What’s the Problem?
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64
The biggest challenge that physicians face in their practice of medicine is the diagnosing of a patient’s illness or condition. Once they determine the source problem it is usually straight forward to prescribe a treatment to correct the condition. Likewise, it is important to get to and treat the root cause of the problem because treating the symptom will not correct the problem. Defining and understanding the problem and its root cause is the greater part of the work of finding a solution.
Albert Einstein said something similar. He said if he had one hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining what question to ask. Then, if he asked the right question, he could easily solve the problem in the last 5 minutes.
We live in a complex world with many intertwined issues. There are many intelligent people trying to come up with solutions and ways to improve our dire situations. Many of these problems have plagued mankind for centuries and continue to plague us. History is constantly repeating itself with wars and economic collapses and we can’t seem to resolve the underlying issues or find the root cause.
I recently read an interesting quote from two authors named Strauss and Howe who have written a number of books about what they call “generational theory.” Their most recent book is called “The Fourth Turning” where the authors examine the generational cycles and patterns of history in an attempt to determine what could follow in our future. The quote below, which I believe is from their latest book, seems to sum up well the challenge of determining the root cause of the problems that we face:
“We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik’s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can’t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that’s impossible unless we fix crime. There is no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted—but that’s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we’re in deep denial … individually focused yet collectively adrift …” Strauss and Howe
Men are continually searching for solutions to society’s problems but they seem to be chasing the wind. As the quote above indicates, the world’s problems can be confusing and misleading, causing frustration and exasperation.
I would submit to you that the lack of a solution comes from ignoring the revelation from our Creator. Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the One who created us would have the answers for the source of our problems? The Scriptures reveal to us that man’s root problem is a broken relationship with the Creator God. This relationship is a spiritual one and, therefore, the root cause of our problems is a spiritual issue.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom has removed any spiritually based philosophy from the acceptable list of credible viewpoints to be used to solve our problems and therefore they have limited themselves to solutions that deal with this physical world only and are based on man’s logic only. They concentrate on historical information from the past, or improving social or economic practices with increasing controls or regulations, laws, etc. All of these approaches have failed and will continue to fail because they don’t address the root cause – man’s spiritual condition and relationship with God.
Consider this: if somehow we could eliminate all of the greed, all of the envy, all of the jealousy, all of the covetousness, all of the selfishness, all of the arrogance and all of the dishonesty in a society, then it is quite conceivable that the result would be the disappearance of a large part of the problems that our world faces. All of these negative character traits are the fruit of our carnal nature, the fruit of the flesh. When our relationship with God is properly restored, our carnal nature dies and we are born of the spirit, and then transformed into a new creature with a spiritual nature. The fruit of the spirit replaces the fruit of the flesh. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5
This transformation from carnal to spiritual has occurred throughout the centuries since the time of Jesus Christ in all those millions of Christians who have sincerely and legitimately been converted by receiving and believing the Gospel message.
You’re probably thinking at this point that it’s impossible to change all the people in a society in this way, that is, to have them converted to true Christianity. The Scriptures state that God has allowed evil people to exist in this world along side of good people until the end of the age, when He will separate the good from the evil, and He will destroy this current world and create a new heaven and earth that functions in righteousness (see the parable of the wheat and the tares). Therefore, this world will not be completely “fixed” until that time; in fact, according to the prophecies about the end, it will get worse and not better.
Although the collective human race cannot be changed to become spiritual in nature, a significant number of the individuals of this world can be changed. I would even go as far as to say that in some cases large portions of a society can change, maybe not entirely, but to an extent where most could become spiritual, restored in their relationship with God. In 1904, there was a spiritual revival in South Wales were over 100,000 people were converted to Christianity with the associated fruit of their repentance and transformation to spirituality. As a result the jails were emptied and the bars went out of business. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.
Here’s a quote from a local newspaper during the time of the revival in South Wales [my comments in brackets]:
“Drunkards have been soberised, publicans [a pub or bar] have lost much business, conduct on public streets has elevated, and the police and magistrates have had quieter times…. The bottom of the pits [coal mine pits] have been utilized as centres for prayer and praise meetings, and there has been a general raising of the standard of public life.” South Wales Gazette – 1904
It is also important that we remain clear on the true problem and solution, even if we know that we can’t change the entire world, we can still influence at least a small part of it. We can influence those who are around us, in our families, in our work places or schools. We can focus on one individual at a time, and make a difference. We can pray for God to bring about a larger scale revival.
Of course to the non-Christian world this idea of needing a spiritual rebirth is foolishness. I am convinced that the problems of this world are rooted in the carnal nature of man that needs to be replaced by a spiritual nature, and this replacement can only take place through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust [strong desire] of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication [sexual immorality], uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5: 16-26
It is critically important that we understand what the Scriptures define as “carnal” or “walking in the flesh” and what they define as “Spiritual” and “walking in the Spirit”. It is likely that your understanding of these is not aligned with the Biblical definition. I would strongly advise that you take the time to study the Scriptures to learn it firsthand.
We can be certain of this though, as the Scriptures also guide us, that if a person is displaying the fruit of the flesh they are carnal in nature, even if they may sincerely think that they are spiritual, and if they are displaying the fruit of the Spirit, they are spiritual. We must be careful to examine the fruit without bias, as we can easily be deceived.
“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” Matthew 7:16-17
Here is what I have come to understand concerning the carnal nature and the spiritual nature from the Scriptures: Both of these are a mindset, or a way of thinking and viewing ourselves and the world around us. A carnal mindset is focused on this physical world and on the things that are important in this world, whereas a spiritual mindset is focused on the things of God, and on the things that please Him. The carnal mindset does not require faith and is concerned with more immediate rewards in the here and now, whereas the spiritual mindset requires faith and looks to the future rewards that God has promised. Another distinguishing factor is our hope, or knowing what we have placed our hope upon or what we have set our mind and heart upon. The spiritual mindset has its hope set on God’s promise for Heaven and is waiting for His return, where as the carnal mindset has its hope set on a future condition in this world.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8: 5
At this point we need to ask another “why” question to get to an even deeper root cause. Why do people remain carnally minded? Or, what is preventing the conversion from carnality to spirituality in people?
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains that there are two types of people who are in need of conversion. The first type is those who have suppressed the truth that God has shown them and therefore have carnal fruit in their lives, doing wicked and unrighteous things.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.” Romans 1: 18-21
The second type of person is the one who has supposedly embraced God’s truth, but has not applied the truth to their own life, but instead has used the truth to judge others. This type of person believes that they themselves are “spiritual” and acceptable to God, but the bad fruit that they bear exposes their self deception, and their erroneous assumption that God will overlook their evil actions because of their knowledge of the truth.
“Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2: 3-5
This second type is particularly deceptive because the person can claim to be a Christian and can agree with all of the truths of the Bible, but they choose to continue to live their lives, or “walk”, in the flesh. This is the deception of religious people who practice the religious ceremonies and adhere to certain regulations, but they don’t make the necessary internal changes that convert them from carnally minded to spiritually minded.
Jesus had much to say about this same error to the religious Pharisees of His time, and the Apostle Paul wrote much in his letters to the early churches to counteract the false concepts and teachings that the religious Jews were attempting to promote that would have shifted the focus of the brethren to religious ceremonies and traditions that would have kept them walking in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit.
Of course, each of these types of unconverted people has varying degrees of error. Some of them are so far into error the Scriptures says that God has turned them over to a “reprobate” mind and no longer pursues them with the truth. I believe, though, that anyone can turn back to God and receive the truth if they so desire. Only God knows a person’s heart.
The Scriptures make it clear that all men are in need of this conversion, there are no exceptions. They also state that the only path to conversion is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent for this purpose.
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 3-7
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6
In order for a person’s relationship with God to be restored, there is first a requirement from God that needs to be met. God is holy, righteous, and just, and He cannot overlook the sin in a person’s life before entering into a relationship. The only payment for our sins that is acceptable by God is the ransom that was paid by Jesus Christ on our behalf. The Scriptures make it very clear that there is no other payment that is acceptable. There is no man that can boast that he has earned a righteous position before God because of his own goodness or righteous actions. We all must humbly accept the payment that Jesus made on our behalf.
Once we enter into a relationship with God based on the payment made by Jesus Christ, we are then fully acceptable as a child of God and are assured of the promised inheritance. Our name is recorded in God’s “book of life”. We can then communicate with God and live our lives in close relationship with our Creator.
We also recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father as King and Lord of all creation. We, as part of His kingdom, honor Him as King and Lord.
On our part, the only requirement is that we exercise a sincere and true faith towards God and what He has promised through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is this faith that causes us to pass from a carnal creature to a spiritual creature. This faith requires that we die to this world and the hollow promises it offers and become alive to the promises of eternal life in heaven and a resurrected body that transcends the second death.
What I have just explained is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the source of life for the entire world and is the answer to the problems we face. Our first responsibility is to make sure that we continue to walk in the spirit and in the truth. After doing this, we can then look to promote this truth to others. We must recognize though that we are witnesses of God’s power to change lives. As we walk in the spirit and display the fruit thereof we become living testimonies of God’s truth.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 13-16
Be aware also that it is God through His Holy Spirit that is working to convince those unconverted people of the truth and to draw them to Himself. Sometimes He may use us, so we should be open to the possibility of being used to speak the truth to those who are ready to hear.
“Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’” John 4: 43-45
In conclusion, we must never lose sight of the fact that the root cause of all of our problems here on earth is the need to be in right relationship with our Creator God and to be converted from a carnal nature to a spiritual nature. Although the problems of this world will never be completely resolved until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when He will restore His righteous kingdom, we can still experience the fruit of the spirit in this life. The Holy Spirit can also use us to influence others around us either by them seeing our transformed lives and actions, or by us speaking the truth to them in love.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:17-21
Again I encourage you to walk in the spirit and to put your carnal nature to death. This is a daily exercise that we must continue until the end. Also, remember that the words of Jesus are spirit and life.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64