Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Battle with the Flesh

"For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17).

The fierce struggle between the flesh and the spirit in the Bible is not to be understood as some kind of war between the body and the soul. Rather, what the New Testament means in speaking of this struggle is the war between the power of sin in our natural, fallen humanity against the influence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The struggle of sanctification lies in the fact that the flesh is not totally annihilated at conversion. The flesh does receive a death blow, and its power is broken, but it is still very much alive and struggling as long as we live in this life. The flesh is not something superficial in our lives, but goes way down deep in our personality. Thus, its influence is powerful, and the war against it is both real and continual.

As we noted, this “flesh” is not the same as the physical side of our being. Paul in Galatians 5:19–21 gives us a list of sins of the flesh. This list includes such things as adultery and drunkenness, which clearly are connected with physical desires and lusts. But the list also includes lying, envy, and hatred, which are not physical actions but attitudes and dispositions of the inner person.

In Romans 8:9, Paul states that Christians are not controlled by their flesh but by the Spirit of God. Every Christian is spiritual in this sense, but at the same time, every Christian commits sins and is still “carnal” or fleshly. This same Paul writes in Romans 7:14, “I am carnal, sold under sin.” Even though we are saved, we are still partially enslaved to sin, and we must struggle for freedom through the power of the Spirit. It is not true that some Christians are by definition “carnal,” while others have advanced to “stage two” by receiving the Spirit. Every Christian is both spiritual and carnal, and must fight the good fight.

When we are converted we are translated essentially from flesh to Spirit, but the fight against the flesh still goes on. We deceive ourselves if we think we don’t have to worry about the inclinations of our old fallen nature coming along and inclining us to evil. (First John says that whoever claims to be without sin is a liar.) The Bible tells us to be aware of this fact so that we endeavor to feed the spiritual side of ourselves and starve the flesh.

Have you ever noticed how graphic biblical language is? The verbs in particular evidence a zeal and a vitality, a strength and urgency. Lust is not a passive term; war suggests casualties and death. Do you war against the flesh? Have you crucified the old nature? Live out the biblical verbs.