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(This post was originally published on the Straight Up blog. )
I’ve been thinking about sanctification lately, and the ways in which we often make provision for the flesh.
Sanctification can be tricky sometimes. What’s our part? What’s God’s part? While it’s certainly true we don’t sanctify ourselves (we are, after all, his workmanship — Ephesians 2:10), it’s also true we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). However one parses out this relationship, it’s clear that when it comes to sanctification, there’s a certain level of cooperation that must take place between our will and God’s. And part of that cooperation includes “making no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). In other words, we need to make a conscious effort to get rid of the things in our lives that regularly provoke us to sin.
Like the young mom who keeps praying for patience, but what she really needs is not more patience but to learn how to train her kids so they’re not constantly doing the sort of things that would exasperate any sane woman. Or the guy who keeps praying for purity but has every movie channel, no filter on his computer, and stays up long after his wife has gone to be. Or the husband who is praying for less conflict in his marriage but who isn’t willing to give up his crazy work schedule. Or the… you get the idea. “God, don’t let me get burned,” we pray. And then off we go with our matches and our can of gasoline.
Relying upon Christ for our sanctification doesn’t mean we get to live sloven lives and then ask Christ to pick up the pieces. It means “making no provision for the flesh.” It means getting rid of the things in our lives that constantly tempt us to respond in fleshly ways. So if you’re not willing to find a new set of friends, then all your prayers to God about helping you stay strong in the face of peer-pressure are probably just a waste of time.
Of course, if your flesh is anything like mine, you’ve long ago realized that your flesh supplies all its own provision; it’s a self-contained sin unit. Just removing the stumbling blocks in your life won’t make you inwardly holy. An interior, transforming work of grace is needed for that. But things get worse — much worse — when we help our flesh along by constantly putting things in front of it that entice us toward ungodliness.
Let’s take a long look at our lives. Are there areas where we are constantly getting tripped up? If so, perhaps we’re trying to have our cake and eat it too. Perhaps it’s time to stop making provision for the flesh.