For a long time I have described the struggle in the Christian life to the struggle between two dogs. I’m sure you have heard this illustration in one form or other. It all comes down with someone (usually an old Indian) having two dogs that would fight. An onlooker asks which dog usually wins, to which the owner of the dogs replies, “The one I feed the most.” The spiritual application is usually then made that we have two natures in us and that the one that we feed the most is the one that wins. I'm not sure I’m ready to entirely put this illustration aside, I do realize it is just that, an illustration, and not Scripture, and as such, imperfect at best. I do, however, want to consider this idea of two dogs.
We have in our extended family two dogs. Poodles who belongs (she thinks we belong to her) to my wife and I and Newfy who belongs to my eldest daughter and family (the names od the dogs have been changed to protect their identities on the internet). Poodles is a Poodle—Jack Russell mix and grew from puppyhood under the watchful eye of a German Shepherd. Consequently, we describe Poodles as a Jack-a-Poo with a German Shepherd attitude. Newfy is a Newfoundland mix who is gentle despite her size. We often have the two dogs together at our house and the result is almost comical. Poodles, the older of the two, makes it clear she quite disapproves of our allowing Newfy into our home which she considers to be her territory exclusively. Consequently, all 13 pounds of her, will charge at 90 pound Newfy whenever Newfy comes close to something Poodles considers to be hers. The usual result is that Newfy initially backs away, but eventually ends up with the bone Poodles is protecting. Newfy’s size ultimately wins out. Despite her determination, Poodles is no match for Newfy’s size. No matter how much we feed Poodles she can never stand successfully up to Newfy when Newfy decides to take a stand. The only way Poodles could consistently defeat Newfy is for Poodles die and to be reborn as a dog the size of Newfy.
Colossians 3: 9-10 says this: Lie not one to another seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man after the image of him who created him. These verses are often taken to mean that when we are in Christ we have two natures and whichever one we feed the most, that is the one that will have the most influence in our lives. However, note that this passage is saying to Christians that we have put off the old man. It is an accomplished fact. This has happened when we received Christ. In Romans 6 we see reference to this for it states that we have been buried with Christ and have risen to new life. The old man is dead. It is not for me to strengthen the new nature over the old, but to live in the new nature.
We struggle in the Christian life, so often being defeated because we are trying to strengthen ourselves spiritually rather than trusting in God to do the work within us. Paul said it this way: For
that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me (Romans 7:15-20). Paul is sharing his personal struggle with sin. He is admitting to having the same frustration most believers in Christ have. He relates how he wants to live the Christian life, but finds that the more he tries to do so, he messes up. While he has the will to do right, but he finds no ability in himself to do so. The key to Paul’s dilemma is the words in the flesh. Paul is saying that in his own strength and power neither he, nor anyone else, can expect to live a life that is victorious over sin.
In a world where the word sin is taboo, and to talk about sin even from the pulpit, is considered archaic, to suggest that we ought to and can live life in a changed way seems out of place. Why should we avoid sin? Why should we live in a way other than in our flesh? After all, God gave us all things to enjoy. Why should we impose archaic values on ourselves? But when we consider that sin is doing things our way instead of God’s way, and that the ways of sin is destruction, we want to avoid it in any way we can. But how can we defeat sin in our lives if we are as weak as Paul says?
Paul tells us the answer in Ephesians 2. By grace are ye saved, he says, through faith and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). So we cannot be saved by our own strength, i.e. our flesh and are saved only through God's grace which is His free gift to us. But wait, there is more. In the next verse Paul says this: We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). We have been saved by grace, and we have been created in Christ to live by grace. It is not a matter of feeding my new nature, but to live in my new nature—by grace.
To live by grace is to live according to the new relationship we have with God when we trust in Him. We draw closer to Him as we read His Word and talk with Him. We learn to trust Him and enjoy His love. We recognize our constant need for Him and let Him do His work in us by stepping aside and letting Him be God and recognizing that we are not god. We come to the end of our efforts in the flesh and realize the only way to victory is to let Him have full reign in us. In other words, feeding Poodles extra does nothing. It only makes her fat. I need to be Newfy. That happens only by grace.