When I was growing up in Texas my parents thought the city kid needed some exposure to “country livin’ “(or maybe they just wanted me out of the house), so most summers as a child I attended “Ranch Camp”. Ranch Camp mostly consisted of riding horses who followed trails they already knew interrupted by swimming in the swimming pool or attending Rodeos.

Typically, Ranch Camp sessions ended with a real out door Texas Barbecue and the highlight of the day was the all camp Tug of War. A huge and very thick rope stretched across a filthy, cow pond (unconfirmed rumors were that the cow pond contained “boa constrictors”). It goes without saying that being on the losing team was a very unpleasant experience. One summer I even remember another boy getting a leach in about the worst place a boy could imagine!

Now, everybody knows the entire key to tug of war victory is before the tug of war even begins; it’s in the selection of the teams. Simply put, if one team has stronger (or fatter) members, or even more members, that team wins. Try as we might, the teams almost always are unbalanced. Whichever team has the most strong members win. The losers end up in the cow pond.

The entire game is about team selection.

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 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 dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth 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 dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:14-25 (KJV)

Sometimes in the Christian life we imagine a spiritual or moral tug of war taking place, usually between our “flesh” and our “new nature.” Most of us believe that upon regeneration, our wills are no longer enslaved and that as the Latin theologians used to say, we have the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. Of course, we often assume these abilities are equally matched. Our brains also can’t help remembering the television shows and cartoons we saw as children showing a “little devil” and a “little angel” inside our souls, competing equally for our decisions.

But I don’t think the spiritual tug of war involves two equally matched opponents. I think it’s like the one at Ranch Camp. It isn’t an equal decision between two equally matched opponents. The key is who’s on the righteous team and who’s on the sinful team.

On the one side are the habits of the flesh, the temptations of the world, the things that makes us proud or boastful, lusts of the eyes, materialistic temptations and desires, idols, etc. On the other team are prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship with other Christians, ministering to others, etc.

I don’t want to leave the impression it’s about works. You all know me and you know I’m heavy on the ‘grace side of the spectrum.” Nonetheless, at the human level, if we load up the fleshly team with exposure to sin, worldly surroundings, temptations of the eyes, etc. we are picking a strong team for that side of the tug of war. If we abide in Christ, pray regularly and fervently, meditate on his Word, “exhale” by ministering and witnessing to others we strengthen the righteous team.

Likewise, if we remove the “groves of idols” that remain in our lives and expunge our daily schedule from worldly temptations, we weaken the team of the flesh. If we neglect prayer, Bible study, church or sharing, we weaken the team of the spirit. If we have a strong flesh team and a weak spirit team, would it be any surprise that we’ll end up in the cow pond?

I feel that in my own life, when I have strayed from Christ find myself mired in sin, I usually can look back and say, “Hey, you bonehead, no wonder you stumbled into the cow pond. Look at your teams! You had all these big strong flesh team members and you weren’t praying, you weren’t in the Word, you weren’t in fellowship with God or other Christians. No wonder you landed in the cow pond. You should have seen it coming.”

Now God has promised that he would not place us in trial or temptation that we cannot bear. But perhaps that means that all the spirit team members are right there, looking at you, bouncing up and down saying, “Pick me. Pick me.” If we fail to pick them and succumb to the temptation, God has kept His word. He gave us the strength to resist or pass through the trial; we just picked the wrong team.

Each day is a new tug of war and we get to pick our team. Pick your players carefully. The stronger team wins.