The Flesh Straineth, Christ’s Love Constraineth

by Shawn Brasseaux

On what basis does the Christian life operate? The average church replies, “By keeping the Ten Commandments.” While God’s Word explicitly maintains that the Mosaic Law is “holy, and just [right before God], and good” (Romans 7:12), there is a problem—we are incompatible with God’s Law because we are naturally unholy, unjust, and bad! In this Bible study, we want to remind ourselves, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me….”

* * *

We can attempt to obey all Ten Commandments, but ultimately, we fail (sin) at some point. James 2:10 KJV explains: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” If we so much as break one commandment of God, the Bible says that we are guilty of breaking every commandment of God. Does that sound like the life God wants for us Christians? A life of constant failure and complete misery? Then why do so many churches emphasize this type of “Christian” living? It is a failure to appreciate the Word of God dispensationally, negligence to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV).

There was a time—“time past” (Ephesians 2:11)—when God instructed Israel to keep the Mosaic Law. He promised to bless them if they obeyed all of His laws, but He also swore that He would curse them if they refused to follow His laws (see Leviticus chapter 26 and Deuteronomy chapter 28). This was the religion of Judaism, a strict set of rules that governed every facet of the Jews’ daily behavior.

Religion is analogous to running on a treadmill—you had better keep moving or you will wipeout! There are literally billions of souls burdened, firmly shackled, by religious works. They strain to please God, hoping that He will accept their performance. Their religious system reassures them, “Just follow our instructions, and God will be happy with you and you will reach heaven.” What a devil’s lie, straight from hell!!

Unfortunately, not only are these lost people bound by religion, but many true Christians (those who have trusted Jesus Christ alone for salvation) believe they have to live the Christian life, that they must work to “keep fellowship with God.” Christendom abounds with this legalism: “If you want to receive God’s favor and blessings, you must give more, pray more, confess more, come to church more, quit doing ___ and start doing ___.” Again, this flawed theology is derived from a failure to understand the Bible dispensationally.

Yes, God did deal with Israel via the Mosaic Law. He did instruct them to keep His commandments so they could receive His favor and blessings (Leviticus chapter 26; Deuteronomy chapter 28). However, our apostle, Paul, writes, in our Dispensation of Grace, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). Dispensational Bible study (Pauline dispensationalism) enables us to see that God—in the “but now” (Ephesians 2:13)—has abolished Israel’s performance-based acceptance system (religion) and He has replaced it with His Christ-based acceptance system (grace). Our performance is not the issue today—Christ’s performance is. Our performance is not the basis for our Christian life—Christ’s performance is.

God is not dealing with us as He dealt with Israel in time past: we are under grace, not law. Attempting to follow Israel’s Law program will only cause sin to dominate us. God’s grace-based acceptance system involves us placing our faith in Paul’s epistles, letting Christ Jesus live His life in and through us, making our Christian life pleasing to God. We would do well to memorize, meditate on, and believe the following verses, a wonderful encapsulation of the Christian life: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15 KJV).

In Romans chapter 7, the Apostle Paul discussed how he strained to perform the Christian life. He struggled to do right, but he would only sin instead:

“15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would [that is, wish to do], that do I not; but what I hate, that do I….
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would [that is, wish to do] I do not: but the evil which I would [that is, wish to do] not, that I do….
21 I find then a law, that when I would [that is, wish to] do good, evil is present with me”

Paul is a saved man, “delighting in the law of God after the inward man” (verse 22). However, he writes:

“23 But I see another law in members [body parts], warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God 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.”

Frankly, it is impossible for us weak, sinful creatures to live the Christian life. Galatians 5:17 KJV reminds us: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (cf. Romans 7:15,18,19,21). Paul finally realized that struggling under the Mosaic Law—his performance—only genders defeat and misery. Only Jesus Christ can live the Christian life: it is His life! We have victory, not in our performance, but in Christ’s performance (verse 25). Romans 8:1-4 KJV, the verses following, explain:

“1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

God the indwelling Holy Spirit fulfills the Law in us Christians! This saved Paul—and saves us—from misery and defeat, our struggling to live the Christian life. We need not keep the burdensome Mosaic Law; the Holy Ghost fulfills it in us as we walk by faith in God’s Word to us!

Galatians 5:13-18 KJV supplements:

“13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

The Holy Spirit leads us today, and this means we are not under the Law (verse 18). When we “walk in the Spirit,” allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us, we will not sin (that is, we will not “fulfil the lust of the flesh”)

For nearly 1,600 years (Moses to Paul), Israel strained to keep the Mosaic Law. Unlike their heathen (Gentile) neighbors, the Jews had the Law of God, and other advantages (Romans 9:4,5; cf. Ephesians 2:11,12). Despite their privileged position, however, they were just as sinful as the Gentiles (non-Jews). Hence, the Gentiles observed that “God’s” people, Israel, acted just as shamefully as they did (Romans 2:17-29)!

Sinful Israel broke this Old Covenant (Mosaic Law), thus necessitating the institution of the (future) New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13). If Israel, sinful sons of Adam that they were, could not keep the Mosaic Law, should we Gentiles fare any better, also being sinful sons of Adam? I trow (think) not (1 Corinthians 10:1-14)!

Actually, when believing, Law-keeping Jews (saved in Israel’s program) demanded that Paul’s Gentile believers (saved in our program) keep the Mosaic Law to be saved (Acts 15:1-5), the Apostle Peter asked (verse 10): “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Law-keeping is a burden, for no sinner can bear it!

The Apostle Paul reaffirms that Mosaic Law-keeping is a “a yoke of bondage:” Law-keeping is impossible for us sinful creatures, and this performance-based acceptance system makes void (cancels) God’s grace-based acceptance system which is in operation today in our Dispensation of Grace. When legalists (Law-keeping Jews) tried to subvert the Galatian believers by telling them to keep the Mosaic Law for salvation, Paul warned them in Galatians 5:1-4 KJV:

“1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

If we attempt to make ourselves acceptable to God by doing “good” works, then we ignore Christ’s perfect, finished crosswork on Calvary (the only means whereby we can be—and ultimately are—made acceptable to God, for only Jesus Christ will ever please God; Matthew 3:17). By struggling to live the Christian life (Law-keeping), we render useless Calvary’s impact on our lives, never allowing Jesus Christ to live His life (because we are too busy trying to live it).

Unlike Judaism, and contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not a system of rules and regulations. The Christian life is not us trying to “measure up” to please God—that is impossible. Once God proved that sinful mankind could never keep His Law perfectly, He introduced through the Apostle Paul’s ministry the wonderful system we now enjoy: His grace-based acceptance system, where Henot ourselves—will make us acceptable in His sight and accepted in His Son, Jesus Christ!

God, Jesus Christ, “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7,8). Jesus Christ was obedient to His heavenly Father, declaring, “…the Father hathnot left me alone; for I do always those things that please him(John 8:29bc; cf. Isaiah 50:5,6). His Father, God, affirmed: “This is my beloved Son: in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17).

On Calvary’s cross, the blood of God’s perfect, only begotten Son, was shed for our sins! “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just [Jesus Christ had a right standing before God] for the unjust [we had a sinful standing before God]” (1 Peter 3:18).

We, as people who have trusted in Christ’s finished crosswork—His bloodshed, death, burial, and resurrection—alone as sufficient payment for our sins, are made acceptable in God’s sight and are accepted in His Son. Jesus Christ’s performance not only saved us from our sins, but His performance also makes our daily lives acceptable to God our Father.

In Colossians 2:6,7, we read: As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” How did we “receive Christ Jesus the Lord?” By our works? NO! By faith in His finished crosswork on Calvary. How does our Christian walk function? By our works? NO! By faith in His finished crosswork on Calvary.

Sinful mankind could never please God, so God did for mankind what he could never do for himself: pay for his sins in full. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure [perhaps] for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

This love—the love of God, “the love of Christ,” not our (feeble) love for Christ—forms the basis for our Christian life, and it “constrains” (empowers, motivates) us (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus Christ loved us enough to die for our sins, be buried, and be raised again the third day to make us (positionally) accepted before God (justification). “We thus judge [conclude]” that we Christians should allow Christ’s love for us to work in and through us by means of His indwelling Holy Spirit, as we walk by faith in an intelligent understanding of His Word to us (Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon), thereby making our lifestyles (practically) acceptable to God (practical sanctification).

As people who have trusted Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection alone as sufficient payment for our sins, Christ’s righteousness—His perfect performance—has been applied to our account (imputation). We have a right standing before God (justification): “we [have been] made the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We Christians need not strain to perform in religion, seeking God’s favor and acceptance. God already accepts us in Christ, because of what He did for us on Calvary’s cross! “God hath made us accepted in the beloved [Jesus Christ]” (Ephesians 1:6).

We are not under the Mosaic Law (Romans 6:14,15), but God still cares how we live. Once we understand and rest in God’s great love for us (His sacrifice of His Son on our behalf), it transforms our thinking (today’s Scripture). Since God loves us so much, we Christians should not selfishly live our lives, doing whatever we want. We should, by faith, offer our lives to Him so He can accomplish His will in and through us. As one Christian brother says, “Jesus Christ gave His life for us, so He could give His life to us when we trust Him alone, so He could live His life through us when we trust Him alone!”

Our Christian service is us studying and believing sound Pauline Bible doctrine, and then us letting the indwelling Holy Spirit use that doctrine to work in us (1 Thessalonians 2:13) to generate “the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God” (Philippians 1:11). These “fruits of righteousness” are Christ living His live in us, conforming our lifestyles to our position in Him.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate [hinder, disrupt] the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:20,21). We could not achieve righteousness (salvation) by our performance, and we cannot achieve righteousness (godly living) by our performance. If our performance was ever the issue (for salvation or godly living), “Christ is dead in vain [is (present tense) dead for nothing].”

Our Christian lives are really Christ’s life! “Christ liveth in me.” We live by His faithfulness, by His performance working in us. Compare “the Son of God… who loved me, and gave himself for mewith 2 Corinthians 5:14,15 KJV: “the love of Christ constraineth [motivates] us… [Christ] died for all… [Christ] died for all… [Christ] died for them.”




God’s grace—everything that He has done for us on Calvary’s cross—teaches us: “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly [responsibly], righteously [acceptable to God], and godly [reflecting God’s values]” (Titus 2:11,12 KJV).  We who have trusted Christ are “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our lives should reflect this new position/identity. God died to save us from our sins, so why should we return to them? We should let Christ Jesus live His life in and through us, “to prove that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2 KJV). We do this by placing our faith in this sound Bible doctrine, which God uses to transform our minds, and then our lives!

“The flesh (always) straineth, Christ’s love (always) constraineth….”

One Response to The Flesh Straineth, Christ’s Love Constraineth

  1. […] have been combined and expanded to form a larger Bible study with the same name, which can be read here or watched here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

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