This question has been asked by every kid at one time or another and the answer still illudes us all… well not the Creator. But it brings up a good question for us. Which comes first in our life and how do we answer the question? I think we get a pretty good clue if we take a look at Abraham.
Gal 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.
For the bride of Christ it becomes a question of the natural versus the spiritual. Consider that Abraham had a choice to make; Ishmael after the flesh of Isaac after the spirit. And it was clearly his choice to make as he chose the natural, just as it was God’s perfect will to turn the natural into the spiritual by obedience. And it was sin that made it necessary for the transition to be accomplished by sacrifice. Abraham had to offer up Ishmael before he offered up Isaac. And that is something that many of us struggle with… we try to offer up a spiritual sacrifice before we have made the natural sacrifice.
What we forget is that in order to make a spiritual sacrifice we need to first offer up our bodies as a “living” sacrifice. Sanctification involves a deliberate commitment of our life to God without any consideration of the cost on our part. If we don’t, the natural life will continue to dominate everything that we do, and just like Ishmael ultimately dominated Abraham’s life to the point where in his doubt and lack of faith he asked God to honor the natural over the spiritual…
Gen 17:18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”
We do the same thing when we stubbornly refuse to be obedient to the Word of God and fail to take responsibility for disciplining ourselves mentally, morally and physically. All the while we forget that God is not with us in our natural life while we focus on putting it first. It is only when we “choose” to be obedient to His Word and put our old natural life under our new spiritual life that God will fulfill all of His wonderful promises for our “natural life.”
Our individuality must go in order for our personal life to be brought into fellowship with God. Our independence and individuality are what hinder our spiritual life and they are what God continues to press against in order to bring us to the point of “denying” our self, our independent nature, in order to allow our “real” life, our spiritual life, to grow and mature.
Yes, the key to allowing the Holy Spirit to “conform us” into the image of Jesus is to offer our natural desires as a spiritual sacrifice, to turn from our Ishmael to our Isaac. It is only when we deny our independent right to ourselves that God will accept our sacrifice and allow our “real” life to grow under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Jesus put it very succinctly…
Matt 16:24 … “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
Which comes first? I’m not sure when it comes to the chicken versus the egg, but I am certain when it comes to the natural versus the spiritual!