Confusing Metaphors Help to Complicate

ConfusingIn Colossians 3:8-17, Paul once again grapples with the central complexity of living the Christian life.  This complexity is best described by Paul himself in Roman 7:14-21 –

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

A full appreciation of what Paul just said would suggest that much of the imagery used to describe elements of the Christian life is flawed, although no better imagery has been found. The best example is the use of the imagery of “death”. Paul rhetorically asks in Romans 6:2, “…We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” His message is that we do not. And yet he himself concedes that we do. The metaphor is obviously challenged.

A metaphor or any kind of figure of speech relies heavily on the literal, or what is known, to explain and understand what is being communicated, and presumably, unknown. Someone who is dead plays no role in the maintaining of his dead status. Death is something that is caused, and usually, against the deceased’s will, unless it is suicide, which of course is prohibited. There is no such thing as “dying daily”, because people die only once. The concept of being dead and fully conscious at the same time, and the concept of arranging or participating in your own death, and of repeating that participation day after day, is as foreign to the mind, as it is objectionable in the literal known sense. So how do these help me understand and live a victorious Christian life?

The imagery though accurate, is further complicated by the reality of a coexistence of good and evil in the same physical body, or at least the same physical person, which is supposed to be dead to one, but still capable of, and very frequently, participating in thoughts words and actions to which you are allegedly dead. Look at Colossians 3:9 as an example, a Scripture that can be seen as an extension of 2 Corinthians 5:17. If we have taken off our old self with its practices, and since lying is one of the practices of the old self, then we ought not to be able to lie any more, and then, there would be no reason to tell us not to lie. In reverse order of logic, since it is necessary to tell us not to lie to each other, and since lying is one of the practices of the old self, then it follows that we have not taken off our old self… or have we? Of course, since the Bible says we have, then we have. And the only area to which we can now turn for help is that of interpretation.

Another confusing imagery is that of the “flesh”. Because of our physiological structure and the high visibility of flesh, the use of “flesh” in any other sense is at best, confusing. The truth is that the “flesh” as used in Christian doctrine, has absolutely nothing to do with our flesh as we know it. Many mistakenly, in an attempt to accommodate the strained imagery, think disparagingly about their body, the excuse being the King James Version of Romans 7:18 – “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…”  The NIV clarifies, but in doing so, lays bare the real problem of the coexistence of two warring spiritual allegiances in the one human body… The temptation is to surrender our physical body conceptually to the Devil and to the sinful nature… and nothing should be further from the truth. Of course, having conceptually surrendered our physical body to the Devil, we are obliged to reserve our “mind” and our spiritual nature to God. But He wants more. He wants our physical body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Paul makes this clear in Romans 6:16, even if that was not his intention at this point.

So how can we be rescued in the interpretation?  First of all, we begin with what the Word of God teaches, but we take everything the Word of God teaches, in order to accurately inform our interpretation.

We are born in sin, and with a sinful nature, complete with a predisposition to obey the dominant spiritual force in our life, the Devil. I say “dominant” and not “only” because Romans tells me that God has not left Himself without a witness to His claim on the lives of even those who may have not heard a formal presentation of the Gospel. If we attain the age of accountability, which God decides, and we do not receive/make Jesus Lord of our lives, we die as we are born.

When, through a mysterious process, we are drawn to Jesus by God and we respond positively to this invitation, and are born again, this time into the Family of God, a second spiritual allegiance option enters our lives which is controlled by our mind. Now we are indwelt by God Himself through His Holy Spirit, in a way that the Devil could not have indwelt us. The Devil uses loyalty of origin and influences externally. The Holy Spirit adds his mind to our physical body which He created, but indwells that body and influences from within.  At this juncture, the critical point is that the addition of God’s Holy Spirit and His influence to our lives and physical body does not negate, incapacitate or obliterate the Devil’s traditional external influence on us. It simply means that before conversion, we did not have a choice; whereas after conversion, we have a choice and an option. The sad, but true reality is that we have to decide to which of the competing spiritual influences we will give our day to day and minute to minute allegiance. That is the mechanics of the relationship.  The dynamics is far more exciting and will be addressed in the second part of this commentary.  Please keep on the lookout for it on a near date to be announced on the Home Page.

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