Matter Over Mind – Body Over Soul
What we seldom think or talk about is the totally opposite phrase, “Matter Over Mind.” If you will, “Body Over Soul.” How often do we see that unfold, even in the Christian’s life as well as in the lives of Christian ministers? When it comes to the commission of sins through the course of our lives, I have often noticed that while my mind upstairs knows that something is wrong, there is a more pressing dark influence coming from the basement of my life somewhere that has won out and convinced the mind to go along with it. Can you relate? We know it is wrong, but something overpowers us and convinces us to do it anyway.
Sad to say, but most folks spend most of their lives blaming others for their problems. But if we allow ourselves to be totally honest with ourselves, we all would have to admit we have done more harm to ourselves than any other man or men have done to us. Or are ever likely to do to us! I know that such a statement makes people get all jittery and defensive. But the blunt, knock-down-drag-out truth is that we have been and sometimes still are our own worst enemies.
PAUL’S UGLY FLESH
The Apostle Paul was caught on the horns of this same dilemma when he writes about this mystery in Romans 7:15,
“For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I
would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”
Upon first reading, it sounds quite weird! Almost like a mental patient with multiple-personality disorder! What he really wants to do, He doesn’t’ do. Which in this context would be the right thing to do, but it doesn’t get done. On the other had, the thing mind you that he says he hates to do, that is the thing he ends up doing. Which in this case would be the wrong thing to do, but he does it anyway! Creepy and yet strangely familiar!
Of course, we can always solve the mystery and claim innocence at the same time with Flip Wilson’s now famous line, “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Poor Satan, the handy dump-all landfill! He gets blamed for everything. Can you imagine the irony of forcing the devil to claim innocence? I am afraid that all of us have afforded him from time to time that undeserved privilege.
Or like the words of Ovid the Roman poet who also said,
“I see the better things – and I favor them – but I do the worse.”
I appreciate Paul’s and Ovid’s honesty. When Paul writes about these conundrums, I used to read them thinking that he was only discussing what it was like before he became a Christian. Many devout Christian scholars believe he was discussing what it was like after he became a Christian. I now believe that Paul was discussing what it was like before and after he became a Christian.
The Apostle Paul does begin to come to a solving of the mystery when he seems to discover the Darth Vader scoundrel in all of this, the real villain behind the mask. He writes in Romans 7:18,
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is
present in me, but the doing of the good is not.”
Wow! There it is! First of all, as we have already seen, the reason for his totally contradictory behavior is not others but himself. Did you see that? The big bad me! Nothing good dwells in that me. This also means that everything bad is in that nasty me. Nothing good means everything not good. We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this news flash. The bad ME in all of us he gives a name – FLESH! A flesh flash! How do you do!
Later Paul cries out in horror in Romans 7:25,
“Wretched man that I am, who shall set me free from the BODY of this death?”
Now we know who the wretch is in his wretchedness – HIS BODY! And no matter how much we dress up the body-flesh; no matter how much time we spend on the flesh to make it appear and smell beautiful and desirable, it is the ugly wretch that is stinking up our lives.
In Philippians 3:21 in the KJV Paul calls it “THIS VILE BODY.” It is the rotting root of the sick plant – the big bad fleshly me! The Greek word here for flesh is Sarx from which we get other English words such as sarcoma which is a dreaded form of body cancer. But Paul is saying unequivocally that Sarx is also the even more dreaded cause of spiritual cancer – SIN. This is where he has located the prime suspect in his wanting to do good but in fact his doing bad anyway agony.
Don’t spiritualize sarx like so many do just because we don’t like this swift kick in the butt that we are all now receiving. Don’t mess up the text and thereby miss the entire message. We all have a huge sarx problem, and not just those who are obese. You can be skinny and be sarxed to death. Man by nature, which includes you and me, carries around with him according to Paul an inexhaustible storehouse of filth and corruption which left to itself will kill him – FLESH. It was that meat wagon that Paul was pulling around that was dragging him down and causing him to stumble.
More fully convinced than ever that he is really on to something in all of this, Paul repeats himself, but with much more delineation and clarification in Roman 7:25,
“…So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but
on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
“Let there be no doubt here,” says Paul, “I know the law of God with my mind. I know right from wrong. It is not that I am ignorant of sound morality as defined by the Divine NOMOS – LAW.” Paul is not suffering from “Decalogue Dementia!” In fact, he even goes so far as to say that his mind is the servant of the law of God. Can you fathom that? His mind is here presented as a non-co-conspirator in the crimes that he is committing. Which has given rise to that well known and thread bare utterance, “I knew better!”
Well Paul, if you knew better, what then got the worst of you? Juggling his dilemma with both hands, he tells us on the other hand, he is serving the law of sin with his flesh. His is saying that his good mind is lawful, and his bad flesh is also lawful. What? He is obeying two totally opposite laws. The law of God, picked up by his mind, says he may not do this sin. The law of sin picked up by his flesh, says he may. One law says he must not, and the other law says he must. No one can serve two masters or two opposite laws.
It is like the girl in high school who is pregnant. She knows with her mind that she must not have an abortion, but her by-now expanding belly says she must. Who is going to win, Miss Mind or Miss Flesh? Matter over mind or mind over matter! Paul here comes to an understanding of why as a Christian there is in his life a personality dualism and even seemingly separate identities. He discovers that his good-intentioned mind’s true conflict was with his bad-intentioned flesh, even as the nightmare of “Dr. Jekyll’s” life was located in his “Hyde.” Could this be it?
I with many honest Christians long for help in this madness. Poor Paul is trying to stop the transformation, or should we say the deformation in his own life from the spiritual man to the unspiritual man, from the holy man to the hideous man. I mean, there is nothing trite or funny about this ongoing nightmare that many pastors and parishioners just cannot wake up from. It terrifyingly happens so quickly at times, even as one day Dr. Jekyll was passively and benignly sitting in a park, and he suddenly turned into the raging murderous maniac Mr. Hyde. I mean, oh the agony of it all!
GETTING REAL ABOUT THE FLESH
Let’s get this out of theory so to speak, and wrap it up in some fleshly facts. Otherwise we can go on hiding from what Paul is trying to teach us and deliver us from. Let’s give all of this some real embodiment less it go right over our heads, or in one ear and out the other.
Example – George The 300 Pounder:
George, a professed man of faith like Paul, already weighs 300 pounds and climbing, and he knows in his mind full well what he can and cannot eat, as well as how much he can and can’t eat. But in the innocence and vulnerability of sleep in the middle of the night, a voracious beast seems to awaken within him and drives him out of bed down a path often traveled. Stumbling in a craving stupor he stubs his toes and stumbles over furniture to make it to the promised land of his friendly enemy the refrigerator.
Home seems to be for many not only that place where they let their hair down, but where they let their raging hunger-beast out. People when they leave their homes and go out grocery shopping often do so not as customers under control but as consumers out of control. People who eat anything and everything simply because it is there! I tell you as I observe the American public, there are 1000 times more tubbies than twiggies.
Example – Bored Harry And Bulgy Jenny:
For some people home is an unending cafeteria, while for others it is a dormitory. And when Harry and Jenny are not sawing logs they are lounging in front of the boob tube day after day and hour after hour. The Apostle Paul would have a word or two with them. In short, they are not only fat, they are lazy too. Going for a brisk walk wears them out, and reading a good book gives them a blooming headache. They have let their bodies and their minds go slack. They are in fact bulgy and bored, and bored people are always boring. Oh but they say that they love the Lord and are committed Christians. That may be, but I would like to tell both of them, “Go take a hike.” After that read a good book by Max Lucado. Both of them have sedentary lifestyles, and two of the greatest blessings in life are strong bodies and minds neither of which get that way without corresponding efforts. Hear me, what is easy for the body and the mind is generally third rate. In their case, it is both slothful matter over mind and slothful mind over matter.
Example – Jane The Siren:
Jane, a professed woman of faith, already has a wonderful husband and children, but she is driven to sexual affairs and rendezvous which she says each time to herself she will never do again. In the innocence of grocery shopping for her family, she flirts with and begins the seduction of the male checkout cashier and slips him her number and quickly whispers to him as to when he can safely call. Every good looking stud is a target, and she has the equipment to hit it, which she often does. Has Paul finally discovered what drives Jane’s sex addiction?
On and on we could go, whether it is with the pornographically-addicted preacher, or the sexually obsessed child-abusing priest. I was just told the other day about a young associate who had an affair with one of the female secretaries from the secretarial pool of the church. It tragically happens over and over again. Thank God for ministries like Emerge in Akron, Ohio which has been used transdenominationally to restore the fallen and heal the broken.
Example – Henry The Drunk:
Then of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the drunkards who ruin and eternally imperil their souls to satisfy their raging thirsts and demanding palates. They so quickly and willingly exchange their eternal souls in the Devil’s pawn shop for the gratification of the thirst of their addicted bodies. Alcoholism and drug addiction is all around us.
I recently tried to stop a divorce from happening. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the husband and father Henry was an out of control alcoholic who each day started drinking while driving to his home from his work, and then would pass out on the couch every evening in front of his wife and children. The wife could not endure it any longer, and in front of me told her husband that she loved him, but for the sake of the children would no longer allow him in the home. He chose booze over his wife and family. A story far too often repeated. They are now divorced, and the husband is already remarried.
Example – The Owie Body:
Some of us on a daily basis have to work in spite of bodily pain. It would be so much easier to simply give into it, and allow matter over mind to totally incapacitate us. Our bodies can cause us to be preoccupied with ourselves and distanced from others. Our bodies must be the servants and vehicles of our spirits, and the chief means by which we communicate our love and compassion for others. We cannot allow our bodies to draw us into withdrawn and darkened selves. Some of the brightest faces and most sparkling eyes have smiled at me from people who live with deep daily discomfort.
Of course, joyful faces and radiant eyes are not physical endowments. Eyes that could be death-dealing can instead be life-kindling only because of the Spirit of God behind them. With all of that said, it must be confessed that we can and often do allow the body to dominate us. It has its way of getting sympathy and attention like a little child who has bruised his knee screams in agony until mother kisses the owie. If the least member of our body is hurt, it is amazing how all of the other members join in the parade of pain. The eyes weep, the voice moans, the hands caress, and the entire carcass lays there writhing in agony, obligating everyone else to pour the oil of their sympathies into and over the stricken victim.
BODY AND SOUL – THE SIN BROTHERS
What so many, many people and churches need today is not more fleshly theology. Carnal pseudo-theologies and multitudes of pseudo-theologians are teaching that we can serve God and mammon! We have a sickening surplus of that from today’s pulpits and religious TV 24/7. Dear God I am sick of it! It is a modern day ecclesiastical plague. The truth is:
“THE MODERN CHURCH MUST BE CLEANSED OF FLESHLY THEOLOGY, AND FORTIFIED
WITH A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY ABOUT THE FLESH.”
We must learn how to no longer be constantly capitulating to the flesh, and following it around like dogs on leashes. We must learn how to conquer flesh by and for the One to Whom we belong. And we must learn not to pay mere lip service to the holy and humble tasks that will be involved on the way to victory over our flesh. We will be getting to those in a bit, but we first must answer some questions that I am already hearing rising up in the background.
It almost sounds as if we are saying so far that the soul of man is the righteous principle and the body is the unrighteous principle. I know from overall Pauline theology that he does not mean that whatsoever. Nothing could be further from Bible truth. Sin splattered everywhere and missed no part of human nature. As matter of fact, man’s soul by nature is so corrupted by sin, that it is a willing sin-partner with the flesh. Considering the soul as the mind, will and emotions of man, it is more than noteworthy when Paul says about man’s mind in Romans 8:5,
“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh….”
By nature the soul and the flesh of man are partners in crime. You have no doubt heard of the Blues Brothers. The flesh and the soul by nature are the Sin Brothers! There is such an intimacy of sin-saturated friendship between the two, that we could borrow a well known text as to their indissoluble bond, “These two shall be one flesh.” In fact, so close is this body-soul oneness that we read in Romans 8:7 (KJV) about the carnal mind. If you will, the flesh-mind! The soul, as long as it is embodied, can no more be completely separated from the body than the body can be completely separated from the flesh.
So then, nowhere does the Word of God even imply that the soul of man is the innocent party that is victimized by the flesh which is the guilty party. Scripture knows of no such Gnostic dualism. No! Sin is always birthed in the sympathizing of the body with the soul, and the soul sympathizing with the body. If you will:
“WHILE THE FLESH SUPPLIES THE SINFUL URGES, THE MIND SUPPLIES
THE SINFUL IMAGES.”
And when the two come together, kaboom! So in fact, it is both a case of matter over mind and mind over matter. By nature, they both infect each other with their sinful contagion. In fact:
“WHILE THE BODY SENDS UP ITS FUMES THAT INTOXICATE THE SOUL, THE SOUL
SENDS DOWN ITS SENSUAL THOUGHTS THAT IGNITE THE FUMES.”
Yes, flesh fumes! The flesh emits its seductive vapors that leave their stupor upon the soul. Yet sin cannot be fully produced until the soul willingly continues to breathe the sinful vapors in, and the intoxicated will acts upon them. As soon as the body and soul start interacting with each other, it won’t take long and they will become the “Sin Brothers.” If you will:
“FLESHLY LUSTS INTOXICATE THE MIND WHILE FLESHLY THOUGHTS
STIMULATE THE FLESH.”
But we must never forget or underestimate the incredible power of the flesh as such, and the way that it wages war against our souls. What did we just say? Are you kidding me? Did you say that our flesh is at war with our souls too? As if we needed another enemy in our spiritual warfare! Not only are the World and Satan targeting us, our own Bodies are their close allies. The world, the flesh and the devil, the infamous trilogy of our spiritual struggles! That’s not fair! Not only are the world and demonic forces stacked against us, our own flesh has us in its cross hairs too. Give me a break. What Jesus said about Judas Iscariot in Matthew 26:46 we can say about our flesh,
“…the one who betrays me is at hand.”
If you will, we are carrying one of our enemies on our backs. Fathom that! Our enemy is closer to us than our own shirt or blouse. Our flesh is a machine gun with a loaded magazine filled with bullets of unrighteousness trying to shoot our brains out and blow our heads off.
We read in I Peter 2:11,
“…to abstain from fleshly lust, which wage war against the soul.”
To abstain from fleshly lusts means not to allow ourselves to get picked off by them and indulge them. Give the flesh the opportunity, let down our shields for a second, and it will begin to unload its powerful arsenal of lusts and affections on us every time. We indulge them each time we take that second or third helping when our bellies are already distended and bulging. We indulge them every time we turn back to that lewd magazine picture or pornographic website for another peek. We indulge them every time we look in the mirror and hold another lingering narcissistic worship service of our irresistible selves. We are then not abstaining from but we are indulging the flesh as we lust after ourselves. Incredible isn’t it?
Example – Pregnant Susie:
She got pregnant as a teenager. She didn’t want the child. Her flesh wanted to get rid of the little intruder as she began to more and more show. Her body felt invaded and terribly inconvenienced, and her mind ashamed and angered. The boyfriend didn’t want the child either. They spoke of it as though it was some foreign element. And after all, as she said, “What we did was only for a moment, and this is just too much to pay for a momentary misstep.” The flesh cried out for deliverance from morning sickness, and the mind agreed as well as it cried out for escape from family ridicule.
Of course, aborting the alien will put her in step with the world. Following Christ will put you out of step with the world. Incidentally, the world has never been in step with Christ. That is nothing new. Plus, the devil wanted the human fetus destroyed being the murderer that he is from the beginning. The world, the flesh and the Devil were accommodated and the murder took place. The deed is done, and the desires of the flesh were indulged both through fornication and abortion. That is how it works!
CRUCIFYING THE FLESH
How in the world then are we to deal with this thing that Paul says is spiritually killing him, i.e. the body of this death? (Romans 7:25)
First, the flesh with its lusts must be crucified. We read in Galatians 5:24,
“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
All strong language, very strong indeed! This is a harsh and most degrading sentence passed here upon human flesh. After all, to crucify a man was to kill him and get rid of him as an utter shame and disgrace. It was considered the most degrading way to die. So when we read here that the flesh is to be the object of crucifixion, this stands in stark contrast with how we by nature primp, pamper and spoil the flesh.
Most people, even many church people sad to say, spend more money each week on pleasing their flesh than they do in pleasing their Savior. They much more easily get carried away by their flesh than they do by the Holy Spirit. But God has only one program for the flesh with its lusts and affections, and that is a shameful death on the cross.
This is far more difficult and painful work than now and again looking up to Heaven and crying out, “Lord, help me.” That by itself will not get the job done! Nor is this just a slap on the wrist. It is more like pounding spikes into the flesh. Crucifixion of course is to kill, nothing more and nothing less.
Oh how the candy-cane, sugar-daddy modern pseudo-gospel being preached today is causing folks to miscalculate and misjudge the rigors and pain of the Christian life. Watering down the cross, both Christ’s and ours, to pack the pews and fill the purse. But the truth is that there is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that it easy to follow Christ. It is always hard but always worth it!
Hey, what is this? I thought that we were done with the cross. Christ is off from His cross. He completed His work. It is finished. However what we fail to realize, and what is not being preached at all any more is this indispensable Gospel truth:
“THE CROSS-DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST WAS NOT ONLY A SACRIFICE TO SAVE, BUT
ALSO AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW.”
If you will:
“THE CROSS-DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST WAS NOT ONLY FOR OUR SALVATION, BUT
ALSO FOR OUR IMITATION.”
To be sure, Christ’s cross is empty, but ours is not. We must daily put ourselves on the cross! Or as the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 15:31,
“I die daily.”
For us the crucifixion of our flesh will not be completed until the flesh is dead and buried, i.e. the day we die. Only when the soul realizes that complete deliverance from this natural body at death, will sanctification in Christ be perfectly consummated. Welcome to Christian living.
For true Christians, the cross is not a crucifix to be hung on a gold chain around one’s neck as a good luck charm. Crazy when you think about it. When I was in high school and college, I saw again and again basketball players from Catholic schools make the sign of a cross or kiss a tiny crucifix hung around their necks before they shot a free throw. I remember the elation I felt when they bricked the free throw. Anyway, what does that have to do with the cross? The cross for the Christian is not the good fairy of made free throws, but a moment by moment way of dying and living! What they were actually doing was kissing their flesh goodbye.
Moreover, Paul tells us that the crucifixion of the flesh is something we do, and not just something that is done to us. More than that, not only is it something we do, but he tells us in Galatians 5:24 that it is something we have already done. If you will, it is the distinctive mark of the born again Christian, i.e.
“he has mortified, crucified his flesh with its evil desires and cravings.”
There it is in living blood color, self-crucifixion! It doesn’t say that his flesh is dead. It says that it has been put on the cross of flesh-death! The dying of the flesh is a life-long process whether we like it or not. This means that Christians are never off from the cross as long as we live on this earth. When is the last time we preached that to the church?
The child of God has nailed his flesh to the cross and is letting it hang there until it is dead. However, the Bible makes it clear that while the distinguishing mark of the Christian is that he has put his flesh on the cross, it is also true that it is a killing of the flesh that always continues.
We read in Romans 8:13 that we cannot begin to do this alone. The flesh won’t let us! We can only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes:
“…but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
You are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, or, if you will, the flesh with its deeds! There it is, my flesh has been crucified, is being crucified, and shall be crucified. Flesh always dying and me always living more and more in Christ! All of our flesh with its lusts we must consciously each new day put to death on the cross by knowing and declaring that it has already been crucified with Christ. Sex lust! Food lust! Mammon lust! Drug lust! Alcohol lust! Perverted lust! Or as Paul states in Romans 6:11,
“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ.”
THE SPIRITUAL IMMUNE SYSTEM OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Before we leave this point, I think we can safely say that there is not one Christian that doesn’t confront temptation. There is a reason that only two percent of those who lose weight keep it off for two years. That is why all of those weight centers treat you so courteously, because they know that you will be back. Many people have lost 1000s of pounds over the span of their lives.
Folks constantly face and fear temptations that they cannot overcome. Before we came to Christ, there were those things from a human viewpoint that we could not resist. With one man its alcohol, with the next man it is sex, and with the next it is food. Over an over again, these things become the pattern of their lives.
I guess the most dreaded disease of our time is AIDS – ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME. We’ve gotten so use to the abbreviation that we forget that it’s about the immune system. When that immune system breaks down, a man or a woman with AIDS is likely to die with pneumonia or some other complication. Why? Because without the immune system at full strength, there are so many diseases a person can contract.
Coming to Jesus does not make a person:
“IMMUNE FROM TEMPTATION.”
That would be wonderful but of course completely unrealistic. That is to say, Jesus does not put us in some immunity capsule so that we are never tempted to sin again. That state is coming but it is not here yet. But what Jesus does give us is a strong immune system, so that never after conversion will we be confronted with any temptation that the Lord does not give us the power by that immune system to resist and overcome. And that immune system is found in daily crucifying the flesh in the power of the cross of Christ!
Starving The Enemy To Death
We must regularly fast. In Biblical Christianity fasting is not a rare event, but it is and must be a lifestyle. Who am I kidding with that statement? There are vast segments of modern Christianity that have no concept of fasting, let alone how it relates to their warfare against their flesh with it lusts and affections. Nonetheless, the Bible simply assumes that fasting will be part of our weapons of spiritual warfare. Fasting is not a post-graduate curriculum. It is elementary Watson! That is why Jesus said in Matthew 6:16,
“And whenever you fast….”
He did not say,
“And if ever you fast….”
When the body is constantly feasting and filling, neither it nor the soul is in the position to strongly and continuously hunger and thirst for righteousness. Like that sleezeball Herod who after he gorged his belly and slaked his sexual thirsts from Salome’s filthy well, he was far more inclined to kill John the Baptist than listen to his preaching concerning repentance.
The body cannot be constantly gobbling and gluttonizing, and still have the soul remain spiritual in its thoughts and focus. Without regular fasting as a common ingredient of Christian living, the body will always find its way above the soul no matter how well-intentioned the will and right-thinking the mind. Matter will eventually then come to rule over both. Count on it! We should not be mystified with the reoccurring moral failures in our lives and other Christian’s lives when fasting is never practiced and is relegated to some musty and moldy irrelevant past.
How else do you think that Jesus was able to resist hunger for Satan’s bread? We read in Matthew 4:2,
“And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.”
Forty days! This was not a partial but a total and extended fast. Incredible to most of us! Not to Jesus! After all, ordinary preparation for spiritual warfare is deficient when you are up against an extraordinary enemy. Yes, eating and drinking are necessary for living. But there are those frequent times in this dark world when necessity must give way to extremity!
Surprise, surprise! Jesus became hungry! Who wouldn’t be hungry from forty days of total abstinence? But the most amazing thing then happened. We read in Matthew 4:3-4 that when Satan played to that hunger by tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread, Jesus slammed shut the devil’s stony bread box in his face, as well as denied His growling stomach. Bodily enjoyments must be laid aside in regular intervals, and then we can greatly weaken the lust and passions of the flesh in our spiritual warfare against them.
Let’s be very clear about this. If Jesus had not denied His flesh, He would have been seriously weakened in His spirit. If His table was always spread with flesh food rather than spirit food, what the Psalmist said in Psalm 69:22 (KJV) would have been His undoing. We read:
“Let their table become a snare before them….”
But let’s bring this to bear strictly and heavily upon the flesh so that once and for all we can begin to take this thing as deadly serious. We are not enjoining some far-out fanatical stuff for the spiritually over-balanced. So many church people when they hear the preacher expounding on fasting feel put-upon, and think that they are being forced to breathe in the rarified air of extremism.
No, this is daily life and death stuff for all of us. King David knew what it was to go all out in the mortification of his flesh with its passions and desires. He had his share of succumbing to both. Having tragically experienced body over soul and matter over mind in his life, we can pick up little tidbits of insights as to how he battled to weaken and subdue his carnal cravings. Such as Psalm 109:24,
“My knees are weak from fasting; and my flesh has grown lean, without fatness.”
Frankly, he was not so much trying to fast and reduce his flesh, as he was trying to starve its appetite for sin. The principle is this:
“WHOEVER PRACTICES THE CHRISTIAN DUTY OF FASTING IS WAGING A STRONG WARFARE
AGAINST THE LUSTS OF THE FLESH.”
Example – Fasting The Fortress:
Let us draw ourselves a picture before moving on here. We can liken fasting against sin in the body to attacking an enemy holding up in some fortress. In this case, the enemies are barricaded within the fortress of our bodies. See the enemies holding up in that fort of protection! Visualize those lusts and affections in their flesh fort. What must be done in such an instance is to cut off the enemy’s supplies. When all else fails, hunger can penetrate those walls when no one or nothing else can. Finally the enemy gives up because it has been starved into surrender.
Now then, that is a picture of our crucifying the flesh with its passions and lusts. What good does it do Sunday morning after Sunday morning to preach to our people about their need to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, when shortly thereafter they go home each time to have their five course dinners? All that we are doing then is to fortify the enemy’s fortress! Ridiculous!
A SANCTIFIED BODY THROUGH PRAYER
We must ceaselessly pray. God commands us in I Thessalonians 5:17,
“Pray without ceasing.”
Then and then alone follow other commands such as I Thessalonians 5:22,
“Abstain from every form of evil.”
And then the words of I Thessalonians 5:23,
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit,
soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is evident from Paul’s ordering of the sequence in that passage that to abstain from all evil and to sanctify the body is impossible without constant prayer to the Almighty.
But something else is very evident from Scripture as well. The great saints in Scripture always had their prayers combined with fasts. Ezra, Nehemiah, David and Daniel didn’t know of one without the other. And of course our Savior set that pattern for us to follow. Prayer and fasting are the Christian’s dynamic duo in the ongoing process of sanctifying the body as well as the spirit and the soul. They are the two Divinely designed wings in our flight to victory over the flesh, the world and the Devil.
Without intense and ceaseless prayer accompanying fasting, after the fast we will crash and our bodies will return to their lustful and corrupt desires with a far greater appetite than before we started. God is not after empty stomachs! He is after bended knees.
Of course, there is a big difference between fasting and dieting. Dieting is for the purpose of getting rid of fat, and fasting for the purpose of getting rid of filth. And of course, there is only one way to seek Heaven’s indispensable help, and that is through prayer. If you will, it is not possible to petition God with your tongue when your mouth full of food at the same time. We even teach our children not to talk to people with their mouths full. Much more so with prayer, as we should be super-concerned not to talk to God with our mouths full either!
Can you imagine our sexual desires for our wives burning pure and fragrant before God without one bit of lust’s smoke dirtying and stinking them up? In my counseling, I have talked with husbands who confessed to lusting for and thinking about other women while having intimacy with their wives. They never have intercourse with their wives but that they defile it and her too. Can we imagine sanctified bodies and minds filled entirely with holy urges and thoughts, so that it becomes possible to see an intentionally sexy woman and not desire her one bit, but in fact be turned off by her? Hallelujah! But beyond that to be able to come to such spiritual health and holiness that looking at our wives alone turns us on! Wow! Have you ever prayed and fasted for that? Let’s start getting serious about all of this, or junk the whole thing and go on playing religion and sex games.
God has promised to meet every need of every believer on the face of the earth. What is it we do not have because we did not pray? What is it that we have not conquered because we did not fast? Can God handle this or that? Name something that He can’t! You have heard things about prayer such as this statement by Dr. R. A. Torrey, “Prayer is as powerful as God.” And those kinds of words have frustrated you, because you have found prayer to have been most frustrating and the greatest disappointment in your life. Perhaps you haven’t prayed for one hour and fasted for one meal in your life, let alone praying and fasting for one whole day. The results are commensurate!
Much of this isn’t your fault. We have watered down the Gospel, and we have tried to popularize Christianity. And if we preach what has been taught here, I guarantee you that we will not be popular, just truthful and effective. We are building so many churches that cater to nominal Christianity. And if we have a church that is composed completely of nominal Christians, we don’t even have a church.
Only when we lay out the humble and holy tasks required of us by the Word of God will our people come to the great and glorious celebration of victory with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:25,
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”