Check the Inside
Check the Inside
Near the end of His life Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His time. Among other things He compared them to white-washed tombs which on the outside appeared beautiful, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:27).
On the one hand it might appear that Jesus is saying that these men were beyond hope, for He will say to them, “How will you escape the sentence of hell” (Matthew 23:33). Yet, if they are hopeless why does He spend the time exhorting them to make corrections in their lives (23:26)? May I suggest that verse 23 indicates that they can repent and change if they start cleaning up the sin within them, but if they refuse, then their condition is hopeless and only hell awaits. In like manner:
- “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7).
- “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them” (Hosea 5:4).
May I suggest to you that the mind set on the flesh and the spirit of harlotry are similar situations. Both are the determination to think what we want, to live as we want, and to do as we want.
The scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus compared to white-washed tombs were very religious men, they were very dedicated and they were involved in all sorts of religious activities, yet they were “full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). It is not that they were inconsistent here or there, rather they were full of sin. So how do I avoid becoming someone who looks spiritual on the outside but who is full of corruption on the inside? How do I go about cleaning up the inside of my cup?
What Spirit is In Me?
When some people read about the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer (Romans 8:9), they think of it as if the Holy Spirit tells you to step aside and then proceeds to sit down at the computer of your life, takes hold of the mouse and starts to open programs, download files, delete files and you sit back and watch. Yet it is clear from the book of Romans that the Spirit does not work like this. Even in chapter eight that speaks of walking by the Spirit and the Spirit dwelling in one, there is still a tremendous amount of emphasis on our freewill. We must walk according to what the Spirit teaches (8:4). We must set our mind on spiritual things (8:5). Even after becoming a Christian, we can still foolishly follow after the flesh (8:13). Remember what Hosea said about the Israelites of his time, “For a spirit of harlotry is within them” (Hosea 5:4). When Hosea said this, He never meant that some mysterious entity named “harlotry” had taken control of these people against their will.
Here God says that one day He would put a new spirit and a new heart within His people. Yet observe that the people who receive this new spirit are expected to do something. In verse 18 they are pictured as removing detestable things, and in verse 20 they are pictured as being obedient to God’s instructions.
“But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations”.
Here is another group of Israelites. What prevents these people from receiving the blessing promised in 11:18-20? May I suggest to you it is the fact that they are determined to go after sinful things. The new heart and new spirit never happens in their lives because they would rather love something other than God. A heart that goes after sinful things is the same as having a spirit of harlotry or having a mind that is set on the flesh. Compare the phrase go after with Romans 8:5 “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh”. By contrast, the new heart and new spirit happens within people who make the choice to set their minds on the things of the spirit (8:5).
The Mind Set
- Is what I prefer to think about, dwell upon, and dream about.
- It is what I value, what I think is important. It is what I enjoy listening to.
- It is what I depend upon to make myself feel good or significant.
- It is where I go in times of stress.
- It is what I continually play in my head.
- It is where I put my time and energy.
- It is what I trust, what I believe to be true.
- It is how I view myself and others.
- It is what I am uncompromising, insistent, unyielding and unbending about.
Using The Spirit’s Help
“If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
In Galatians chapter 5 we see more clearly how the Spirit helps us when it comes to cleaning up the inside of our lives. For that chapter also speaks of walking by the Spirit (Romans 8:4) and being led by the Spirit (8:14).
No Middle Ground
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:17).
This passage is just another way of stating the truth revealed in Romans 8:8 “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God”.
Yet even Christians can be tempted to think that the two lists, works of the Flesh (5:19-21) and the Fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) can somehow be blended or combined on a certain level. For example, most people do want love, joy and peace in their lives. I personally know of no human being who is not interested in love, joy or peace. Yet at same time the same people who want those intangibles may also want a little drunkenness, a bit of carousing, and a little immorality, the right to explode and wallow in self-pity now and then. The warning is that any attempt to hold on to any of the vices listed in Galatians 5:19-21 will in the process prevent any of the virtues mentioned in 5:22-23 from growing in my life.
Self Examination Time
There are times that it is easy to complain and say something like, “I really want love, joy and peace and I am attending, reading my Bible now and then, praying now and then, helping others now and then, but it isn’t working”. I have personally found that if the virtues mentioned here are not blooming in my life it is because I am also “now and then” dwelling on the bad stuff. In fact it is tempting to think that it is my right to sit back and soak for a while in anger, strife, bitterness, or impurity. In other words, a mind set on the flesh, a heart that goes after abominations, or a spirit of harlotry is the insistence that we have the right now and then to mentally indulge ourselves in sinful thoughts. Such an insistence will prevent real growth, it will prevent a new heart from happening, and such will prevent a new spirit from developing in our lives. So what do I dwell upon during the week? What do I think about most of the time? What are the mental thoughts that give me pleasure? Where do I mentally go when I am stressed?
All In or On the Fence?
- Have I completely bought into the idea that God is right and that His ways are best for me?
- Am I following Him exclusively (Galatians 5:16).
- Am I ruthless when it comes to putting to death anything that the Spirit would forbid? (5:24).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017