Putting to Death the Flesh
There is possibly no greater challenge to the faithful Christian than living this life with eternity in mind. Paul warns us in Romans 13:14 that we should “make no provision of the flesh, to gratify its desires”. In 1 Corinthians 15 we are reminded that if it is in this life only that we have hope, we should be pitied. Indeed, our life is not our own, it belongs to God, “For none of us lives to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:7-8).
Therefore, we must take stock of what is important to us in our lives. Is your faith important? I surmise that if your use of time, talents, and treasure is used for fleshly gratification over and against the glorification of Christ, then either 1. Your priorities aren’t in line with your stated beliefs or, 2. Your faith isn’t important to you. If your priorities are misplaced, my hope is that the following will help you assess your life and seek the Lord in any necessary changes you should make to grow in Christlikeness as you seek to glorify God in your life.
The following principles are borrowed from John Calvin’s A Little Book on the Christian Life. It is a modern English translation of a portion of his life-defining work, Institutes of the Christian Religion. His encouragement for us is that, “There is no more certain or reliable path for us than contempt of this present life and meditation on heavenly immortality”.
The first principle is to appreciate what you have, regardless of how much or how meager, “From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,”(1 Cor. 7:29-31)
As Calvin explains, “Even if the freedom that believers have with respect to external things cannot be subjected to a fixed formula, it should nevertheless be subjected to this rule: Let them indulge themselves very little. Rather, let them--by a perpetual intention of the heart--aim to eliminate stockpiles of superfluous wealth and to curb extravagance, and to take caution not to turn things given to them for support into obstacles”. I have often shared with church members and others that God has given us a good many gifts, it is our responsibility to use those gifts “rightly”.
Food, medicine, relationships, work, family, alcohol, money, marriage, sex, and the law are all good gifts from God. However, many of these gifts are misused, misapplied, and mismanaged. All of these gifts can become our gods, robbing God of the glory due to Him from our hearts. If you find your identity either wholly or partly from anything listed previously, you are misusing those gifts. Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3:23 that, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord”. If you eat, do it to the Lord’s glory. If you have money, spend it to the Lord’s glory.
The second principle is to accept your circumstances with patience. If you are preoccupied with a longing for extravagance while living in a state of ungratefulness for what the Lord has given you, then you will be unable to truly appreciate extravagance if you ever receive it. As Calvin states, “The one unsatisfied with his simple meal, fidgeting with desire for something more significant, will abuse better foods by his lack of self-restraint.” Paul writes to the Philippians and says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”.
Have you ever felt as though all you needed to be happy was to gain “something”? Maybe that “something” was a vacation, a video game, a car, a spouse, or a child. More often than not, whenever we receive that blessing we are still not content. Why? It is because we are looking to these gifts for wholeness and we believe that filling our desires will bring us contentment. Apart from Christ you will not be content. Apart from fully experiencing His richness of love, you will not be content. Due to our fallen nature we will all seek to gratify our fleshly desires. For this reason we are instructed to seek to put those fleshly desires to death and seek the Lord. This isn’t first century legalism, it is a spiritual practice that brings joy to the Christian and glorifies the Lord.
Lastly, we should manage our resources in light of knowing that everything we have is a gift from God and actually belongs to Him. In Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16), He highlights for us the importance of managing our resources because we will one day give an account to God for all He has given us. Your time, talents, and treasure don’t truly belong to you. God has given it to you to manage properly and you will be judged based on how you use those things in this life.
Calvin points out that, “We should remember who will receive the account we give--namely, one who has commended self-control, soberness, frugality, and modesty just as much as He condemned luxury, pride, showiness, and vanity… one who has already condemned with His own mouth whatever pleasures drag a man’s heart away from integrity and purity or muddle his thinking." If this seems condemning, heart wrenching, or lofty…it should. This is a hard concept to grasp but should nevertheless be strived for by the Christian. It shouldn’t be strived for as a way to earn salvation, as you can’t earn your salvation. It shouldn’t be looked at as a way to curry favor with God. These principles should be followed so that we might guard against idolatry, self-service, and sin. These principles can lead us to a greater love for God, a proper understanding of ourselves and world, and can lead us toward holiness.