Controlling the Flesh

Our Ever-Present Challenge

“To all God’s loved ones who are in Rome, called to be saints. May grace and peace be granted to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7, Weymouth).

by John Hummel

Our text identifies the book of Romans as written to saints! Paul strongly encourages brethren to become living sacrifices. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). This is addressed to justified believers, else they would have nothing acceptable to offer (R1585:3).

This privilege is through “the mercies of God,” and it is a reasonable thing for appreciative saints to do. It is not a command — it is a choice — but a very reasonable choice. If consecration was a reasonable service for Jesus, it is all the more so for us (R5423, R5422:3).

The Apostle Paul tells us that for those who choose a course of consecration (sacrifice), the Lord offers the opportunity to become joint-heirs with Christ. The Spirit of God bears witness, with our spirit, our mind, that we are children of God (Romans 8:16, 17). If we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will share his glory. The next four scriptures are for us. Read them slowly and pause after each one. Focus on them and sense how they make you feel.

2 Peter 1:4, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”

Roman 8:28,30,31, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (30) For whom he did predestinate, them he also called … justified … glorified. (31) … If God be for us, who can be against us?”

2 Corinthians 4:17,18, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; (18) While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Romans 8:18 (Weymouth), “What we now suffer I count as nothing in comparison with the glory which is soon to be manifested in us.”

Do we feel strengthened and encouraged by these texts? We should be! But we require patience. Roman 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Transformation requires time. Developing a Christlike character is progressive. It will take a lifetime.

A New Creature

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). From the time the new creature exists, there is a conflict between the old and new nature. We each have the enemy of sin within. “The law of sin … is in my members” (Romans 7:23). Do we ever do what we do not wish to do? Then we know what Paul was speaking of. We might suffer discouragement. Our flesh is weak — but not weak enough to give up and surrender to the new mind. Thus, the new mind struggles against the propensities of the flesh.

Antidote for Discouragement

This is the main theme in this article — resisting discouragement. We will explore ways to help our flesh spend more time being encouraged and being an encouragement to others. We consider this from two standpoints: (a) encouragement of self, (b) encouragement of others. Both involve a battle with our flesh, bringing it to serve and support our new will.

Typically, we do not think of the flesh serving the new creature. More likely we think of it as a hindrance and a liability to be tolerated. Is it even possible for the flesh to actually help achieve the goals of the new creature? Remember, we are to put away the sinful deeds of the flesh, not the flesh itself. The flesh will be with us until the day we graduate (2 Corinthians 5:4).

Think about an uplifting experience, where you felt the full support of the Lord in your life. Can you recall it clearly? The circumstances, details, feelings, and emotions? Thinking about past encouraging experiences can lead to present encouragement. The benefits of a positive experience can have a residual effect.

When we experience our next blessing, our next encouragement, let us write down the details. Details achieve two important things. They force us to think about the experience closely, reinforcing it in our minds. Secondly, it allows us to relive the feelings we experienced when our flesh was uplifted and at one with the Lord.

Your mind is a cup that is always full. You have a choice of how to fill it. Let us consider five methods to keep our cup filled with encouraging, positive thoughts, to help us be an encouragement to ourselves.

(1) Notice small, simple blessings. Do not let routine blessings go unnoticed. Our walk is made up of more small experiences than large ones. The following story makes the point.

This classic story is of a farmer who had a horse and one son. One day the horse fled the corral to the freedom of the hills. A neighbor seeing this happen went to the farmer and said, “Your horse got out. What bad luck.” The farmer replied, “Well, we will see.”

The next night the horse returned to his corral for feeding, leading 12 wild stallions with him. The neighbor heard the good news and said “Wow, now you have 13 horses. What good luck!” The farmer replied. “Well, we will see.”

Later the farmer’s son, breaking one of the stallions, was thrown off the horse and broke a leg. The neighbor, sympathetically, said “What bad luck!” The farmer replied, “We will see.”

A few days later war was declared and the government came through the town, conscripting able-bodied young man to defend their country, never to return again. But the young man was saved because of his broken leg.

If we only receive blessings our way, we will miss a lot. Let us receive blessings as they come, not just when or how we think they should. Do not miss things God has for our development.

(2) Find the blessings in trials. In Chinese, the word “crisis” also means “opportunity.” Think of your next trial as an “opportunity for growth.” Did the Lord allow the experience or trial to discourage you? Was that His goal? Reap the purpose of the experience. This allows us to focus on more blessings to fill your “flesh” cup.

(3) Talk to yourself. What thoughts go through your mind when you are alone? Use self-talk to affirm positive, uplifting thoughts. Call to mind God’s promises and apply them to yourself. Think on God’s loving plan for mankind and remember, God’s love includes you. Your experiences are allowed as part of your transformation. Focus on what God has in mind. Keep your mind on God’s goal. He has called you to be part of the greatest project in the history of mankind.

(4) Create positive growth experiences, for yourself and others. Do you receive a reward before work? Our walk is not based on this. Full development is the result of faithfulness and glorification, but glorification is not the result of no development.

Earlier, we mentioned 2 Peter 1:4. Verses 5-7 show that our walk is not passive. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”

By adding these things, through patient experience, we “shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. … Wherefore … brethren, give diligence … for if ye do these things ye shall never fall … So an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (verses 8-11).

Take steps to influence and control our flesh, to overcome its weakness, and to work in cooperation with the goals of the new creature. This walk requires diligence. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

(5) Teach or show others your happiness and contentment by your actions. “Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words” (1 John 3:18, God’s Word).

What is the power of example? Everyone reading this would like to be more like our elder brother. Is that not why we study and strive to be more Christ-like? His words are for our instruction. But we also learn a lot by focusing on his behavior. You have heard the question, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus’ actions teach us how to pattern our behavior to be more like him. If we are more like him, we will be more pleasing to the Heavenly Father.

Can the behavior of our flesh be helpful to other brethren? Pay attention to the way our actions will be received by others. We must feel a responsibility for the way we interact. When others see our flesh, let our actions reflect that we are followers of Christ. Your actions can and should be encouraging to your brethren. Focus your flesh and new mind on promises and goals — not the snares of the adversary.

Methods to Encourage Others

Two words are helpful here: reality and perception. These are not always the same. Reality is the way something actually is Perception is a view or opinion of the way something is. The variable is in our ability to grasp or interpret reality.

Five people may witness an accident. How many versions of what happened are possible? As many as five. How many of the possible versions are true? Between five and none. How many versions are believed to be true? All of them! People believe what they think to be true.

This defines a new term, individual reality, which is based on individual perception. This is an important point to remember when we want to be an encouragement to others. We must be in tune with their perception, not only ours.

Here are five suggestions to remember when dealing with our brethren. Behaviors we would like others to remember when dealing with us. Think of these as requests from another person.

(1) Hear and understand me. That is, be an active listener. “O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear [understand] my speech (Psalms 17:6). David identifies two important points: the need to be heard, and the confidence he is understood.

How long would you talk to someone if you believed they were looking at you but not listening or understanding? By contrast, have you ever come away from a conversation saying, “That was a good discussion.” What made it so? You perceived that the other person was listening. They showed interest, provided feedback, and understood. Is that not the point of conversation?

“My son, pay attention to my words. Open your ears to what I say” (Proverbs 4:20, God’s Word). Solomon invites us to listen because what is said is important. Is it any different for us? We speak because we think what we are saying has value and is worth hearing.

(2) Even when we disagree, please do not make me feel wrong. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). What does this say to us? Does it suggest an argumentative, dictatorial, one-sided discussion, or a two-way exchange that recognizes the value of the other side even though there is disagreement (sins as scarlet)?

While we are in the flesh, we will deal with disagreements. Emotions that disagreements can produce are anger, disappointment, fear, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, shame, low self-esteem, criticism, and pride. We should not be surprised that these are all negative. Being wrong is usually associated with negatives. Most believe it is good when you are right and bad when you are wrong.

The above are examples of looking for culprits. Priority is focused on who is right, and who is wrong. All value is placed on being right. This puts pressure on making sure someone else is wrong. This approach conflicts with a key example in the way God handled a disagreement.

What are some benefits of a disagreement? There is an opportunity to show compassion, find a better way, demonstrate forgiveness, offer support, exercise character in you and the other person, learn a lesson, grow, show love for others and for God, and follow Jesus’ example. These are solution-based behaviors pleasing to God.

Adam sinned creating a disagreement. God’s response was solution-based. He provided the Ransom. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Finding solutions, not culprits, does not avoid accountability. God’s solution demonstrated love, while not violating justice. When dealing with disagreement, treat it as an opportunity. This may be difficult at first, but be part of a solution. Doing this, we will be more God-like.

(3) Acknowledge the goodness in mankind. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God … Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). From this scripture, what is God’s impression of mankind? How much does He value them?

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If God so loves the world, what does He think of His saints? They are surely “precious in the sight of Jehovah” (Psalms 116:15).

As we have opportunity, “let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). We can encourage others by showing appreciation of them, and treating them with respect. We are still in the flesh and we will fail. Acknowledge that and work toward doing better the next time.

(4) Recognize the good intentions of others. Do outcomes always equal intentions? Apparently not. “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Psalms 19:12). Has anyone affected you negatively, or made you feel bad? In this case, do you think it would be helpful to point it out to them with criticism, anger, or in a belittling way? Perhaps they recognize their mistake and feel bad, especially if it has negatively affected others. Let this temper our consideration of them. If it is feasible, seek a resolution that supports improvement for the future.

(5) Tell the truth with compassion, sincerity, and mercy. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2). It is wise to treat others as you wish to be treated.

We cannot predict the results of a discussion. But we are not responsible for the other person’s reaction. Our responsibility is to offer a comfortable opportunity to gain better awareness, acknowledge good qualities and behaviors, and discuss things with compassion and sincerity. Sometimes the tone is more meaningful to another than content. Truth in kindness is received differently than truth in anger. “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart. So shalt thou find favor … in the Recognize the good intentions of others. the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:3,4).

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