Gratifying the Flesh Eating Monster

This blog has become a confessional lately.

I confess to my writer’s block, to my geekiness, to a tendency to let crazy thoughts rattle around inside my head.

Today I would like to confess that there is an occasional zombie shuffle to my walk.

Recently, the comments section on another blog brought Romans 7 into my headspace, so I have been pondering over it again. There are some pretty divergent camps that come out of trying to make sense of that chapter of Romans. Some will say that Paul is describing his life before encountering Jesus on that road to Damascus, while others see it as a spot on description of the struggle that they go through in the day to day Christian life.

I have generally fallen into agreement with the second category, but for the first time, I am seeing at least some truth in the first.

I think that the lens that we view the seventh chapter of Romans through often skews our reading in such a way that we miss the main point that Paul is making. We often look at these passages through the lens of sin, whether we choose to sin or not. What I feel Paul is really pointing to is that we can stop fighting this battle.

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This is where the zombie metaphor comes in.

The battle against sin and death has already been fought on the cross. We have never been particularly good at fighting sin anyway, so God decided to do it for us. The resurrection was a victory lap.

Our flesh has been crucified with Christ, and along with it any pitiful expectation that we could use it to achieve righteousness on our own.

To walk in the flesh is not only to give in to our desire to sin, but also the impulse to justify ourselves through good works and close observance of the law. When we try to gain life according to our own actions, good behavior and observance of the law, we are trying to reanimate the flesh that has been put to death.

Paul is pointing out that the cross is calling us out of the shuffling and shambling life of walking in the flesh, where we stumble and moan through the constant judgment of our sins, only to drag our stinking corpse back to its feet again to stagger a little further.

We may be shackled to this body that is dead, but we have been invited to walk in a different manner, not in one that gratifies dead flesh, but that focuses on the Spirit which brings life.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh…”

Legalistic systems would have us spend our days focused on the rotting corpse of the flesh, seeing where we might be able to patch up some decaying skin or cover exposed muscle and bone. All of this effort that we spend trying to make a dead body look lively gives us little energy or time to do what we have been called to do.

“… but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” [Romans 8:5]

As is generally the case, my understanding of these things is a bit of a moving target, so feel free to redirect me in the comments. In what ways do you “set your mind on the things of the Spirit”? I have to admit that when I start thinking about it, I start constructing new rules for myself, so insight would be welcome.

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19 thoughts on “Gratifying the Flesh Eating Monster

  1. At least as a start, I like to call upon the name of the Lord. Simply using His Name, not in vain, but with great purpose, I have found a way to meditate on our Christ and thus find peace.

    • My mind kind of went to Philippians 4:8 with that advice.

      “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

      To set your mind on the things of the Spirit isn’t so much the power of positive thinking, but being free to think about who God is, what he has done for us, what he has called us to… the positive call rather than focus on our own wretchedness. We are set free to obedience, rather than constantly focusing on our disobedience.

  2. “Some will say that Paul is describing his life before encountering Jesus on that road to Damascus…”

    Can you expound a little on this viewpoint, I’m not seeing how it’s supported in that chapter of Romans.

    Even though I personally don’t care for the zombie craze, it fits quite well with what you’re talking about.

    • I don’t think that it is. I don’t really agree with the viewpoint of a chapter 7 being a pre-Christian reality. What I do agree with is that we are being invited to shed that battle described in 7, and to walk in the Spirit instead. My current reading is more to the effect of Paul acknowledging that the legalistic fleshly nature still tries to creep in, but that it is a framework that we should now reject.

      Now that I think about it, you might have been the one that directed me to these verses earlier in the week, so thanks for that.

  3. Okay, that’s where I thought you were at. I didn’t think you were agreeing with that viewpoint, I was just trying to understand where that camp is getting it from.

    I agree with shedding that battle, difficult though it can be. The day I found that section of Scripture where Paul describes his own struggle was actually very freeing for me – just to know that there is grace for our struggle makes it easier to stop fighting it.

    Not sure if it was me or not, my memory fails me often these days. 🙂

    • I think that’s why the matter has frustrated me in the past. It has been such an encouraging passage, and to have someone say it means nearly the opposite of what I thought was a little crushing.

  4. Well, yeah, that would be crushing. And I don’t understand why or how it could be taken that way. I can’t find anything relating Paul’s struggle to being past tense.
    For the past few days, I have been dealing with a legalistic person. It’s sad to see this person still living in that fear, and blinded to the freedom from fear so clearly set out for us.

    • I guess that it is one of those philosophies that I would have a hard time giving a fair explanation of, since I have a very hard time putting myself in those shoes. I would probably end up saying something unfair.

      I remember doing a zip lining obstacle course around this time last year, and there were a couple Tarzan swings built into it. I remember thinking that they already had me twenty feet up in a tree and now they wanted me to jump out of it. Turns out that all along the harness that kept me safe in the tree is the same one that kept me safe when I swung out of it. Legalism is kind of similar in that we end up trusting in the platform in the tree, when we should be trusting in the harness. One keeps us imprisoned in one place while the other allows us to swing carefree through the air.

    • Everything is going pretty well, hope the new locale is sitting you. I remember you being one that had brought the question up for me in the past, and almost messaged you about it while I was writing it, but got distracted. I’ll check out your link when I get a few minutes to string together.

    • In fact you are specifically the person I was thinking when I told Owen I didn’t want to say something unfair about the position. I respect the way that you handle the scriptures in general, so I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth.

    • I will go this far, it is somewhat inconclusive to me if Paul is talking about himself pre or post conversion, but I don’t think that it would be a stretch to think that the one who “has reason to boast” could have struggled at times with an impulse to self justification… even if fleeting.

      I do think that he is largely speaking to encourage against that attitude in other believers. I think that whether Paul is talking about himself before or after Christ, he is addressing a battle that believers will encounter in their own minds whether it be through self condemnation or pride.

      There are plenty of churches out there that have nothing but shame and condemnation to preach to the people, their heads are being programmed to think like the Romans 7 man. One of the big issues that was being addressed in the early church, and taking the gospel to the Gentiles, was the matter of them submitting to the law. We carry that same legacy today… but Paul is telling us that we don’t need to… you are focusing on death when you have been given life… for those in Christ there is no condemnation.

      • Thanks for at least letting me offer another perspective. I will put my main argument below for anyone who would like to know it and doesn’t have time to read the article I linked to along with the commentary that accompanies it.
        __________

        I think the contrast between 7:14-25 and 8:1-17 is so dramatic that it is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that the experience delineated is a Christian experience in both cases.

        (1) In ch7, we have a man who is dead, in ch8 we have a man who is alive
        (2) In ch7 we have a man who enslaved and sold under sin, in ch8 we have a man who is not under bondage as a slave, but one who is a son
        (3) In ch7, we have a man who has sin dwelling in him and leading him, in ch8 we have a man who has God’s Spirit dwelling in Him and leading him
        (4) In ch7, we have a man defeated by sin, in ch8 we have a man who overcomes sin by the power of the Spirit, etc…
        (5) In ch7, we have one who is under the law of sin and death (7:23), in ch8 we see a man who is under the law of the Spirit (the Gospel).

        There is now no condemnation (death) for the one who is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). This Romans 7 man is a man who is dead (vs9, 13), who is enslaved to sin (vs14,23), has nothing good dwelling in him (v18). The only type of person that all of these can be applied to is one who is lost and separated from God. He is lost no matter how much he tries to be saved, and the only hope for him is to be delivered by Jesus. A Christian who is right with God cannot be described as these things because they have the spirit of adoption (not bondage) within them (Rm 8:9-10, 15). They have goodness dwelling in them because the spirit dwells in them (also see Rm 15:14 where the Romans are described as being “full of goodness”). Also, ch6 of Romans shows that because a Christian died with Christ in baptism, they are now alive in Christ, and that they are slaves of righteousness. The way that Paul talks in Romans 6 is that the only way sin can have dominion over us is if we allow it to by feeding the flesh.

        I think many tend to identify with this man of Romans 7 when we don’t understand that this is not a man who is struggling with sin… he is a man who is enslaved and dead and can’t get out of this condition no matter how much he fights… In my judgment, if we read this passage and identify with this man, it may be the case that we are enslaved and are in need of repentance. I know I have been there in the past when I have battled against legalism within myself and when I was fighting a losing war against sin I was enslaved to and couldn’t get out of on my own. And as I said in the article, I do think there is an application to a believer. This would equally describe a believer who is legalistically trusting in their obedience to the commandments of Christ to keep them saved. We can, with this kind of mindset, enslave ourselves all over again to “law”. I believe this is the only application we can make to the believer based on the context.

        Fo those who do disagree with what I wrote above, could you explain to me from your view how someone who is saved and right with God can be described as one who is dead, enslaved to sin, and has ‘nothing’ good dwelling in him? Thanks!

        • Jason.. as regenerated saints this side of our Master’s return our spirits remain fleshed to a body of sin and death.. so both good and evil dwells within us.. this is what Scripture teaches us.. Paul throughout his letters defines the flesh as a sinful orientation of the self.. an evil bent we’ll battle against until we’re done with our unglorified bodies.. but for the moment: “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8)..

          From my reading of 7 Paul makes it clear that he is addressing those who “have died to the law through the body of Christ” (v4) and “now serve in the new way of the Spirit” (v6).. yet in this new way of life, as Paul and our own experiences teach, we find this persistent “law” that exists for me and you and for all of us in Christ Jesus: “that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.”

          Yes, “the letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life”.. and there’s a LOT that needs to die within us.. as Paul died daily.. yet this death and dying does not mean we are not operating as born of the Spirit believers.. or that we’re outside a vital fellowship with the Lord.. in fact, our struggle with personal sin, typically means we’re smack on track in our walk through the new way of life in Christ in the Spirit.. putting to death the deeds of our sinful nature.. from faith to faith.. from strength to strength.. etc.. etc..

          Seems you’ve jumped to some distinctions contrary to the text.. for example, you truncate this key Scripture of a man who “has nothing good dwelling in him”.. and assign this to an unregenerated man’s reality.

          However, the text defines what Paul meant by “him” or actually the “me” he was writing of.. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” Nothing good dwells in the sinful tendencies of not only Paul’s but our own wretched flesh.. this is true.. and yet, at the same time, does not cancel out the truth that good does dwell within us through the person of God’s Spirit..

          The good news—I trust we both agree—is that in Christ we’re saved from a life of living in the flesh, as now we have the Spirit and heart and mind of our Master that orients us and enables us to transcend the bondage to the law of sin and death and a fruitless life given over to the flesh..

          So now exists a dynamic spiritual war being waged between our indwelling flesh and the Spirit of God who dwells within us.. yes, we have the highest good dwelling in us—God Himself.. yet we still are subject to a law of sinful tendencies dwelling in our members.. that’s our reality..

          • Thanks for jumping in, multiple voices helps flesh things out (no pun intended). I know that I have definitely found myself in places in the past where I have thought I was making something perfectly clear yet also failing to get my point across.

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