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Chapter 4 - Falling Short
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? - 1 Corinthians 3:1-3
It can be confusing for Christians to read about the love, peace, unity, and harmony to which we are called and resolve it with the strife, arguments, and worldliness so observable in most of actual Christian practice.
Being 'carnal' means 'of the flesh' or the old nature. When a person becomes a Christian, he gets a new nature, but that does not mean the old one disappears. The re-emergence of the influence of the old nature can be seen in the letter Paul wrote the Galatians.
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? - Galatians 3:3
The Galatians had accepted the instruction of 'experts' from Jerusalem who were telling them they needed to add Jewish practices such as circumcision to their Christian walk. It is instructive to consider what happened in Galatia because it is so representative of how we can come to be diverted into walking in the flesh.
The Galatians were not seeking to do evil. They were probably not even aware that what they were doing was wrong. They probably had a sincere desire to be faithful to do what was right. They let themselves be deceived by those claiming the authority to tell them what was right.
We live in a society that de-emphasizes personal responsibility to such a degree that even criminals often think that their crimes were not their fault. Given such a social environment, it can be even more difficult to consider that the Galatians are taken to task and held accountable for their individual failure in discernment and vigilance to remain faithful.
It is interesting to note that church members are not held blameless because they were misled by their 'leadership'. Here is an important difference between modern church practice and that of the New Testament times, the idea that church membership requires unquestioning acceptance of prepackaged dogma and compliant observance of established practices has more in common with the Pharisees than the early church.
Almost all failure to walk by the Spirit can be traced back to getting diverted into some variation of walking in the flesh. At first glance the failure of the Galatians may be seen as choosing the wrong doctrine (an emphasis on works). However, at a deeper level the failure was a surrender of their individual responsibility to seek, evaluate and find truth.
Underlying and leading to the act of being misled into walking by the flesh instead of the Spirit was a sort of spiritual laziness that made the Galatians vulnerable to false teachings. One of the quickest ways to drift from the path of walking by the Spirit is to switch to a sort of 'automatic pilot' type of Christian life. In contrast a Christian life of active seeking and evaluating provides protection from deception.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. - Acts 17:10-11
In contrast to the Galatians who could be mislead, the Christians in Berea were actively seeking and evaluating truth. The process of Christian growth that the Holy Spirit would have us undertake, requires our active participation.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. - Hebrews 5:11-14
Here we have a description of a condition more familiarly known as a 'lapse'. The example of Hebrews is one of losing spiritual ground through a failure to 'exercise'. The resulting growth of 'dullness' is a regression such that they are described as having to start over in their Christian life.
The failure of the Hebrews is one of neglecting salvation as a result of finding others things of more interest, value, and attraction. We can learn important lessons from the Hebrews and Galatians as the same things that happened to them can happen to us and for the same reasons.
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; - Hebrews 2:1-3
All to often we let 'slip' away the riches in Christ for the comforts of the flesh. It is understandable, but not necessary as God has provided the means to overcome the flesh.
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. - Mark 14:38
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