The basis for this series of posts is to work through the difficulties of life as a Christian. The first postdealt with the influence of the world against living a life on mission. The world offers so many alternatives to life in Christ and that alone is a challenge to living a life on Jesus’ mission. That is not the only enemy of a life in Christ though. The Bible talks frequently about our flesh as a source of the desire for much of the sin and distraction in our lives. When it comes down to it for many of us, the greatest battle for focus and life on mission is… ourselves.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. -Romans 7:18
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. -Romans 8:7-8
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
When the Bible uses the word “flesh” (sarx–Greek) in certain contexts, it is referring to the corrupted nature of humanity. What that means, basically, is that the Bible recognizes that we are all broken… all of us. We don’t have righteousness of our own, we are all corrupted. The flesh in the believer is a really interesting concept. Is it still there or is it gone? We have warnings about submitting to the passions of the flesh but we also have “and those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” -Galatians 5:24.
This is an area that causes more guilt in the Christian that just about anything else I can put a finger on. How is it that Jesus has redeemed us and we are free from the bondage of sin and death, our flesh is crucified…? but at the same time we still struggle, we still want, we still lust, we still choose sin?
I realize that this is a topic that people have written thousands of pages on and I’m attempting to tackle it in the length of a readable blog… so I’ll just summarize and give you some suggestions as to where to read more. The Bible tells us that we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Victory over the flesh is available to us through the power of the Spirit. While victory over the flesh is available, the desires of the flesh still exist. That is the remnant of our sinfulness. We are saved, but we are also still us, with all of our histories, our patterns, our emotions, even our desires. Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”. That is super important language. What it means is that when you are walking by the Spirit, you will overcome the desires that still exist! You still want, you still struggle, you still lust, you still covet… but in Christ, through the power of the Spirit, you now have the option of choosing righteousness!
What God is inviting us into is a life where the Spirit of God replaces our sinful flesh as the dominant voice for daily life! That’s what Paul was saying in Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live now in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
Our flesh longs for many things. Honestly, the desires of the flesh probably vary from person to person. For some it is money, fame and power. For others it is sexual satisfaction and gratification. For others still it is control, approval and validation. I do battle with my flesh on a moment by moment basis. I am a wickedly selfish person. The ongoing work of Jesus Christ in my life equips me to choose the things of the Spirit over the things of the flesh.
So, we talked about disciplines and choices in our lives that will help us break free from the influence of the world, let’s do the same with the flesh.
Since there are so many different desires of the flesh, let’s start with identifying our key areas of weakness.
1. What is the most common tendency (or tendencies) towards sin that you experience? (Lying, gossip, lust, greed, laziness, hate, etc.)
2. Once you have identified it (or them), start to pray through those sins: Confess, repent, invite the Spirit to remind you of his presence when you are tempted to sin.
3. Search the Scriptures. What does God’s Word have to say about your tendencies towards sin? You can use something like the YouVersion App to search keywords like “anger” or “sexual” or “gossip”. You should be able to find Scriptures that talk about what you’re struggling with. Make sure to read whole chapters and not just individual verses… or more ideally, the whole book in the case of the Epistles like Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Hebrews, James, Peter, Timothy, Romans, Titus, Philemon, 1, 2, 3 John, and Jude.
4. Work on an intentional plan to eliminate opportunities to sin from your life. You may never cease to “desire”, but if you struggle with drunkenness, you can start by getting alcohol out of your house. If you tend towards lust, you can remove opportunities for pornography from your life. These are specific actions that you can take to lessen the influence of the flesh towards your life on Jesus’ mission.
We are on a journey towards the image of Christ in our lives. It is not all our work, God is at work in us, but it does involve diligence and discipline (make every effort… they devoted themselves… work out your salvation…). The Spirit of God fills us, empowers us, encourages us, ministers to us, and leads us towards a life of holiness.
My dream is to see the greater body of Christ growing in Gospel-centered (rather than legalistically motivated) holiness. The battle with the flesh is real and challenging. It is unrelenting, but it is something that God empowers us to overcome. If you’re struggling with anything in particular and you’re looking for specific next steps, talk to your community group leader about what it looks like to grow together.