“I don’t want to fast today,” I told God for probably the fifth time since the day before when the nudges had started. I don’t think He was impressed, and it certainly wasn’t a negotiation. Despite my objections and my intense desire not to do so, the idea that I should fast just wasn’t going away. That meant that I had a choice to make. My will or God’s will? Was I going to rationalize the nudges as not really from God? Or was I going to crucify the flesh and do what I believed He wanted me to do? I cringed as I thought of a spike driving down into my hand. Ouch! Later, as I prayed for His grace to always do the things that are pleasing to Him, it occurred to me that there are three basic steps to crucify the flesh in submission to God.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
“Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him.”Mark 15:25
Scholars believe that Jesus was crucified by the Roman government in the spring of 30-33 AD. He was beaten, publicly nailed to a post with a crossbeam by his hands and feet, and left to die. The Jews believed he was a dangerous heretic. The Roman governor just wanted to keep peace with an unruly crowd. But Revelation 13:8 tells us that Jesus was slain “from the foundation of the world.”
In other words, it was God’s plan from the beginning. He knew He would replace the system of yearly animal sacrifices with a one-time blood sacrifice by the Son of God Himself (Hebrews 9:22). While we were yet sinners, Romans 5:8 tells us, Christ died for us. And He did that to pay for the sins of “whosoever” would believe in His name for salvation (John 3:16). Just before His Spirit left Him, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He had concluded His earthly mission, fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy about His first coming, and effectively wiped away the entire sin debt owed to God by mankind.
But while Jesus might have been done with a lot of things, the Bible was just getting started in talking about crucifixion. This time, though, it referred to the spiritual aspect of the very slow, painful process of putting to death the desires of our old sinful nature.
Our Old Nature Is Still in Us
It would take a whole other blog to describe to you the intense way the Bible pits the flesh against the spirit. Open Bible dot Info has a great list of scriptures on it, and you don’t have to get very far down the list before you realize how serious God is about differentiating the two. The flesh is our physical body, but it’s also our old, sinful Adamic nature. Before we were saved, it ruled us. We did what it wanted, and it rewarded us with all the comforts and pleasures that living for self can bring.
After we were saved, however, God made us a new creation and gave us His Holy Spirit. He didn’t, however, use it to REPLACE our old nature. He simply changed our overarching desire from that of living for the flesh (and what might be “natural”) to living for the Spirit (and what pleases God). Paul describes it best in Romans 7:18 when he said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” Our salvation didn’t make us good. It made us desire to please God. We want to submit to Him even more than we want to allow our old way of life to rule us. It’s a struggle, a war within us that rages day to day.
The Crucifixion of You and Me – That’s When We WIN the Fight
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”Galatians 2:20
From the time He was on earth, though, Jesus never made a secret about His expectations. He told us to take up our crosses, the instrument of death, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). He expects those who belong to Him – bought by the very price of His precious blood — to climb up onto our own crosses and willingly submit to the nails. We do that by choosing His way over our way. His Word over our feelings. His plan over our ideas. Galatians 5:24 says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Yes, God knows there will be a fight inside us. That it won’t be easy to tell ourselves “No” instead of “Yes.” It will take effort to choose to react to the world with love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, compassion instead of envy. But He also knows that by His grace and with His Spirit guiding and directing us, we can make the hard choices and do the hard things. We can submit to God and walk in the Spirit instead of giving way to the lusts of the flesh.
But how do we do it?
Step 1: Understand Who God Is
“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”Isaiah 55:8-9
The first step toward denying ourselves and submitting to God is knowing exactly who we are dealing with. After all, most of the natural world lives with the motto “Every man for himself.” If we’re going to give up our ideas about what we see as best for us, we have to know that we can trust God when He wants something completely different.
It helps to understand the four characteristics of God.
- God is omniscient. He knows everything while we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). That means even when we think we know what’s best, we might not have all the info.
- God is omnipotent. He has all power while we are weak (1 Corinthians 1:25). We count on His grace to be sufficient, His strength to be made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8).
- God is omnipresent. He fills the heavens and the earth (Jeremiah 23:24) while we can only be at one place at one time. We just “come forth as a flower and then fade away” (Job 14:1).
- God is omnibenevolent. He is all good, all the time. Even more than that, His intentions toward us are good. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Once we really understand who God is, we know we can trust Him with the results of whatever it is He is asking us to do.
Step 2: Know What God Wants
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”Micah 6:8
One way God reveals His will is through the Word of God. Reading the Bible every day is the number one way to truly understand God. You will learn what He wants and doesn’t want. What He loves and hates, and what He will glorify and destroy. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” When we study the Bible, we will learn what God expects from us and can line up our lives accordingly.
God also reveals His more specific will through His Holy Spirit (which will NEVER contradict the Bible). John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” This can happen as “nudges,” words, or feelings that point us in a direction He would like us to go. He can also show us through scripture and speak through fellow believers, songs on the radio, circumstances, dreams, visions, and more. God communicates with His children. It’s up to us to quiet our minds and focus our hearts to hearing Him.
Step 3: We Decide to Choose God Over Ourselves — Then Pray and Worship
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”Matthew 7:21
Once we understand that God’s ways are best and realize exactly what God wants from us, there is nothing left to think about. We must choose God over ourselves and then ask for His grace to help us follow through. After all, He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t done Himself. He even gave us the exact prayer we can pray in any situation we find ourselves. In the garden when Jesus knew He was about to be crucified, he prayed with sweat that became like drops of blood. He said, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
But deciding won’t always stop the feelings inside. Against our will, we could still feel some type of way that is still a very fleshy response to the situation. Maybe we feel deprived, like we are lacking or missing something. Maybe we are still harboring feelings of unforgiveness, anger, covetousness, or self pity. Here’s where we must pray for God’s grace. Romans 1:17 says, “…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'” Day by day, situation to situation, we just have to keep making decisions to follow God in faith, believing that He will help us.
Finally, it’s a good idea to find some praise and worship music to remind us once again that God is God and we are not. Here’s the song that came into my mind when I thought of writing this blog: Providence (Broke My Chains) by Citipointe Worship.
Crucify the Flesh
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.”Romans 6:6-7
The Bible says in Romans 6:16 that what we choose to obey, that will be our master, “…whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness.” Any time something in our lives comes into direct contradiction to the Word of God or the known will of God, it’s up to us to crucify the flesh. We do that by remembering what a great, good, and merciful God He is, making the choice to follow His way instead of ours, and then believing He will help us do it. After all, Jesus understands exactly how we feel. We can count on Him to help us fight the flesh and win.
Enjoy articles about obedience? Check out Balaam, Us, and the 3 Wills of God. Or, check out Chastisement And an Object Lesson About Iniquity. In it, God teaches me an important lesson about doing things God’s way. Or, try When Obedience Is the Sacrifice. In that one, I choose obedience even when it cost me to do it. Please subscribe to my blog via email in the top right corner. Also, consider visiting my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.