So then, my brothers, you can see that we owe no duty to our sensual nature, or to live life on the level of the instincts. Indeed that way of living leads to certain spiritual death. But if on the other hand you cut the nerve of your instinctive actions by obeying the Spirit, you will live. —Romans 8:12-13, Phillips
Over at my personal blog, Near to the Healer, I write to encourage those who suffer with chronic pain and disability. Occasionally a reader will comment and tell me of her specific physical issues. I know of one lady who struggles with something called Foot Drop, which was caused when a nerve was nicked during her knee replacement. She now has a very dysfunctional gait, because she has to lift her foot as though she were going up a stair, with every step she takes on that leg. This altered gait causes her to have ankle, knee, hip and low back pain. There is no cure for Foot Drop. Once that nerve was injured, the function of everything below it was compromised.
This reader came to mind as I read the above passage in my Phillips paraphrase. I immediately thought of her condition as I read the words, “cut the nerve.” I know of others with spinal cord injuries, severe burns, and organic diseases, all of whom share this common problem: There is a nerve or group of nerves that is not doing what it was intended to do. I really like the word picture that JB Phillips gives us here. When you cut the nerve to a muscle, it will no longer do what you are trying to make it do, no matter how healthy that muscle was before the nerve was injured. It no longer has the connection to the brain that is necessary for it to cooperate, and as time goes by, that muscle will atrophy, becoming weaker and weaker.
Paul tells us in Romans 8 that we must cut the nerve of our instinctive actions. These instinctive actions are, as the NKJV renders it, “the deeds of the body.” These are the sinful patterns of behavior that plague all believers: Outbursts of anger; self-pity; prideful arrogance; gossip, and the like. These things must be put to death if we are to live the abundant life that God has promised (Psalm 36:8).
So, how do we cut the nerve to these “sin muscles?” Paul says we do it by obeying the Spirit. And how do we know what the Spirit wants? By reading the Word of God.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
God’s Word is our scalpel for cutting the nerve of these sinful habits. It is a careful and calculated positioning of the Scriptures to pierce in just the right place to discern the thoughts and intents of our heart. Here’s Phillips’ paraphrase of Hebrews 4:12:
For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword: It strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man’s being: It examines the very thoughts and motives of a man’s heart.
Did you catch that? The innermost intimacies of a person’s being…the very thoughts and motives of a person’s heart. Your words and actions come directly from the thoughts and motives of your heart. This is where the connection between the nerve—your sinful desires; and the muscle—the actual outworking of that desire, must be severed.
When you apply the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit to that connection, changing your desires from sinful to godly, that habit muscle will begin to shrink. When an actual nerve is cut in the human body, the muscle that it was enervating will begin to shrink over time. It’s the same with sinful habits.
A strong sin pattern can only be broken by a Spirit-severed nerve. That “sin muscle” will begin to shrink as you deny it the power to exercise as it once did. As we deny the temptation to sin and refuse to continue giving in to that sin habit, it will become weaker and, Lord willing, paralyzed over time. By replacing those sinful responses with biblically based actions, new godly habits will begin to develop and be strengthened as the old sinful habits are becoming weaker. This process is what leads to true heart change.
My dear sister, is there a nerve feeding your instinctive actions that needs to be cut? If you’re not sure what it might be, ask the Lord to reveal that to you. Then, search the Scriptures for that Holy Scalpel that will do the job. Remember, God’s Word is alive and fully equipped for this kind of surgery. You are in the hands of the perfect Surgeon. Hallelujah! What a Healer! What a Savior!