Sam Allberry: Winning the Battle of Body and Soul
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Sam AllberrySam Allberry is a pastor based in Maidenhead, UK. He is part of the global speaking team for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including James For You, Why Bother With Church? and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?
Dealing with our bodies’ impulses is a raw, substantial part of our spirituality. Author Sam Allberry gets real about winning the battle, body & soul.
Sam Allberry: Winning the Battle of Body and Soul
Sam: I can’t avoid the truth that Jesus loves being our Savior. It may be: “Well, I’ve failed Jesus again; and this is time number 374 with this particular sin.” Jesus still loves being our Savior; we will never out-sin His grace.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
When I first became a follower of Christ—and again, you know this, Ann—I hadn’t really read the Bible—didn’t grow up in a Christian home—didn’t really read the Bible.
Ann: You went to church, but you didn’t know the Bible.
Dave: And I fell asleep at church, so I didn’t listen. I’m starting to read the Bible as a young college-aged man; and I thought, “There’s nothing in the Bible that I can relate to.” That’s what I thought.
Ann: Oh, really.
Dave: I thought it’s just this book that’s—it’s not real—it just doesn’t talk about real life.
I’ll never forget—in my first month, I’m reading it on my own—and I stumble across Romans, Chapter 7. I didn’t know what I was reading at the time. Now, I’m an astute Master of Divinity scholar. [Laughter]
Ann: Okay, so you’re a brand-new believer; and you’re reading Romans 7.
Dave: Yes, and I read this—I remember thinking to myself, “That’s exactly my life right now,”—he said/Paul wrote in Romans 7:14, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my actions; for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He wants to do the right thing; but he’s being so honest to say, “But I struggle; I actually do the wrong thing.” I remember going to my mentor and saying, “What is this about? Because this is what I feel; this is my daily struggle.”
It was like this body of flesh and desires that my body had compared to the spiritual life, and the Holy Spirit of God living in me; there was a war going on that was described in Scripture that I didn’t know what it meant and how to win this war.
Ann: Because prior to knowing Jesus, you had given in to all of your bodily desires.
Dave: Yes; and now I’m in Christ, and I’m still struggling. I thought that would all go away, but it’s still there.
It brings up this topic of the body; the Spirit/the flesh; the Spirit. I think we all deal with this and we need help. We’ve got help in the studio with us today. We’ve got Sam Allberry, who’s with us to join us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Sam.
Sam: It’s always good to be with you.
Dave: You’re looking at us, smiling about our little struggle here that we deal with. But obviously, I want to hear what you’re thinking about that. But let me introduce you a little bit.
You’ve written a book called What God Has to Say about Our Bodies. It’s a fascinating theology of our bodies. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything else like this.
Ann: I think it’s really unique, but really needed; and the subtitle is How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves. We know that it’s good news—we know that the good news of Jesus affects our spirit/our soul—but we don’t often connect the body to that.
Dave: Yes; so let’s talk, Sam. You’re smiling about my little struggle with my physical body. I’m guessing we all have that.
Dave: Talk about that a little bit—this body we live in and this Spirit that lives in us—there is a war.
Sam: There is. I was smiling purely in terms of recognition, because you’re articulating what we all feel.
Dave: You’re not laughing at me; you’re laughing with me; right?
Sam: Yes, I’m also laughing because you then said, “Here’s all the problems, but don’t worry; we have Sam here to fix it all.” I was wondering if I could pretend to have Wi-Fi problems. [Laughter]
Passages like that in Romans 7—and there are other parts of the Bible, where you get the same kind of real: “This is what’s going on under the hood in each of us,”—it’s so reassuring; isn’t it?
Sam: Because we sometimes get our heads to the point, where we think the Bible is kind of like an episode of The Waltons—[Laughter]—and church is like this: “You’ve got to have your life together, and then you can come and open the Bible and have all of your life together being affirmed.”
You realize that people in the Bible are a mess; they’re a mess just in the way that we’re a mess. Romans 7 gives expression to what every single person on the planet feels in some way, which is: “There is something about my desires that is not entirely right.” Even the most kind of cynical, far-from-Christ kind of person still would recognize that not every instinct and impulse within them should be indulged. We feel that battle profoundly.
It’s interesting: Paul uses the language of the flesh as a kind of short hand for our sinful instincts. By doing so, he’s not meaning to say that the body is evil and only the Spirit within us is good, because the body is affirmed throughout the Bible and by Paul himself. But I think it’s because so much of our experience of our own worse instincts has taken place in our bodies. Our bodies have often been the vehicle for those impulses and instincts; it’s being the crime scene of our sin and other people’s. We bear in our flesh, not just the scars of the sins that we have committed, but as well the shame of sins that have been committed against us/have often been committed in our bodies. I think Paul is using the flesh for that kind of reason.
But he then/he kind of crescendos: “Who can rescue me from this body of death?” And it can feel like that; our impulses are so heading in the wrong direction in so many ways.
There is great comfort for that experience is expressed by an apostle in the pages of Scripture. We can take some comfort from that. Every single one of us is a mess. If we’re going through that Romans 7-experience ourselves, God is saying to us, “You are not on your own; you are not the freak here.”
The trouble is, particularly when we go to church, we can look around and everyone looks as though other people have got their lives together more than we have. That’s because we’re comparing their outsides with their insides, if I can put it that way. Whereas, if we could see inside of them, we would see the very same struggle and battles as well.
As you come to faith, you begin to realize why that’s the case and how that’s been the case. You’re more aware of the battle now because you’ve have more of a sensitivity to sin and more of a desire to go God’s ways. But as you said, we often think, “Oh, well, now I’m a Christian, and this will all get sorted out and I’ll be fixed; give myself a couple of weeks. Basically, these things will all sort themselves out; and I’ll kind of move forward in a sort of happy coherent kind of way.”
We realize that’s not the case. We do have the gift of the Spirit; we do have new hearts. But as I sometimes put it, we have new creation software on old creation hardware. For as long as we are in these bodies, we will still be wrestling with our sinful nature/with all of those instincts of the flesh that Paul is talking about.
Dave: Let’s talk about, from your experience and biblically, how do you win that battle with the flesh? You go to another book that Paul wrote in Galatians, verse 16,
Chapter 5; he says, “But I say walk by the Spirit,”—capital “S”, Holy Spirit—“and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
I can remember one of my first years in ministry—I’ve written about this—standing in front of a TV that had pornography on it—this is back before there is the internet—and feeling this/I felt like overwhelming desire to look. It was like, “Wow!” I remember standing there, going, “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a desire this strong against what God wants me to do.” I just thought, “I’m going to struggle a little bit; but in Christ, the struggle won’t be as strong as before.”
I’m standing there, going, “This is a powerful urge.” The flesh/the desire to do the wrong thing—to look at something I shouldn’t have any reason to look at: “I’m a married man; I’m a follower of Christ,”—was so strong. It struck me that: “Wow, this is a battle.” At the same time, I know Paul’s words: “Walk by the Spirit; you will not gratify these desires,” I was having.
Ann: And, Dave, it can be food.
Dave: It can be anything.
Ann: I’m thinking of Paul saying, “I beat my body, and I make it my slave.” Those words are so descriptive of the battle.
Dave: Talk about that: “How do you walk by the Spirit and win this battle?” I’m guessing you never struggle like that, like we do; so talk about it.
Sam: Yes; there are just three very easy steps, which I took twenty years ago, and I haven’t sinned ever since then. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s what I figured, yes. [Laughter]
Sam: No, it’s very counterintuitive. Again, it’s where we need to have the gospel on repeat in our own hearts. Because again, the flesh has its own fleshly way of dealing with the flesh. And we think, “Okay, I need to man up. I need to do the equivalent of gulping down some spiritual protein shakes and just kind of fight harder, out of my own strength.”
That’s just not the answer. Paul shows us that in Romans 7: that the more you try to do that in your own strength, the deeper in you get. It’s like trying to flail your way out of quick sand; you end up going down more and more.
It’s Titus 2—says—“It is the grace of God that teaches us to say, ‘No,’ to ungodliness.” [Titus 2:12] The only way we can fight these very, very deep-seated impulses that we find within us is we need to keep receiving the grace of God.
Ann: How do we do that?
Sam: Paul shows us; because the general shape of Paul’s letters is to show us who we are in Christ and then to tell us how to start living that out. We need to receive and understand our new identities as Christian men and women. Romans 6 has a lot on this; he wants us to realize that sin is no longer who we are. The very first command that comes in the whole letter of Romans is Romans 6, it’s either verse 13 or 18, or something like that, where he says, “…consider yourselves dead to sin [Romans 6:11].” He doesn’t say, “Stop sinning.” He says, “…consider yourselves dead to sin.” In other words, you need to think about yourself in a new way now; because you are not that guy any more.
What our sinful nature tells us/what the devil tells us is: “Stop trying to be this Christian version of yourself that you’re clearly not. This is who you are…” “This is what you do…” “This is how we roll; have at it.”
Paul is trying to say: “No, no, that is who you were. But that you has died now; there’s a new you on the block, and the new you is the real you. So it is now not holiness that is going against the grain of who you are. It’s sin that’s now going against the grain of who you really are. You will never be more truly who you are in your deepest core than when you’re following Christ.”
I needed to know that, because all of us have various besetting sins that feel like they’re the big ticket sins in our lives. I remember having a bit of a breakthrough with a particular sin in my own life when I realized: “I don’t have to commit that sin anymore. Paul says I’m no longer under the mastery of that sin; I’m under Christ instead.” It doesn’t mean I don’t sin.
- But it does mean, every time I do sin, I didn’t have to; because sin doesn’t have that authority over me anymore. That’s part of it: is trying to understand who we now are in Jesus and realizing that, actually, it’s that who Christ has made us to be in Him that helps us then to walk in His ways/be who you now are in Jesus.
- I think the other thing is simply remembering that our righteousness is in Jesus. This is not a matching-grant thing, where He’ll put up most of the righteousness if we kind of add our own little bit. All of our righteousness is in Jesus.
So as I’m wrestling with certain impulses in my heart, I can think, “Jesus has already lived righteously in that area of life for me. This particular way I can feel my body wanting to be misused and to commit sin, Jesus never did that. In that particular area of life, He was always righteous; he obeyed God and honored God perfectly with His body because He knew that I couldn’t.” There is a completion there that has already been prepared for me that I have now stepped into.
So I don’t need to fight this in order to be in God’s good graces, and to look my heavenly Father in the eye, or to look my Christian brother and sister in the eye. God has already counted me righteous in Christ, which then actually makes it safe for me to say to God and to other Christians, “This is what’s going on in my heart right now.” It’s safe to say that because it’s not threatening my standing with God or my place in His family.
As my friend and pastor, Ray Ortlund—I’ve heard him say this a few times—“We don’t defeat sin by the sort of gritting our teeth and force of willpower; we confess it to death.” I’ve often found that it’s been the articulation of: “This is the crazy going on in my heart right now that I’m dealing with.” Just articulating that feels like it has already done something to that sin, because I’ve been able to step outside of it and name it—to show it in its true light to another Christian brother—and that does change my relationship to that sin.
Ann: Wasn’t it Ray, he was just on [our program] talking about having a men’s group and having teaching.
Dave: Yes, “The Death of Porn.”
Sam: Oh, yes, yes.
Dave: That was Ray.
Sam: And then we walk in the light with one another. So we receive the teaching—we do our heavy doctrine—and then we’re like, “Okay, now we confess our sins to each other.”
Ann: That’s what he talked about: confessing sins, where guys would just confess their sins to one another and how it was setting men free; because as they’re talking about it; they’re hearing the Word; they’re confessing to one another. It was like—
Dave: Well, that was going to be my question to you, Sam. Is that what you would say to the person, who has made mistakes with their body/they’ve sinned with their body?—
Ann: —or maybe against them.
Dave: —or against them? They’ve lost that flesh/Spirit battle often. They just feel defeated, and they hide often. They’ve sort of given up, like, “I’ve tried; it doesn’t work.”
Ann: “It’s hopeless.”
Dave: What would you say to them? And even the parent—is maybe watching their child struggle with that—how would you counsel them?
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Sam Allberry on FamilyLife Today. We’re going to hear Sam’s response in just a moment. But first, let me just say that we’d love to send you a copy of his brand-new book, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies. We’d love to give you a copy when you make a donation of any amount this week to support the work of FamilyLife Today. You can do that in a couple of ways: one, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call with your donation at 1-800-358-6329. That donation can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, now let’s get back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Sam Allberry.
Sam: I think I would say you’re describing every single human being/every single Christian. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, that’s true.
Sam: We are, by definition, people who have been defeated by sin. That’s why we’re Christians and that’s what qualifies us to be Christians; because we needed a champion to come and to fight that enemy for us, because we couldn’t fight that enemy on our own.
The fact that Jesus has done that for us doesn’t mean that we’re now “Okay,”—impervious to sin—far from it. But it does mean that the grace we’ve received from Jesus, we receive afresh every single day. Every single day, we can stand again in the righteousness that Christ has provided for us through His death and resurrection; and every day, we can come to Him in our need. That’s what He expects.
I was thinking the other day of that wonderful verse in Hebrews 12 [verse 2], where: “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross…” It made me think, “Jesus knew the pain”; we know that from the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what He was stepping into in dying for us; and yet, Hebrews says: “For the joy set before Him…” He could see through that pain to the far horizon on the other side, and He knew that that would be a place of joy.
I can’t avoid the truth that Jesus loves being our Savior. To our defeated friends, listening to this—and it may be: “Well, I failed Jesus again; and this is time number 374 with this particular sin,”—Jesus still loves being our Savior; we will never out-sin His grace. You may feel as though your sin is going to be the one that actually crosses that red line and is going to be just too much for Jesus to deal with. But in the nicest possible way: “You’re not that special,”—[Laughter]—because Romans 5: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more [Romans 5:20].”
There’s always more grace in Jesus than sin in us; He’s bigger than our sin, and His Spirit’s within us. We don’t have to deal with this on our own now; we can talk to Him about it. It’s okay to come before Him with the worst things in our lives and to do that with His people. It’s healing to do that.
Ann: It just, like as you’re talking, it just brings tears to my eyes. I think, so often, we think of Jesus as a God of judgment. We know that He hates our sin, but I think we often think that He hates us when we sin.
Sam: Yes; no, He hates the enemy.
Ann: Yes, “He hates the enemy”; that’s a good way to say it. Because I think—
- if we’re not in God’s Word;
- if we’re not with God’s people, [where] we’re confessing;
- we’re [not] in a healthy place, [where] people are reminding us of the great love of the Father and the Son—
—we can get lost. I think a lot of us want to just give up, because we keep getting defeated.
The gospel that you are presenting is so attractional that it makes me want to run to Jesus. That’s what Jesus does: He’s saying, “Come/come to Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest [Matthew 11:28].”
Sam: Yes; and there’s not a limited number of runs that we’re allowed to have so that’s not a one-and-done thing—that’s every day—with fresh weariness, there is fresh grace and rest available to us in Christ.
Dave: You know, I think the thing that I didn’t realize that day, standing in front of the TV with the struggle with my flesh, that I learned and I hopefully am never going to stop learning, is—I was standing there, as I said, and thought, “Wow, the power of this desire to do wrong is beyond powerful,”—I didn’t realize it would be that strong—I [also] did not know the other side, which is the power of God in me that resides literally in this temple/this body is more powerful than my power/my struggle to sin. It became one of my life verses—Ephesians 3:20, where Paul says, “Now to Him who is able”—right?—“to do immeasurably more than what we even imagine or think according to the power that is within us.” He’s talking about the Holy Spirit/the power of God.
Again, it’s not this perfect thing that I’ll never sin again; but there is a power of God in us that can enable us to win over the flesh. And all of the things we talked about are part of that winning: having community/confessing. We can never underestimate the literal power of the Holy Spirit of God in us is a powerful victory that we can access and live out in our struggle against our body.
Ann: I think for our listeners to realize: “He loves you,” “He’s longing to be with you.” So for us to be with Him—to be in the Word—it brings us life; it brings us hope; it brings us help.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to FamilyLife Today. If you know of anyone who could benefit from today’s conversation with Sam Allberry, and I’m sure you know someone, why don’t you go ahead and tell them about this station? Or you can share today’s episode from wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, it would really help us out if you’d rate and review us.
I’ve got with me today the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins. David, how great is it that we can have guests like Sam Allberry on to discuss such important topics that are relevant to all of us?
David: I really appreciate when we can have conversations like we’ve had today at FamilyLife. Because one of the things at FamilyLife we are most about is helping families experience time together around timeless truth.
It’s one thing to hear truth, like Sam did so beautifully today about what God has to say about our bodies, but it’s another thing for a parent and a kid to have time, looking at each other in the eye, and processing it together and what it means in our everyday lives. It’s why one of the resources FamilyLife is most known for is Passport2Purity®. Meg and I have used it with our three oldest kids. It’s a phenomenal resource that allows you to get a weekend away and talk about with your kids their changing body/this formative time in their lives.
I would encourage you: “If you are a parent—whether it’s picking up Sam’s resource about what God has to say about our bodies or Passport2Purity is another resource available to you—take time, and not just read, but process it together with your kids.
Shelby: Yes, it’s all about intentionality. Again, we believe in this book so much that, with a donation of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Sam Allberry’s, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies.
Now, I’m a runner; and I remember when my coach would say to me, “What do you do when you see the finish line?” The answer was always, “You speed up.” That’s good workout advice, of course; and it could also be good life advice. Robert Wolgemuth wrote a book called Gun Lap. He’ll join Dave and Ann tomorrow to talk about running well and finishing well. That’s tomorrow; we hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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