Crucifying the Flesh

Part 2 of:
The Astonishing Joy of Dying to Self

Grantley Morris

Back to Part 1

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Having mentioned the danger of pride in the previous webpage, it would be ridiculous not to point out that this is just one of a formidable array of possibilities to which our flesh could develop a suicidal attraction.

It is not because pride is more deadly or deceptive or addictive than other manifestations of our fallen nature that we spent so long discussing it. Pride was chosen merely to illustrate how vital it is that we ‘crucify’ every aspect of the flesh. For example, one of the most insidious things about pride that makes it such a threat to each of us is that it seems so harmless, justifiable, and even good. This, however, is how people typically see any sin that has seduced them (at least until it has so ensnared them that they think it impossible to break free). Consider, for instance, how the deceiver made eating the forbidden fruit seem to Eve (Scripture).

The point of this section is simply to underline, without even attempting as much as mentioning a tenth of them, that there are so very many other deadly manifestations of the flesh that are just as insidious as pride. So please understand that my treatment of the vast topic covered in this section is exceedingly superficial. We will flit through this ridiculously fast, briefly citing only a few examples, and skipping entirely many important matters. Nevertheless, it will give at least a vague idea of why ‘crucifying’ the flesh is so important.

This tiny overview is part of our larger goal of discovering how basic ‘dying’ to self (or to the flesh) is to the Word of God. Omit it from your life, and no matter how much Scripture you quote, what you are left with is not biblical Christianity.

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There are so many spiritual dangers besides pride that when, for instance, Galatians 5:19-21 names the works of the flesh, it is not attempting an exhaustive list, but merely providing examples. This is clearly seen by it being one of several times the Bible provides a list of sins, any one of which could exclude us from the kingdom of God. Each list is different (Proof).

As mentioned earlier, I believe we will be shocked and grieved to learn all we missed out on, and how little we were able to do for God, simply because our fleshly vulnerability forced our Savior to severely limit what he could do in and through us during this life, lest we self-destruct by perverting his blessings into an opportunity to indulge one or more fleshly weaknesses.

Power corrupts – even spiritual power. It need not, but it is inevitable – unless we crucify our flesh daily.

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Terrifyingly vast numbers of apparent Christians have confused avoiding God’s wrath with a short-lived reprieve, temporarily granted in the hope that we quickly come to our senses and change our ways before it is too late:

    2 Peter 3:9-10 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but he is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night . . .

    Matthew 13:28-30. . . ‘Do you want us to go and gather them up?’
     . . . ‘No, lest perhaps while you gather up the . . . weeds, you root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First, gather up the . . . weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn them . . .”

Confusing what will happen on Judgment Day with God temporarily delaying judgment is the most appalling mistake anyone could ever make:

    Romans 2:1-5 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. . . . So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (NIV)

Don’t imagine God’s love will spare us. The exact opposite is true. God-sized love fuels God-sized wrath. If you have ever been angered at someone hurting a person you love, your anger is infinitesimal compared with God’s anger when people hurt his loved ones. Add to this the fact that God loves everyone with divine intensity, and that our sins hurt people, either directly or by setting a bad example.

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People differ as to which particular sins infatuate them. Typically, there are certain sins we could fairly happily live without, while one or two have so entrapped us as to make us wonder if we could live without them. We might even consider trading an arm or an eye for them.

Our greatest danger is not the sins we hate, but the ones we love. What should alarm us far more than the sins that disturb us is the sins we excuse – and, even more so, the sins we are blind to.

I would detest doing it, but I could write entire books on this subject. My insights would be pathetic, however, relative to what the holy Lord could expose.

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As an illustration of how appallingly weak and deluded our flesh is at guessing how we would cope if granted what the flesh craves, consider the vast numbers of people who think it would be good to be given millions of dollars. Contrast this with the experiences of all the people whose lives have been ruined by winning lotteries. For those interested, I have collected the tragic stories of sixteen lottery winners. You will find a link at the end of this webpage.

Not surprisingly, the Lord had to warn the Israelites that blessing them materially could be their downfall (Scriptures).

A sin that is so appallingly rife among most of today’s Christians that it often seems to be openly flouted, is one that the tithe-giving religious were guilty of in Jesus’ day – the love of money. Jesus attacked this strongly, as does the rest of the New Testament, with Paul, for example, calling it a root of all evil. As is typical of sin, almost all of us see greed or the love of money in other people, but never in ourselves. It is far too big a subject to discuss here, but you will find a link at the end of this webpage. I seriously considered providing a list of key Scriptures, but even that would be a lot of reading for you. I suggest visiting the link and seeing all the Scriptures there after completing this webpage.

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Scripture reveals that in God’s eyes, hate is as atrocious as murder (1 John 3:15). How could it be otherwise? Suppose a person wishes someone were dead. The only thing preventing him from killing is that he fears the consequences of getting hurt, and lacks the intelligence to dream up a way of committing the ‘perfect crime.’ Compare him with someone who goes ahead and kills because he is braver, or smart enough to work out how to get away with murder.

Should the first person be deemed more moral, when the only difference between the two is that he is dumber or a bigger coward? That would be ridiculous. Morality is a matter of the heart, not of cowardice, or lack of intelligence. From the perspective of the victim, of course, there is a vast difference between the two people, but their hearts are equally corrupt.

So it is with sexual sin. So for just one other of a vast number of possible examples of deadly sins that seek to bring us down, let’s consider lust. The Ten Commandments lists as a grievous sin going no further than merely coveting someone else’s marriage partner (Exodus 20:17), and Jesus declared that to look lustfully at a woman is to have already committed adultery in one’s heart (Matthew 5:28).

Let’s quickly explore this. I warn, however, that it could raise your blood pressure. Once a particular sin has us in its slimy grasp, our tendency to excuse the offense while hypocritically despising similar sins, goes into overdrive.

If the object of one’s look is both married and a willing participant, it is a sin against his or her marriage partner. That is just the beginning of possible offenses, however. To derive sexual excitement from someone who does not want you to, is rape. Equally, to flout one’s sexuality by dressing in a way that gives sexual excitement to someone who does not want it, is also rape. For a child to be sexually aroused by the way one dresses, is child molestation. If both parties are mature, unmarried and willing participants, it’s as grievous as a one-night stand. And each of these offenses is as vile in God’s holy eyes as any other sexual offense, such as prostitution or homosexual sin.

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Do we want Jesus to be our Savior – the one who saves us from our sins (that is, takes them from us)? Or do we want the innocent Lord of glory, who not only detests our every sin but suffered unspeakable torment because of them, to grant us a license to keep sinning? The latter option is not an option.

The Lord of the universe is so staggeringly holy as to make the strongest of us quake. He is good. That means he hates sin with a divine fury of unimaginable proportions. Sins we dismiss as minor and excusable, he sees as abysmally evil.

We began the first webpage by explaining how dying to self and crucifying the flesh are as much God’s exquisite cure for an inferiority complex as for a superiority complex. Both are serious abnormalities that God longs to free us from. Likewise, that same cure delivers those deceived by a perverse conscience; regardless of whether their conscience is satanically inflamed or deadened.

Yes, there are people who are deceitfully tormented by non-existent sins – offenses that have already been totally obliterated by the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. These people need the spiritual sanity that comes through crucifying the flesh. They will cease being the devil’s playthings when they die to their flesh’s screams that they are unforgiveable and, instead, live exclusively by faith in their resurrected Savior’s power and eagerness to cleanse from all sin all who put their trust in him. Most of the rest of us, however, suffer the opposite affliction and, again, the divine solution is for us to crucify the flesh.

Most of today’s Christians have been brainwashed by the world, the flesh and the devil into becoming appallingly hardened to sin. What should terrify, horrify and disgust us, does not.

Our Lord is moved to forgive and comfort those who are crushed by a realization of the gravity of their sin. Those in a dream world of imagining they can exploit God’s grace, however, are drifting to a nightmare beyond imagination.

People with the audacity to suppose they can corrupt divine purity; making the Perfect One a partner in their depravity by condoning their ‘little’ sins that his piercing eyes see as wickedness, are hurtling for the most appalling of shocks. Were you to do that, you would be “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” (Romans 2:5, NIV). “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries,” (Hebrews 10:26-27).

God hates sin. It is one thing for him to have mercy on those desperate to break free from a sin; it is quite another to imagine he will have mercy on those happy to remain in their favorite sin. And it is going to yet another extreme to imagine he will have mercy on those so hypocritical as to have talked themselves into considering their own pet sin acceptable, while arrogantly thinking themselves more righteous than those committing certain other sins.

As James 2:10-11 points out, we render ourselves guilty of breaking God’s law, regardless of which one it is that we break. It goes on to say that those who show no mercy in judging others shall receive judgment without mercy (James 2:13).

Anyone condemning someone else’s sin is as smart as a lawbreaker lobbying for a harsher penalty for breaking the law. Thinking ourselves better than someone else is yet another manifestation of the flesh that we must die to for us to have Christ’s life.

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We mentioned earlier how we could miss a profound spiritual experience because of a susceptibility to pride, but any fleshly weakness could equally hold us back. Would, for example, we be so sordid as to pervert a sacred experience into a little money spinner (book sales, paid appearance, etc.), or to grab a little fame, or to tout ourselves as a cut above average Christians?

For many of us, simply having a big mouth would be enough to disqualify us. Paul, for example, heard things no one was permitted to repeat (2 Corinthians 12:4), and so did John (Revelation 10:4). Would we have sufficient self-control for God to trust us with such revelation?

And carefully ponder the implications of this:

    Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ (Emphasis mine.)

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None of us can live long without being let down by someone we had trusted. Our flesh screams that God cannot be so utterly different as to be totally trustworthy.

The stunning truth is that there is no one not only as capable, but as remotely warm, safe, selfless, dependable and devoted to us as God. Alongside him, the most amazing human is a fickle, bungling idiot who frequently misunderstands us, will inevitably disappoint us, and cannot possibly be with us whenever needed, every moment of every day for the rest of eternity.

Total surrender to this astonishing being is the most privileged, beautiful, liberating, empowering and fulfilling experience possible. It is being filled not only with divine love, wisdom, power, goodness and perfection, but with God himself – the most wonderful, fascinating and exciting person in the universe. It is being made whole, like nothing else could possibly achieve. We were literally made for union with the divine. Yielding completely to God is so utterly beyond comparison that it is frustrating to the extreme trying to describe it.

I had considered saying it is vaguely like someone with knotted muscles, so tense and suspicious that he is always on hyperalert, finally yielding to the exquisitely safe, gentle, healing expertise of a masseuse of impeccable integrity. I cannot imagine myself relaxing in such a situation, however.

I have a couple of other attempts to compare it with something we can imagine. Even they fail, however, since everything is trivial when compared with being yielded to our perfect and infinitely superior Lord. Nonetheless, here are my inadequate attempts.

    [*] It is like a little girl taking a paint brush and surrendering to a famous artist who tenderly envelopes her hand with his, and suddenly she is producing priceless masterpieces.

    [*] It is like yielding to an airplane, and enjoying the thrill of soaring heavenward in a manner that should be humanly impossible.

Right now, we are blind to the future, and even to most of what is happening around us. We crash through life, stumbling and groping like clumsy idiots when the lights go off in a room filled with priceless, irreplaceable breakables. Since, however, it is our choice whether or not we stand still and call for help, we will be held accountable for all the damage we cause.

On Judgment Day, and beyond, when mystery’s fog evaporates and all is revealed, we will see with pristine clarity that choosing to nestle into the very heart of God’s will has always been the safest, coziest place in the universe. In fact, it is the only safe place. The sweetest alternative is like settling into a comfy haven on the Titanic.

Make no mistake about it, however: at times, without the exquisite benefits of understanding the implications and alternatives, God’s will can seem the most terrifying, confusing and painful option. Nevertheless, it always turns out to be the one thing you will endlessly celebrate having chosen to do. No matter how enormous the cost, it is always the smartest, most joyous and fulfilling thing we could ever have done.

Yes, in the short term, obeying God might be scary, dreary, even agonizing. Anyone truly understanding the nature of God’s will, however, delights in it as much as stumbling upon a life-giving oasis when dying of thirst in a desert. Obeying God might sometimes be confounding, taxing, even distressing. Nevertheless, nothing matches it. With it comes purpose in a meaningless universe; love in a loveless world; a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for glory. No matter how much it glitters, any alternative leaves us languishing on life’s scrapheap.

Pushing aside the grave eternal consequences, to fall from God’s will is to waste your life and condemn yourself to being a misplaced puzzle piece trying to fit where you do not belong. But far more is at stake. Life is filled with choices that have unknown eternal implications, soaring way beyond even life or death in importance. That makes cozying into the perfection of God’s will not only the greatest conceivable source of peace, but the highest of privileges.

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Total submission to God is far more basic to spiritual life than is commonly realized. The disciples called Jesus their Lord – their master (e.g. John 13:13 and Luke 5:5; 8:24, etc). Paul, Timothy, Peter and Jude each called themselves not merely Jesus’ servant, but his slave (Scriptures). They were servants, in the sense of never having to be forced to obey, but slaves, in the sense of being utterly his and, obeying him unquestioningly, no matter how much it might clash with their preferences and comfort. They could delight in this because they understood the goodness and integrity of God. Anyone recognizing how the Almighty is always right, and infinitely superior in every desirable way to any human, is eager to be his slave. On the other extreme, from the perspective of the loving kindness Christ lavishes on us, and that he honors us with the privilege of participating in work that is of critical importance to him, we are his highly trusted partners.

Writing to Christians, Paul said, you are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19 – 1 Corinthians 7:23 is similar). Everyone back then was familiar with slavery, and knew he was saying that they are Jesus’ slaves – that he owns them.

Here are some Scriptures to take very seriously:

    Matthew 7:21-22 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (NET Bible – New English Translation)

    Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. . . .

    John 15:10 If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. (Emphasis mine.)

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Of the unpopular New Testament themes that incorporated crucifying the flesh, there is just one more that I wish to mention here.

There is no denying that Jesus suffered on earth to save us from eternal suffering. For years, however, I also believed that Jesus suffered to save us from all earthly suffering. Scripture has compelled me to revise that latter presumption. It is true, of course, that our Lord often rescues us from earthly suffering, but the Bible insists that he often does not. Instead, it teaches that, rather than being crucified so that we could avoid suffering, Christ suffered as an example for all who would follow him, so that they, too, would embrace earthly suffering as he did (Important Scriptures).

It is popular today to preach, “Come to Christ in order to avoid suffering and have a cushy life.” I love and respect many who teach along those lines. So it is with a heavy heart that I am forced to say that such teaching usually produces weak Christians. I fear that they are like those Jesus spoke of “who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with joy. They have no root in themselves, but are short-lived. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they stumble [“fall away,” say many versions],” (Mark 4:16-17).

Tragically, many people actually find Islam or some other radical belief system more attractive than Christianity because the Christianity they have heard of is too soft. Moreover, expecting devotion to Christ to protect us from hard times is contrary to the thrust of the entire New Testament.

I have said much elsewhere on this website about the Bible’s insistence that we must suffer with and for Christ. The webpage you are reading, however, has grown too long for me to prove this by repeating it all here. I’ll just leave you with a few sample Scriptures and move on:

    Matthew 24:9-12 Then they will deliver you up to oppression and will kill you. You will be hated by all of the nations for my name’s sake. Then many will stumble, and will deliver up one another, and will hate one another. . . . Because iniquity will be multiplied, the love of many will grow cold.

    Acts 14:22  . . . exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into God’s Kingdom.

    Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.

    Philippians 1:29  . . . it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf

    1 Thessalonians 3:2-4  . . . to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith, that no one would be moved by these afflictions. . . . For most certainly, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction, even as it happened . . .

    2 Timothy 1:8 Therefore don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner; but endure hardship for the Good News according to the power of God

    James 5:10 Take, brothers, for an example of suffering and of perseverance, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

    1 Peter 4:12-13, 16, 19 Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. But because you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice, that at the revelation of his glory you also may rejoice with exceeding joy. . . . But if one of you suffers for being a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this matter. . . . Therefore let them also who suffer according to the will of God in doing good entrust their souls to him, as to a faithful Creator.

    (Emphasis mine.)

More such Scriptures

For the following Scriptures, some versions are slightly clearer that the one I usually quote. I will use the NIV:

    Revelation 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution . . . Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

    Revelation 13:7, 10 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. . . . If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

    Revelation 14:12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.

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We have been examining the spiritual experience, variously referred to in the Word of God as taking up your cross, dying to self, crucifying the flesh, and so on. To understand this experience slightly better, and especially to grasp how essential it is to basic Christian living, we have been examining key biblical terms that are closely related to these unusual expressions.

We have dug into, as it were, the unmarked graves of crucial aspects of the Christian life highlighted by the Bible but buried by a generation that has no interest in a holy God and instead has made a sleazy god in its own image. Their god helps them feel superior by frowning on unfashionable sins, while turning a blind eye to their lusts, boosting their egos, and feeding their greed. Ours is the generation prophesied by Scripture who “will not listen to the sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts,” (2 Timothy 4:3) – a generation who are lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant . . . unthankful, unholy,  . . . without self-control . . . not lovers of good . . . headstrong, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We have already peeped at repentance, humility, avoidance of lethal fleshly traps, and total surrender to God. We have seen their inseparable connection with crucifying the flesh, ‘hating’ or ‘losing’ one’s self, and so on. We left them unmarked because the very sight of them can make our flesh flinch, and possibly deter some readers before having the chance to discover they are far more positive than they superficially seem.

We will complete this section, however, with terms that are so obviously positive that we can confidently announce them in headings.

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Again, although what the Bible means by love is not exactly synonymous with such terms as denying yourself, being crucified with Christ, and so on, there is a huge overlap. In fact, it is impossible to love, in the biblical sense, without it. Let’s explore this.

Whereas what the world calls love (especially in romance) is often selfish, biblical love is utterly selfless and sacrificial:

    1 John 3:16 By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

    Ephesians 5:2 Walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God . . .

    John 15:12-13 This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

    Similar Scriptures

God is love, and he insists that love must be our top priority (Scriptures).

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple (Luke 18:10-14) highlights how critical it is that for our salvation we look down on no-one. This is explained in depth in The Forgotten Secret of Inner Peace (you’ll find a link at the end of this webpage). God’s Word insists that divine forgiveness hinges on us forgiving others (Scriptures). Forgiving is so much easier when we consider ourselves better than no one.

In addition to not feeling superior to others, an aspect of dying to self is neither envying nor resenting them. The removal of these blockages frees us up to love. So here, too, love is strongly linked to dying to self.

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Equally, what is meant by such terms as denying yourself and killing the flesh (old man) is the essential ingredient of Christlikeness:

    John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

    John 8:28  . . . I do nothing of myself, but as my Father taught me, I say these things.

    John 8:50, 54 But I don’t seek my own glory. There is one who seeks and judges. . . . If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is our God.

    Similar Scriptures

Living this way was the norm for the Son of God and for all who, through him, are truly a son/daughter of the Most High. It involves submission to God and total obedience – not just obedience when it is convenient, or when it lines up with our plans, or when it makes sense to us.

You don’t need me to remind you that this is yet another thing that offends the carnal side of us (our ‘flesh’). We have noted how this perverse part of us keeps needlessly backing away from the One who, for us, sacrificed his all. It fears that a perfect God who keeps on loving is too good to be true, and that he must be like some feckless, fallible human who does not understand us as well as we do, nor cares for us as much as we do. The truth is that our loving Lord far surpasses any of us on both measures.

Let’s not deceive ourselves with some romanticized fabrication of Christlikeness. The real thing offends every one of our senses. It’s filthy. It’s bloodied. It’s nauseating.

Christlikeness is fasting for forty days and forty nights until you are literally starving to death. It is having the power to feed yourself by turning stones into life-giving food, and refusing to do so. That’s denying yourself. It’s refusing to call upon tens of thousands of mighty angels, while everyone sees you as a weakling and failure as you suffer a torturous death (Matthew 26:53).

Let the blood drain from your face as you quake before the eternal, terrifyingly exalted, and petrifyingly holy, Lord of Glory, through whom, and for whom, everything in existence was created and is sustained (Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3). See this mind-boggling being humbling himself to the extreme of becoming human, then letting thugs ridicule and bash him, stripping him naked and pinning him like a bug to a cross where he, the personification of innocence and perfection, is tortured to death as if he were the vilest specimen of humanity. Hear the mockers chuckle, “He healed others and he can’t even save himself!” Hear others excitedly say, “Don’t ease his thirst. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him (Matthew 27:48-49).” Hear his own agonized cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

That’s humiliation. That’s dying to self. That’s total submission to the divine will. That’s love. And that’s what following him and being crucified with Christ is all about. It’s the mindset of the average follower (Philippians 2:5-8). We are expected to leave behind the sin that entices, and earthly entrapments, and the ease that paralyzes; looking instead to our Leader “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame,“ (Hebrews 12:2). “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” it goes on to say (Hebrews 12:3-4).

Look to him; not some manicured preacher in a fancy suit telling the world how wonderful he is, nor me writing like a wimp in obscurity. Look to Christ.

Let’s not forget that God’s goal is for us to be in the very image of Christ (Scriptures) who, in turn is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:3).

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Spiritual Power

Having seen how submitted to God Jesus was, consider this:

    James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (NIV)

Spiritual power hinges on whether we are submitted to God.

Consider police officers – especially British police officers who don’t even carry a gun, and yet they have such power that even criminals obey them. These officers have great powers only because they are in submission to those above them. If an officer were to disobey his superiors, he would end up suspended and lose these special powers.

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Our overview has given us an inkling of how very much of the Christian life hinges on dying to self. In fact, crucifying the flesh is so basic to being born again and to spiritual life that it is even what baptism symbolizes. Despite its length, the first quote is worth examining, not only for its insight into the meaning of baptism, but because it links baptism with crucifying the ‘old man’ (our Adamic, or sinful, nature):

    Romans 6:3-6 Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin.

    Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

In the early church, baptism occurred virtually as soon as one decided to commit to Christ (Scriptures).

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We end this section having discovered that the experience referred to by such terms as crucifying the flesh is so foundational to Christianity that we can barely move in the New Testament without bumping into it in one form or another.

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An On-Going Process

Whether baptism is a meaningless ritual, or the source of spiritual transformation, depends on whether one keeps dying to self. What baptism symbolizes is not a one-off event, but continuous. Consider, for example:

    Luke 9:23  . . . If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (NIV)

    1 Corinthians 15:31  . . . I die daily.

    2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.

    (Emphasis mine.)

In this regard, ponder the implications of Romans 12:1 saying, present (or offer) your bodies as a living sacrifice. Note that this is not something God does to us, but something he asks us to do. And why the unusual expression living sacrifice? A dead sacrifice can only be a one-off event. From our perspective, once we have died, it’s all over. For a living sacrifice, however, it’s on-going.

The physical body we were born with is slowly dying (a consequence of the fall). Likewise, for as long as we live in an earthly body, another consequence of the fall – the corrupted part of us that the Bible calls the old man or the flesh – remains with us. For this reason, Scripture says:

    Romans 6:11  . . . consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ . . . (Emphasis mine.)

Our sin-nature has not disappeared; we have to continually choose to act as if we were dead to it.

This is why Scripture reminds people who were already Christians, “Beloved, I beg you . . . to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11) and, “Put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5, NIV).

* * *

Understanding ‘the Flesh’

Despite it being a vitally important spiritual concept, I’ve struggled to find a good analogy for ‘the flesh.’ Let’s start with what is currently my best attempt, and then we’ll plunge into what Scripture actually reveals.

Most of us have driven with satellite navigation telling us where to go. Imagine a system that is a little more advanced, and also tells us what speed to travel, when to overtake cars, and so on. Suppose the system that comes with our car is programmed to guide us, not on the basis of what is smartest, safest and legal, but on whatever might give us a cheap thrill. Disregarding No Entry signs on freeways, and hurtling toward oncoming traffic, for example, can be quite an adrenaline rush. Dodging cars while speeding in the wrong direction down a one-way street might get you to your destination quicker – if all goes well. The instructions it gives are a danger to you and other road users, to say nothing of the heavy penalties you would incur for breaking road laws. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that when you make a right choice, it keeps giving all sorts of false warnings, such as repeatedly screaming. “Go back! You are going the wrong way!” or “You are going dangerously slow! Accelerate immediately to avoid a rear-end collision.”

This navigation system is permanently fitted. It cannot even be switched off. If we wish, however, we can obtain a second system that is programmed, not for excitement, but to keep us and other road users safe. In the short term, it might not seem much fun, but it is by far the smarter option, and it always advises what is in your ultimate best interest – the decisions that you will end up being glad you made, even if they did not seem so desirable at the time.

The old navigation system corresponds with what the Bible sometimes calls the old man – the corrupted part of us that we genetically inherited from ancestors who chose to rebel against God’s guidance. Regardless of how much we might despise this part of us, it will keep telling us what it wants us to do. We cannot silence it, but we can ‘die’ to it. By that, I mean we can choose to be as unresponsive to it as a dead person would be and, instead, obey a new system that, if we choose, can be supernaturally implanted in us through Christ. The wisest choice is to firmly resolve never to obey the old, defective guidance system, and keep remaining ‘dead’ to it, so that consistently obeying the Christ-bought system becomes a deeply ingrained habit. Which system we obey, however, remains a moment by moment decision.

* * *

The Nitty-Gritty

Enough with the superficial: let’s plunge deeper.

In the original, the Bible often uses the same Greek word for our fallen nature as for our physical body (Many Scriptures). Of itself, this verbal connection proves nothing. Deeper investigation, however, suggests that ‘the flesh’ and one’s earthly body are so interconnected that it is impossible for Christians to have one without the other. Certainly, both have been corrupted by the fall (Adam and Eve’s sin). And, in practice, for as long as we live in our earthly body, our ‘flesh’ – the part of us that generates sinful desires – will remain with us. For this reason, the Bible mostly speaks not of our fallen nature dying, but of us choosing to die (be unresponsive) to it.

With every privilege divinely entrusted to us comes enormous responsibility. One of our greatest privileges is being able to have offspring. For an obvious example of how a person’s actions can have genetic ramifications, consider how exposure to radiation can affect a person’s genes. Children conceived afterwards, and subsequent generations, can suffer the consequences.

Sin has grave, far-reaching consequences, including the genetic. This has enormous implications for each of us, since we were born with bodies that have inherited our ancestors’ genes, and every single one of our ancestors has sinned. As a result, the physical part of us – including our brains – has been corrupted.

A clear sign of this is that the physical part of us keeps aging and slowly dying. (Death, you will recall, is a consequence of sin.)

From the moment we were born again, our spiritual potential has skyrocketed, but we have retained the same physical body. Among the implications of being born again is that we have an utterly new destiny, and will be given an entirely new body but, of course, not until our current body literally dies.

No matter how much one believes in healing miracles, our earthly body bears the consequence of ancestral sin by, for example, aging. In fact, the Bible is quite emphatic about our physical bodies being in a state of decay and distressing us:

    Romans 8:22-23 For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. Not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for adoption, the redemption of our body.

    2 Corinthians 4:16  . . . our outward person [our physical body] is decaying . . .

    2 Corinthians 5:1-4  . . . if the earthly house of our tent is dissolved, we have a building from God . . . eternal, in the heavens. For most certainly in this we groan, longing to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven . . . . For indeed we who are in this tent do groan, being burdened  . . . we desire . . . that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

    (Emphasis mine.)

One of the sources of our current anguish is that the corrupted part of us that generates sinful desires remains with us for as long as we are in our earthly, mortal bodies. Through Christ, however, we do not have to slavishly obey those yearnings.

If you have died to self, pleasing God means everything to you, and pleasing only yourself means nothing to you. It does not involve becoming a mindless, unfeeling robot, however. To die to self is to come alive to God, so that God’s superior passions, sorrows, joys, values and plans become yours.

* * *

When the Flesh seems Holy

Evil always fights dirty. It is insidiously deceptive.

The words, “Satan masquerades as an angel of light,” stick in one’s mind. The very context, however, proves that this tactic is employed by other agents of evil. The expression appears in a passage about false teachers who had slipped into the church (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15) – ferocious assassins pretending to be on our side, giving every appearance of being not just harmless, but good. Obvious threats are not nearly as dangerous.

Another agent of evil, the flesh, is equally deceptive. We all successfully resist many obvious manifestations of the flesh. Our greatest threat, however, is what slips in unnoticed. Like Satan appearing as an angel of light, and wolves dressed up as sheep, the flesh can seem good and righteous.

I long to side-step clarifying this with some practical examples. Unfortunately, for me to do so would be dereliction of duty (cf. Ezekiel 33:8-9). On the other hand, all of us – especially someone daring to address others – should take seriously the gravity of such Scripture as the following:

    Matthew 7:1 Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.

    James 3:1-2 Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. For we all stumble in many things. . . .

    James 4:11-12 Don’t speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge another?

    Important Related Scriptures.

If I don’t take those warnings seriously now, I certainly will on Judgment Day. We can spot the speck in someone else’s eye a mile away, but the log in our own seems invisible. So here are just a few examples . . .

Prayer, fasting, Bible study and generous giving to the needy can be beautiful manifestations of the Spirit, but they can also be manifestations of the flesh – an opportunity to feed one’s ego by proudly displaying oneself as a cut above others, and to win the approval, or even admiration, of others. Jesus was not impressed (Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 16-18; 23:5-7).

Again, “rightly dividing the word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV) and protecting vulnerable sheep by exposing wolves is most important, but these good things, too, are so easily perverted by the flesh. Rather than being manifestations of love, they can be driven by all sorts of nasties, such as jealousy, opportunities to exalt oneself, extract revenge, and so on. Among the “works of the flesh” are “outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions” (Galatians 5:20).

Nothing can be more magnificent than church growth that builds God’s kingdom. The flesh is so insidious, however, that it can corrupt any good thing. It is sadly possible for church growth to degenerate into feeding a pastor’s ego and lining his pockets. My heart breaks for leaders who unknowingly fall prey to this cunning attack. I am equally concerned, however, that being led by the flesh, rather than the Spirit, exposes those under their sway to all sorts of spiritual dangers.

* * *

Why Doesn’t God Destroy our Fallen Nature NOW?

At first thought, it is bewildering, even to the point of seeming ludicrous, that, for our time on earth, a holy, loving God does not remove the sin-prone part of Christians. I have devoted much time to seeking God over this quandary. I did this, not so much for my own sake, but for those who are sorely tempted to think ill of God because of what seems a divine failure.

A basic necessity for anyone daring to have a relationship with an infinitely superior, supernatural being must be a willingness to tolerate mystery. The Perfect One always has surpassingly good reasons for everything he does. If we are unwilling to trust God’s wisdom and goodness without our puny minds understanding all his reasons, we are not worthy of him. Nevertheless, as I have sought God’s heart and mind on these issues, he has graciously given me so many surprising, but satisfying, answers that I do not have space for all of them here.

This is no cop out, however, nor some ploy to make money out of you. I have detailed the answers elsewhere, and, like everything I do, made them available without charge. You can easily access them through links at the end of this webpage. And don’t worry: the wonderful thing about my intelligence is that the Lord can only reveal to me things that are easy to understand.

In Life’s Mysteries Explained, I detail astonishing spiritual benefits we each receive through having to battle intense yearnings to sin – agonizing battles like those of our Lord in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-12), in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37-39), and, I strongly suspect, many other occasions away from human gaze (cf. Luke 4:13). Scripture insists, by the way, that for our perfect Role Model, suffering horrendous temptation was an essential part of his earthly mission (Scriptures).

You are likely to think me crazy until you read the webpage but, as impossible as it initially seems, what gives every appearance of corrupting us, actually ends up purifying us; making us truly holy and Christlike.

Staggering as it seems, what battles with the flesh do within us could never be achieved by the Holy Lord removing the part of us that spawns sinful cravings.

Another supremely important issue is that if the fallen part of us were removed, we would be rather like angels. Should that happen, there would be little point in us being on this planet. Our divine purpose for remaining here is to engage in the work that is of mind-boggling importance to our Savior – rescuing those who are hurtling to eternal destruction.

The downside to being like angels is why the Almighty entrusted the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to humans, not angels. Reasons for God’s smart choice are explained in another link at the end of this webpage: Why Good Christians Suffer.

From God’s perspective, even those whose divine mission is primarily to Christians, are assigned to build Christians up so that they, in turn, can then be used to save the lost. Those called to strengthen people who end up winning the lost, need to be experts in battling the flesh. Indeed, if any of us are to gain any ability to help those who are struggling, it will come primarily, not from books or classrooms, but from experiences gained in our own messy battles with the flesh. There’s an unconvincing shallowness about those who are merely transmitting head knowledge. It drastically reduces their effectiveness.

The benefits resulting from resisting fleshly cravings are so immense that they might even be beyond our ability to tally them all. It is not, of course, that the flesh is good, but that God is so good, and so powerful, that he can bend evil so that it ends up not only thwarting the evil one, but achieving the very opposite of his evil intentions.

* * *

The Cost

Dying to self is letting go of the inferior, in order to cling to the superior. It is trading stupidity for wisdom, defeat for victory, the defiled for the pristine, and the decaying for the eternal. The choice is a no-brainer, except that it is exchanging the known for the unknown. That’s where faith and love come in. Faith says it will be worth it because God is the source of everything good, and that even though total obedience is always the minimum God deserves, he is so generous that he stupendously compensates us for everything it costs us. Love says this doesn’t even matter; all that matters is pleasing the love of one’s life: God.

Killing our fleshly yearnings is as positive as swapping sickness for health. For people who have been sick all their lives, however, health can be surprisingly scary. It can mean greater responsibility, having to find a job and earn a living, and taking care of oneself.

There is another factor, however, that makes faith and love even more needed. Denying ourselves is always the best thing we could ever do. In fact, I have understated the mind-boggling benefits – especially from an eternal perspective. Nevertheless, I would be little better than a sleazy con-artist not to warn that there will be times when the cost is so staggeringly high that it is exceeded only by the reward.

Jesus was not wasting words when he spoke of the need to count the cost (Luke 14:27-28, 31). Neither was he being frivolous when he kept making it very hard for people to be his followers (Scriptures). Likewise, there are good reasons for the God who cannot lie using expressions that would make anyone recoil in horror to describe what is involved in the transition from spiritual death to life.

Jesus spoke of his followers having to hate their lives and their loved ones (Luke 14:26). He said all of them must shoulder a cross. In Jesus’ day, the sight of someone carrying a cross would make everyone’s blood run cold. For his original hearers, a cross was not only as chilling as a firing squad, but perhaps the most brutal instrument of torture ever devised. For us today, even the simple command to follow Jesus is harrowing because we know exactly where our Leader and Role Model ended up. The path he blazed involved being humiliated and tortured to death before entering glory in the next life.

A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master, warned Jesus. If he was accused of being demon possessed and considered such a threat to society that they concluded he must be killed, we have no basis for expecting anything less ghastly for ourselves (cf. Matthew 10:24-25, 28, 35-39). Over and over, the Word of God emphasizes that by suffering unspeakably, Jesus was leaving us an example to follow (Scriptures). And to remove all doubt, it lists Paul’s horrifying tally of floggings, stonings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and so on, as well that of Jesus’ other followers.

Crucifying the flesh involves not only rewards that are out of this world, but sacrificing ease and worldly pleasure, and embracing things that others would shrink from. Dying to self is so much the smartest thing we could ever do that, ironically, it ends up being in our own self-interest. There will be many times when it does not seem that way in the short-term. Nevertheless, the cost does indeed surpass the reward – to inconceivable extremes – and the reward never ends.

Far more precious than being on the winning side and rejoicing for all eternity for the choices you made, serving the God of love and truth and impeccable goodness means that you have not only done what is right, but through him you have done things of eternal significance, and helped make the universe a better place. In a world of self-obsessed egotists that might not mean much, but for those freed from that blindness, it means everything.

* * *

A Cowardly Post Script

After almost completing this webpage, another thought came to me. I could easily have inserted it where it logically belongs. I’m unsure whether it is cowardice or wisdom that has led me to decide to leave it until the end. Let me explain.

The Bible is adamant that to have spiritual life requires dying to one’s self/flesh. To grasp how much this is emphasized in Scripture, we looked earlier at some important New Testament themes that although we cannot erase them from the Bible, they clash with our flesh so much that our flesh tries to erase these spiritual truths from our consciousness.

“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good,” invites Psalm 34:8. But our flesh wants to run a mile. All of God’s ways are desirable, but our flesh doesn’t want to hang around long enough to find out. In an attempt to break this impasse, I tried earlier to introduce certain biblical themes briefly, but gently, in the hope of easing some of your concerns, and giving you a hint of how each is far more beautiful and less scary than the flesh imagines.

There is one recurring biblical theme, however, that is so contrary to the flesh that I cannot think how to introduce it without enraging the flesh. At the very mention of it, you are likely to feel like lynching me. We cannot deny that it is in the Bible, and we want to retain some respectability by not openly rejecting the Bible but, especially in our era, it is something that few people can tolerate unless they have died to self.

There are actually several matters, but I see them as similar. I can divide them into two categories. I guess I’ll just have to blurt them out. I can only say before you start knotting my noose that they seem a good test as to how well we are doing at dying to self.

In the first category are such things as, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” (Matthew 5:39, NIV). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . . If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back,” (Luke 6:27-30, NIV). Forgive seventy times seven, (Matthew 18:21-22).

The second category is obedience and submission. If this grates us, even in our relationship with a perfect, infinitely superior God, it is increased beyond measure when it comes to submitting to fallible humans. And yet this is what the Bible keeps saying: children, honor and obey your parents; wives, submit and obey your husbands (even if they are non-Christian); slaves, obey your masters (even if they are harsh and non-Christian); everyone, honor and obey your spiritual leaders; honor and obey civil authorities (whom you did not get to vote for, and who could be foreign oppressors).

* * *

Final Thought

To die to self is to truly live. To be crucified with Christ is to be resurrected to a whole new life. The fruit of the Spirit begin when the works of the flesh end.

More Help

Understanding Dying to Self: Making Sense of Jesus and the Bible

The Astonishing Power of Humility: Faith in God vs Faith in Self

Satisfied: The Christianity that Most Christians have Missed

Repentance: Why you Cannot be Forgiven While Refusing to Let Go of Sin

Worldliness: More Insidious than Most Christians Realize

Links Mentioned Above

16 Tragic Lottery Winner Stories

God & Money

Life’s Mysteries Explained Details the surprising benefits of having to suffer intense temptation

Why Good Christians Suffer Explains why God chose fallible, fallen humans, not angels, to be his witnesses

The Forgotten Secret of Inner Peace Explains how vital it is that we look down on no-one. This link takes you directly to the most relevant part of the page. Start there, and keep reading the page it leads to.

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