The truth is, that we live IN A BODY of sin and death, called the old man, which we are commanded to put off, and this is a daily, hourly, minute by minute task that will never escape/leave us, until we put off forever this body of SIN and DEATH!
Yes, sad but very true - the never ending battle between the flesh and the Spirit while we are in the body. Before going to the Cross, Jesus said in his High Priestly Prayer at the Last Supper (vide John's Gospel account) "I in you and you in me"
- so He took us to the Cross with Himself. The Work of The Cross meant putting our "old man" (our self-pleasing nature inherited from Adam) to death. So in effect, we have all been crucified with Christ in The Father's eyes! Jesus represents all humanity before The Father - all the holiness, righteousness and purity that we can never achieve ourselves - He is our perfect sin offering!Ah! but here in the flesh, the battle still rages on
- IMO the answer lies in submitting to the "moment-by-moment" leading and correction of the Indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed that the Father would send The Holy Spirit upon us to be our Paraclete - Guide, and Advocate, after Jesus Ascension. Because Jesus is glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father, we can rejoice that the gift of His Holy Spirit is within us all - if we continually submit to Him, instead of going our "own sweet self-pleasing way"!
On a practical note to avoiding wrong thoughts, Some of us may be so "saintly" (Jesus did
say "Be ye holy, even as I am holy."
) that they (dare I include myself by using instead, the word "we"?) can immerse themselves in prayer, recitation of memorized passages of Scripture, or going through the words of favourite hymns etc - anything to divert the unruly mind from decidedly unholy thoughts - and by unholy, am referring to anything which, according to our understanding of the principles in Scripture, is contrary to God's "best intent" for us.
. I have personally found it helpful to quickly turn away from wrong thoughts, by using the foregoing means - when in a "submissive" frame of mind, but
so "submissive" (it's very sad but in "the heat of the moment" one can "get swept away" forgetting about "the cost" i.e. consequences *) - turn additionally to thinking about some innocent, absorbing and difficult endeavour. In my own case, that means despite my (old) age and poor fitness level, I get considerable delight in thinking and trying out, how best to improve my swimming - particularly that of fly stroke, said to be the most difficult of swim strokes, requiring a lot of coordination and thought, to imitate well, the undulatory body action of dolphins (even if it only be for a few strokes in my case, before pausing to rest for a while, before continuing). So I even sometimes dream about swimming!!! But for others, it could be some other equally innocent and absorbing interest!
( * Sometimes one might "enjoy" a bit of naughtiness, as a temporary diversion from "the straight and narrow" - like a dog allowed off the leash to roam free for a while - but in the end, it is as bitter as gall. Paul had something to say about this in Romans 6:12-14 : - "So sin must no longer reign in your mortal bodies, exacting obedience to the body's desires. You must no longer put it's several parts at sin's disposal, as implements for doing wrong. No : put yourselves at the disposal of God, as dead men raised to life yield [present!] your bodies to him as implements for doing right; for sin shall no longer be your master, because you are no longer under law, but under the grace of God."
I am quite fond of Watchman Nee's old classic "The normal Christian Life" and keep on returning to re-read it (my copy evidences that usage, for many pages have split from the paperback's spine!). It contains an interesting portion on "Walking in the Spirit" relevant to this business (It is so important IMO, that I quote it here, hoping that I will not get "jumped upon" for contravening copyright : - "...That was part of Paul's trouble in Romans 7. His will was good, but all his actions contradicted it, and however much he made up his mind and set himself to please God, it led him only into worse darkness. 'I would do good', but 'I am carnal, sold under sin'....many Christians endeavour to drive themselves by will-power, and then think the Christian life a most exhausting and bitter one. Some even force themselves to do Christian things, because others do them, while admitting they have no meaning for them. . They force themselves to be what they are not, and it is worse than trying to make water run up-hill. For after all, the very highest point the will can reach is that of willingness (Matt 26;41).
If we have to exert so much effort in our Christian living, it simply says that we are not really like that at all. ... In fact we only have to exert will-power in order to do the things we do not do naturally. We may do them for a time, but the law of sin and death wins in the end...
You ask, Why do men use will-power to try to please God? There may be two reasons. They may of course never have experienced the new birth, in which case they have no new life to draw upon; or they may have been born again and the life be there, but they have not learned to trust in that life. It is this lack of understanding that results in habitual failure and sinning, bringing them to the place where they almost cease to believe in the possibility of anything better.. But because we have not believed fully, that does not mean that the feeble life we intermittently experience is all God has given us. Romans 6:23 states that "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" and now in Romans 8:2 we read that 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus' has come to our aid. So Romans 8:2 speaks not of a new gift but of the life already referred to in Romans 6:23. In other words it is a new revelation of what we already have. I feel I cannot emphasize this too much. It is not something fresh from God's hand, but a new unveiling of what He has already given. It is a new discovery of work already done in Christ, for the words 'made me free' are in the past tense. If I really see this and put my faith in Him, there is no absolute necessity for the experience of Romans 7 - either the unhappy struggle and failure or the fruitless display of will-power - to be repeated in me...."
An earlier section "hammers the point home" : -"...We have spoken of trying and trusting, and the difference between the two. Believe me, it is the difference between heaven and hell. It is not something to be talked over as a satisfying thought; it is stark reality. 'Lord, I cannot do it, therefore I will no longer try to do it' This is the point most of us fall short of. 'Lord I cannot do it, therefore I will take my hands off; from now on I trust Thee for that.' We refuse to act; we depend on Him to do so, and then we enter fully and joyfully into the action He initiated. It is not passivity; it is a most active life, trusting the Lord like that; drawing life from Him, taking Him to be our very life, letting Him live His life in us as we go forth in His name..."
So that's it then! - How we can succeed! - His way not ours!
In Nee's book there is a short section in which the Indwelling Holy Spirit is referred to by the charming name "Resident Boss" (which is self-explanatory and IMO rather appropriate). Before having brekky this Christmas morn, the Resident Boss urged me to be more specific about my reference earlier in this post to sometimes being "submissive" to His leading/correction. and at other times "not so" - and refer to the Biblical mention of "goads". My NKJV concordance pointed me to Acts 9:5 (in which the heavenly voice of Jesus says "It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
, and in Ecclesiastes 12:11 we see similar advice.
Dealing with the "goads" first! We have just 2 choices - obey or not. Habitual disobedience is unthinkable - it would result in the Resident Boss (Who is concerned for our welfare and of those with whom we interact) withdrawal from our lives - His still quiet voice would become faint and we would be left to our own devices. It is far better/wiser to "submit" (as graciously as we are able!
) to His leading/correction. If we are not
"submissive", then we may "enjoy" for a short while our "time off the leash" - but then, sooner or later, comes the sad realization of Whom we have grieved, and efforts at repentance and "rapprochement". I can think of instances when I have coveted some item I would have liked to purchase, or some action I would have liked to take - but the Lords "No!" won the day. In all things He knows what is best for us - as a Loving Father guides His (sometimes recalcitrant) children!
Let's not "miss out" on God's wonderful plan for us - as Paul said "Christ in you, the hope of glory to come"!