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Chapter 17 - 'We have met the enemy and he is us.' - Pogo (a Walt Kelly cartoon character)
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. - Matthew 26:40-41
Perhaps the single greatest obstacle we face lies within us. The bible calls it the 'flesh". There is that associated with our physical bodies that inclines us to seek ease and comfort. Satan has made great use of this vulnerability. For example, he can get people to consistently vote for the political philosophy of socialism (the proposition that everyone can have everything all the time).in spite of its proven failure (Zimbabwe, South Africa, Venezuela, and the Soviet Union). Truth seldom can resist the emotional desire to be taken care of. The mind might recognize a lie, but the heart so much desires the false promise of comfort and ease that truth is often rejected.
At the level of the individual, our desire to avoid the anxiety of uncertainty and accept the comfort of assurance that we are going to heaven leads us into almost any 'Christian' practice that makes minimal demands and offers certainty and assurance. Our willingness to cling to that which comforts is more a measure of the weakness of our flesh than our thirst for truth.
The bible gives us an intense look at the problem of the flesh in the letter to the Galatians. These new Christians had listened to those who were telling them that they should be circumcised in order to be 'real' Christians. The appeal was to achieve assurance in their faith by adding works that they could do. This same dynamic is found in every instance of Christian legalism. The problem is that anxiety and uncertainty is alleviated by our sense of accomplishment. In reality, we are supposed to take our uncertainty and anxiety to the Lord in faith such that we grow in faith. This results in a stronger faith in God instead of a faith diverted into trusting in ourselves.
The entire Christian life is to be lived by faith and dependence upon God. We can see a picture of how devastating to the work of God in our lives it is when we start to trust in (have faith) in what we can control.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. - 1 Corinthians 1:17
The idea that we have the power to 'make the cross of Christ of none effect' is sobering. This Christian life can only be successful when God works in us. This work is greatly hindered when we neglect the work of God and substitute our own ideas and objectives.
Frequently we can come to think more of our Christian life in terms of milestones of our own accomplishment (sacraments, church attendance and activities, or financial support) such that we give little or no consideration to the work God would like to accomplish in us.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. - Philippians 2:13
There is a fragility to the work of God in us such that our inclination to trust in our own works or ideas or that of others can slow, frustrate, and even inhibit Godís work in us. We can see this happening in Galatia.
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? - Galatians 3:3
The influence of the flesh might be summed up as selfishness and self-seeking. Jesus is our example of the opposite of selfishness, which is love.
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. - 2 Corinthians 5:15
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