Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Slaying the Dragon of Flesh

Yesterday I posted a quote from Mike Bird on the important NT theme of "become who you are."

This is getting at the crucial truth of NT ethics that the imperative (what you should do) is built upon the indicative (what God has done). It's a foreign way of thinking for many of us, and we have to adjust our mental compass in order to walk this way.

We see this all throughout the NT. Just a few examples:

"You really are unleavened" (indicative), therefore "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump" (imperative) [1 Cor. 5:7].

"You are not under law but under grace" and you "have been brought from death to life (indicatives), therefore "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. . . . Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness" (imperatives) [Rom. 6:12-14].

"Having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness (indicatives) . . . now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (imperative) [Rom. 6:18-19]

But this teaching shouldn't cause us to neglect the indicative-imperative model with regard to the fight against the flesh. For example:
"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (indicative), therefore, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (imperative) [Gal. 5:16, 24]
One of the best explanations of this is a sermon illustration I heard several years ago from John Piper (from a 1983 sermon):
Picture your flesh—that old ego with the mentality of merit and craving for power and reputation and self-reliance—picture it as a dragon living in some cave of your soul.

Then you hear the gospel, and in it Jesus Christ comes to you and says, "I will make you mine and take possession of the cave and slay the dragon. Will you yield to my possession? It will mean a whole new way of thinking and feeling and acting."

You say: "But that dragon is me. I will die."

He says, "And you will rise to newness of life, for I will take its plan; I will make my mind and my will and my heart your own."

You say, "What must I do?"

He answers, "Trust me and do as I say. As long as you trust me, we cannot lose."

Overcome by the beauty and power of Christ you bow and swear eternal loyalty and trust. And as you rise, he puts a great sword in your hand and says, "Follow me." He leads you to the mouth of the cave and says, "Go in, slay the dragon."

But you look at him bewildered, "I cannot. Not without you."

He smiles. "Well said. You learn quickly. Never forget: my commands for you to do something are never commands to do it alone." Then you enter the cave together. A horrible battle follows and you feel Christ's hand on yours. At last the dragon lies limp. You ask, "Is it dead?"

His answer is this: "I have come to give you new life. This you received when you yielded to my possession and swore faith and loyalty to me. And now with my sword and my hand you have felled the dragon of the flesh. It is a mortal wound. It will die. That is certain. But it has not yet bled to death, and it may yet revive with violent convulsions and do much harm. So you must treat it as dead and seal the cave as a tomb. The Lord of darkness may cause earthquakes in your soul to shake the stones loose, but you build them up again. And have this confidence: with my sword and my hand on yours this dragon's doom is sure, he is finished, and your new life is secure."

I think that is the meaning of verse 24, "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Christ has taken possession of our soul. Our old self has been dealt a mortal wound and stripped of its power to have dominion. The Christian life, the fruit of the Spirit, is a constant reckoning of the flesh as dead (piling stones on its tomb) and a constant relying on the present Spirit of Christ to produce love, joy, and peace within. The difference between the Christian life and popular American morality is that Christians will not take one step unless the hand of Christ holds the hand that wields the sword of righteousness.