Thursday, November 03, 2016

Problem and Solution

There is a problem. It is a human problem. That is, we all have it. It's not just "you" or "them", but all of us. Nor is it just our society, our culture. It's everywhere. The problem is what Scripture calls "the indulgence of the flesh" (Col 2:23). It is the urge to satisfy our desires by whatever means necessary. One might be tempted to think that it's a current problem, that it didn't used to be so much. This isn't true. In our day we've jumped into it more openly. In earlier days we were just as indulgent of our desires, but with more deception and shame. No, our times of defining morality by "whatever floats your boat" are simply times of openly indulging the flesh when in past times we did so more in secret. That is, in all times it has always been the case, from the day that Eve "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise" and ate from it (Gen 3:6).

That's the problem. What is the solution? Well, we've had ideas about that as well from time immemorial. The obvious choice is force, right? I mean, if someone is a criminal (overindulging their passions), we lock them up so they cannot. If a child is "indulging the flesh", we discipline them. It's fairly common and fairly acceptable. Maybe the force is as little as making rules. "Don't do that; do this." Rules always work better with enforcement, of course, but, there again, I've just included force ("enforcement"). So that's the norm. There are other means, to be sure. There is inducement, enticement, encouragement. We might bribe, lure, or urge people to control their urges. You know, more of a carrot than a stick. But our primary method, in the end, is the same. Either we push them away from or draw them away from the indulgence of the flesh. And, of course, the "them" of which we are speaking may be "myself" and the "we" that draws or pushes may also be "myself", where each of us struggles with our own fleshly passions.

The Bible, while surely including some of this, has an interesting position on the topic.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—"Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)
There's that phrase -- "the indulgence of the flesh". But the text says something, I think, that is remarkable. The text says that submitting to regulations of "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" ... are of no value in solving this problem. Now, wait! Didn't we just say that making rules and enforcing them is our primary solution to this problem? And the Bible just disagreed! Worse, it says that these have "an appearance of wisdom" but are instead promoting mere self-made religion and asceticism.

Now, hold on! Doesn't the Bible itself include such rules? Yes, that is undeniable. So it isn't that the rules are bad. Well, they're bad if they are "according to human precepts and teachings" (Col 2:22), but it's not that rules are bad. It's that rules are not sufficient to stop the indulgence of the flesh. (Note: this is generally what is meant when people say, "You cannot legislate morality.") No amount of self-discipline -- of following the rules -- is sufficient to solve this problem. Here, let me put this another way that we might all see as true: we are not saved by being good.

So, if we wish to follow Christ and if we wish to follow Him by stopping this indulging of the flesh, what is a successful method?

It's sometimes unfortunate the way our Bibles are chopped up into chapters and verses that don't actually exist in the text. I mean, sure, these are helpful distinctions for discussing things and all that, but it can be very detrimental to our comprehension. In this case, the answer to the question of a biblical way to address the indulging of the flesh isn't found in this chapter at the "end of this thought" ... because this chapter is not the end of the thought. The answer is found in the next chapter.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col 3:1-2)
I stop that quote there because I think we can see the basis there, but don't you stop there. The entire answer is Colossians 3:1-4:6. But we get the gist of it here.

Here's the premise. It is not found in avoiding; it is found in a new direction. We don't avoid indulging the flesh by looking at those indulgences and turning away. We find victory by seeking the things that are above. We find success here by setting our minds on things above. It isn't a turning from, but a turning to. It isn't self-disciplined restraint from sin, but godly unrestraint toward Him. It isn't an avoidance of an old direction, but a full gallop toward a new one.

We often think of our Christianity as therapeutic. If you work at it, you can become a good person. Paul isn't very supportive of that view. "You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God," he says (Col 3:3), so "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you." (Col 3:5) "Put to death," not "massage and exercise". For your "sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness" (Col 3:5), the prescription is to stake them out in the desert, shoot them in the head, bury them deep in a pit. It isn't "work through your problems." What once was a way of life for us (Col 3:7) needs to be killed, put away (Col 3:8-9), and replaced with "the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator." (Col 3:10)

We have a problem. It is human nature to want to indulge our passions, our desires, our lusts, our private pleasures, our personal comforts. The problem is, rather than being solved, made worse by our remedy of rules -- "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch." The solution, as it turns out, is not in regulation, but in replacement -- the heavenly for the earthly. It isn't avoidance, but execution -- death for life. We don't find a fix in "being good" or in Christian therapy, but in capital punishment of the fleshly indulgence and a passionate pursuit of Christ -- a new self in constant renewal with new thinking built by God. Anything else is stop-gap and doomed to fail. But I suspect you've probably experienced that fact. I know I have.

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