This is a text reader for the article below:
Denying the fruitless enticements of the flesh
This year’s focus so far has been shifting our focus from simply being recipients of the knowledge of God, to actually pouring some effort into its pursuit.
Knowing in this context is not the sort of knowledge one can draw from reading a book, but only through living life within a relationship with someone. We learn as we walk. Certainly we have the scriptures as our guide for God will NEVER lead us contrary to His word, but His written word alone is NOT what we were designed for. That was the fatal flaw of the Jews who came out of Egypt. “Tell us what God wants, but don’t let Him talk to us” was their response to God drawing near them. But in the covenant cut in the blood of Messiah Jesus, separation is no longer an option. You either are in a relationship of progressively coming to know and of being known, or you are not in covenant at all.
This is koinonia, a knowing that comes from a life shared with Him and experienced with Him – not apart from Him. Living the truth of that reality day by day. Our success might wane from time to time and our focus might get temporarily dissuaded but those who are His always return to ground zero – intimacy. Though the returning may be difficult in terms of confronting inconsistencies and even disloyalties in our heart towards Him, we come. The pain of confronting the sins which still abide within our lives is LESS painful than the distance of avoidance.
So it is that we have covered so many topics and so many passages in the Bible since the beginning of the year.
Recently we have taken the angle of receptiveness to His words. His words are always in the context of loving and obedient surrender to the King and betterment of the kingdom, but it is nonetheless, receptiveness to His words!
It is impossible to fully embrace Jesus, meaning our relationship to Him and the Father by Him if we fail to embrace the nature of our relationship.
God loves us – this is undeniable by anyone who has truly seen Christ Jesus through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and who have committed themselves to Him in trust. We KNOW the love God has for us! It is easy however, in that knowledge to become too comfortable… too familiar – in a way which fails to equally acknowledge that He is Creator and God! This is a mistake that begins to go soft on sin and lean too heavily on forgiveness.
We make this same mistake in human relationships. We know a loved one dislikes a certain behavior, attitude, topic…etc. But we also know they will indulge us because they love us. Now, while there “may be” some times in human relationships where this is not entirely WRONG per se, it is NEVER right or appropriate in our relationship with God. The issue in our hearts is NEVER to be, “can I get away with it” but rather, “will it offend”?
While we are in this life the scriptures tell us that the flesh serves as a veil before our eyes. We cannot see into the spiritual world which is all around us and in fact existed before this physical universe was ever created. It isn’t that this is the “real” world and the spiritual is somehow what is left over after this life is complete. Quite the opposite! The spiritual world is here… it is all around us! The physical was created within it and serves as a veil over our eyes to keep us from seeing anything but the here and now.
We know this based upon several passages in scripture, but perhaps the most outstanding is with Elisha and his servant.
2Kings 6:15-17, “(15) The prophet’s attendant got up early in the morning. When he went outside there was an army surrounding the city, along with horses and chariots. He said to Elisha, “Oh no, my master! What will we do?” (16) He replied, “Don’t be afraid, for our side outnumbers them.” (17) Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he can see.” The LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw that the hill was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
There is a slightly more obscure reference which has another point entirely in view at its mention but it still serves as an example. It is found in Hebrews 10. and reads like this…
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, (20) by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,” ~ Hebrews 10:19-20
But why bring this up at this juncture in our lesson? Because even though all who have come to the Lord have the veil regarding the presence and love of God removed as well as our ability to understand the scriptures by the Spirit’s aid, we still do not see the spiritual world with our natural eyes. One day however, the veil of the flesh will be permanently removed and we will no longer see through a glass dimly, but face to face and that clearly!
What will we see THAT day that we do not see now? How everything this world has to offer are like window dressings or seasoning put upon our food. With the veil of the flesh here to obscure our view and thus our understanding, we stand constantly in the state of being able to be deceived into believing this is all there is. That the window dressing IS the shop, that the salt IS the steak, but it was always only intended to intensify our appreciation and enjoyment of what was truly real – NOT replace it – NOT serve as its pale substitution! But to borrow a phrase from Tozer, we have made a monstrous substitution of the natural for the spiritual, the things made for the One Who made them!
How might understanding this affect how we live our lives? Well it goes back to what I was saying before this little indulgence which I hoped would serve as an example. If we lived aware that the things which vye for our attention and allegiance were nothing more than things intended to enhance our knowledge, enjoyment and ultimately our love and devotion to the God Who made them – we could enjoy them without abusing them. Instead of being so easily tempted into the lie that these THINGS can substitute for intimacy with our Creator, we would no longer wonder if we could get away with “sin”, but rather ask, “what can I do which would please and honor God and further my enjoyment of Him?”
All of this leads us to our beginning passage this morning which is somewhere in the vicinity of where we left off in John 15 last week. So turn to John 15:9.
Of course you know that this is where Jesus taught His disciples about Himself being the Vine, about them being the branches and the Father as the one who works the vineyard.
He has already told us that being fruitful is what this union is all about and that fruit is the obvious and truly automatic realities and byproducts of our union with Him. IF we truly abide or remain “IN HIM” we WILL produce fruit!
Though there is a sobering warning about not abiding and therefore being removed from the Vine due to continued fruitlessness – the bulk of the teaching is focused upon the fruit that happens naturally as we ABIDE.
Now before we begin in John 15:9, let’s recall that the fruit we are talking about is proof of our union with Him. In other words, fruit bearing is character change! It isn’t that we believe the correct doctrine – even the devil does that. Nor is it that we can readily quote the words of Jesus and claim to believe they are intrinsically true. Again the devil can do that – remember the girl with the evil spirit of divination who followed Paul saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She both believed these words and reported that they were true, but she was no believer. So it is that belief is not simply in the truthfulness of the gospel of the kingdom, but in surrendered submission to it in trust.
Continuance in that relationship of knowing and trusting will ALWAYS produce the fruit of character conformity to Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 15:9-14, “(9) Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. (10) If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. (11) I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. (12) My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you. (13) No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends. (14) You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
The words “one lays down his life for his friends” is the focus of our study this morning.
The word “life” here is also translated as soul in other places. I think for us in the western world the greater of these two is one’s soul – as we understand the term. However, in the Jewish mind there is little to no difference. One’s soul represents one’s whole life and it is often used this way throughout the New Testament.
Technically the soul, (Greek word psuchḗ) represents the mind, will and emotion of the person and in this way it represents their life.
James presents it this way. The tongue is the rudder of the ship of one’s life and actions. Jesus tells us the tongue is guided by what is in the abundance of one’s heart. So the heart (or soul) steers our lives. As such, the life a person leads is a clear picture of their soul.
No wonder Jesus told us that if a person truly is righteous their actions will be righteous, if they are evil, then so will their actions be.
A tree is known by its fruit – and with that we return to the analogy of the Vine and the branches.
If we truly are part of Jesus as our Vine, then fruit of that union WILL follow.
However, as Paul tells us in Romans we are NOT just a spirit and soul, we also live in a body which exerts its influence over our mind, will and emotions as well.
For the saint, this truth is the source of MUCH of our torment in this life.
We are in some ways a temple divided. We have a spirit and soul which long to serve God and a body in which sin still resides. Paul tells us that in Romans 7 & 8 and in Galatians 5.
So what do we do?
How do we abide in Him, if we are so severely tempted to do otherwise?
In steps the Word of God and the Spirit of God!
Turn with me to James where we see things addressed to saints, who clearly were struggling with their flesh.
We are turning to chapter 1, but remember that in chapter 4 James warns these believers that desiring and following after friendship with the world makes one God’s enemy. Earlier in the same chapter he called them adulterers because of this evil responsiveness to their fleshly desires.
All of this he wrote AFTER offering them the solution. James 1:21 and we will begin with reading this familiar verse, but then back up because all that he said beforehand offers insight and is VERY helpful to us.
James 1:21, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Now many translations today use the word “implanted” instead of “engrafted” and they are right to do so. However, engrafted is the figurative meaning and since James is making use of a botanical use of word imagery either word would deliver the intended message.
I like the word “implant” due to its connection with the parable of the sower, but I like the word “engraft” due to its connection with Jesus’ teaching on the Vine in John 15 and both teach lessons consistent with the truth.
We need to have the right soil to germinate the seed of the word, but we need to be of the same genetic type in order for a graft to take. God’s word will save the soul (meaning the mind, will & emotions) of a believer because it is being introduced to something which is of the same likeness and character. The same word will do a saving word in the soul of one who does not know God as well. So both words serve a purpose.
We are God’s children and so, for the purposes of teachings like today I prefer the word “engrafted”. But let’s back up and read the progression of thoughts which lead to this powerful truth.
Now I want to call to your remembrance that Jesus said something very similar in John 15:4. He said,
“You are already clean (pruned) and because of the word I have spoken to you.“
Jesus attributes the pruning work of the Father, which results in more fruit to His word. Jesus said He had spoken it to them, but a few chapters later in chapter 17, while they were praying in the garden of Gethsemane He said to the Father, “I have given them Your word and they have accepted it, understood it and have obeyed it”. – John 17:6-8.
So we see agreement across the scriptures that God’s word keeps and saves the one who accepts it, understands it and obeys it.
James 1:2-27, “(1) My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; (3) Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
(4) But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
Luke offers something helpful from the teachings of Jesus on this patter of patience. He tells us that Jesus said,
“In your patience possess ye your souls.” – Luke 21:19
Or as the New English Translation has it,
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.”– Luke 21:19
“(5) If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (6) But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (7) For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
(8) A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (9) Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: (10) But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. (11) For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. (12) Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
I believe it is easy to see similar language here to what Jesus said in John 15. Laying down our lives or souls is proof of our love for Him and that love does NOT go unrewarded! Jesus told us in John 14 that…
“The person who has My commandments and obeys them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him.” – John 14:21
What is another way of saying “knowing Him”? Eternal Life (John 17:3)
What does James here say we will be crowned or honored with if we prove our loving devotion by not surrendering to temptation when it comes? Life!
“(13) Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: (14) But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
If all we are is spirits and our spirits are like him then where does this “lust” come from? It calls it “OUR lust”. Lest we think of this as something outside ourselves, it is presented as something we own. We are drawn away by OUR OWN LUSTS and it is THAT which entices us to sin.
I’ve mentioned it once before this morning so I think it would behoove me to have to see it for yourselves.
Keep your finger here and turn with me to Romans 7:15-23 & 8:1-5,
“(15) For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. (16) But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. (17) But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. (18) For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. (19) For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! (20) Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. (21) So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. (22) For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. (23) But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members.”
8:1-5 – “(1) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (2) For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. (3) For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (5) For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.”
And Galatians 5:16-18,
“(16) But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. (17) For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.
Sounds alot like what Paul wrote in Romans 7 doesn’t it?
(18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
So this LUST originates from the sin which is STILL in our flesh. That tendency and desire towards sin is what exercises an influence over our minds.
IF we take those thoughts, allowing it to shape our outlook on life, then its work of enticement will result in sin which in turn results in the separation of death.
“(15) Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
If not representative of the whole of one’s life, then this separation is in terms of temporary fellowship, but it is still a very real death.
“(16) Do not err, my beloved brethren. (17) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
The error is to buy the lie that the lusts of the flesh will answer our needs and desires for fulfillment and satisfaction and delight, but it will not! We are branches of THE Vine and as such our life is hidden ‘IN HIM’. We will find no lasting satisfaction in anything or anyone other than Him – so don’t be deceived! From the Father, the Vinedresser alone comes every good and life giving gift!
Now the next words of James speak to the reason of our recreation in Him and our being placed as branches in Jesus our Vine. It is about fruitfulness!
“(18) Of His Own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
This verse connects with the one we read in John 15…
“By this My Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples” – John 15:8
Now this is pay dirt – this is why we showed up this morning. James tells us how we should respond in light of all of this truth!
“(19) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: (20) BECAUSE the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
“(21) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (23) For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: (24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (26) If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”
The tongue steers the ship and the heart steers the tongue.
“(27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Now this wraps up our lesson for today, but it leads into a lesson which you are probably already wondering about.
You already knew that abiding was necessary to bear fruit. You also knew that God’s word saved the soul. But how do you get from hearing to obeying?
Well He’s already been introduced both last week and this week, without capitalizing too heavily on His role in the process, but it is the inner work and ministry of the Holy Spirit which moves us from hearing to doing. It still requires receptiveness, responsiveness and diligence on our part, but it is accomplished – as we read in Romans and Galatians, “by the Spirit”!
So I will leave you with this introduction to next week’s lesson. It is found in 1Jn. 2 verses 20 & 27,
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things and the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.”