From Altar’d by Jennifer Kennedy Dean
Flesh is designed to misdirect. Flesh will work hard to direct your gaze somewhere other than the cross. Failing that, flesh will attempt to distort your view of the cross. Make it seem ugly and harsh instead of life-giving and redemptive and tender.
I have something of a hobby, I guess you would call it, of reading books and articles and blogs by people who grew up in strong Christian homes, but as adults rejected their belief in Jesus. Their stories seem to have several common themes, but central to most is the theme of always trying to please a God who could not be pleased. They felt burdened and ashamed—always trying to measure up. They fell for a misdirection.
You know how a magician’s tricks work. He depends on the fact that our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. He uses his skills to draw the focus of his audience where he wants it, so that he can do something else where his audience is not looking. The end result is that a lie appears to be the truth. He appears to have accomplished something by magic that was really done by trickery. It is very convincing
This is what our flesh will try to induce in us. A misdirected focus. If flesh can keep you focused on your sin instead of His grace, then the myth of a rigid, angry god seems absolutely true. If your flesh can misdirect your focus away from the reality of the cross, and keep your attention on your best effort, then the perception of a demanding, harsh god appears grounded in reality.
Our flesh operates by misdirection. Flesh never changes its ways. In us, it is always trying to pull our attention away from the beautiful cross, where our freedom is to be found. It is always trying to keep us focused on our own failings, or our own fleeting successes, redefining the cross as vindictive and vengeful and fearsome.
The cross is a living power working in our lives to irradiate the flesh that holds us captive and stunts our growth. It has nothing to do with our ability to follow rules.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (i.e. outward adherence) means anything; what counts is a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15). If the cross is working on the inside, then the evidence will show up on the outside. If, however, the flesh is working hard at conforming the outside, it will wear you out and discourage you. Flesh-produced outward changes that started out looking shiny and beautiful will fail the test of perseverance. It won’t be lasting change. What counts is a new creation, transformed from the inside out. Not a spiffed up old creation. The only way to live is to live altar’d.