A Sermon Review
“THE GREATEST ENEMY OF A BELIEVER’S HOLINESS”
11 August 2013 PM, Pastor Larry Wilson
“Strive for … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
What do you think is the greatest enemy of the believer’s holiness?
These are deadly enemies, but God says that there’s an even deadlier enemy — the greatest enemy of the believer’s holiness is the flesh.
I. WHAT IS “THE FLESH”?
A. The Bible uses the term in a number of different ways. It’s important to note the context each time you read it.Whenever the apostle Paul uses the term “flesh” as a bad thing in regard to believers he is describing the remaining sin and corruption of our human nature, Gal 5:16–17.
B. In order properly to understand this, we need to ask 2 questions —
1st, what effect did the fall have on people?
When Adam sinned, both the guilt and the pollution of his sin passed to all his offspring except Jesus. From birth, human hearts are morally corrupt. Just like a poisonous spring pollutes a whole stream, this inborn corruption pollutes every part of our nature, Mt. 15:19. Therefore, our whole nature is in rebellion against God — cf. Gen. 6. “The flesh” is the root cause of all sinful thoughts, all sinful words, all sinful deeds. “The flesh” is human nature as corrupted by the fall of Adam.
2nd, what effect does regeneration — the new birth — have on people?
The new birth is a radical, all-pervasive change in the human heart — it affects the entire human nature. But even though regeneration does affect our whole nature, still it does not make us sinless or perfect. The Holy Spirit does not totally remove the sinful human nature in regeneration. According to God’s Word, in the new birth, the Holy Spirit implants the principle of life into the corrupt nature. This new spiritual life is then like yeast which little by little spreads its influence throughout the whole dough.
C. Regeneration is the starting point, while sanctification is a life long struggle.
Sanctification is God’s Christianising of the Christian. It is God’s graciously making the Christian more and more like Jesus by helping him to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. Or, as our Shorter Catechism puts it, “Sanctification is God’s work of free grace by which he renews us after the image of God in our entire person, and enables us more and more to die to sin and live to righteousness.”
This means that, for Christians, there’s a war between the flesh and the Spirit. It’s a deadly war. It’s an ongoing war. And it’s a life-long war. You might even say that the difference between and unsaved person and a saved person is war and peace. J.G. Vos — “The unsaved person is at war with God and at peace with sin. The Christian is at peace with God and at war with sin.”
II. THAT’S WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT THAT WE GET STRAIGHT WHAT THE BIBLE MEANS BY “FLESH”.
A. The most common error in understanding those Bible passages that speak of “the flesh” as something evil is to regard “the flesh” as simply meaning the human body. This view affected the early church, the medieval church, and it continues to have influence in the modern church.
B. This view of the human body is unscriptural — see creation, incarnation, resurrection. Therefore, Christians should never give in to the idea that the flesh refers only to the human body. In Scripture it refers to the whole human nature.
C. Still, in our modern Reformed circles, there’s a view that somewhat echoes these lines. It’s much better, but it still kind of subtly reflects them.
This is the notion that when the Bible talks about our “flesh,” it means our body following sinful habits and patterns that we picked up through years of practice. This view holds that when the Bible says “flesh,” it means the Christian’s human body as it has become programmed to sin by his previous behaviour. Does that mean that our soul is renewed but now has to deal with a sinful body? If that is what it means, then doesn’t it echo those Gnostic errors that plagued the early church?
The historic Protestant understanding of the term “flesh” is that it means the whole nature as considered corrupt. And that seems to have been the apostle Paul’s view too. He teaches that it’s not just the body but also the spirit that is polluted—2 Cor. 7:1— “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
It is true that Christians have to struggle against sinful habits which have become second nature to us. But, the corruption that believers have to fight against is much worse and much more extensive than bodily habits or appetites . Even after the new birth, there is still sin remaining in the hearts of believers. God gives us a grave warning in 1 Jn. 1:8 —“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (note well that he says “sin” not “sins”).
This is the truth of which Larger Catechism #78 is reminding us —
“Why is sanctification imperfect in believers in this life?”
“Sanctification is imperfect in us as a result of
the remnants of sin dwelling in every part of us,
and the constant fighting of the flesh against the Spirit;
we are often overcome by temptations and fall into many sins,
and are hindered in all our spiritual services,
so that even our best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.”
III. DO YOU BELIEVE THAT?
Do really believe — in your heart of hearts — that you are still so sinful that even your BEST works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God?
A. Then stop blaming your sins and failures on things outside yourself.
B. Cultivate mistrust of yourself. Admit to yourself that you are even weaker than you think you are — 1 Cor 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
C. Instead of relying on yourself, keep following Jesus in faith.
1. Keep trusting Jesus for you — keep looking to his cross and his righteousness.
2. At the same time, keep trusting Jesus in you — keep looking to his Holy Spirit and his power — Gal. 5:16 — “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” How? By diligently using the means of grace. Keep breathing in God’s Word and breathing out your prayers and praises. And don’t just hear God’s Word; do it.