Pastor's Blog

Such Were Some of You

“Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:10

A couple of weeks ago I received a call from a mom in the community seeking input in regards to a highly controversial matter. Her school district board was about to vote on incorporating a new health curriculum that includes extensive sexual education forcing students to accept homosexuality and transgenderism as a normal lifestyle.

The consequences of this newest intrusion into local middle school and high school education are alarming. Students will be forced to share bathrooms and locker rooms with those who feel like they are just not comfortable with their original gender (including teachers), desire to alter it, or are in the process of doing so—after all, the Constitution guarantees everyone the pursuit of happiness, right? The new curriculum attempts to redefine gender as unbinding and gender identity as a choice.

This desperate mom seeking help represents thousands, perhaps millions of concerned parents around the country facing similar insane proposals imposed on their community. She shared that the new curriculum views gender separation as obsolete and gender itself as a “floating matter.” If you’re not happy as a man, you can choose to become a woman or just be a non-gender person all together. “How do I defend the correct view of what gender is?” she asked.

God’s Word has a lot to say about gender. When God created human beings, He deliberately and with a specific plan in mind “made them male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Homosexual activists are lobbying hard for the public acceptance of phony psychological research suggesting that the human evolutionary process calls for a “gender continuum” with additional genders evolving in need of recognition and nurturing—a very dangerous and unsubstantiated theory.

God knits each human being “together fearfully and wonderfully in the mother’s womb.” In His praiseworthy and unmistakable work God designates the very framework of personhood way before its development outside of the womb (Psalm 139:13–16). Therefore, no one is born “trapped in the wrong body” as some may claim. Ironically, even secular medical science recognizes transgenderism (or transsexualism) as a disorder called gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder (GID). The most common symptom is described as “discontentment with one’s own sexual identity.”

Let’s focus on the “discontentment” part for a moment. Shortly after creation, man (endowed with wholeness and perfect health) became discontent with God’s plan and boundaries. As a result, sin entered the world and polluted God’s creation. Sexual perversion soon tightened its ugly grip on humanity and corrupted entire cities (Genesis 19:1–7; Jude 7). One principle became evident: in the midst of godlessness, humanity quickly becomes confused about sexuality. Discontentment with God’s purposes and direction is at the root of all sinful conduct. Proponents of sexual deviancy would like us to believe that this is a social or philosophical issue, or even civil rights issue. In reality, this is a moral issue because in its core lies a fundamental disagreement with God’s order (1 Timothy 1:10).

God has made known His disagreement with homosexuality: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Leviticus 20:13), as well as transgenderism: “A woman shall not wear a male garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). By the way, the context of this verse is certainly not about fashion choice, but sexually deviant behavior.

Some pious homosexual activists argue that only the Old Testament includes these insensitive rules, which, along with gender distinction, are abolished in the New Testament because “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). Let’s not be fooled by those who take Scripture out of context. This verse refers to a person’s standing before God in Christ and has nothing to do with sexuality. They may seek public endorsement in the extravagant behavior of a few celebrities and high profile athletes, but the New Testament is clear that homosexuality and sexual perversion is a sin and those who practice it “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9).

Furthermore, the special wording in 1 Corinthians 6:9 in the original Greek may refer specifically to transsexualism as the word “malakos”, which literally means “soft man.” It is translated as “male prostitute” (NIV), “effeminate” (NSAB, AVB, KJV), or “sexual pervert” (RSV, REB, NEB). It is interesting that the same verse lists this term as a separate category from “adulterers” and “homosexuals offenders.” Many scholars believe that this word is referring to transsexual men who pretend to be women.

Human gender is not a “floating matter” as the new proposed health curriculum suggests, but a matter of preordained sacred design. Teaching students in public schools that they can change their gender to achieve personal happiness is no less ridiculous (and dangerous) than suggesting that one may find contentment through surgical alteration or massive hormone therapy to become a horse or panda bear because they think they would be more happy that way. How ironic that this curriculum is referred to as a “health” program. The objective behind this type of “education” is clearly the advancement of a different goal. Does anyone seriously believe that its agenda-driven content will contribute to the students’ health in a positive way?

Here is the good news: for the humble, teachable, and contrite the gospel is a way out of any such disorder! Homosexuality, transgenderism, and other sexual deviations can be repented from, forgiven through Jesus Christ, and healed. Even as I write this blog I think of dozens of friends whom I know were personally saved and delivered from sexually deviant behavior, including pornography addiction, promiscuity, and various forms of homosexuality. Across the world this number grows to tens of thousands of those who are a living testimony to the healing power of Jesus Christ captured in this Word: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:10).

Where is the critic or the activist now—in light of such glorious evidence?

You are loved!
Pastor Michael

Restrained by Light

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

America is the land of freedom. This is what makes us who we are as citizens of this great country, right? We love our rights of free speech; free expression; freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness; freedom to do what we want…

Unfortunately, most Americans have a false understanding of what freedom is. This secular “freedom philosophy” is perpetuated by the forces of darkness bringing our society ever closer to destruction as it perpetuates disrespect for authority, anarchy, and abuse of laws intended to protect the obedient rather than to enable the careless. The word “free” no longer carries the once noble moral concept of being liberated from oppression. Many Americans understand it in the context of government handouts and personal entitlement. As a result, our society is rapidly sinking into slavery—slavery to sin, selfishness, wickedness, tyranny, uselessness, and purposelessness.

The concept of true freedom is found in Christ. Scripture tells us that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). God in His sovereignty decided to deposit His Spirit into the hearts of men and women through faith in Christ. Yet the presence of the Lord on its own is not the guarantee of this freedom, otherwise believers would not sin or fail—but as it is, they do. Moreover, many believers are the ones desperately hooked up on handouts and entitlements, suffering from poor self-esteem or identity crises, enslaved by sin, addictions, and dependence on man, and unable to function even though the power of God is within their grasp.

The pathway to freedom is something to walk, not just to observe. Imagine there is a deep, dark cave and at the bottom of it is a group of captives restrained by darkness. Then a messenger shows up from the light proclaiming freedom from darkness. They all receive the message, but on a practical level they have two options: go experience this freedom, or remain oppressed (with the message of hope in your heart). The captives who choose to remain incarcerated ultimately volunteer to pronounce judgment on themselves. John 3:19 tells us that “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”

Believing the message does not automatically free us from the oppression of darkness. We must not only receive the light, but also volunteer to walk in the light. This is key to understanding the biblical concept of freedom in Christ; the difference between possessing the righteousness of Christ by faith and our ability to live it out. The experience of true freedom is reserved for those who understand that the power of liberation is hidden in one’s ability to exercise voluntary restraint. The light within is made visible by voluntarily setting aside the enticements of darkness.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Jesus entrenched the necessity of His Word in the very definition of discipleship when He said to those “who had believed in Him, ‘“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32).

On a practical level, this is the man who voluntarily restrains himself from watching pornography because the Word says that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). This is the woman who restrains herself from accepting the barrage of feminist lies about presumed freedom in marriage because the Word says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18). This is the son or daughter who voluntarily chooses to restrain themselves from defiance and rebellion because the Word of God says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).

The freedom that follows when we exercise voluntary restraint according to the truth of the Word is unprecedented. Freedom from the filth of infidelity of heart and body; freedom from the destructive lies of modern secular philosophies; freedom from the consequences of disobedience, the anxiety of being caught in wrongdoing; freedom from fear of suffering loss of credibility or reputation. The darkness of these and other oppressions is very real. In fact, it can be devastating if we choose to sit in it, but if we run toward the light we experience the freedom of the gospel declaring that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Dear friends, volunteer today to be restrained by light. You will have the joy and confidence to say to those sitting in the cave of this world, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

You are loved,
Pastor Michael

Keep Manhood and Womanhood Biblical

This summer, I was really inspired by the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood series we produced at our church. Ten weeks of mutual sharpening with some wonderful teachings by a team of gifted friends. This was an important time for us because in the world Biblical manhood and womanhood are being tested more and more severely. We live in a hypersexualized culture attempting to redefine masculine and feminine identities. How do we resist the ever-increasing attack on traditional family and Biblical moral values? How do we instill solid gender identity values in our children? I believe there are at least four principles the church must uphold:

1. The church is no place for sexual immorality

The church is not called to tolerate sexual immorality or marital infidelity in the name of love…

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. – 1 Corinthians 5:9–10

We can (and must) evangelize people in the world, but the distinctive of the church is a commitment to moral purity. Not too long ago, the most quoted verse from the Bible in America was John 3:16. However, the end of the twentieth century marked a sharp turn toward the inward focus within our society, including the church. Many statistics show that the most quoted verse from the Bible is now Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (NIV). The culture resents the church for calling people to repentance—so, many churches shy away from it to avoid jeopardizing their membership numbers.

The world we live in continues to systematically discard Biblical moral values. The love of God is redefined as tolerance for sin based on a lethal assumption that the absence of moral confrontation results in a happy and pain-free life. Man’s determination to pursue happiness at any cost has given birth to a utopian dream of a judgment-free society where any kind of sexual behavior is accepted without question or consequence.

The church of our time is facing the same challenge as the church in Corinth during the Apostle Paul’s time. Our goal in rendering sound Biblical moral judgment is not to make conclusions about other people’s eternal destination, but rather to advance the course of our own progressive sanctification.

God’s Word is clear that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man” on the other hand, “makes judgments about all things” (1 Corinthians 2:13–15). That which the world angrily dismisses as being judgmental is necessary to keep the sharp edge of urgency in our application of God’s truth. The church ceases to be the church the moment it starts looking like the world.

2. The church must know that pursuing moral purity is costly

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11–13

The anger of the world and culture against the church is likely to continue to rise. As new laws based on moral relativity are passed, the attack on the church is increasing. Name calling, threats to revoke the church’s nonprofit status, and the rise of lawsuits against Bible-believing Christians is just the beginning. Entire church denominations are collapsing under the pressure and turning to apostasy. The true church, however, must be willing to pay the cost and remain steadfast and unafraid both in teaching and practicing the uneasy or culturally unpopular things.

When I was a child, my parents disciplined me for disobedience. They were pretty good about following through and imposing consequences earned by my mischief. Whenever they did so, my learning experience was sharpened. Sometimes, however, they were too busy, too tired, or perhaps too comfortable to follow through. (Let’s face it—all of us are guilty of that). Yet, in the absence of consequences my natural tendency was to continue to get myself in more trouble. I knew full well that the things done in disobedience were wrong, but I did them anyway simply because I thought I could get away with it.

The finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross places His followers on the winning side of the war against sin. That’s great news, but some battles are lost because Christians refuse to use the measures of accountability and discipline God made available. We cannot fight disobedience by defiance, lest we set the wrong example for our children. They read the Bible, too, and have a keen sense of right and wrong. Once they figure out that moral values no longer matter to us as parents they will lose respect and loyalty for Biblical truth.

The world may abandon the ways of discipline in the name of tolerance and sensitivity. As Christians, however, we must be willing to validate God’s truth by fulfilling our roles even when it’s hard, scary, uncomfortable, or politically incorrect.

3. The church must define love for God Biblically

Contrary to what the world says, true love among believers (Biblical love) is not defined by tolerance for morally wrong conduct, but by obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not just some, but all of them. Regardless of popular opinions, those who choose to reject this foundation established by Christ Himself are likely not a part of His kingdom in the first place.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9–10

The church community has its own clichés. Over time, these have the potential to alter or replace the true principles of God’s Word. Have you ever heard, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin?” That certainly sounds good and noble, but the application can become problematic when the words “love” and “hate” become culturally redefined.

Nailing down an accurate Biblical definition of love and hate would be a great subject for another substantive Bible study. Perhaps we can agree that when it comes to relationships, “love”(within our culture) is generally understood as the absence of conflict and “hate” is often defined as causing someone intentional pain or being vocal about your disagreement with another person’s opinions or actions. We feel loved by those we get along with and hated by those who disagree with us.

The fullness of Scripture, however, is “breathed out by God” and presents a big problem to popular opinions because all Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In God’s holy kingdom, the demand for constant learning and improvement is a part of daily life so “that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

In Biblical Christianity obedience is pivotal. Jesus defined our responsibility by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Some parts of living it out are easier, but other, more difficult, parts constitute the true test of our commitment to Christ—such as shunning an unrepentant brother, calling sin what it is, or rejecting culturally popular (morally flawed) secular principles.

4. The church must believe firmly that the gospel is the only hope for the world

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11

Sin is a choice. I once read an article about a man who was a breeder of pet skunks. One of the first steps in making this possible is “disarming” the young skunks—a common term for surgically removing the animal’s scent gland to prevent the release of the horribly offensive stench.

One day, a couple of wild skunks broke into the pet breeder’s colony. Soon it became obvious that some of the animals did not quite belong…. Here is the interesting part: The spayed skunks seemed confused and upset at first, but in a short time they adapted and mingled with their old stinky pals without any trouble.

The grace and power of Jesus Christ cleansed us from the stench of sin so horribly offensive to our holy God. His divine labor surgically disarmed the power of sin in us. Our old nature may still offer us opportunities to mingle with the ungodly, but we have the power to say “no.”

Even the worst of the worst can be turned, forgiven, cleansed, and transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. The very reason He suffered and died is not just salvation, but also the sanctification of sinners. The world may not have a choice, but true believers have a choice not to sin because the Great Counselor, the Holy Spirit, resides in their hearts.

Through clever slogans, Satan is trying to implant untrue ideas in the minds of worldly advocates infiltrating the church: “I am gay because God made me that way.” The argument that God created some people to be homosexuals is as absurd as saying God made some for the purpose of stealing or murder. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” – James 1:13–14. It is possible that because of their background, upbringing, abusive past, and other external factors, some people may have a stronger inclination to sin a certain way. At the end of the day, however, personal conduct is everyone’s personal decision.

God’s Word is clear that not just sexually deviant conduct but any sin is not a part of His Kingdom. In fact, true believers are identifiable by their victorious walk. It does not mean that they never struggle with temptation, but it does mean that they choose to live in a lifestyle of repentance in freedom from sinful patterns. God makes it possible by the power of His indwelling Spirit. We can be certain about those who have the Spirit, for “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). Rather than tolerating sin, the church must believe firmly that the gospel is the only hope that causes sinners to turn to Christ to find forgiveness, healing, and restoration.

God’s amazing grace is not cheap. It cost Jesus His life so that we may gain ours. Mingling with the world cheapens the atonement Jesus made for us. The Lord loves us and deserves—even demands—a higher standard. He said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.”

Let’s love Him back by keeping the worldly stench out of His sheep pen.

You are loved,
Pastor Michael

The Enemy Within

“Because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” – Galatians 2:4–5

It is upsetting when we see fellow believers stray away from the truth because of flirting with the world. “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The only thing that’s more upsetting is when the bad influence comes from someone who calls himself “brother,” but is in fact the enemy hiding within the church body—a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing. The Word of God calls these men “false brothers.”

Not everyone who reads the Bible or claims to believe in God is a follower of Jesus Christ. There are some who may be zealous in their religious practices, but in reality they represent Satan working against God’s church (like Saul used to be before becoming the Apostle Paul). The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The blindness of the “false brothers,” however, goes a step beyond. Some claim to have discovered a new doctrine that everyone else has missed in the Bible for the past two thousand years. Others excel in quoting God’s Word out of context or trying to discredit the character of those who oppose them.

An expert in counterfeit money was once asked, “How do you manage to learn so many erroneous details and deviations to identify a false bill among the real ones?” His answer was, “I don’t study counterfeit bills at all. I only get to know the original so well that when a counterfeit shows up, I recognize it instantly.” What a great concept! Many unsuspecting sheep can be quite gullible when a convincing false brother distorts God’s truth because they are not familiar enough with the original. When falsehood appears, Christians must be able to defend the sound doctrine of God’s Word and “not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved.”

Here is an example of how these “false brothers” can operate. About a year after we planted our church a man launched an attack targeting our people through emails pointing them to an article he wrote. (Let’s call him “Joe,” although that’s not his real name.) Joe was really off in his theology (to put it mildly), but determined to persuade our people to turn away from an orthodox view of Christ. I rejected his article on behalf of our congregation, pointing out to him that we worship the God of the Bible. We exchanged a few emails. The following is an excerpt from our conversation:

JOE: Michael, you fail to identify one single thing in my article that is wrong. You are a pastor without real knowledge of the Word. Come on and contend for the faith with me. You are correct in saying we believe in different gods. My God does not shed innocent blood! He does not punish the innocent for other people’s sins! Your god can't forgive without getting a payment by pouring his anger out on his own son! That kind of god is unjust and unmerciful, not the God of the Bible! Convince me with scripture that I’m wrong.

ME: Joe, as I said, your argument is not with me but with God’s Word, which says that “God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus was not punished for what He did; He voluntarily took upon Himself the punishment we deserved because He loves us so much. “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5). Christ’s sacrifice was a substitutionary sacrifice. He did not deserve it, but He offered Himself for us. His heavenly Father accepted this sacrifice so that we might be free from sin. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

JOE: Mike, I'm sorry you don't get the logic in my statement. Proverbs 17:26: “To punish the just is not good.” Answer this: if you think the Father punished His Son Jesus. Is the Father not good or is Jesus not just? Big dilemma for you, huh? God bless you.

ME: Not at all. On the contrary, God solved the biggest dilemma of mankind by sending Jesus to die in our place. Joe, you must be reading from a different Bible… (which would explain your error). Since you asked for a scriptural example, here are a few verses that demonstrate what our God did for humanity:

Concerning Jesus' innocence (Just to establish that Jesus was indeed innocent of sin. Notice even those who betrayed him recognized He was innocent):

  • Matthew 27:3–4 – “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’”
  • John 19:4 – “Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’”
  • Hebrews 4:14–15 – “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Concerning the shed blood of God’s Son as an atonement for us:

  • 1 John 2:2 – “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins...”
  • Romans 5:8–10 – “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!
  • 1 John 4:10 – “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Concerning God's anger being poured on His Son taking our place:

  • Isaiah 53:4–5 – “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.”
  • Ephesians 2:4–5 – “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9 – “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

After this, I never heard from “Joe” again. This experience, however, made me realize that “false brothers” are real. The key evidence against them is usually a distorted view of Jesus Christ. They often don’t believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is and that He came as God in the flesh to redeem us from sin and death—and that’s what makes them false. “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John 1:7). Praise God that He revealed His true Son to us. It is by the power of His Word that “we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Friends, maybe you know someone who is victimized by falsehood and needs to hear the truth of the gospel. Send them a few scripture verses today. Pick up the phone and call them. Throw them a lifeline, the only one they can hold on to for a guaranteed rescue. Yes, there are messengers of Satan even within the visible church, but we are not afraid of them. Let’s stand firm against falsehood and not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved.

You are loved,
Pastor Michael

A New Mindset

“The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” – Romans 8:7

In the early seventies, the cartoonist Walt Kelly created a poster for the celebration of Earth Day to help promote good stewardship of our dwelling place. The artwork features his famous comic character Pogo sitting with a friend in a forest littered with cans, bottles, papers, and other garbage. Pogo’s friend says, “It is hard walking on this stuff.” Pogo replies with a sentence that has become one of the most frequently used and memorable quotes of our time: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

In the Bible, the physicality of life is commonly referred to as “the flesh,” defined as that which is bonded to human corruption and gets in the way of life controlled by God’s indwelling Spirit. We are aware of it, but for some reason don’t quite know how to escape it. The apostle Paul described it this way: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). Like Pogo, we realize that our problem is ourselves and that we are our own worst enemy.

Our bodies were created to be individual dwelling places for this life. We are entrusted by God with good stewardship of their use. Sadly, because of sin they became polluted. Praise God who “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us“ (Ephesians 2:4) sent His Son to die for our pollution. His Spirit then moved in, taking residence in our dwelling place to give us the opportunity to be cleansed from the works of the flesh.

In Galatians 5:19-21 the Word gives us a list of some of the works of the flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, (the Lord says through Paul), as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” On a practical level, the flesh is the man who at night secretly looks at filthy images and in church pretends he is fine, the woman who disregards her husband’s spiritual leadership to pursue the idols of her heart, the son angry at his parents for setting boundaries that upset his quest for popularity at school, the daughter who abuses her body in order to feel loved by men…. The list of examples is endless, but in principle the flesh works against the believer’s life of surrender to the Spirit within.

How can we overcome this mess? Why can’t we just live in total submission to our Lord instead of gratifying the desires of the flesh? Is it even possible? “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin,” but on the practical level, we fail to live it out.

I believe that the key to success is locked away in our minds. The Bible says that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). In other words, the mindset of a believer dictates how he or she lives and acts. If the mindset is of the flesh, then it stifles the life of faith because “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). In fact, a mindset of the flesh can be quite lethal to faith. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

Ok, I get it—it’s the mindset! The question then becomes, “how do I set my mind on the Spirit to live out that which I truly desire? The flesh seems to be an unavoidable part of me, it contests for every decision I make, and it relentlessly strives to reclaim me for the fallen world. What can I do?”

The problem of the flesh is not something that can be solved by natural human effort. As one preacher put it, “You can’t clean up dirt with filthy water.” The flesh cannot be bettered by the man of flesh; it is not correctible, not redeemable, not even manageable by human strength. Therefore, God leaves us with only one option: Put it to death! Sound scary? Perhaps, but if we are brutally honest with ourselves, death is the only thing we deserve for all the sins we committed. Do you have the faith to honestly say to Jesus, “Lord the only thing I deserve is death?” It is precisely at this point that we encounter the good news of the gospel, realizing that the killing of the flesh already happened “by the blood of Jesus” and “through His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19). We merely receive it by faith “as we draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

Hearing this, some may object, “Okay, I understand that Jesus died for me, that His sacrifice made me clean before God, that salvation is by grace through faith… I know all of that, so why am I still struggling with my flesh?” Let’s get back to the mindset. See, those who walk in the flesh still think of themselves as alive to this world! They live and act like life here still depends on them. They run after the things of the world like they still matter. That’s the old mindset holding on to the flesh, but “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). In order to succeed, if we really want to live by the Spirit, then the new mindset is not optional. A new mindset is not God’s suggestion, but a command: “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

When I first came to the United States as a political dissident during the Cold War, I came with my old Czechoslovakian mindset. I thought the old way, I ate the old way, I dressed the old way…. You name it, I did it the old way, even though I had already received my new citizenship. I could share many funny stories about trying hard to be an American, but the more I tried, the more I felt conflicted because on the inside I was still in the grip of the pollution by the old communist society. Eventually (with the help of some godly counsel) I gave up trying to prove my new identity and simply let go of the old one. I realized that everything I was trying so hard to be was already given to me. I was an American; I just needed to make up my mind to stop acting like my old self.

The Bible tells us that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Did you catch that? You already have all it takes to succeed in your life of genuine godliness. You are a citizen of heaven already, so stop hanging on to the old country of origin. There is no dual citizenship in heaven. Maybe you’re one of those Christians who is trying so hard to prove that you are one, but it’s not really working for you. Maybe you are discouraged by all the attempts to reinvent yourself as godly, none of which have shown any real results. Here is my humble suggestion: Work on the mindset! Remember, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” Let go of the old affiliations with the world! They are holding you back from enjoying the life you already have in Christ.

You are loved,
Pastor Michael