by Eric Wheeler

Recently I have been thinking about the struggle that life is sometimes. It seems that while we are in this body of flesh, all we seemingly do is struggle! We struggle with sin. We struggle with wrong thoughts and fleshly desires. We struggle with finances. We struggle with relationships. We struggle to understand and to comprehend what God’s purposes are, and what His Holy Spirit is trying to show us and make us into. Let’s face it. We constantly struggle!

As I was thinking about this continual struggle that life is in the flesh, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a verse in the Bible: “And the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive [contend] with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6:3). In declaring this, God, in His infinite mercy, shortened mankind’s life span, so that we humans don’t have to continue this struggle in the flesh for so long. He had mercy on us and “commuted our sentences”, so to speak, so that we don’t have to continue this weary battle forever. Thank God!

When God made this announcement just prior to the Flood, men and women were living to eight and nine-hundred years old! Can you imagine that? I am only thirty-eight years old, and sometimes I get so tired of this struggle that I am just ready to quit. I long for rest. His rest! I get tired of the relentless spiritual battle day after day. I can understand why Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two [life and death], having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Phil. 1:21-24). And again, he said, “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you…Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight in glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house, this tent [physical body], is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a down payment. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (II Cor. 4:8-5:8).

For those who believe, and who have His Holy Spirit, we groan within ourselves to be released from this body of flesh and sin, and to inherit the eternal promises of God. We do not wish to keep on fighting and struggling with this world and with sin forever. For as long as we are in this flesh, it seems that sin and death reign over us. Notice what the Apostle Paul said: “If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear [death], but you received the Spirit of adoption…The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God…For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. And not only they, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. 8:10-23).

In my struggles and despair, I recently cried out to God for answers. He reminded me of our father, Jacob, and how he “wrestled with God and with man” (Gen. 32:24-28). As Jacob wrestled with God, he refused to quit even though the Lord severely hurt him in the flesh by dislocating his hip. Because of his perseverance, faith, and endurance, the Lord blessed him and said to him, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob [supplanter or deceitful], but Israel [overcomer with God]. For you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28).

Even though Jacob apparently walked with a limp for the rest of his life after this encounter with God (Gen. 32:30-32), he nonetheless was blessed by Him throughout his life, and was granted an eternal position in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11). In other words, he didn’t allow his wounds in the flesh or “flesh wounds” to spiritually kill him! As Jesus said, “You will be hated by all men for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Mark 13:13). By this, Jesus was saying to us that we have to be willing to “go the distance” with God and with man. Like Jacob, we too, cannot give up! We cannot give in! We are in a spiritual battle. We are in a fight. Yes, we are going to get hurt. Yes, we are going to get bruised. Yes, we are going to get battle scars. For the Scripture says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:12). And again, it says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psa. 34:19). And in another place it says, “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:36).

Living in the Flesh is Supposed to be a Struggle

God knows we struggle. While we are in the flesh, this is how it is supposed to be! When mankind collectively decided at the Garden of Eden to live according to his own ways and by his own decisions (effectively becoming his own god), he thereby chose to live “in the flesh” (that is, according to the decisions of his flesh) instead of by the spiritual truths of God as revealed by Him. That is why, God said that mankind must learn that “man does not live by bread alone [that is, by the things which sustain him physically], but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God does man live” (Deut. 8:3). Life itself is spiritual. A physical body without an inhabiting spirit is dead (Jam. 2:26). It is nothing but a corpse. Likewise, mankind must come to realize that he is “dead” without the Spirit of God living in him. This is in accordance with the Scriptures. For God said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). In other words, man is as good as dead in his present state! Jesus confirmed this also. He told the people who rejected Him that they were “dead in their sins” and that they “wouldn’t come to Him that they may have life” (John 5:40; 8:24). As it is written: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13).

By eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, mankind effectively destined himself to a life of struggling with himself and with God. Having the spirit of life in him, he is both a spiritual being and a physical creation (creature). But mankind as a whole doesn’t realize that he is trying to live solely by physical means – that is, according to his flesh – according to his knowledge, his human reason, his earthly senses, and his understanding of the world. But mankind must learn that he doesn’t live by “bread” (physical things) alone. He is both a physical and spiritual being! In a very real sense, he is therefore a divided house! And as God says, “A divided house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). He is in a spiritual battle against himself, his surroundings, and the Spirit of God. This is mankind’s struggle. And all of us, by way of Adam and Eve, chose it.

When we learn to not live solely by what our own eyes tell us or by what our own minds think, but rather by what God says, we then begin to enter into His Rest. This is what the Bible means by “resting from our own labors” and entering into God’s Sabbath Rest. Notice the author of Hebrews writes, “For we who have believed do enter that Rest…For he who has entered His Rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:3-10). In other words, we learn to live by what God tells us rather than by our own judgments and decisions. That is why Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden (the “Paradise of God”) in the first place. They quit believing God, and consequently, were destined to a life of struggling in the flesh and with their flesh until they ultimately died – having accomplished nothing, but death. For God said to Adam (all of mankind), “Cursed is the ground [earth] for your sake. In toil [hard labor] you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread [physical things] till you return to the ground. For out of it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17-19).

When we learn to live by what God says – that is, in a constant state of belief in God – by faith, we are then beginning to live and walk in the Spirit and are no longer living and walking according to the flesh. And even though we still inhabit a fleshly body at this present time, we are no longer serving the flesh or following its dictates, but rather, we are now serving Christ and following His commandments by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul says it this way: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for goodwill is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the Law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members [body], warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members [body]. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – [this deliverance will happen] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Rom. 7:18-25)

Even though we grudgingly still sin because we are in this fleshly body, by the grace of God our sins are not attributed to us. They are covered by Him Whom God has made “sin for us” – that is, by Jesus Christ. Notice these Scriptures: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them… For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:18-21). And again, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8). And in another place, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin. He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).

When we believe God and obey Him, He gives us His Holy Spirit which begins to change us. The Holy Spirit becomes one with our spirit and we then begin to walk according to God’s promptings, teachings, and leadings, instead of according to the dictates, reasonings and lustings of our flesh. Because we serve Him in our minds and with our spirit, He has promised us that in due time He will give us a new body – that is, He will give us a spiritual body to go with our spiritual mind, and will thus consequently destroy our physical sinful body that has been divided against us for so long! The Bible clearly states this: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural [physical] body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, ‘The first Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man…For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (I Cor. 15:42-53). And again it says, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom. 6:5-7).

Jacob’s Example

While we still live in this flesh however, we continue to struggle. Yet we must learn to follow the example of our father Jacob, and learn to overcome by struggling with God, and not against Him! We have to earnestly seek those things which are from above and not let go just as he didn’t. But we cannot use fleshly (carnal) means to do so! That is what Jacob had to learn. According to the Scriptures, there is a right way to struggle and there is a wrong way. Notice what the prophet Hosea said: “The Lord also brings a charge against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways. According to his deeds He will recompense him. He [Jacob] took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed. He wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us – that is, the Lord God of Hosts. The Lord is His name! So you, by the help of your God, return. Observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually.” (Hos. 12:2-6). Jacob had to learn to wait on God and to rely on Him instead of relying on his own strength and cunning to acquire the things that he wanted. Unfortunately, Jacob had to learn the hard way. But that is why God recorded his story for us, so that we might learn from it.

When Jacob first entered this world in the flesh as a baby in his mother’s womb, he began his life by struggling. Notice what the Scriptures say: “Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples shall be separated from your body. One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.’ So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau [hairy]. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob [supplanter or deceitful]” (Gen. 25:21-26). Later on when the twin boys grew up, Jacob got his older brother, Esau, to sell him his valuable God-given birthright for a cheap bowl of lentil stew. In addition to this, Jacob also later stole his brother Esau’s patriarchal blessing through deceit (Gen. 27:36).

In every instance, Jacob obviously desired and valued the things of God and the blessings of God more than his brother Esau did. This was right and good. We should greatly value and appreciate the things of God above all else. The only problem is Jacob was acting in the flesh, according to his own carnal sinful ways, and was using his own strength and deceitful methods to attain them. God appreciated his sincere desire and relentless struggle to attain the things of God, but obviously did not approve of his wicked methods.

These allegorical struggles illustrated in the Bible between Jacob and his brother Esau; Jacob struggling with his own carnal nature; Jacob wrestling with God; and Jacob battling his surroundings; spiritually represent our Christian lives and spiritual walks in this world. We are not only battling against our own human natures within us, but as Paul says “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). It is a spiritual battle. That is why we must put on the whole armor of God in order to overcome (see Eph. 6:11-18). Like Jacob, we too are called to be “overcomers with God” (Israel) by using His strength and wisdom, not our own.

As God said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb; two peoples shall be separated from your body” (Gen. 25:23). These “two nations” prophetically represented the people of God (Jacob or ”Israel”) on the one hand, and the people of the world (Esau) on the other. They also figuratively represent the difference between the “First Adam” and the “Second Adam” (Christ). Let me explain. The first man Adam was of the earth and cared only for the things of the earth (I Cor. 15:47). He had no regard for the spiritual things of God but only pre-occupied himself with the natural (physical) world – that is, with the things of the flesh (Rom. 8:5). Like his descendant, Esau, Adam also sold his God-given “birthright” for worthless temporal food (“the forbidden fruit”) just to satisfy his fleshly lust and to quench his carnal appetite. Like Esau, Adam too, in a sense, devalued his birthright and sold it for the things of this world. Like so many people, Adam traded his God-given destiny to inherit all things as a son of God for the cheap temporal pleasures of this physical life. He didn’t consider the glory and favor of God his Father to be worth far more than all the temporal riches and pleasures of this physical world. Therefore, just like Esau, he despised his birthright and his Father’s blessing. Sadly, many people today still follow in Adam’s and Esau’s foolishness. For it is written: “He [Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God [the right of birth or birthright], even to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13).

Through Adam we were all created children of God because Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:38). And yet, like Adam, most people have foolishly chosen to pursue the things of this world rather than the things of God. Like Adam and Esau, many have despised their “God-given birthright and Patriarchal blessing”. But thankfully, when Jesus the “Second Adam” came to this earth as both a son of Adam (that is, as a Son of Man) and the Son of God, He didn’t desire the things of the world. Instead, Jesus rejected the riches and glory of this world for the favor and glory of God. Notice that Satan offered the glory and riches of the world to Him, but He flatly rejected it (Luke 4:5-7). Moses did the same thing. For it is written: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:24-26).

Jacob, too, was a son of Adam. But unlike his brother Esau, he greatly valued his birthright and his father’s blessing. So much so that he tried to use carnal [human] methods and sinful means to get it! This is what God corrected in Jacob – his methodology, not his zeal or his hunger! He deeply craved and coveted his brother’s birthright and their father’s blessing. But Esau despised his birthright (Gen. 25:34), and consequently, he was rejected from receiving his father’s blessing (Heb. 12:16-17). Therefore, God likewise warns us through the prophets, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13). This is a spiritual admonition and warning for all of us. Jacob desperately desired and greatly coveted the family inheritance and blessing. He esteemed it and truly valued it more than Esau did. And because of this, God gave it to him, and completely rejected Esau. This was given as an example and warning for us! It is not wrong to covet the spiritual things of God. But it is wrong to covet your neighbor’s physical possessions. The Word of God says “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, or his wife, or his servants, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exod. 20:17). But it also commands us to, “Covet earnestly the best [spiritual] gifts” (I Cor. 12:31). And again, it says, “Covet [the ability] to prophesy” (I Cor. 14:39). We are commanded to strongly desire and covet the things of God and His blessings and spiritual gifts!

Ask God for His Holy Spirit

The Bible says that “those who are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God” (Rom. 9:8). And it also declares, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). We have to earnestly seek after the things of God which are only available to us by His Holy Spirit. For it is written: “God has revealed them [the things of God] to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God… [For] 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…But the natural [fleshly] 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” (I Cor. 2:10-14). “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). It is impossible to please God without having His Holy Spirit! This is what the Bible says. Notice: “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, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal [fleshly] mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:5-9).

If anyone does not have the Holy Spirit, or isn’t sure whether or not they do, I strongly encourage them to go to God in repentant prayer. For now is the time that the Lord says, “It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…and whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:17-21). And again He promises, “Seek Me and you shall find Me. Ask, and it will be given to you. Knock, and it will open to you. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me will all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord” (Luke 11:9-10; Jer. 29:11-14). And Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his own heart will flow rivers of living water’…This He spoke concerning the Spirit whom those believing in Him would receive” (John 7:37-39). The Scriptures plainly tell us to ask our Heavenly Father for His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). He wants to give us His Spirit! (see Acts 2:38-39).

For those of us who have His Holy Spirit and find ourselves now struggling, we mustn’t give up! We mustn’t stop fighting. We can’t quit struggling and overcoming! We are in a war! Even the Apostle Paul said at the end of his days, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7). And in another place, he said, “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and bring it into subjection so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Cor. 9:26-27).

Brothers and sisters, I know it’s hard. It is hard to be a Christian. I know what it’s like to keep trying to overcome the same habitual sins. You know the ones. The ones that keep ensnaring us. The ones that have become enduring sinful habits that just won’t die. The Bible calls it the “sin which so easily besets us” (Heb. 12:1). I know what it’s like. And we all struggle with them. But we can’t give up! We must continue fighting. We must be willing to keep wrestling until the sun comes up like Jacob did. He refused to quit fighting. We too must keep wrestling and struggling to overcome until the Son comes! For the Bible encourages us that “a righteous man falls seven times, but keeps getting up” (Prov. 24:16). That is what we, the Israel of God, must keep doing. We must keep getting up and overcome with God!

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