Chinese Christian Watchman Nee described the Christian experience of flesh vs. spirit as like having two dogs fighting inside of him. When asked which one was winning, he replied, “The one that I feed the most.”
Christian people ought to avoid certain activities when we know they will feed the wrong dog. Sometimes this is easy to figure out. If I had been an alcoholic (I wasn’t’) I would avoid bars and liquor cabinets. If I had once idolized particular sports or certain people, I would stay away, at least until that was no longer a problem, or in other words, until those activities stopped feeding that dog.
Another person described sin and temptation like having a wolf on a tether. It was always there, but stay beyond the length of the tether and for goodness’ sake, don’t pet the wolf!
Paul wrote about the battle of trying to do the will of God and how our sinful nature resists that. He knew that sin has been defeated by faith in Christ, but he also knew that it stubbornly does not go away and leave us alone. (Read these verses slowly!) . . .
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)
I can especially echo the middle part of this passage: I also desire to do what is right, but in myself have no ability to carry it out. I cannot do the good I want to, but find sin very easy to do. Yet the Bible says that by faith in God I have been made a new creature. So if I am a new creature, why then am I plagued by that old sinful nature? Paul says, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
In the beginning, it was easy to see those areas of “feeding the wrong dog” and turn away from them. However, as time goes by, the Holy Spirit reveals to me how easily I can toss a few crumbs that way and often not realize it, but always wind up in trouble. Sin is like standing on that proverbial slippery slope. Just desiring to go that direction puts me at the top of the slope and if I don’t cry out to Jesus, I’m certain to slide into trouble. To use the wolf metaphor, I cannot pet the beast without getting bitten.
It seems to me that when the Bible talks about maturity such as the way God spoke of Job, it may include the ability to ‘feed the right dog’ but perfection isn’t the same as being sinless . . .
“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’” (Job 1:8)
Job hated evil, but his story reveals he was not sinless (no one is). He experienced calamity after calamity and did not curse God, but he also said that had he sinned to deserve all this, he would have known it. In other words, this man was in touch with his own spiritual life. If he fed the wrong dog and fell into sin, he knew it, but he also knew what to do about it. This is the secret of being mature. It is summed up in one short New Testament verse:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Jesus, until my sin nature is eradicated, the possibility and danger of sin remains. Yet You are faithful in teaching me how to do battle. Every day I’m becoming more aware of Your power and protection, but also how to wear spiritual armor and fight evil distractions. Some days, particularly when I am tired or experience set-backs and disappointments, that wrong dog begs to be fed, as if petting it will put him away from me. But that is not true. My only defense is clear in James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Bless me today with the Spirit of submission to You so I am feeding that new nature that You gave me.