Major Ian Thomas: The Way of the Flesh

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Note: This selection is from chapter 10 of The Indwelling Life of Christ, one of my favorite books. Thomas’s easygoing, simple, yet clever style gets the surgical point of the knife deep into the heart.

You may have harnessed the energy of the flesh in an otherwise quite genuine desire to honor the Lord Jesus in your life. The flesh, which has its origin in Satan, will go along with you; to survive, it is quite prepared to engage in every form of Christian activity, even though this may seem to honor Christ.

The flesh will sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, preside at a deacons’ meeting, preach from the pulpit, organize an evangelistic crusade, go to Bible college, volunteer for the mission field, and a thousand other things, all of which may in themselves be otherwise legitimate, if only it can keep its neck out of the noose. The flesh will threaten, shout, strut, domineer, sulk, plot, creep, beg, pleased, or sob, whatever the situation may demand in the interests of its own survival. By any and all means it will seek to cause every Christian to live by his own strength instead of by the power and grace of the Lord Jesus, and to conclude that doing so is actually a good thing!

The characteristic of the spiritually immature is that they are unable to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14), and the baby Christian, like the foolish Galatians, “having begun in the Spirit” still tries to be “made perfect by the flesh” (Galatians 3:3).

We must be particularly patient with those whose lack of understanding allows a genuine love for the Lord Jesus to be satisfied with, and sometimes to be quite enthusiastic about, Christian activities involving means and methods which are heavily contaminated by the flesh. These are more deserving of instruction than rebuke, for they are still in their spiritual babyhood.

True spiritual conviction is an activity of the Holy Spirit within the human spirit, and when the Holy Spirit begins to convict you of your immaturity, bearing witness to your conscience that the Lord Jesus Christ is being denied His rightful place in your life, the old Adam-nature within you becomes irritable and edgy. At the same time it will seek to produce the most plausible arguments in justification of its own illegitimate activities, even though these activities are only what the Bible calls “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14) and not the “good works” which are truly the work of God.

“Good works” are those that have their origin in Jesus Christ, as Christ’s activity is released through your body because you present it to Him as a living sacrifice. You do this only by faith that expresses total dependence, as opposed to Adamic independence.

God does not honor men and women and their deeds or their books or their organizations. The Father in heaven delights to honor His Son.  It is only the Life of the Lord Jesus – His activity, clothed with you and displayed through you – that ultimately will find the approval of God.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


5 Comments

  1. Josh Kennedy

    Man, just about the time I’m feeling smart again, here comes another dose of reality to wake me up. With these few paragraphs as an indicator, I can see why your so hot on this book.

    I was talking with my wife today on the way to get strawberries (which were to be shortly joined with whipping cream and shortbread ) about the simplicity of the conversion of the thief on the cross. He recognized who Christ was, the power and authority he had, and was inexplicably drawn to the conclusion that Christ was his only hope of salvation. Short, sweet, and right on target.

    Then I read this post, and while not dealing with salvation outright, it is a terrific reminder (for me at least) of the depth and breadth of the gift Christ provided. It speaks of the ongoing work of the gospel, through which God desires to provide a triumph over our stubborn flesh, so long as we’re willing to let him (and sometimes when we’re not). Of course, that’s the everyday war that we wage: a constant battle of wills, reaching out to God rather than trusting our strength, denying the flesh the chance to connect with temptations, etc., etc., etc. It’s a long, tiring, joy-filled, life-changing daily journey guided by none-other than God’s Spirit residing in us. How is it done? Carefully. Powerfully. Miraculously. Complexily.

    I guess what I wanted to say, is that I’m once again stunned at the contrast between how simple and elementary the Gospel is at one end of the spectrum with how intricate and infinitely faceted it is at the other end too. That the answer to sin could be so vast and still straight-forward a child (or thief) could understand it, not only hurts my head to think about, but provides me with more proof that it has to have originated with God. Thanks for the post.

  2. Joshua Keel

    Hey Ron,

    This kind of teaching is something I’ve been struggling with for a while. I’m a little skeptical, honestly, while at the same time wishing this were true. I guess I’m just kind of confused about how God works in us and how we work to change our lives to look like Christ. Do you think this book would be helpful for me, or do you have something else to recommend?

    I really appreciate all your writings on the RR. I have been greatly encouraged by them on many occasions.

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