by Raymond McAlister

Years ago, when I was a pastor in Indianapolis, I went to a Radio Shack early one morning and arrived 20 minutes before the store opened. While I was waiting in my car an armored car pulled up and the guard carried some bags into the drug store next door. As I sat there looking at the armored car I began to think how I could successfully rob it. I never seriously contemplated actually doing it, but isn't that something for a pastor to be thinking about?

Around that same period of time someone in Indianapolis had robbed a bank and made off with a large sum of money. He was caught shortly afterward because he was spending lots of money. My first thoughts were, "You idiot. You should have hidden the money for a couple of years and then spent it slowly." Should a Christian be thinking of telling a thief how to spend the money he has stolen? Where do these kinds of thoughts come from anyway?

As I was driving to the college yesterday morning the moron in the pick-up behind me blew his horn at me when I didn't get away fast enough when the light turned green. It made me mad and I really thought about letting him get ahead of me and then blowing my horn at him at the next stop light.

Why did I get mad and why did I want to get even?

Of course on a daily basis I want to watch TV more than I want to read my Bible and pray. I won't even mention the wicked and evil thoughts that pop into my mind once in a while. Why is that?

If I can judge other Christians by myself, then all of us struggle with sin in our lives every day. (Sin is simply disobedience to God, whether we do something we are told not to do or do not do something we are told to do.) I really have a desire in my heart to be obedient to God but there always seems to be something getting in the way.

Does the Bible have any answers to this problem? Indeed it does.

We must first understand that man was created in the image of God and is also a triune being, that is, a man has a body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The word soul means "conscious existence," which would mean our mind, which would include our feelings, desires, affections, etc. Before we are saved by the grace of God, we are by nature totally sinful. It is a dog's nature to bark. It may not bark until it is a few weeks or even months old, but eventually it will bark because that is its nature. It is our nature to sin. You don't have to teach a child to lie, cheat, steal or be selfish. That comes naturally. Before we are saved we are sinful in body, mind and spirit.

Jesus said in John chapter three that a person must be "born again." He went on to say in verse six, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." That means when we are saved (or born again) we have a new spirit. Our spirit then is as holy and righteous as Jesus himself. However, our body, with all its needs, wants and desires, is not changed at the point of salvation but will remain sinful until the day we die.

With that little background we can now go to Romans chapter seven. Remember, this is the Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and was even caught up into the third heaven. He is so far above me spiritually that I would not be worthy to untie his shoes. Listen to what he says.

"For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Romans 7:15-18). It looks like Paul was having the same problem 2,000 years ago that I am having today.

Before you were saved you thought little about the sin in your life. You just enjoyed the desires of the flesh. But, when you were saved, things changed. When you got saved you got a new spirit. Now the Holy Spirit comes in through our spirit and convicts us of our disobedience. However, we still live in the same old body that we lived in before and now we have a war going on. On one hand our sinful flesh desires to keep living like we did before we were saved but our spirit desires to do what God wants us to do. The spirit wants to go to church but the flesh wants to stay in bed. The spirit wants to honor God with the mouth but the flesh wants to curse. The battle rages every day and that battle takes place in our mind.
A preacher I knew described it this way. You take a sheep from a beautiful green pasture and tie it to a pig from the pig pen. The sheep wants to go where it is clean. The pig wants to go where it is dirty. Where will they go? It depends on which one is the strongest. How do you make one stronger than the other? By feeding one and starving the other. If you feed the pig the sheep is going to wind up knee deep in mud. If you feed the sheep the pig is going to live on a beautiful grassy hill. If you feed the flesh with everything it wants, it will grow strong and your spiritual life will grow weak. If you feed on spiritual food, you will grow spiritual muscle and the desires of the flesh will grow weaker.

Although we will never live without temptation and sin, we can live victorious lives. Paul went on to say "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:24-25). Our victory over the flesh comes through a commitment of our lives to Him and a relationship with Him through His Word and prayer.

Why bother fighting? Why not just let the flesh have its way? Well, first, after you are saved you will never be happy living with sin. The Holy Spirit will see to that. The most miserable person in the world is a saved person out of the will of God. If you have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and can be at peace living in sin, I think you should seriously consider if you have really been saved with your heart or just made a profession with your head.

Second, there are blessings for obeying God and there are chastisements for disobedience. Third, rewards will be given at Jesus' return for obedience. Fourth, you are not alone. Your life will either be the means of others being saved or a road block to keep others from being saved. There have been saved fathers who have driven their children into hell because of their sinful lives.

Is it worth the fight that takes place in our minds every day? Absolutely. What we endure in this life is tiny compared with eternity.