What is the Flesh?
While our inward man
(spirit) is being transformed into the likeness of Christ, our outward man
(flesh) stubbornly pulls us in the opposite direction. Paul said in Romans 7:18, "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."
Paul then described the tug-of-war which occurred between his spirit and his flesh, a struggle to which many believers can relate. Thankfully, this battle can be won through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let's discover what the Bible says about flesh
in Hebrew, sarx
- Your flesh is your physical, earthly body. The biblical word flesh literally means the soft substance of the living body which covers the bones and is permeated with blood. "Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews" (Job 10:11). Flesh is also mortal and is naturally susceptible to fatigue, illness, and pain. The Bible tells us that "all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust" (Job 34:15).
"For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away" (I Peter 1:24).
- Your flesh by nature serves its own lusts. "Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:14-15). This is because your flesh is under the law of sin, and the law of sin ultimately leads to death. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13). "For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death"
(Romans 7:5). Thanks be to God Who has provided us a way of escape from the condemnation of the law of sin! Although your flesh is inclined to serve sin, your renewed mind (in your spirit) will serve God and bring the flesh under subjection to the Holy Spirit. "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 7:25). "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).
- Your flesh establishes habit patterns to help you cope with life. Flesh patterns can be defined as ways you operate independently of God. "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit"
(Romans 8:5). Flesh patterns may be either inherited or acquired. These include (but are not limited to) anger, bitterness, fear, greed, lying, materialism, addictions, obsessions, pride, overindulgence, sexual lust, and self-centeredness. "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others"
(Ephesians 2:3). "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (I John 2:16). Once your spirit is quickened (made alive) by the Holy Spirit, a renewing process begins in your mind. Then, as you learn to walk in the Spirit, old flesh patterns will gradually be overridden.
- Your flesh cannot please God. The works of the flesh include "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciv-
iousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 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"
(Galatians 5:19-21). While these fleshly works obviously do not please God, the Bible says that even our righteousness ("good" flesh) is as filthy rags in the sight of a holy God (see Isaiah 64:6). "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (Romans 9:8). We are made righteous before God only through the blood of His Son and by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. John 4:24 says that those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth. Fleshly works can never make us "more righteous" before God. "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"
- Your flesh is sown into when you fulfill legitimate needs (such as a need for love) with illegitimate acts. "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Galatians 6:8). Proverbs warns about the way of a strange woman, whose seduction is as a honeycomb but her path leads straight to hell. Take warning, lest "thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed"
(Proverbs 5:3-5,11). Paul tells us to "flee fornication, [for] every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body" (I Corinthians 6:18). The tug-of-war between the lusts of your flesh and the renewed spirit in Christ is, in fact, a battle for your soul. If you indulge the lusts of the flesh,
you can backslide away from the Lord. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11).
- Your flesh can only be conquered by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as you could not save yourself from the bondage of sin, neither can you live a life worthy of Christ without His life and power flowing through you. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9). Paul taught that even though we still are in a fleshly body, we must wage warfare through the spirit: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds"
(II Corinthians 10:3-4). Paul also said that it is impossible to fulfill the lusts of the flesh when you walk in the Spirit. "This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 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" (Galatians 5:16-17).
- Your flesh must be brought under subjection to the Holy Spirit. If you are a new creation in Christ, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should be cared for accordingly. "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" (I Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, learn to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit so you do not give in to or make provision for the demands of the flesh. "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof"
(Romans 13:14). When you walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit, you are not under condemnation. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24).
- Your flesh may have a "thorn" to keep you humble. "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first" (Galatians 4:13). "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (II Corinthians 12:7).
What is a "thorn in the flesh"? A thorn may be a disability, failing health, or agent of persecution; essentially, anything that irritates you in the natural but has potential to bring spiritual benefit. "For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (II Corinthians 4:11). Paul found that God's grace was sufficient for his situation and God's strength was made perfect in his weaknesses (II Corinthians 12:9). He even found reason to glory in his infirmities, for he came to know Christ more intimately through the fellowship of Christ's sufferings (Philippians 3:10). "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (II Corinthians 4:16-17). Paul saw the eternal benefits of suffering
for Jesus and knew that those who suffer with Christ will also reign with Him (II Timothy 2:12).
- Jesus Christ was born into human flesh and blood, yet was without sin. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3). "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit" (I Timothy 3:16; also see Hebrews 2:14). Jesus overcame all temptations of the flesh because He was led by the Holy Spirit. We are called to follow His example (see Philippians 2:5). "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in
the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God" (I Peter 4:1-2). Jesus became the "firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). Those who hear the Word of God and obey it are His brethren (Luke 8:21). "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).
In summary, we see that the flesh
is our human body with its weaknesses, and that by nature our flesh serves the law of sin. However, when we are spiritually born again we receive the mind of Christ and His power (the Holy Spirit) whereby we can overcome the lusts of the flesh. Thanks be to God, that He has "given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust"
(II Peter 1:4).
Now that we understand what the flesh is, let's discover how to overcome
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