While our God has made every effort to introduce Himself to mankind in understandable terms, even to providing justification and redemption for Man, there is one area of the relationship that He has not relinquished to man’s level and can never do so. Man is never allowed to intervene, in his flesh, in any of those spiritual exercises and activities that are of God. He allows no taint of the flesh, that fallen nature of Adam, to have a part in His plans:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight…” (Romans 3:20a).
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God]” (Hebrews 11:6a).
“…for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).
One of the most historic incidents affecting our modern world, perhaps the most and not one of several, is the one recorded in Matthew 16 when Jesus, coming out of a discussion with His disciples, told them to “beware of the leaven—the doctrine—of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” a doctrine of works of the flesh.
The next scenario builds on that topic when He asks them who people say He is, and they respond with several identities that have arisen. He then asks, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Peter answers for all of them, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
To this Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” That realization and recognition can only come from God. That no human effort can bring that about is what Jesus was saying. He then makes that historic statement that on the rock of that identity He would establish His church. It would be His church, and He would be its head.
Oh yes, I know He said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church….” But the original Greek would use two different words in place of “Peter” and “rock,” like this: “You are Petros [Peter] and on this petra[Rock] I will build my church.” And I will add this Scripture for further clarification: “For they [the Israelites] drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4b).
So the Roman Catholic Church claimed Peter to be their first pope and built their church on a petros, or Peter, a small stone foundation instead of the Rock, petra, a cliff, and their spiritual journey has been downhill ever since. The humanistic doctrines they have embraced and invented over the centuries starkly deny that clear separation Christ made between God’s revelation and man’s efforts in His response to Peter that day.
Following that incident, Jesus sharply corrected Peter in a strange, but revealing way, as shown in this incident:
“Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
“Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’
“But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Matthew 16:20-23).
That was shortly after the identity situation and continues the extreme emphasis Jesus puts upon God’s strong intent that no man-made theories or ideas will be allowed to counteract His own plans and purposes. Notice how Jesus identified the source of Peter’s exclamation, and that it was from unredeemed man’s viewpoint. One can see how that plays out over and over in our Christian experiences.
It seems to have corresponded with that choice of foundation for the Roman church and its history of opposition to the Jews for killing Jesus. Even the invention of the theology of replacing Israel with the church in God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants springs out of that humanistic foundation. Peter’s response to the Lord’s foretelling of God’s plan for Him clearly shows that the Spirit of God did not direct Peter in his rejection of God’s plan.
In that Matthew 16 passage Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. (As others have, the first time I read that, years ago, in my mind’s eye I saw huge gates coming over the hill at me!) It looks like the Lord was expecting warfare ahead. And so He was, as we see in Ephesians 6:10-13:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
Now, there’s that “flesh and blood” issue being turned away from things that are exceptionally spiritual. As the Lord told Jehoshaphat of old (2 Chronicles 20:15), saying: “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s,” we are not to fight spiritual battles in our human strength, even when facing human enemies having evil intent. We must fight the battles in God’s strength. Then Paul lists the whole armor of God that is our protection against those spiritual attacks:
· The belt of truth.
· The breastplate of righteousness.
· Footwear that is ready to deliver the gospel.
· The shield of faith, most importantly.
· The helmet of salvation [which is assurance].
· The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
· Praying always in unity with the Spirit, being watchful and alert.
A strong witness that spiritual battles are to be put in the hands of the Lord, Himself, is that of Michael, the archangel, when contending with the devil over the body of Moses, did not charge him directly, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9).
The Apostle draws a clear and definite separation between the flesh and the Spirit when he makes this declaration in Galatians 2:20-21 (International Standard Version for greater clarity):
“I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me, and the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires then the Messiah died for nothing.”
The fact that the statement is in the first person pronoun provides more meaning for any believer to claim as his or her own position, as it certainly is so.
Almost like an echo to the abrupt correction that Jesus gave Peter in Matthew 16 (i.e. “Get behind Me, Satan!”) are the words in Isaiah 55:8,“’My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says theLord.” So the question is, how do we think God’s thoughts after Him? We have this information from Jesus regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit after He, Jesus, returned to heaven:
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).
The ability for believers to discern the truth of God is made clear in 2 Corinthians 2:9-16:
“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’ (Isaiah 64:4).
“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightlyjudged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”
With that hidden weapon, the Spirit of God dwelling within us, we believers have a responsibility to rightly divide the Word of God, putting truths in their rightful place and in balance with the whole counsel of God, His total plan for the ages. It takes the comparing of scripture with scripture that no one-sided doctrines or theories are the result, and man’s “flesh and blood” input takes over.
Paul has clarified for us that one front-running, paramount issue when he wrote to the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (2 Corinthians 2:2).
The gospel, the Good News, is not a message from flesh and blood but from the God of the Bible through Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. And we hold this treasure in earthen vessels.