remember what we're saying: the spirit died, no longer was man related to God, or could relate to God, and the soul joins onto the flesh. Verse 17 of Galatians 5: 'For the flesh lusts', or strives against the Spirit, 'and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would'. So the flesh, that is the soul joined to the body now, it is against everything that is of God and everything that is of God's given Spirit. What the flesh does is, it makes itself the centre of man. Remember that the soul is made of the mind, the emotion and the will, and that expresses itself now through the body - and it elevates self-will over God's will.
Maybe I'm not making this clear, let me give the illustration again. Remember the operator? The soul, and the operator is meant to be there to bring the caller, God who gave the spirit, to the recipient, the body, to influence man in every area of his life. Now the line has gone dead as far as the spirit is concerned, the caller, and so it's as if the operator and the recipient just carry on the conversation together - do you understand? Self-centred, flesh-centred. Now, we're familiar with this to a certain extent, because if you look at Galatians 5 we've heard about the works of the flesh, haven't we? Galatians 5, look at verse 19, and I'm going to read this in the Amplified Version, which just brings it out a wee bit more, but you follow your version there: 'Now the doings (practices)', the works, 'of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency, and Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies), Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like'. Now that expresses the works of the flesh, but here is the problem where we are concerned as believers: often we understand the works of the flesh only to be the lusts of the human body - is that how you have understood the works of the flesh? But the fact of the matter is: the flesh isn't just the body, the flesh includes the soul, and therefore the flesh speaks of the works of the soul as well.
Now we touched on it two weeks ago that every sin, everything we do in our bodies, starts with a thought conceived in the mind - so that's clear, isn't it? The body is not alone in itself, sins are conceived in the mind, and often they move down to the emotions, and then they're carried out through the will via the body. So don't just think of the works of the flesh as having something to do with the lusts of the human body, it's got more than that, it's got to do with the soul. But let me take you on a step further, because the works of the flesh comprise of two types of works: one is unrighteousness, that we've just read about here in chapter 5; but this might be a revelation to you tonight, the other type of work of the flesh is self-righteousness. There are unrighteous works, but self-righteous works are also included in the works of the flesh. You see flesh does not just produce defiling sins, but flesh can produce commendable morals, good living, even religious acts.
Now maybe that changes how you read verse 17 of Galatians 5 now: 'For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh' - and if you knew a bit about the context of this church at Galatia, you would realise that it was a spiritual dispute, a religious dispute that was going on. Now we all accept, as Christians, do we not, that we must rid ourselves of defiling sins of the body - but what about defiling sins of the soul? They are no less sinful in God's eyes, and yet we know so little about them - maybe you don't even know what they are. Well, these sins of the flesh, in the body sense, are sins of unrighteousness, but the sins of the soul can be self-righteous.
What am I saying? Well, I believe the Bible is saying - now listen carefully - flesh can do good things, did you hear that? I don't mean 'good' as in 'holy in the sight of God', but what I mean by 'good' is 'moral' things, 'right' things, 'religious' things can be done through the soul - but they can be done as self-centred things, motivated by self rather than motivated by the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit, residing in your spirit. Are you with me? Well, a great example of this in the New Testament are the Pharisees. I read a book recently on the Pharisees that really opened my mind a great deal, and the author points out among many other things that, theologically speaking, the Pharisees were orthodox, and their orthodoxy was affirmed by the Lord Jesus Himself. We read in Matthew 23:2, the Lord said: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe', He affirmed them. We see in Matthew 22 and Luke 10 that He actually agreed with their emphasis as regards the law, they were the ones who testified, 'We're to love the Lord our God with everything that we are and everything that we have, and we are to love our neighbour as ourselves' - He was in complete agreement with them.
Merrill Tenney, the Bible scholar, says of our Lord: 'He was more nearly in accord with the Pharisees theologically than with any other religious sect in Judaism' - that's interesting, isn't it? Then when we turn to the apostle Paul, and we get to the Acts of the Apostles, we see in Acts 23 that there was a dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and the apostle Paul sided theologically with the Pharisees. Now the author of this book points out that it was a righteous goal that the Pharisees had, they were a lay-movement of men who desired to bring every facet of life into subjection to the Torah, the Old Testament Jewish law. Was that not a worthy goal? The writer argues, and I'm quoting from him, listen carefully: 'The Pharisees received such harsh treatment from Jesus not because they were so far from the truth, but because they were so close - so near and yet so far!'. Now this is how the author applies it, and I think he's correct: 'Indeed the Pharisees, more than any other group at the time of Jesus, were like us who are conservative Christians'. He goes on: 'Perhaps God placed Pharisees so prominently in the Bible to produce a clear picture of', mark this, 'a religion that can produce righteous behaviour, but not righteous hearts'.
Now that type of religion, or spirituality, overemphasises externals at the expense of internals - where you do everything right to the naked eye, but the heart has all manner of sin and iniquity in it that no one can see! We need to challenge ourselves tonight: is that my spiritual life? This author testifies of his own experience, and I'm quoting him, he says: 'It was easy for my Christianity to become like a favourite suit that I stepped into, rather than an inner cultivated relationship with the living God. Even back then', he says, 'I noticed the paradox that the winners of Bible contests were seldom those who applied God's word to their lives - well-meaning Christians with mountains of Bible knowledge, coupled with molehills of knowing God' - that's devastating! That was the Pharisees, if you don't believe me - John 3: 'There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews', a Pharisee, 'who came to Jesus by night' - you're not going to tell me he was a bad man? He was a good man, he was a moral man, in a sense he was a spiritual man - and we need to face this: people can naturally be kind, and be patient, and compassionate. Now please stay with me here, I'm not going into false doctrine - we sometimes go to extremes where, when we talk about man's depravity, we think that everything that a man does in every aspect has to the most depraved extreme possible - and it clearly is not the case. The Lord even said: 'Ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children'. Yet here is Nicodemus, a good, moral, upstanding, religious man - and what does the Lord Jesus say to him? Listen now, John 3:6: 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again'.
Now what we are hitting on tonight, the flesh, is essentially the explanation for religion in this whole world. We're getting right to the nub of it. Let me say that religions of this world, whatever religion you want to name - oh they have bad influences, and the atheist and agnostic will point the finger and say that religion is the cause of all our problems and all the wars on this planet, and I'm not sure that he's wrong! But there are a lot of good influences that religion has in this world. Now you can't deny that. Religion can have good influences - but you've got to understand that there is a Satanic principle behind religion, and that is that Satan is willing to allow overtly immoral aspects of our flesh, our human lusts of the body, to die, if only he can make the good part, the moral part of our flesh remain. You see, the devil can use our good flesh to extend his kingdom from shore to shore.
Are you with me here? Are you? It's important that you are. Now listen, we are the ones, aren't we, that preach: 'You can't be saved by the flesh' - aren't we the ones? You can't be saved by the law, you can't earn your salvation, it's by grace - and we can rhyme all the verses out from Romans and even Galatians where we are here, but we make the Galatian mistake - what is that? We know that we have to begin in the Spirit - you must be born again - but we go on and try to live the life of the Spirit in the flesh, and it can't be done! Now look at Galatians 3 and verse 3, he calls these Galatians - as he might well call us tonight - 'foolish', 'bewitched', verse 3: 'Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?'. They had descended into this error mainly because of false teachers who were trying to drag them back into the rules, laws, and rituals of Judaism - but they had descended into this error of doing good by the flesh. Now the whole book of Galatians teaches that the righteous acts of the flesh are worlds apart from the fruit of the Spirit.
I wonder have you discovered this? If we were to turn to Philippians 3 and verse 3, Paul said - now Paul in that passage tells he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, as touching the law he was blameless, that means outwardly, externally, you couldn't have pointed a finger and said: 'Paul, you slipped up there'. Imagine that! Yet he says in Philippians 3 verse 3: 'I put no confidence in the flesh', and he goes on to say that 'If anybody could put confidence in the flesh, it's me, because I lived, by righteous acts, almost a perfect life externally'. Yet he says: 'I don't put confidence in that!'. Now, you're asking: 'Well, what's the difference here? What's the difference between righteous acts in the flesh, and living by the Spirit?'. Here's the difference: when we do right things in the flesh, self is always at the centre of the activity, self is always a motivation.
Now I thought of the English language, the words that are prefixed with the word 'self'. 'Selfish', when we are selfish in how we exercise our faith. 'Self-assured', are we ever self-assured in our confessions? 'Self-conscious', that is a negative one, where we allow our self-consciousness to keep us silent when we should speak, when we don't stand up for our faith, when we won't pray in the prayer meeting because, 'Well, I'm not that personality', etc. Or the opposite to that is 'self-confidence', when we are confident in ourselves; or 'self-esteem', we esteem ourselves more highly than we ought. We're 'self-satisfied', we get a kick out of who we are, what we do. We are 'self-willed', we're driven people, by our ambitions and aspirations. We're 'self-sufficient', we're 'self-supported', we think we have everything we need and we don't look to anyone outside ourselves, even God, for anything else - and we can be 'self-gratified', we get kicks out of what we do, even for God.
All of this has the centre to it of 'self', and that's the flesh, which is the opposite of trusting in the Spirit which knows nothing of self. Let me put this on flesh for a moment: it's whenever we rely on our human wisdom, rather than God - that means when we've spent more time planning and arranging, rather than waiting on God, we are operating in the flesh not the Spirit. When we emphasise learning and education over spiritual development, we are leaning on the flesh. When preachers spend more time getting an outline for their sermon than unction from the Holy Spirit, we're leaning on the flesh. When I spend more time in the study preparing than I do praying, I'm leaning on the flesh. We have all got to learn this: that the soul, with the body, is flesh; but flesh can never impart spiritual life, or spiritual hope, or spiritual well-being - that which is born of the flesh is flesh.
I hope you're getting the message tonight and understanding this. You might say: 'Well, how do I know if I've been trying to live my Christian life in the flesh?'. Well, I'm going to ask you two questions, and these are diagnostic questions by which you can tell whether you've been trying to live your Christian life according to the flesh. The first is this: have you a sense of your utter impossibility to please God in the flesh? Do you have a sense of the utter impossibility of you pleasing God in the flesh? You see the flesh, the good aspect, moral aspect of the flesh never ever declares its weakness. It never ever says: 'I'm useless' - actually the opposite, it derives a certain kudos, a buzz of fulfilment and satisfaction, from achieving religious things - because the problem with self-righteousness is, indeed, the mother of all sins: pride.
Now in Matthew chapter 19 there's a wonderful illustration of this, there is a rich young ruler who comes to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he wants to inherit eternal life. There's a little clue as to his spiritual problem, because he addresses the Lord Jesus - who he didn't realise was God's Son - as 'Good Master'. The Lord has to rebuke him, knowing that he didn't know He was divine, He says: 'Why call thou me good? there is none good but God'. You see this man had a concept of humanity, that it could rise religiously to perfection in morality, by the flesh - and the Lord had to cut him down right away. 'What must I do?', he says, 'What must I do?', and he had this belief in his mind that there was something he could do, that the Lord would send him away with a wee formula and he would go, and he would inherit eternal life. The Lord says: 'Have you kept the commandments?'. He thought he had, and he probably had externally, because the commandments that are mentioned are those towards our fellow man, and he probably was like the apostle Paul: from his youth he had kept them. Yet he didn't realise the depravity of his heart, and do you know what the Lord Jesus did? He touched the idolatry of his flesh - not only did this man think he was rich in morals, but he was rich in money, and those were his gods. The Lord said: 'You've got to let go of the flesh', that's what He's saying, you'll never be saved if you don't let go of that! Now we know that as evangelicals, you can't be saved by the law. If you don't believe this, follow on with me in that passage - what happened? He couldn't let go of his riches, which was a symptom of his self-righteousness, and I'll show you that a little bit later. He went away sad, and the Lord looked upon him, loving him, and then the Lord turns to the disciples and teaches them that it is a hard thing for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven - but whatever is impossible with men is possible with God!
I've heard preachers preaching on the rich young ruler, and they don't even go to that verse - and that's the punchline! What the Lord wanted this young man to do was to fall at His feet, and say: 'I can't, but You can!'. Or, if I could put it another way, the Lord's intent with the rich young ruler was to get a good man lost - that's what He wanted - by placing His divine finger on the area of his selfish idolatry, morality, and money. You can see it right through the whole gospels, those who admitted they were sick, those who admitted they were blind, impoverished, impotent, those were the ones He lavished His grace on - but it was those who couldn't admit it that He goaded to brokenness.
Now, oh yes, we can preach the gospel on that one, can't we? You'll never earn your salvation, you've got to come as you are as a sinner to Jesus - but how do we go on to live our Christian lives? We often go on in the flesh and its pride! I think it was Andrew Murray who said: 'Pride must die in you or nothing of heaven can live in you'. Now this is the reason why so many are cast down in the Christian life, now listen carefully for this applies to some of you, perhaps; this is the reason, or could be, why there is no victory in your Christian life; why you have experienced, since you were born again, a spiritual roller coaster. You're trying to live the Christian life in the flesh, and it cannot be done, and you don't realise! Listen, this is God's word to you tonight: you don't realise God doesn't want you to try! God doesn't want you to try, He wants you to die! It's the reason why so many are cast down, because they are trying, and they have never come to the point of saying: 'Lord, this is impossible!', and that's the reason some of them jack it in - that's right! 'This is impossible', and they don't realise that when they get to that stage, that's the very knife-edge, the watershed of where the victory will come, if they would only come to the feet of Jesus and say: 'Lord, it's impossible - but what's impossible with men, what's impossible with the flesh is not impossible with You' - that's it! That's how you were saved, wasn't it? Not by earning it, or achieving it, but by admitting your bankruptcy spiritually, and that's how you will go on in the Christian life.
Are you cast down tonight? Is that where you need to get? I'll tell you, I don't know how many times I've got to that, even today: 'Lord, this Christian life is impossible, and that's why I don't want to live it, I want You to live it through me'. Do you understand? But it's not only the reason why so many people are cast down, it can also be the reason why so many people are puffed up - the flesh, the good flesh! Can I say this to you, and this is heavily on my heart: I think this is the great sin of conservative evangelicalism - pride, being puffed up. That author that I mentioned earlier says these words: 'We must face the scourge of self-righteousness, and its cousin, contempt for others'. Do we have contempt for others, other believers, non-believers? Really what I'm saying is: are we looking down our noses at others? Do we do this in regard to doctrines that we don't believe in, or practices that we don't engage in? What we are really saying is: contempt for others is a telltale sign of hidden self-righteousness. One of the reasons why we can be puffed up in pride is because our religious experience is derived from the flesh.
Turn with me to Luke 18, for this is exactly what this parable is teaching, the parable of the sinner, the publican, and the Pharisee. In verse 11 of Luke 18: 'The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess'. Now note that he recited his religious acts, and they were good acts, but they were all motivated by the self to show that he was a cut above the rest. But it was a broken man, verse 13: 'The publican, standing afar off', because of his own uncleanness, 'would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you', our Lord said, 'this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted'.
The broken man went down justified, do you know that this is the lesson not only in Luke 18 but in Luke 15? Turn back to Luke 15, it's no wonder sometimes people say we only preach half a gospel, half the time we don't get these passages in the right context - I'm not saying they can't be applied evangelistically, but you look again. How many times have you heard this passage preached on, and the punchline is left out? What punchline? Verse 25, forget about the prodigal now for a moment, here's the one the Lord wants you to see: 'His elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found'.
The Lord wants you to see the elder brother. Who is he? He is a critical spirit that emanates from a self-righteous heart, he's like the Pharisees - that's the point the Lord is making. The sinners were coming, the harlots were coming, the publicans were coming, and the Pharisees who have got a lot of things right were looking down their noses, and their hearts were still cold because their self-righteousness was in the flesh. Now let me ask you a question tonight: do you know what legalism is? It's thinking, if I could put it crudely, thinking you're in tick with God because of the things you do. Now it doesn't mean some of the things we do are good, it doesn't even mean some of the things that we do in the spirit are right and are according to obedience, but never you once get it into your head that God is more well-pleased with you than another because of something you're doing. Oh, obedience is always the organ of revelation and getting to know God more and more, but everything is by grace, everything must be by the Spirit - and here is the great issue of the prodigal son: is legalism any better than lawlessness? That's the point! The young man goes into the far country, wine, women and song; and the elder brother, he never left, he never disobeyed his father's commands, he never did any of those things, but there were no parties for him because his heart was a funeral!
Dear friends tonight, do we look down our noses at others? Now listen carefully to what I'm saying, because you know I'm not a modernist, I think you would know that about me by now - but because you do certain things, and maybe they're right things to do, right practices, right ordinances, do you see if you or I should ever look down our noses at another who doesn't do those things? That is proof positive that I'm doing them in the flesh - that's devastating for me! Hammer the things from the pulpit, and you can do it in the flesh! I've done it. Dear friends, there are consequences in doing good things in the flesh, do you know what the first one is? You never ever come to spiritual maturity, you never ever do. You can never come to spiritual maturity without dealing with the flesh, without dealing with the self - it won't happen no matter how many good actions you do externally.
Here's another consequence, and it's even worse - and this is what the Galatians needed to see - believers who habitually maintain the attitude of the flesh, the good flesh, are actually allowing a foothold that the enemy one day will exploit. Because the flesh, just as the mind is Satan's battleground, the flesh is Satan's workshop; and he's wanting to use the good flesh to eventually manifest the bad flesh - for that which is flesh is flesh. Do you see what I'm saying? There is a warning here, and it's a principle, listen: if you serve, or try to serve, the Lord in the flesh, the good flesh, inevitably the evil flesh will show itself. Oh, that you would get this tonight - I know it's hard to follow, maybe, at times, but really it's elementary, and it's quite simple at the core.
The Galatians were encouraged, you see, by these Judaisers to glory in the flesh. Look at chapter 6 of Galatians verse 12: 'As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised', they're wanting Gentiles to be circumcised. This is a Jewish rite, and it was right for a time, but it's not right any more! Then in chapter 5, look at verse 15, they were trying to do good things - now listen - good things in the power of the flesh, and eventually the bad flesh was starting to show itself, verse 15: 'But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another'. Do you see it? Then he goes into the list of the works of the flesh, and he's telling them that if you try to be spiritual through the flesh, the old bad flesh will come to the fore.
They didn't realise that as long as they attempted to serve God with their brains, serve God with their ideas, serve God with their talents, serve God with their strength, they would inevitably serve the lusts of their body. If they didn't forbid the flesh from doing good in the flesh, they could not prevent it from doing evil through the flesh - have you learnt that tonight? Oh to God, that you learn that - this is why religious people nearly go nuts, because it doesn't work! It can't work! We are able to tell the poor religionist that, whoever they are, before they're converted - and yet we fall into the same trap after we're converted, and we're up and down like a yo-yo, and we don't know why we've no joy, why we've no victory...because it's in the flesh.
Now listen please: the best way to keep from sinning, any type of sin, is not to do even any good in the flesh. Have you heard me right? The best way to keep from sinning whatsoever is not to do any good in yourself. Now you're saying, I know: 'Now hold on a minute, I know I mustn't do any bad, now you're telling me not to do any good? What is there left to do?' - nothing! Nothing, just die, just die. Death is the answer - do you think I'm making all this up? Look at Galatians 2, look at this now, Paul is telling them, 'Look, if anybody has confidence in the flesh, religious acts done in the good flesh, I have, but that's not what this life is all about. Forget about these old Judaisers, for I', verse 20 of chapter 2, 'am crucified with Christ' - dead! - 'nevertheless I live' - how does he live? - 'yet not I', it is not his old life, it's not his flesh life, even his good flesh, religious life, 'but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh', that means the body, 'I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me'. That's it! Verse 21: 'I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law', if righteousness came by the flesh, 'then Christ is dead in vain'.
Turn with me chapter 6 verse 13: 'For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory', in the flesh, that's what he implies, 'save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' - why Paul, what happened there? - 'by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world'. That's it! Have you got it? Oh we sing: 'My sin, oh the bliss...', leave that for a moment, what about:
'My self, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My self, not in part' - not just the bad self, but the good self - 'but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!'.
Have you got there, my friend? Now, I know I've touched on this every night, but I think believers have lost this somewhere along the line. God doesn't want you to try by the flesh to live the Christian life, and that's why you're failing if you are, and that's why I've failed when I do - because I'm leaning on the flesh. He wants me to die, and let Christ live in me. The only life He's pleased with is Christ's, the only soul that He was ever pleased with was Christ's. Theodore Monod describes the road of his own death to self as it unfolded in his life in a poem, and this is how it goes:
'O the bitter shame and sorrow
That a time could ever be,
When I let the Saviour's pity
Plead in vain, and proudly answered:
All of self, and none of Thee!
Yet He found me: I beheld Him
Bleeding on the accursed tree,
Heard Him pray: Forgive them, Father;
And my wistful heart said faintly:
Some of self and some of Thee!
Day by day His tender mercy,
Healing, helping, full and free:
Sweet and strong, and Oh! so patient,
Brought me lower, while I whispered:
Less of self and more of Thee!
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea;
Lord, Thy love at last hath conquered;
Grant me now my supplication:
None of self and all of Thee!'
That's it! That was only the first question, by the way! How do you know if you're trying to live in the flesh? Well, the question was: have you a sense of your utter impossibility of pleasing God in the flesh? Now listen, some of you may have slipped up, and some of you may have slipped up big, but maybe you needed to learn this lesson: you're never going to live the Christian life in your own flesh strength, and that's what you were doing. He is able to keep us from falling. But here's the second answer - it's a question again - how do you know? Have you a sense of your utter dependence on God? A sense of your utter impossibility and inability to live this Christian life, and have you a sense of your utter dependence on God? Andrew Murray said: 'Pride can degrade the highest angels into devils, and it is humility that can raise the fallen flesh and blood to the throne of angels'.
How will you know if you're utterly dependent on God? How will it manifest itself? Well, here's the answer: it will be manifest in waiting on God beneath the shadow of the cross. Jesus said: 'If any man follow me, let him deny himself', surrender, 'and take up his cross', sacrifice, 'and follow me', submission. Your dependence on God will be manifest in a constant reckoning of yourself dead, because you died with Christ on the cross; and a constant waiting on God for His strength and His Spirit. You know John 15, don't you? That's what it's all about: 'Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth', not righteous acts, 'bringeth forth much fruit: for' - let me hear you say it - 'for without me ye can do nothing'.
Where did we lose this? You see, we might be doing good things, we might be - but whatever does not issue from abiding in Christ, that means waiting on God in utter dependence, whatever does not come from that source is invariably of the flesh. Why do so many dedicated, sincere people never experience victory in the Christian life? You're not going to tell me that they're all really bad backsliders and sinners? Many of them are trusting in the flesh, they're trying to make perfect in the flesh what began in the Spirit! It cannot be done! They're substituting the self for the Spirit, and yet the Lord Jesus said: 'The Father seeks worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and according to truth'. He wants to have your spirit as His Temple for His Spirit, that the soul might be able to affect the body by the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Have you a sense of your utter dependence on God? Sure, it's simple really: an utter sense of the impossibility of you ever living the Christian life successfully, and then an utter dependence upon God for living what you cannot do. God wants everyone to come to Him in the spirit of utter dependence, completely submissive to His Spirit, and humbly waiting upon Him. When A. T. Pierson asked George Mueller the question: 'What is the secret of your great work, and the wonderful things that God has done through you?', Mueller looked up for a moment, and then he bowed his head lower and lower until it was almost between his knees. He was silent for a moment or two, and then he said: 'Many years ago there came a day in my life when George Mueller died. As a young man I had a great many ambitions, but there came a day when I died to all these things, and I said, 'Henceforth, Lord Jesus, not my will but Thine', and from that day God began to work in and through me'.
Has there been a day like that in your life, Christian? But it's not just one day, it's every day. Anne Grannis put it well, and with this I close - listen now, listen:
'I want my life so cleared of self
That my dear Lord may come
And set up His own furnishings,
And make my heart His home.
And since I know what this requires,
Each morning while it's still,
I slip into that secret room,
And leave with Him my will' - is that what you do?
He always takes it graciously,
Presenting me with His,
I'm ready then to meet the day
And any task there is.
And this is how my Lord controls
My interests, my ills,
Because we meet at break of day,
For an exchange of wills'.
Let us pray. We can fiddle about with rubbish, but we need God and God alone - God's Spirit. Lord, help us. Help us, Lord, I hope that this message has been in the Spirit. Lord, I trust that it has come in the power and demonstration of the Spirit to some spirit or spirits in this place tonight. Lord, this is what we need. There's no sense asking You to put us to death, You've done that, You've done it! We have to believe it, and get on with it. Lord, we're stuck, help us, give grace, Lord, to take this and claim it as our own tonight, if never we have done it before, in complete fullness, and start walking in the Spirit that we might not fulfil either the bad or the good lusts of the flesh that war against the Spirit. For Christ's sake we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Lifeboat Mission in Moy, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'Sins We Have Sanitized' series, entitled "Spiritual Sins" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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