Are You a Church Member?
An amazing statement is found in the epistles of Peter:
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin” ().
Take another careful look at the last three words of that verse. Whatever “suffering in the flesh” and “arming ourselves” means—it contains the key to victory over sin—because it says that he that has suffered in the flesh has “ceased from sin.”
The language in this verse portrays a conflict. It says we are to “arm” ourselves and the weapon with which we are to arm ourselves is that “same mind” that Jesus had. What was that mind? It tells us, “forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” It is a mind to “suffer in the flesh.”
To understand what it means to “suffer in the flesh,” we need first to consider the state of the person we are dealing with in the verse. The nature of that person before they “ceased from sin.”
What was it that captivated that person? and why did he or she sin? The reason we need to see this is because where sin enslaves us, that is, where the battle rages—is on the same ground. It is where sin dominates that sin must be defeated. So before we look at how the victory is gained, we need to consider this person in the verse before he or she gained the victory. That person is you and I in our unconverted, guilty, and Saviour-less state.
There isn’t an area of our life that sin has not marred with its foul, corrupting poison. We feel its effects in our minds, on our morals, and in our bodies. Yet because sin dims our understanding, we cannot appreciate how much we’ve been affected by it—until we turn to the scriptures. The extent of our moral disfigurement can only be truly understood in the light of divine revelation.
The Bible gives us a disturbing, yet accurate description of the natural condition of human nature. The description is brief: “dead in trespasses and sins” ().
To put it in perspective, Ellen White wrote, “We are not to seek to extenuate [lessen the seriousness of] the consequences of the original apostasy. It is not possible to overstate the degree of alienation from truth and righteousness entered into by those whose souls revolt from God.”1
That degree of alienation has left its mark on all of us. Sin not only drove us from the presence of God, but it changed the order of things in our humanity. It distorted and deranged the whole being. As mentioned, our mind, our body, and our spiritual nature are all infected by this poison. The apostle Paul wrote of those who were in this condition. Notice his description: “You, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” ().
Once alienated from God, the controlling power of human nature—the mind—became the enemy of God. Our bodies then became just an instrument through which our sinful lusts and passions found fulfilment. Mind and body became a desperate slave to sin.
“For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (ESV).
Paul described his own slavery to sin when he wrote, “I am carnal, sold under sin” (). This slavery of the mind to sinful lusts through the body, he labelled as being “in the flesh.”
“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death” (ESV).
Paul used the word “flesh” in two ways:
To describe the physical body, and to describe the sinful, lower, corrupt nature of fallen humanity (or the carnal mind). His use of the word “flesh” to describe the unconverted slave-state of human nature to sin is used in most cases in his writings.
I like to think of the “flesh” as a powerful vacuum cleaner (but not in a good way). Being “in the flesh” is like being a vacuum that sucks up all manner of dirt and filth everywhere it goes. The “flesh” has a real emptiness, a barrenness that it desperately tries to fill. It slurps up moral muck and seeks to satisfy itself with forbidden pleasures at every turn. Its search for gratification is intense and unrelenting.
Whether sooner or later, this “in-the-flesh” state of being unsurprisingly leads to the performance of sin in the body. This is what Paul describes as the “works of the flesh.”
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (NKJV).
The ground where sin dominates and enslaves the whole being is in the mind. It is in the sinful disposition of the mind—a mind that is only and continually inclined to sin.
Jesus refers to this corrupted mind as the “heart of man.” He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (ESV).
It is because sin resides in our mind that we are to take the following words of Jesus only in their figurative sense: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (ESV).
Some have taken this advice literally, but obviously Jesus is using a figure of speech. The problem is not in the right eye, or the left eye, nor is it in our left hand or our right one, or any other part of our body. The problem is the carnal mind, which is the state of being “in the flesh.”
If we are in our natural state of being “in the flesh” and practicing sin, it means we are in slavery to sin and Satan. Jesus said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (ESV).
And if we are slaves to sin, then we are slaves to Satan because the scriptures say, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (ESV).
It is not in Satan’s interest to release his prisoners from his prison house. He does everything he can to keep them in there. The apostle Paul described the life of those who were enslaved to sin in this way: “ Ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” ().
“Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. . . . Without a personal acquaintance with Christ, and a continual communion, we are at the mercy of the enemy, and shall do his bidding in the end.”2
So we are at the mercy of the enemy, but the enemy has no mercy. If we are “in the flesh,” all Satan needs to do is suggest a sinful idea and “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” () are just too happy to oblige.
“Sin has degraded the faculties of the soul. Temptations from without find an answering chord within the heart, and the feet turn imperceptibly toward evil.”3
Recently, I watched a video of a man that filmed his own homemade mousetrap. It was a clever design, using a bucket. The actual trap looked like an Olympic pool diving board and it was carefully attached to the rim of the bucket. But this board was designed to give way when the weight of a mouse was on top of it. Once he finished making it, he placed some peanut butter on the tip of the trap, set up the camera and waited.
Soon enough, a mouse appeared. The mouse was careful to sniff around, and once he smelled the butter, he promptly made his way to the edge of the trap and fell swiftly into the bucket. After a few attempts, he successfully jumped out—and where do you think he went? Did he run away with a scare in disgust? No, he headed straight back towards the peanut butter, at which point he fell in again, every time. This happened at least eight times until the video ended. He was as good as toast.
That mouse was “drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” He could not help his own desires. He just could not help himself.
We are just like that mouse. I know this has been my experience many times, and I know it has most likely been yours. But let’s begin looking at what God does to help us out of this flesh-state, slavery to sin.
“God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” ().
I just praise God for these verses. They show us that God still loved us with “great love,” and although we were “dead” in sins He made us live again with Christ. He introduced a life principle within us. This makes a world of difference, because what we were incapable of doing for ourselves in our utter weakness, He did for us by His divine power. Our help truly comes “from the Lord which made heaven and earth” ().
People read through Romans chapter 7 and wonder if that was Paul in his unconverted or converted state. They cannot understand which. They then become discouraged because they see in themselves the same struggle. They begin to doubt if they have ever been converted or if this hopeless experience of when the flesh conquers the mind must be roughly what converted life is like.
To understand Romans 7, I encourage you to read the whole book of Romans, particularly chapters 6–8. However, I just want to highlight a few verses from there and explain why I believe the question as to whether this is Paul in his unconverted or converted state, is not the most relevant question to ask.
He writes, “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” ().
“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (verse 21).
There was a degree of willingness within Paul to do good. This desire for good came from God, because Paul confessed that in him, that is in his flesh dwelt “no good thing.” So, the desire for good came from God, as it is described in“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
But Paul had not in himself the power to do what he was convicted in his mind to do. Here, we see a man whose mind has been aroused by the Spirit of God—who has been convicted of the good, whose mind has been made willing but who is in a battle within between his willing mind and the sinful inclinations that dwelt in him. Often, sin had the victory and brought him into captivity again, as he explained: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members [flesh], warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” ().
Paul sought deliverance from the body of death that controlled him. What did he mean? The terms that Paul uses: “flesh,” “fleshly,” “carnal,” “members,” and “body” are used in a figurative sense to describe a corrupt, selfish human nature. He sought deliverance from the corrupt, selfish lusts that controlled him.
I think we can mistake the message of the struggle in Romans 7 when we try to fit that experience into two boxes—either converted or unconverted. The fact is that there is a struggle and I thank God for such a struggle, between the natural, fleshly man and the Spirit-convicted mind. I thank God for that because this is a direct fulfillment ofwhere God promised to introduce into human nature a warring element against sin. Speaking to Satan, God said,
“ I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” ().
So, praise God for that struggle! Paul summed up his thoughts in“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.”
Now, don’t be confused by the above verse. Paul is not saying that he serves God and sin at the same time, for this would contradict so much of Scripture. What he is saying, though, is that there are two different natures that serve two different masters. One is corrupted, and the other is holy. One serves sin (the natural, flesh nature), and the other serves God (the “inner” or “inward” human).
So how did Paul find deliverance from his fleshly nature? This is whereshines:
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.”
What did the apostle Peter mean by Christ suffering in the flesh? He explains it in the previous chapter, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” ().
The suffering that Christ underwent while on earth was not only because He was bearing our sin, but also because of the abuse and shame He bore at the hands of others. His suffering “in the flesh” was not only upon Him at His death, but throughout His life. Christ willingly suffered all this. His attitude was to look beyond the suffering, through self-denial, at the greater picture. He was laying down His life for the human race. This is His mind, and it is the mind we are to have if we are to cease from sin. It is a mental attitude of self-sacrifice.
“ Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” ().
Christ Himself said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” ().
So Paul found deliverance from his selfish flesh-nature by having that same mind that Jesus had. As Jesus had a mind to lay down His life, so Paul had a mind to be crucified with Him. What exactly was it that Paul crucified with Christ?
“They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (). “ I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” ( ).
Paul practiced the advice Peter gave to us. He armed himself with the mind of Christ to “suffer in the flesh” and he ceased from sin. This he did daily, for he wrote, “I die daily” (). While he was crucified with Christ, self was dead, and Christ lived within him. This is why he wrote, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin” ( ). That was the body of sin that he so much longed to be free from. That body was now dead because there was a new life from Christ within him, and now he lived by the faith of the Son of God that loved him and gave Himself for him.
How are we to put selfishness to death? How are we to crucify those powerful affections and lusts that often control us? It can only be done by the power of Christ. And this power He gives to all that are in need of it.
It is of no use to try to deny our selfish and sinful inclinations by just trying to. Experience has no doubt taught us that this is futile. What we need here is a power outside of ourselves—and that power is of the Spirit of God. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” ().
We need a power far mightier than we possess to gain the victory in this warfare within us. Where the battle rages, where sin enslaves us, is where we will defeat the enemy—and that place is in the mind.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” ().
The apostle’s prayer to God for the believers is “that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” ().
That “inner man” that God creates within us is the person that gains the victory over sin through the power of His Spirit. That person is the unity of humanity with the divine nature—and no power of sin can conquer a person that is held by the power of God.
“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” ().
Every one of us knows the frenzy of the battle within us. But as we have seen, there is abundant hope for all of us through the power of Christ. And that hope is found in the mind of Christ—the mental attitude that He gives us to deny all ungodliness and selfishness within us. That mind is mighty through God to bring into captivity every evil lust, every evil thought that rises within us.
Soon, that old enemy of sin within us will be bound in death, never again to annoy us (). Until then, let us arm ourselves with the mind that was in Christ and daily win the small battles with honor!
“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” ().