The Life of the Flesh is in the Blood

Leviticus 17:10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

Sometimes, quite often, in fact, it’s what you don’t see that is most important. Each and every one of us here this morning is alive because we are carrying around somewhere in the ballpark of five litres of blood. Without that, we would immediately die. There is no substitute for blood, you can’t fill your body with five litres of coffee or alcohol or cola or some other fluid, although we probably all know some people who drink those things like they are trying to do that. No, blood is unique, and blood is absolutely essential. The life of the flesh is in the blood.

Blood is also very important to us on a metaphorical and literary level. When we describe how we are connected to a near relative, we might call the other person our flesh and blood, or a blood relative. If we have put a great deal of effort into something, we say that we have invested blood, sweat, and tears. Blood comes first in that hierarchy. Similarly, if we want to describe the high cost of fighting a war, we might say that a great deal of blood and treasure was spent. We equate blood with life, and with good reason.

We also equate blood with salvation. Not even an hour ago we finished a meeting in which we remembered Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, when we gave thanks for the bread, in which is pictured His body, and the cup, which is a picture of His blood. I could reference dozens of scripture verses which equate blood as the price for sin. Hebrews 9:22b comes to mind immediately, and without shedding of blood is no remission. Under the law of Moses there were many varied offerings, and blood is involved in almost all of them. It’s not just the Jewish law, either, blood was shed for Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3, by Noah in Genesis 9, by Abraham on several occasions, all of which came well before the law was ever given to Moses. Blood has a long history of being directly connected with redemption from sin. This is probably old news to everyone here this morning.

What got me thinking, though, is that blood is actually an excellent comparison for our relationship with our creator. The more I looked at that, the better an analogy I realized that it was. You see, when I was planning this sermon, I considered drawing parallels between blood and the Holy Spirit, or between blood and the word of God, or even between blood and salvation, or prayer, or the gospel. All of those comparisons work, and so I’m not going to distinguish, I’m not going to just pick one of them. Sometimes it’s convenient to just pick one thing, and to focus on that, but that’s not my approach today.

It’s not like the Holy Spirit exists in separation from salvation, for example. Everything is connected. It’s far more complex and interconnected than we might think at first glance, and really, it’s far more complex than we can easily understand. We like to categorize and separate and pigeonhole things as much as possible, but how we relate to God doesn’t really work like that.

Neither does blood, as it happens. Blood is incredibly complex, it’s not just a red liquid that runs around inside your body. There are many different components, which have different functions, but operate together. The major components of blood are red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma, each of which is a complex item itself, and there are other minor components and compounds contained in blood that are no less important, but this is not a university level biology lecture, this is a Sunday sermon. Blood is complex, and the different parts are all necessary. You won’t do well if you are lacking in any one of them.

As Christians, our relationship with God is more complex than might be immediately obvious. Sometimes we like to think that our relationship with our maker is akin to the relationship a bucket might have with a faucet. We go to God to get filled up, then we go on our way, and do whatever it is we do, and we go back whenever we need a refill. Maybe we’re back often for a topup, and we’re careful to make sure that the level doesn’t get all that low, or maybe we let the water line get pretty close to the bottom, and then we do a big refill, or maybe we don’t go back to God until the bucket is bone dry.

Do you like that comparison? It’s easy to understand, but it’s really, really simplistic, isn’t it? It’s an attempt to illustrate one aspect of the Christian life, but it’s really at a level where I don’t think I’d want to preach that to anyone above mid-elementary Sunday School age. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that I’m more complex than a bucket. And obviously there is a lot more to our relationship with God than simply in being refilled when we need it. I’ve said in the past that God is not a vending machine, well, He’s not a faucet, either. To think of God like that is to simply focus on one small detail, and not see very much of the big picture at all.

The various aspects of how we can have a relationship with the Almighty are all required. Just as blood has multiple components, so does our relationship with God. For example, His Spirit indwells those who follow Him, those who have put their trust in Christ for salvation. As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? That is an important aspect, but it’s hardly the only one.

God instructs us, speaks to us, largely through the Bible. I’ve heard it said, as a criticism, that we elevate the importance of the scriptures almost to the level of making it a fourth member of the Godhead. While of course that is wrong, in contrast there are a lot of people who would minimize the importance of the Bible, and would say that we don’t need to take it quite so seriously, quite so literally. But all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. God relates to us through His word. If you are not reading it, not studying it, and doing so on a consistent basis, then your relationship with God will be severely limited. As well, we communicate with God by prayer. We have been granted access to present our petitions and praises before our maker, and to not do so would be a serious mistake. It’s very difficult to know someone if you don’t communicate with them. Prayer is every bit as necessary as the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Having a relationship, a real relationship, with God is an exceedingly involved and multi-layered thing.

Let’s turn to Ephesians chapter 2 to read a few verses that illustrate this complexity. Reading from verse 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

It is through Christ that the gap has been narrowed, that the gulf between the creature and the creator has been removed. It is through His work on the cross that we can have a relationship with God at all, and how we are able to have access to the Father, via the Holy Spirit. It is because Christ died for us that God will hear our prayers at all. In the OT, there was a literal partition, the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies, where was contained the presence of God, from the rest of the temple, and from everyone, apart from the high priest on one day per year. Christ has reconciled God and Man, so that we are able to have a relationship with God. Christ made it possible, the Holy Spirit facilitates it, prayer is the avenue by which we can talk with God, and it is through the gospel, contained it the Bible, where we learn of this. Everything is interconnected.

That’s a quick, superficial look at those aspects of our relationship with God. It would be easy to preach multiple sermons on each of those topics, well, maybe easy is not the right word, but it would be useful and profitable to do so. That’s not what we’re doing today, though. This sermon is looking at the believer’s relationship with God on a larger level, so rather than focusing on one aspect in particular, we’re going to continue looking at multiple components of our communion with God, through the comparison with blood.

Blood is something that permeates our bodies. You can’t see any of it, most of the time, but it’s present throughout. There’s blood in this finger just as there is blood in the finger beside it, just as there is in my head and in my feet, and everywhere in between. If I take a needle and poke a hole anywhere in my body, odds are really high that some blood will come out. All parts of the body need blood to function, they need it to live. If I were to take a string and tie it tight around this finger, it would severely reduce, perhaps even entirely cut off the blood flow. After a few minutes the finger is going to get cold, and it is going to change colour. If I were to keep it tied tightly for several hours, the tissue is going to start to die. Without blood, the cells will not survive. In fact, the finger would eventually have to be amputated because the dead cells, if those made it back into the rest of the body, they could prove to be highly toxic and would cause serious illness, perhaps even death. The body needs blood to survive, the entire body needs blood. As we read to start, the life of the flesh is in the blood.

Even on a much milder scale, if you have ever sat with your legs crossed for an extended period of time, you’ve probably had your foot go to sleep, or perhaps even you entire leg. That happens because the circulation of blood is restricted to an area, and even a partial restriction in blood flow can cause numbness, discomfort, and temporary loss of motor control, and it doesn’t take all that long. I recall this happening to me in school, in grade eight or nine. We had the Easter Seals ambassador coming in, and so they brought everyone to the gym, but there was not enough space on the bleachers, so some of us had to sit on the floor. I sat with my legs crossed for probably half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, and when I went to stand up afterwards, my legs had stopped working. I fell over and had to hobble back to class. It was confusing and embarrassing, but it makes perfect sense that it happened, knowing how the human body works, and how blood flow works.

Looking back to the verse I read a few minutes ago from 1 Corinthians, we are told that the Holy Spirit indwells us, resides in us as if we were a structure, a temple. The context is that we are not to defile our bodies, we are not to pollute them. Our communion with God is to permeate our lives. We are not to serve two masters, we are not to have a Sunday walk with God and a Monday to Friday walk with the world. If we want to follow God, we don’t get to do that on a pick-and-choose basis. There are a lot of people who would attempt to do so, who would attempt to have some sort of buffet style salvation, taking what suits them, skipping over the rest, the stuff that doesn’t mesh so well with their lifestyle choices. It might sound nice to say “I believe in Jesus, I believe that He died for me, so that I can go to heaven, that part is great.” The other parts of the gospel, such as the part about repenting and turning from our sinful ways, about taking up our cross and following the Lord, that’s something that people want to skip over. If we want to live like that, if we want to follow God like that, that’s not following, not really. Salvation needs to permeate our being. It needs to be complete. That verse I mentioned earlier in 2 Timothy 3 about all scripture being given by inspiration of God, the very next verse explains why. 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. Perfect here does not mean flawless, but rather complete. It does not say that the man of God might be barely adequate. It does not say that the woman of God should be moderately equipped to perform good works.

If we try to follow God in a haphazard manner, on an only-when-it-suits-us basis, then we are effectively cutting off our spiritual circulation. We should not be surprised when we can’t do what we should do. If we hobble ourselves in this manner, then we should not be surprised when we fall down. Continual communion with God is every bit as essential to the Christian life as blood is to human life.

The complex functionality of blood is what keeps us alive. It is not merely the fact that blood has many components which makes it important, it is the multiple jobs that it does. These operations are what keep us alive.

The functionality of our relationship with God is likewise what maintains us in our Christian lives, what allows us to actually follow God, and to serve Him. Much as we can see parallels in the complexity, the necessity, and the fact that we need to have full circulation of blood and full communion with God, we can also draw parallels with some of the individual jobs which blood performs.

The first thing that most people would say if they are asked what blood does is that it carries oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The cells in our bodies need those things to operate, they need oxygen and sugar for energy, they proteins and minerals and vitamins to grow and to build new cells. Blood is the medium which carries these things throughout our bodies. Your heart beats every second, and every time it does, blood moves these things through your body, carrying what is needed to where it is needed. If oxygen does not get where it’s needed, the cells will die. That’s why a blood clot can be so serious, it prevents blood from delivering oxygen, or why cutting off circulation to a finger, like I mentioned earlier, could lead to potentially losing that finger if circulation is not restored.

Our relationship with God is essential in order to have a functional Christian life. Let’s turn to Galatians 5 and read a familiar passage which illustrates this. 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We’ll end our reading there. Walking in the Spirit, walking in communion with God, listening to Him, following Him, should bring about certain results. The fruits of the Spirit are familiar to us all, I would imagine. They are all attributes which if we exhibit them, they will make us resemble Christ. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self control, these are the indicators of someone who has a relationship with God, someone who is following Him.

Quite the contrast with the works of the flesh, with all the violence, deceit, selfishness and lust. Those are the default behaviours of the human race. People left to their own devices will not become model citizens, they will tend toward all the unpleasant things listed above, the things which bring strife, the things which bring pain, the things which bring death. Is it is the Holy Spirit that directs us away from such things, and directs us to God. If we are not walking according to the Spirit, we’ll inevitably drift back toward the flesh with all the works thereof. The Holy Spirit continually directs us toward heavenly behaviour.

The word of God is also vital in ensuring our consistent communion with God. Reading a few verses from Psalm 119, starting at verse 33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. 36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. 37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

Notice how it says in verse 36 “incline my heart unto thy testimonies.” We are to be directed that way, we are to lean that way. It should be a well-worn path that we will naturally be more likely to follow. The Bible equips and directs us in following God. Obviously, we need to know what it says in order to follow it, just as you need to consult a recipe in order to cook something. Much like a favourite recipe, though, we should familiarize ourselves with what the Bible says, we should let it permeate our thoughts, and then it will be continually and immediately available. When I make pancakes, for instance, I don’t generally need to get out the recipe book. I’ve made pancakes enough to know the recipe, to know that it requires three cups of flour, two eggs, two and three quarter cups of milk, etc. I know that for best results, I need to warm up the milk. That being said, even though I know my pancake recipe, I still might look it up in the cookbook from time to time, just to make sure, especially if it’s been a while. My memory is good, but it’s not perfect.

The Bible is not a cookbook, but if we are reading it, studying it, memorizing it, learning from it, then it will come to us as required, just like a much-loved recipe. The Holy Spirit will bring scripture to mind as the need arises, but it has to be in the mind to start with. Our fellowship with God is essential in supplying us with what we need in order to serve Him.

Of course, that’s just one function of our relationship with God, a vital one, but not the only one. Blood distributes needed resources through out our bodies, and at the same time it carries away waste. Carbon dioxide goes to the lungs to be breathed out, toxins and dead cells are brought to the kidneys and the liver to be filtered and removed. Blood supplies, and it also cleans. Communion with the creator is much the same.

You might want to keep your finger in Psalm 119, we’ll be back there in a couple of minutes, but I’d like to read a few verses from 1 John. In chapter 1, we read 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

As we read earlier in Galatians, the walk of the flesh is rife with problems, with destructive behaviours, with sin. We need to be cleansed from that, to have that sin cleared away. And as we just read, we all have sin to deal with, and if we claim that we don’t, we are deceived. Whether we are intentionally lying to ourselves, and to those around us, or if we are deluded and oblivious, we all have errors in our ways and shortcomings in our lives, and those need to be dealt with. This is a continual thing, not a one-time event.

I recall years ago, going swimming with my dad, and noticing that he had a pretty big scar on his stomach. I asked him about it, and this is what he told me. When my father was much younger, before I was born, he one time had severe pain in his abdomen, turns out it was his appendix, it was badly enflamed. He needed surgery to have it removed. From that day forward, well, once the incision healed and the stitches were removed, his appendix has caused him no further trouble, apart from leaving an unpleasant scar.

Dealing with sin is not like having your appendix removed. Through Christ, we are saved from the penalty of sin. That is a one-time event. However, we are not delivered from the presence of sin. That is an ongoing process. We all have a sinful nature, we live in a world that is filled with sinners, and is replete with temptations. Much as our blood carries waste materials from all parts of our bodies to the elimination points, so those things can be removed, so Christ will cleanse us and forgive our sins. This is a vital part of our relationship with God. We need to confess our sins, and we need to walk according to how God would have us walk, or this process is not going to take place with any level of effectiveness.

Another thing we need to do is to be in God’s word. Going back to Psalm 119, look up about twenty or so verses from where we read earlier, at verse 9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

It says young man in particular, but all of us, young and old, male and female, need to cleanse our ways. Taking heed to God’s word, reading it, knowing it, and most importantly, living it, is going to help clean up our actions, and is going to purify our hearts.

Not only will filling our minds and our hearts with God’s word act as a cleaning agent, it also acts as an emergency response. This is something else that our blood does, the white blood cells are a key part of our immune system. If there is an infectious agent inside the body, a virus or a bacteria or similar, the white blood cells are designed to deal with that, to attack the infection and to minimize it before it becomes serious, before the infection can spread. If there is a rupture in a blood vessel, the platelets carried in the blood stream act as a plug to seal the hole before too much blood can escape, and there are proteins carried in the blood called fibrin which act to repair the damage. God’s word is much like that. If we have God’s word in our hearts, we have a primary response mechanism to deal with temptation. We will still be tempted, and we may still sin, but the word of God, if we have learned it, if it is in our hearts, gives us the tools to confront it. If we have failed to do so, then we will be ill equipped to handle temptation. And if we have ignored the leading of the Holy Spirit, then we may not even recognize a problem when it occurs. If we are not walking close with God, if we are not striving to follow Christ, then we may not be in much of a hurry to deal with sin. Our relationship with God needs to be healthy, needs to be continual, in order to have an immune response to sin.

I see that time is almost gone, and there are a few more aspects of blood that I would like to compare with our communion with God. I’ll mention again that we all have somewhere in the range of five litres of blood, how much exactly depending on your age and your body size, but we all probably have more than we need to function. Our bodies make more blood as required, as we do lose blood from cuts and scrapes, and blood cells do become damaged and need replacing, much as other types of cells in our bodies. If we are in good health, we can handle giving away some blood. We can share our blood with others who may need it.

Our relationship with God is also something that is shareable. Not in the same direct sense as a blood transfusion, of course, but if we are walking with God, we should be willing to share this with those around us. This includes sharing the gospel with the people around us who do not know God, which is something that we have been specifically instructed to do. Christ told His followers to go into all the world, and to share the good news with all, starting close to home, and then going further and further afield. We are not necessarily required to go halfway around the planet in order to share the gospel, but we should being sharing it. Even if we start right at home, those of us with children and grandchildren are obligated to teach them about their creator, about their need for a saviour, and about Christ’s work on the cross to save them from their sins. As it says in Proverbs 22, verse 6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

We should also encourage and build up those around us who already are following Christ. If we share how God is working in our lives, how He is blessing us, how He is changing and challenging and improving us, that will strengthen others as well. There is nothing more disheartening then to think that you are alone. Elijah, after his success at Mount Carmel, fled into the wilderness, and he was convinced that he was the only person in Israel who was following God, and he feared for his own life. Sometimes we can all get the same sort of feeling, that we’re in this on our own, and it is incredibly discouraging.

Of course, Elijah was wrong. God told him that there were seven thousand people in Israel who were still following Him. That was not a large percentage in a nation of probably more than a million people, but that’s six thousand nine hundred and ninety nine more than just Elijah by himself. We’re not going to turn to the book of 1 Kings, but after this we can see that Elijah operated less on his own, he anointed a successor in Elisha, and we see that there were other prophets and those who did God’s work. There was sharing, there was strength in numbers. Elisha did far more in his ministry, working with others, than Elijah did on his own. The relationship with God is meant to be shared, not kept bottled up.

There one final point I would like to make in closing. I mentioned to start that it’s what you don’t see that is often most important. Sometimes we don’t even realize ourselves how our relationship with God is actually going, how it might not be as solid as it should be. I had no idea that I had diabetes until I was tested, and so I did nothing to treat it. It was only when that was discovered that I could take measures to make sure my blood sugar was under control. If we have a hard time knowing ourselves, how are we to know the condition of others?

Like blood inside our bodies, you take a quick look at a person, you don’t see the state of their relationship with God. It might be obvious if something is deeply wrong, just as it is apparent if someone is bleeding, or if they are uncommonly pale, or highly flushed, but it might not be so obvious, either. You can’t look at me and tell that my blood sugar or blood pressure is too high or two low, for example. We don’t know the condition of anyone else’s relationship with God. We can make an educated guess, but we don’t know. We don’t know if someone is suffering from discouragement, or depression, or doubt, or a multitude of other problems. We don’t know if they are doing uncommonly well, but they are too shy to share it.

Today, I would ask you to look at your relationship with God. How is that going? Is there something lacking, are the various aspects we mentioned all in balance, or has part of it fallen by the wayside? And whether or not you are doing well, or if you recognize that maybe you need to get back on track, there are people around you who need encouragement, who need prayer. As we read earlier from 1 John, if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another. A good relationship with God leads naturally to fellowship with those around us.