Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
High Standard of Life
You are mistaken, when you seek the seat of indwelling sin in your body, and when you brand your flesh as the malefactor upon whose head comes down all guilt.
He who says this, directly contradicts Jesus’ saying that, not from the flesh, but from theheart, proceed all sorts of evil things, because from the heart are the issues of life.
Laying all guilt upon the flesh is an invention of Satan, who himself is nothing but a spirit, who does not have a body, and therefore, in case sin dwells merely in the flesh, goes out free. Such also is the cherished opinion of those who suffer from all sorts of pride and those who have been hit by the arrow of envy and hatred, because their sin hides within thespiritual domain, and when the flesh is made the scapegoat, there is no fault in them.
But let not the more sensually disposed natures deem that therefore sin lies in the spirit only, and that, in the weighing of sin, ourflesh, i.e., our body, really has no count. For this would be an equally strong denial of another word of Jesus, when He said: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Or also against what Paul says: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25).
As Paul writes (Gal. 5:17): “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these two are contrary the one to the other.”
And so also: “They that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5).
For this reason it is your Christian duty to recognize your flesh, your body, to be an enemy, whom you must fight. A power that struggles with you, to see which is the stronger. But a power which, as child of God, you can, must, and shall overcome.
So the holy apostle presents the case.
He compares life here on earth with the sport-life of his time, or, more accurately, he thinks of the Isthmian games, which used to be played in close proximity to Corinth.
At these games Paul had seen how a bad wrestler struck out with the fist toward his opponent but did not hit him, and thus beat the air. But also how a good wrestler hit his opponent, overcame him, and got him under the knee, and now dragged him along as his prey.
And so, says Paul, I wrestle with my body.
I wrestle with my body, not by way of a game-fight. When I attack my body, I strike not amiss, not as beating the air, but with effect. And the outcome is that I have my body under me, that I am master over my flesh, and as conqueror freely dispose of my body.
I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me.
How is this to be understood?
As man you exist after soul and body; but these two are not equal. For, when soul and body are torn apart in death, the soul continues to exist apart from the body and to live and to enjoy, but the body without the soul is a corpse.
So your ego, your person, does not throne in your body, but in your soul. Thus your body is nothing but an instrument which God gave to your soul, through which to reveal itself and to have fellowship with the visible world and with your fellowmen.
No sooner is the working of your soul upon your body broken, than life about you falls away from you.
You see this in part already in sleep. Stronger still when one is chloroformed, and his leg can be amputated without his knowing it. Also when one faints, and has no knowledge of himself.
Thus to this extent your soul is bound to your body and is dependent on it.
Suppose one wants to commit sin, what sin is there that he can carry out and perfect without the help of his body?
Surely, in his spiritual thought he can sin before God, without anyone knowing anything of it, and the dreadful struggle between ourego and our God, which must end in the total denial of our most deeply hidden self, takes place altogether in the soul.
But apart from this one principle sin, what sin is there that does not touch the body?
When unholy passions rise in you, thirst after money and pleasure, anger against the brother, and what not else, even all these hidden sins are unthinkable apart from the body. Or is it not through the body that impure desires come into your mind? Through the body that you learn to know money and pleasure? And also through the body that you know what another does to work you harm?
Also of sin that does not express itself in outward act it must be confessed that, the one sin of our ego against God excepted, it were unthinkable in us if the body were not there.
But far greater still becomes the significance of the body as soon as it comes to outgoingsin, which refuses to remain hidden in the heart, but wants to go out, wills to reveal itself and to carry out and perfect the premeditated wrong.
Then it must be confessed in the severest and most literal sense that there is no one single sin which can express itself in action outwardly otherwise than through the gate of your body from your heart.
When one is chloroformed, while the effect lasts, no one sin can be committed by him. And when one is in a faint, it is equally impossible.
But when the body is awake and active, so that the senses perceive, and the soul through our nerves has our body at its disposal, the gate is open, and sin rides out.
You are mistaken, when with sin you think merely of voluptuousness, drunkenness, and debauchery.
He who is angry exhibits his sin equally by means of the flesh. He shows it by the look of his eye, by the features of his face, by the language that passes his lips, by the serpent-hiss that goes out from his throat, sometimes also by scornful or menacing gesticulations with finger or hand.
Passion equally shows itself through the body. You see the veins swell, the color become red, the whole body come into action, evil words go out of the mouth, and sometimes the handor fist is lifted.
Backbiting and slander, written or told, are unthinkable apart from the body.
Heaviness, laziness, dilatoriness, wasting of time—it all depends upon the question whether you govern your body or your body you.
Self-conceit, vanity, desire to shine, pride, self-exaltation cannot exhibit themselves except by the carriage of the body, by the way in which you dress, show yourself, and treat others by words or motions.
And so along, you can literally name no single sin, but, for outward action, always needs the body.
Without the flesh, sin can be active in your bosom, but cannot reveal itself.
But as it is with sin, it is also with your holier sense.
Whatever good and holy tendencies may waken in you, whatever lowly sense of humility may fill your heart, whatever urge of love may speak in you, of this also there is no revelation possible save through your body.
Without your body there is no fellowship of saints in the earth. Without your body no single utterance or exhibition of love in look, in word, or in deed. Without your body no single revelation of the life that grace poured out in you. Though there be light in you, it cannot shine out but through the windows of your body. What does not shine out through them remains hidden.
For consider well, without your body you can hear nothing, read nothing, say nothing, show nothing by look or face, and can absolutely do nothing outwardly.
When in the future day of the Lord you will have your glorified body, all this will present no difficulty, because your body, as it shall then be, will altogether be disposed to this outshining of spiritual light.
When in Paradise God created Adam, this cost Adam no trouble, because then too the balance was perfect.
But now this is not so.
Now your body is no more in this pure condition that with equal readiness it gives sin and holiness a passage through and out.
On the contrary, now your body gives sin an easy passage through, while all too frequently you must do violence to your body to effect a through passage to an utterance of higher life.
The struggle born from this is very bitter and long.
For, of course, by nature your body is still corrupt and thus subject to all sorts of weakness. Thereby the body acquired certain habits of its own. From the body a certain action begins to go out upon the soul. And you meet with resistance every time you attempt to use your body for something holy and of God.
The question is whether you oppose this, or whether you give in to the flesh.
In either case, there is always a struggle, and the question is, who overcomes in the same, whether you yield to your body, or your body to you.
Paul truly complains: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death”? (Rom. 7:24). But this same Paul glories nevertheless: “I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection” (I Cor. 9:27).
This does not mean, of course, that Paulalways, and always altogether, overcame. Wounds he too incurred with it. Marks of his struggle the apostle of the Lord also bore.
But it does mean that he did not give up the battle. That in the struggle he gradually gained ground. And that by grace it was given him that his body did not always run away with him, but that he ruled his body as a rider his unwilling horse, which then indeed offers resistance and opposition, and sometimes makes a false motion, sometimes even throws him from his back, but without the rider giving in.
In the end it is always the child of God that is master, and, because he continues such, triumphs.