In any journey, it’s worthwhile to know where you are in relation to your destination. Anyone who decides to follow Jesus must realise that it’s a journey with a predetermined path, and we aren’t at liberty to change the route or the destination. In the first part of this discourse, I pointed out that if, after careful consideration, a natural man chooses to follow Jesus, he must submit to Jesus as his Master and Lord. That decision gives him the right to become a citizen of God’s kingdom [John 1:11-13]. That citizenship gives him a new identity and a new purpose. It also implies his allegiance to the constitution and ideologies of his new kingdom – God’s word and precepts for life, over and above other norms, laws, philosophies or paradigms [Revelation 5:9-10].
While the spiritual ramifications of the decision to follow Jesus are immediate [2 Corinthians 5:17], the physical manifestations aren’t. Consequently, while an individual is no longer a natural man when he chooses to follow Jesus, he doesn’t instantaneously become who God wants him to be either. He’s in a transitory phase (a sensual man), and his goal is to put off his old self (his carnal nature) and put on his new self (his spiritual nature) created after the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness [Ephesians 4:17-32]. The indices for measuring where he is on that journey is how much he reflects Jesus in character [Galatians 5:22-23] and how much he knows and applies the word of God with consistent, demonstrable results [John 15:7-8].
It’s important to understand that when a natural man chooses to follow Jesus, both heaven and hell note his decision. God’s enemies also become his enemies. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit now dwells in him, giving him all the power he needs to overcome sin and the devil and fulfil God’s purpose for his life [Ephesians 2:8-10]. On the other hand, the devil will actively try to wreck his life and relationship with Jesus as he battles the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life [1 John 2:16]. That tension will remain throughout his lifetime [Galatians 5:16-17]. However, the battle is rigged in his favour [1 John 5:4-5]. But he still needs to become acquainted with his weapons of warfare [2 Corinthians 10:3-5]. Sadly, many Christians are ignorant of this battle. After giving their lives to Christ, they don’t actively seek to grow in character and their understanding of God’s principles [Hebrews 5:13-14]; a costly mistake. Consequently, they fall prey to the devil’s schemes despite being citizens of God’s kingdom [2 Corinthians 2:11, Hosea 4:6].
A line from one of Jesus’s prayers about his followers being in the world, yet not being of the world, is oft-quoted by many. Nevertheless, if we don’t take the implications of that truth seriously and behave accordingly, we could incur God’s judgement like Ananias and Sapphira, despite our salvation [Acts 5:1-11]. So, we must be alert to the three enemies of the sensual man. Like David, his eyes can lead him to sin if he doesn’t subordinate his cravings to God’s word [2 Samuel 11:1-4]. He’ll also invariably acquiesce to works of the flesh and potentially lose his inheritance in God’s kingdom if he’s reluctant to discipline his flesh and subordinate its desires to godliness [Galatians 5:19-21]. The pride of life is subtle. It’s so easy to become conceited and forget our utter dependency on God. The folly of Eve [Genesis 3:4-6], believing that we’re capable of deciding our fate without God, is a major pitfall for the sensual man.
As a pilgrim in the aforementioned transitory phase, raised in church, I’ve recently come to terms with the implications of my carnality. I spent a great deal of my life unaware of where I was in my journey of faith. I also didn’t understand the implications of being a citizen of heaven. Consequently, several areas of my life were inconsistent with God’s word. I either excused my flaws or was willfully ignorant, perpetuating my condition as a result. I’d even trivialise God’s standards of holiness to feel better about myself [1 Peter 1:16-19]. It occurred to me recently that Scripture is of no concern to the natural man in the same way the constitutions of nations I’m unaffiliated with are of no concern to me. But, if God exalts His word and His name, which reveals His character, above all else [Psalm 138:2], then I can’t claim to be His child while trivialising or ignoring what He exalts.
As I’ve repented of my ways and leaned more into God’s word, it has reproved and corrected me, teaching me daily about God and His character while instructing me on how to live and fulfil my God-ordained purpose [2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119:105,130]. I’ve also experienced God’s pruning as He refines my character. It’s always required, although unpleasant [Hebrews 12:4-11]. Interestingly, my priorities have changed as my ideologies have become more aligned with Scripture [Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18]. I find myself living a certain quality of life and often responding to challenges in ways I wouldn’t have previously. So, I know I’m growing despite stiff opposition from my eyes, my flesh, the world and the devil.
It’s noteworthy to point out that we’ll often find ourselves failing to do the things we ought to do, as well as doing the things we know we shouldn’t [Romans 7:15]. The Christian walk is challenging and fraught with danger, so we can’t rely on our senses [2 Corinthians 5:7]. If we commit to growing in character and godly wisdom regardless of our feelings [Isaiah 40:28-31], then God will bring to fruition what He began in us [Philippians 1:6].