Two, Part II: Churchianity or Chicks, Booze, and Bongs


When we come to know the forgiveness of God in Christ and accept His life into our humanity, there’s one thing that doesn’t seem to change right away – we still carry the wrong Tree in our minds, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We still carry the lie that we are autonomous beings determining our own destiny by our actions, choosing good or evil.

The Devil loves the continual promotion of his worn out idea from pub to pulpit.. It doesn’t matter which path we follow in this false idea; like the unbeliever’s path, these two seemingly divergent roads of “good” and “evil” end up in the same place, though for the Christ-indwelt it is not Hell as in the case of the Christ-rejector.

In the believer’s case, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is superimposed over our Christ-indwelt, Tree-of-Life life. Like this:


James spoke of wavering in faith: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,” and “He that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Jesus, in speaking of the necessity of trusting God, said in Matt 6:22-24, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness…No man can serve two masters….” There again is the either/or, the two, the choice between two options. The single eye or double-think.

If our spiritual eye is singular, centered upon God and His Word, abiding in Christ, our whole body will be full of light. But if our eye is evil, bad, not centered upon God and His Word but upon the Devil’s way of doing things, our whole body will be full of darkness. We’ll have just enough of Christ and just enough of the world to make us miserable.

Whether this means legalistic Churchianity or chicks, booze, and bongs doesn’t really matter too much. They both come to the same end – less effectiveness here, fewer lives changed, fewer of our loved ones saved, and less reward in eternity. Our one shot will be shot.

Here’s the thing:

Any self-directed activity which is not based on a renewed mind achieves no eternal impact and does not please or honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

It sounds unfair to say that a licentious believer and a legalistic believer will meet the same bonfire of the vanities. Isn’t the legalistic one at least trying to be “like Christ”?

But that’s how the wrong Tree in our mind deceives us. The double-minded man, having the Tree of Life now within himself but never accessing it, chooses to be his own source, and really, what does he do? He connects back to the satanic mind-stream of Genesis 3 and Isaiah 14 and operates from that false source. “I’m not a vessel or cup, indwelt by Christ and operating by trusting His life in me. Instead, I am an autonomous self, choosing good.” Trying to be “like Christ” in our own effort echoes Satan’s boast of Isaiah 14, “I will be like the Most High.” It attempts to elevate a human being to godlike status, rather than being a vessel designed to be in willing cooperation with an indwelling God. Faith-ing in a lie, he lives the lie.

The mindset is not Christ-directed but Satan-driven. The false-tree man does not abide in Christ, and therefore sins; whether by legalism or license matters not. The licentious one simply changes it to, “I am an autonomous self, choosing evil.”

Choosing good in this satanic mind-stream results in pride, self-commendation, Satan curing our cold to give us cancer. Choosing evil results in self-condemnation. Jesus becomes mere fire insurance in both cases.

We are to take heed to overcome and keep Christ’s works, His life working through us, until the end. Holy Spirit indwelling must be followed by Holy Spirit expression. This theme runs throughout the New Testament and is beyond debate. Those who bear fruit, who overcome and keep Christ’s works to the end, will be given many things: a crown of life; the second death will do them no harm; hidden manna; a dazzling white stone with a new name; authority over the nations; the Morning Star; acknowledgment before the Father and the angelic hosts; we will take our seat beside Christ on His throne. These huge promises are fulfilled to those who overcome.

Jesus says to those hard-working people in Matt 7:23, “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye who work iniquity.” These are folks who were without relationship with Christ but with lots of “good” works. As believers we understand God will not recognize works coming from the false god of Ephesians 2:2. What we miss is that God will not recognize any human activity, even the activity of redeemed humanity, which springs from that false source, the wrong Tree, no matter how good it looks. Legalism is just as satanically-driven as license.

The only activity the Father will recognize and reward is that which springs from the headship of His Son in our hearts, bursting forth into true expression of God’s abundant life and love. “There is only One who is good – that is God,” says Jesus. That means there’s only one source of goodness in the universe, and it isn’t the human cup. As Jesus said of His humanity, “I can do nothing of Myself.”

If we don’t repent of this doublethink we are in for a rude awakening. The Christ-indwelt person is not an autonomous being, and neither is the unbeliever; human beings were never created for self-directed autonomy and are actually incapable of it. But how do we spend our lives in Spirit-expression and not in this false Tree? We’ll begin to take a good look at this in Two, Part III.

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.


  1. Ricky H

    Edifying and convicting. Well written and thought out (as everything on this site seems to be). I only recently discovered the Rabbit Room (via the Boar’s Head Tavern), and I am very impressed. Keep up the excellent work — we need more thoughtful articulate voices speaking from a Christian perspective.

    May God bless you — and continue to bless others through you.

  2. Dave D

    Thanks Ron. I deeply needed to hear this morning.

    “‘With’ not ‘For” has been the focus of my Christian walk (and entire life) as of late. I pray that we can all learn to live in that Truth.

  3. kevin

    Ron- I realize that you are fleching it out in the post, but could you please give us you succinct definition of “legalism”? The word is thrown around a lot, but folks can mean all kinds of stuff by it. Some would say it whenever anybody says that you ought not do something, others would define it as thinking that our adherence to the law merits us something. What say ye?

    There is something that has been impressed on me lately. I guess I’ve known it for years, but the vein of Christianity I grew up in has missed this for a while, and something that I think you have touched on-

    “The only activity the Father will recognize and reward is that which springs from the headship of His Son in our hearts, bursting forth into true expression of God’s abundant life and love.”

    That’s good. The thing recently pressed on my mind is that everything the believer does springs from faith, from the Gospel, as a RESPONSE to Christ and His sacrifice. Isn’t that the rationale for all the NT writers when they exhort to any action? We are not bound by a system of dead laws that get us something with God, how offensive that must be to Him. Nor is it proper to use our freedom in Christ as license.

    Another one for Ron- Do you think I can accurately say that it is error for the actions to be the main focus at all? Shouldn’t the headship of Christ be the focus? Isn’t it the “self-directedness” that is the problem?
    I mean, both legalism and license still have the self at their center, don’t they?

    Again, I don’t think I’m saying anything you haven’t said, I just want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly.

  4. Ron Block



    Legalism: Good-looking activity which springs from a false concept of independence from God; a falsely independent “me for God” rather than God’s righteousness flowing through me by faith in the indwelling Christ.

    We are used to thinking of legalism in terms of justification: “I do things for God, and so God likes me better.” I am using it as an all-encompassing term, but especially in sanctification. An unbeliever believes, “I am a self, by itself, for itself, doing life.” A believer in the legalism state carries this mindset into his Christian life: “I am self doing things for God with God’s help.” Now, this believer may believe He is entirely justified by faith – that Jesus paid it all. But in his mind he still carries this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – independence from God. It is “me for God” rather than “God through me, as if it were me doing it.” It is a separated consciousness, which of course is ultimately a sin-consciousness; because God is the only Source of Good it follows that when we see ourselves as separate from Him we are sin-conscious.

    I don’t at all mean that we are God of course. But God has chosen to “one” Himself with His people through Christ. And we are to bow to His plan.

    Satan was the originator of false independence. “I won’t be a self bearing God’s light. I will be a self by myself, for myself, doing things in and of myself. I’ll be my own light.” And so the light within him became utter darkness, so that he became the prince of darkness.

    That is the lie he taught the human race: “You can be like God, knowing good and evil.” He was implying the ability to choose, to run our own destiny, and to be good – if only we would give up faith in God and trade it for faith in the seen.

    Jesus Christ was not here on earth doing things with God’s “help”; He was literally the living expression of the Father in Son form. He was and is the second Person of the Trinity, yes – but He set aside all His own eternal attributes of omnipotence (“I can do nothing of Myself”), omniscience (“Of that day and hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father in Heaven”), and of course omnipresence – He was localized in a particular human body in a particular country in a particular town in a particular house. He set His eternal glory aside to become one of us, to be what we are meant to be – a Son walking in the Holy Spirit, a living expression of God’s character.

    That’s why Jesus came; He came to make us into that. That’s what we are in for. That is a state of no independence, total slavery to righteousness. And in that bondage to Christ is perfect freedom.

    When we begin to take our identity in Christ by faith – that we are kings, priests, holy, beloved, accepted, one spirit with the Lord, that we are dead to sin, dead to law, alive to God, slaves to righteousness, that we are weak in our ‘cup-ness’ and find our true strength in Him, there is a real temptation to continually look to see, “Is it working?” But that again is turning from gazing upon the face of Christ to look for results. It is really, “I believe, I faithe, I faithe…but is it really true?” It is second-guessing. Definitely there must be results – but there will be if we keep our eyes on Christ.

  5. Donna

    Beautiful, beautiful post! Abiding requires surrender as surely as floating on water requires relaxation. As we “let go of” both, our agendas, and our weaknesses, we find an all-sufficient Christ leaping to live largely within us.

  6. Tony Heringer


    I like the terms legalism and license, let me add one more: liberty.

    Apart from Christ we are dead spiritually. Therefore, morally speaking, we are only left with legalism, license or some combination thereof. License is sin as it falls short of God’s perfection/glory. Legalism is sin too, but a specific type where we go beyond what God requires: trespass.

    Sin is not necessarily the act – but also the motivation for the act. Any good we muster apart from Christ is sin. You call it “self-directed activity.” I’d call it self-righteousness as opposed to Christ-righteousness or a righteousness that proceeds or is motivated by the love of Christ.

    We all sin in this life – in Christ or apart from Him. But, in Christ, we have liberty or true freedom. This freedom restores the moral ability we lost in the Fall. This moral ability allows us to choose to walk in the Spirit and not according to our flesh. Even self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. So, if we are not walking in the Spirit, then we are in our flesh. This inevitably leads us to legalism, license or some combination thereof.

    As you noted, Christians in sin are miserable people. They are grieving the Spirit who abides within them. The Spirit will convict a true follower of Jesus of sin. God is not playing games with us. He loves us and wants what is best for us. So, just like when we see one of our own children go astray, He is going to discipline those He loves.

    He may do so directly, via our brothers and sisters in Christ, using the world or the Devil. All are means at His disposal as He is sovereign or in control. You’ve alluded to community in prior posts. This is where community is most vital because when one of us is in sin it impacts us all. We are the body of Christ. How much responsibility are we willing to take for each others sin – as in did I cause this brother or sister of mine to stumble by not being there for them or lifting them up in prayer?

    We are called to bear each others burdens and love one another. Love is giving each other what we need and at times, that means confronting each other over sin. Empowered by the Spirit, we grow closer together as a body and become more and more like Jesus “the author and perfecter of our faith.”

    Therefore, because of the work of Christ alone, true faith lasts. I don’t believe there is a carnal Christian. You are either carnal or Christian but not both. The carnal man is dead in his sins and trespasses. The follower of Jesus is alive and has the ability to be obedient. This is an obedience born not of duty or obligation but because of love for Christ and what He has done on our behalf.

  7. Ron Block



    A Christian in sin is being what Paul called carnal – the word is sarx. Listen to Romans 8:

    For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the sarx, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful sarx, and for sin, condemned sin in the sarx: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the sarx, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the sarx do mind the things of the sarx; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be sarx-minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the sarx-mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. But you are not in the sarx, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God be in you.

    Later he says, “We are debtors, not to the sarx, to live after the sarx. For if you live after the sarx, you will die” (really, “you are on death’s door”).

    Paul also says to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto sarkikos” (same root as Rom 8), “even as unto babes in Christ.”

    Babies are selfish. Innocently so, but have no concept of others. It is all about “What I want, what I need.” That is the “babe in Christ.” We have to learn maturity; we have to be divested of that false Tree in our minds, to be divested of all our false identities. That is the process of sanctification.

    Fleshly. Flesh-driven. Upside down. That is the carnal believer. So, yes, semantically I can see how you would use the word carnal that way – as only for an unbeliever. But the word for “flesh” and “carnal” are the same. A believer walking after the flesh is acting as if he was just an unsaved, “in the sarx” person. Carnal. Fleshly. He is not “in the sarx” as the unbeliever, but he is walking “according to the sarx,” as if he is still an unbeliever. That is the wrong Tree imprinted on his mind. “There’s an independent “me” who must be good and avoid evil.” Or, “There is an independent “me” who can choose sin.” But we fool ourselves letting the devil into our heads like that; what really happens is he gets to temporarily operate us like a little mindless puppet so he can get his sin-kicks.

    Our ability to choose to walk in the Spirit is simply the ability to choose faith in that indwelling Spirit. The mature believer has been divested of his illusions about himself. He knows who he really is in Christ and relies on that real Identity. Conversely, the fleshly Christian, or immature believer, walks according to his flesh feelings, his own seeing, his own psychological coping mechanisms to get through life.

    I agree – as believers we are not “in the flesh.” In other words, we are not stuck with having our fleshly reactions be the only option. We have the ability to faithe – to trust – to rest in Christ’s indwelling Life inside us. When we trust that Life in a given situation, He lives; options appear in our minds (because we have the mind of Christ) that do not appear in the mind if we are trusting “our own ways.” You said, “The follower of Jesus is alive and has the ability to be obedient.” I would say he has the ability to faithe, which will cause Christ to flow through him and be his obedience.

    God isn’t playing games, wants the best for us, but he does sometimes let us go our own way and endure the consequences of our sin-actions. He doesn’t always yank us out of sin right away. Convicts us, yes, and we can resist that conviction, sometimes for a long time. There are things I learned by going the wrong way (legalism and license) that I could not have learned any other way, just as the ex drug user can tell people what drugs really do to a person. I of course don’t recommend doing this just to gain experience.

    True faith lasts, yes. But even if we say the third soil is an unbeliever (a fact I’m still not sure of, so I left it out of this article), in the fourth soil there are varying levels of fruit. Some will produce more – some less.

    And definitely community is important.

    Liberty is really the subject of the next section – the believer who is walking after the Spirit, minding the things of the Spirit.

    Isn’t it typical of the upside down-ness of this world that it thinks to be able to “do what I want” is to be free and to be free in Christ is to be a slave. But that just makes us a slave to our wants – really the devil’s wants when we come right down to it (“ye are of your father the devil, and his lusts you will do”). Real freedom is to be a bondslave to Christ, because he captures our want, plugs it into Himself, and then we are truly free to be ourselves; He captures our “want” and the will follows. That’s the beauty of the real Christian life.

  8. Ron Block



    Apart from Christ we are not just dead, but are death, spiritually; just as Christ in us is our life as believers, so before we are believers the prince of the power of the air works in us as a force of death. More than a neutral, inert “dead,” we are walking deaths, living a lie, living a death. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and his lusts ye shall do.” Even in a pre-Christ state, they didn’t follow their own desires; they were living the life of Satan. This is the wrong Tree; conversely, Jesus said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” Unless we eat and drink life, we have no life; we have a living Death – the wrong Tree. If we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood, we have life in us – the Tree of Life; this is the reality of which the Lord’s Supper is a symbol.

    But it is the wrong Tree, superimposed on our minds, that is the subject of this section of the series. Whether we call this “the carnal Christian” or “the self-righteous/sinning Christian” or whatever, the fact is that we carry the mindset of the Fall over into our Christian lives, and immediately set about “trying to be good” and “trying to avoid evil.”

  9. Tony Heringer


    I’m sticking with my two post limit here — in keeping with the theme.

    I agree that the Greek word sarx can be translated carnal. Some translations render it that way in English. It is also translated flesh or sin nature. It can mean flesh as in “flesh and bone” or our nature as sinners. You and I have already bantered about sin nature in other posts, so I won’t go back to that dead horse here.

    Our carnality is more evident in babies and I think that is the gist of Paul’s dig against the Corinthians who were quite religious in some senses and quite sinful in others (they’d make the Rolling Stones blush I think). In that sense, all Christians are carnal because we continue to sin in this life. But by saying that, what are we saying? He’s more carnal than me or I’m more carnal than her. The mortification of the flesh is a life long process. John talks about this very issue in 1 John as he was dealing with early Gnostics who had deadly views on the flesh.

    No one loves and obeys Jesus perfectly. To that end, God doesn’t dump all our sin problems on us at one time. If He did, we’d get nose bleeds and die like those folks on LOST. The two best pictures I have been given of our spiritual formation as it relates to sin come from my pastor and Gordon McDonald’s: “Ordering Your Private World.”

    My pastor says our sins are like blips on a radar screen. As we mature the blips decrease. Then, like someone hitting a button on a radar screen to expand the radius of the sweep from 1 mile out to 10 miles out, all of sudden there more blips on the screen. And we go, “Where’d this stuff come from?!”

    MacDonald’s word picture is a bit clearer:

    “Some years ago, when Gail and I bought the old abandoned New Hampshire farm we now call Peace Ledge, we found the site where we wished to build our country home strewn with rocks and boulders. It was going to take a lot of hard work to clear it all out…. The first phase of the clearing process was easy. The big boulders went fast. And when they were gone, we began to see that there were a lot of smaller rocks that had to go too. But when we had cleared the site of the boulders and the rocks, we noticed all of the stones and pebbles we had not seen before. This was much harder, more tedious work. But we stuck to it, and there came the day when the soil was ready for planting grass.”

    On that piece of land, the earth will continue to push up rocks of varying size from beneath the surface. Life is like that too. There is no order or set cycle for sanctification. It’s messy.

    As we move through life, life itself throws new areas that we’ve not dealt with or ever been exposed to – whether it is our health, work, church, relatives, dating, marriage, parenting, 9-11 or some other catastrophic event, etc., etc., etc. These tests bubble up or reveal sin — some small, some large, some new, some harbored or lingering. That makes maturity somewhat ambiguous because we are individuals. Even our communities are under different circumstances. How mature is a church in Atlanta, GA compared to a house church in Beijing, China?

    What really constitutes maturity? I would say the person or local body of believers exhibiting greater fruit of the Spirit which includes self-control. That type of person or church is increasingly dependent on Christ alone. But that sort of faith isn’t normally revealed in the good times, everyone can look mature when things go well. It’s the tough times that tend show where our hope is found.

    One final note, dead is not neutral or inert. A dead body decays, so while dead is dead, there is definitely a difference between someone dead one day versus someone dead even four days – remember Lazarus? I think we are saying the may of the same things here, but it is important to note that some peoples deadness is very pronounced while others flower it up – embalm it with “good works” or self-righteousness. I’d submit that is common grace versus saving or particular grace. The weeds will grow up with the wheat until the return of Christ — harvest time.

    I appreciate these sharpening sessions brother and will look forward to Part III — Liberty!

  10. Ron Block



    This particular article isn’t dealing with the Christian focusing on Christ, the one who, like Gordon MacDonald, has the Image in his mind (of a yard with grass) and in sticking with that divine Image goes through the messy process of “being made holy.” The boulders, the rocks, the pebbles – thanks for the beautiful image of the process by which Christ’s perfection in us begins to be manifested in our lives.

    This current section of Two deals the Christian who is centered in the idea of a “me” that has to choose good and avoid evil, thus becoming “righteous,” or a “me” that can be self-indulgent and get away with it because of “grace.” The process of sanctification is centered in the one-time event of our sanctification, when we died in Christ, and rose again to walk in newness of life. The outworking of that one-time static event by faith is the process we call sanctification. But the Perfection is already there, inside us in Christ.

    Which brings me to my next post. If we do not see that inner Perfection in Christ – in us – if we do not hold that Image before our mind-mirror daily, we are giving in to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – a “me” that chooses to do this or not do that.

    But the Bible says righteousness is by faith – by holding the divine Image in our mind-mirror (renewing our minds to what is Actual Reality as opposed to the Seen and largely illusory reality). Conversely, unrighteousness is by unbelief, and unbelief is really faith going in the wrong direction. Righteousness is by faith in God, in His Person, His character, His veracity, His love, His Word; unrighteousness is by faith in Self, in our own ability, in our own seeing, in our own ways and our own thoughts.

    That’s what I’m getting at in this current article. We can live, though indwelt by Christ, as if we are living life “on our own” with God’s “help.” So we “do life” in our own strength, our own ways, and when trouble hits we cry out to God. This is the largely flesh-directed Christian, like the Corinthians, the carnal or flesh-driven babies who can’t handle strong food, or the Galatians, those trying by their own effort to Live By The Rules. License, or legalism.

    But God wants something totally Other than that – liberty – and that’s the subject of the next few articles.

  11. debbie

    Thanks for these posts. I find very few who understand the whole 2 trees thing. we were created to eat of the tree of life. Jesus is our life, problem is we still want to eat from that other tree. which as you so aptly describe is the tree of independence. god desires us to kive dependent on Him. we just do not see how many ways we as christiams are really living independently of Him. we might be doing all the right things but they are still independent works. Jesus said in John that did nothing apart from the Father. He did only what He saw the Father doing.
    Thank you for your insightful articles. and yes I agree with you. sarx=flesh
    as christians we can walk after the flesh or in the spirit. we have a choice. problem is we do not understand our spiritual make up. we are spirit beings in a flesh body. It is about us as a whole, body, soul and spirit. We have the ability to discern when we are reacting in the flesh and when we are in the spirit. too many times we just chose to rely on our flesh patterns to get us through. I look forward to see where you continue to teach and lead us.

  12. Ron Block



    We have a choice – but the problem comes in thinking of “flesh” as inherently sinful. When Paul says we can walk after the flesh – following its desires – he simply means that we can follow our own natural inclinations. Those natural inclinations in and of themselves will lead us down unfruitful paths.

    The human being is meant to be ridden, like a horse, except the Rider is inside the horse. He isn’t wanting to use spurs and a whip but instead wants to train us so that He speaks a word and we turn. He wants all the attributes of our humanity to be at His disposal, and when we begin to find that we find what we were created for – an inner union or unity with God where He directs our paths. Our humanity is not evil in and of itself; it is neutral, and can be used for good or ill depending on where (and in whom) we place our faith – God or Satan.

    So we have a paradox – a transcendent God without, an immanent God living within the believer. A “seeing the end from the beginning God” outside of time, and a life-directing and motivating God within us. That’s the beauty of what Jesus did – He didn’t leave us comfortless or powerless – He has given us Himself.

    In and of ourselves we are weak, helpless cups, and that is right and good; God made us that way. Adam’s humanity and Jesus’ humanity were the same in this respect; they were both weak and helpless in and of themselves. Jesus showed us God’s true idea of man- a man walking by the Spirit, being in the world and not of the world, operating only by what the Father tells Him, doing only as He sees the Father doing. And in His death and resurrection we die and rise with Him to walk in newness of life.

    Isn’t it sort of shocking to find that the lie of independent self has seated itself right in the consciousness of many of God’s people – especially ourselves? But that is just one of the many little proofs of the reality of Biblical revelation. We see Satan at work there trying with all his independent-I strength to dilute and destroy God’s work of grace. Ultimately all Satan’s work will mean nothing but the fruition of God’s plan for His people.

  13. debbie

    So well said I agree with all you have said. You are so much eloquent at explaining it than I am!!!

  14. D'Anna

    Such a wonderful post! My husband always says, “Everything goes back to the Garden of Eden” – and, it seems the roots for us do! I have never thought about the Trees in the Garden in this way – thank you for some great food for thought!

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