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March Madness: Wrestling with the Spirit and the flesh on a daily basis

Yes, we think of basketball when we think of March Madness, but there is another sort of madness that Christians must wrestle with on a year round basis.  That is the match between the Spirit and the flesh.  Both want the title.  Both want victory in us.
Yes, we think of basketball when we think of March Madness, but there is another sort of madness that Christians must wrestle with on a year round basis. That is the match between the Spirit and the flesh. Both want the title. Both want victory in us.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

How many months have 28 days?

Do they have the 4th of July in England?

I have 2 coins in my pocket that add up to 55 cents, but one of them is not a nickel. What are the 2 coins?

If you are stuck in a dark basement and have a candle, a torch, and a lantern, but only one match, which would you light first?

How far into the woods can a dog run?

How many of each type of animal did Moses load on the ark?

If you need the answers to these, I have included them at the end of the article.

What do guys at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State call March Madness? Baseball season… Ouch!

Can a person who has professed Jesus as Lord and Savior remain unchanged?

Can a person that has God’s own Spirit living within him remain unchanged?

Can we who follow Jesus live as we did before we professed him as Lord?

In a very interesting conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus said that to enter into God’s Kingdom, we must be born again.

We sort of chuckle at Nicodemus when he asks, “How can this be?”

We think this Pharisee just doesn’t get it when he asks, “Can a grown man crawl back inside his mother’s womb?”

It’s cramped enough when the kids move back home after college, but to go back inside your mother’s womb is just absurd.

You must be born again, born of the Spirit, born from above—we get that. Nicodemus seemed a little slow on this part, but we get it.

Or do we?

Are we really born again if we keep living the same way that we lived before we were born again?

Born once of the flesh and once of the Spirit, but in the end we live the same way?

To that, I will ask the Nicodemus question. How can this be?

A tomato plant doesn’t bear cucumbers and a fresh spring doesn’t bring up salt water.

A bunch of goatheads and cockleburs won’t produce watermelons.

Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to spirit.

But isn’t it crazy to be born of the flesh and be born of the Spirit and your life amounts to the same thing either way?

The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

We struggle between two natures: Our human nature and our divine nature.

God formed us out of the dirt—the humus if you will—and he made humans.

God forms us again out of his Spirit.

People are the only creatures that are of the earth and of the Spirit.

Genesis says that God spoke everything into existence but we get this second creation account of mankind—humankind—where God makes a man out of the dirt, but there is no life in the man until God breathes his spirit into him and makes him a living being—a living soul.

We have this flesh and spirit wrestling match going on inside of us even in 2014.

If you read beyond the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, you find yourself in Samarian at Jacob’s well in Sychar.

This is where Jesus has a unique encounter with a Samaritan woman and eventually reveals to her that he is the long promised Messiah.

But more than that, he reveals that one day—in fact that time has already begun—people will worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

The geography will count for less than sincerity. It won’t matter if you go to a holy mountain or the country church so long as we worship in Spirit and in Truth.

We understand this completely and we don’t understand it at all.

Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit was like the wind. You don’t know where it comes from or where it goes, but sure enough we know the wind is there. Some of the original words for Spirit and for air or wind are the same.

In that regard, March has been a very spiritual month in Oklahoma. One day the spirit is out of the north and the next day the spirit is out of the south.

The spirit like the wind is sometimes hard to get our minds around.

But the truth is different. The truth is where we struggle in the flesh.

We sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and then zoom on by the guy who really does need help because we are late for the game.

We recite John’s words from the 13th chapter:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

We give out nice blue bracelets that say: GOD LOVES YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Then in the same breath we say, I can’t love that person. You don’t know how they have treated me. They don’t deserve love. They are UNLOVEABLE.

On Sunday morning we are singing, “Open the eyes of my heart,” but by Monday we have put our worldly blinders on so the eyes of our heart become myopic. They can only see what is right in front of us and impacts us and our self-centered world.

For if we had eyes to see we would see hurt and pain and worry and people who don’t know where to turn and we know that we know where they can turn but we just don’t have the time to give them today.

Today is just not a good day for the eyes of my heart to be open. I’ll check my calendar.

We wrestle between the spirit and the flesh all the time

God’s Spirit desires to live within us.

The flesh desires to keep that Spirit contained so we can do the things we want to do.

In a recent discussion, someone asked, “What do you do with someone who says they want to live the way they want and at the last minute, accept Jesus and get to heaven?”

What do we say to that kind of person?

I think we are asking the wrong question. Why do we need to convince someone to give up all of the good things in life and follow Jesus?

What if we follow Jesus and receive the good things in life?

Should the example of our life not be attractive to others?

Should the peace that we have in all circumstances not be attractive to the world?

Should the Blessed Assurance that we know every day not be something that others long for?

The world—the flesh—the human nature—the Adam nature seeks the things that the divine nature has given us.

The human nature will try to buy peace and joy.

The human nature—the flesh if you will—will search in all sorts of places for contentment, but without purpose in life, such contentment is ever elusive.

The flesh is always looking for something to tell us that we are alive, but life comes to us in the Spirit of God.

Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to spirit.

If we have been born of the Spirit, born anew, born from above, how can we remain the same?

Does our life not have to change?

If God’s Spirit is living within us, if his Spirit is walking beside us, if his Spirit is a part of our every day, can we still remain creatures of the flesh?

Paul had a few things to say about this.

First he said do not be conformed to the ways of the world. Don’t buy the world’s bill of goods.

Instead, change your life by first changing your mind.

Renew your mind. Make it new again. Rebaseline your mind but this time do it God’s way.

Paul also reminds us that the person that you were before you were born again wants his old status back. He wants his old job back. The old self wants to be who is in charge of your life.

The old man doesn’t like being replaced. He will not go willingly. Just when you think your have kicked your Adam nature to the curb, he shows up again.

Flesh gives birth to flesh.

Spirit gives birth to spirit.

And each wants to be the driving force in your life.

And that is ok.

We are human.

We are made out of dirt, but we are made in the image of God.

We sin and we fall short because our flesh fails us, but in our failure and in our weakness, we have come to know the unbounded love of God.

We might have never known how much God loves us if we had not first sinned.

God made us.

God came and lived in the flesh in the person of Jesus.

God knows that we have a wrestling match.

This can lead to madness or it can lead to growth.

We are pulled by the desires of the flesh and we are pulled by God’s own Spirit. And this could pull us apart.

Or, it could be the very thing that sharpens us.

Jesus told the woman at the well that the Father wants worshipers who worship him in the Spirit and in truth.

Sometimes we can tell who the Spirit-filled people are. They jump up and down and shout hallelujah all the time, right?

We could look around our Sunday morning services and say, “Man, that guy is really worshipping. He really has the Spirit in him.”

That might be true. It could be the jalapeno peppers he ate the night before or the Ginseng drink and diet pill that he began the day with, or he might be filled with the Spirit of God.

But to worship in and live in the truth is a little more discernible.

For when we live in the truth, we have eyes to see the things that don’t fit into our schedule but God’s Spirit is calling us to do.

When we live in and worship in the truth, we somehow manage to love the unloveable.

When we make our entire lives a living sacrifice to God and make this our reasonable act of worship, the Spirit wins out over the flesh.

When we only speak the truth in love, the Spirit has won out over the flesh.

When we look at the guy that our flesh says, “He will get what’s coming to him,” but that voice is drowned out by the voice of God’s Spirit living within us that says, “May he come to know the God of love and mercy and never perish;” then we know that the Spirit has won out over the flesh.

Once God’s Spirit dwells within us, we cannot remain unchanged.

We may resist being transformed into the image of Christ Jesus, but we are never the same once we are born of the Spirit.

There is a force at work shaping us into the image of Jesus Christ.

If we resist it, we just might drive ourselves crazy.

If we surrender to God’s Spirit; the world will call us crazy and our flesh will do its best to regain control.

It is one of those things that we will wrestle with for most of our days.

The good news is that if we listen to God’s Spirit day after day, the voice of that old man of flesh will become the voice of a stranger, and one day we won’t even recognize it.

For now, we have to learn to sing Blessed Assurance and Change My Heart O God and understand that this wrestling match is just part of our journey.

Answers from the introduction:

All 12 months have 28 days. Some have even more.

Yes, the 4th of July falls right between the 3rd and the 5th of July even in England.

The 2 coins are a fifty cent piece and a nickel. One of them is not a nickel, but one of them is.

Things will go much better if you first light the match.

The dog can only run halfway into the woods. If he keeps running beyond the halfway point, he is running out of the woods.

Really? Moses didn’t load the ark. That was Noah.

Can a person who has professed Jesus as Lord and Savior and who has received God’s own Spirit remain unchanged?

I hope you answered emphatically, “No way!”

I hope you wake up every morning listening to the voice of God’s Spirit.

I hope that one day somewhere down the road, the old self just gives up and your life and your worship are the same thing, and they are lived in Spirit and in Truth.


Read also:

Sin: I’m against it, but…

The world might be saved through him

Is there dissonance in our worship? A story from Sychar.

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