Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A 'Tail' of Two Dogs

Have you ever heard any variation of the illustration below?

Imagine you have two dogs living inside you. The name of one is Flesh and the name of the other is Spirit. These dogs keep getting into fights with each other. Which dog is gonna win? The strongest one, of course: the one that’s been fed right, exercised, and taken care of. Well, then, which dog are you taking the best care of? Do you “feed” your spirit with Scripture, prayer, preaching, uplifting music? Or are you feeding your flesh with inappropriate TV shows, movies, foul language and jokes (saying them OR listening to them), music that has questionable lyrics?
Okay, this illustration may have some good points. But I see some inherent flaws. This story seems to leave the following impression: “so as long as I feed Spirit more, then it’s okay. I can still feed Flesh, but if I do more ‘Spirit’ things, it will be stronger than Flesh.”

Paul says, however, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” He also says “that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh.” It sounds like we are supposed to kill one of the dogs.

Paul is a Hard One to Follow
Why is this story so popular? I believe it comes from a misunderstanding of something Paul wrote. In fact, Peter talks about how some of Paul’s writings are difficult to understand, which some people actually distort (see 2 Peter 3:16,17). This distortion may be unintentional. But it may exist because we have a tendency to interpret scripture through personal experience.

Many people have taught that Paul experienced the same ‘dog fight’ described above because of his words in Romans 7:14-25. He says things like:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (v. 18)
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (v. 20)
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (vs. 22,23)
So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (v.25)
Seems like that explains itself, right?

There's More to the Story
Well, actually, Paul didn’t stop there at the end of chapter 7. In fact Paul didn’t divide up his writings into chapters and verses. Chapter 8 continues his thought.

One other important distinction here is the change in tenses that Paul uses. The verses leading up to verse 14 are past tense. Then in Romans 8:2, he switches back to the past tense. Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:1 are an illustration that Paul is using to make his point which he brings to a crescendo in Romans 8:2-4.

If we stop at the end of chapter 7, we would be left with the impression that there are two laws, the law of sin and death and the law of God. We would be left with the impression that the Christian is to left serving the law of God with his mind, and the law of sin with his flesh or body. But Romans 8:2 says unequivocally that this is not the case.

Why is There No Condemnation?
The reason there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is because God introduced a NEW law. Paul concludes that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” This law of the Spirit is the new law. Paul goes on to say that “the requirement of the law of God” can be “fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” We don’t hear Christians talk like that today.

If we are not fulfilling the requirement of the law of God, it’s not because of two dogs fighting inside us. It’s because we haven’t killed one of the dogs.

Jesus Agrees with Paul
Jesus actually affirmed that two dogs cannot live inside us when he said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24a).

If we are having major struggles with the flesh, perhaps it because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has NOT set us free from the law of sin and death. Remember these other words of Jesus, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

With the weight of other scriptures against it, I am led to the conclusion that the story of two dogs (named Flesh and Spirit) is actually a tall tale.

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.


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