Thursday, January 10, 2013


As with so many words in scripture the word "flesh" [the Greek word is sarx] has several meanings. The word is used over 150 times and means, depending on the context, Physicality, as in 1 Corinthians 15:39,  the physical human body as in Matthew 26:41 and John 1:14, physical heritage or descendancy as in John 3:6 or Romans 4:1, the marital union as in Ephesians 5:29, and___well___ you can see what I mean.

The way "flesh" is spoken of in an evil sense is NOT a reference to the physical body because the body is not evil. In this post I'm addressing "flesh" as behavioral patterns that exist and are contrary to the character of God. It seems to me that it is used this way in places like Galatians 5:16-21 for example.  And then, that "flesh" is contrasted with the work of the Spirit as described in verses 22-23. This evil "flesh" is energized by the devil and is described, as I said, as sinful patterns of behavior in other places like Romans 7:18, 25 and Ephesians 2:3 as well.

This enemy called "flesh" that all Christians are plagued with cannot become better by reformation. Our only hope, which we will address a bit later, is in recognizing that the Cross has done its work on the "flesh" as well as the "world." [Galatians 5:23]

This kind of "Flesh" is NOT seen in scripture, at least as I understand it, as inherent or intrinsic within in man. In other words, you were not born with "flesh" as your enemy. Yet, it is NOT nascent, or newly developed either. It is a life-long developed way of living selfishly, pridefully, immorally, unethically, and a host of other things, that eventually build highways of behavior that are in opposition to the ways of God. Furthermore, I don't believe"flesh" is to be seen as your "old nature." There is a completely different word for "nature" in the Greek. It is unfortunate that the word "flesh" is made synonymous with "nature" by some theologians because the basic biblical meaning is lost, I'm convinced, when that is done. 

As stated, we bring about the existence of our own unique "flesh" by simply living in this fallen world. But our "flesh" becomes our enemy after conversion because the Spirit develops a new way of living and behaving that is in constant war with the old way we have developed by which we live life. Remember, the "flesh" is NOT who you ARE as a christian. It describes how you behave when not walking in the Spirit. So it is an enemy ONLY when the reality of the Spirit is introduced to our life and we are made a new creation in Christ. Those old patterns/highways of behavior we've developed through the years remain after conversion and do battle against the new person we are in Christ.

Let me give what I grant is a far too simple example. Early on [my childhood] I developed a pattern or way of feeling good about myself by helping people. This was my "flesh" way of getting my need for approval and especially from others. So when I did something to help others, all too often, it was REALLY so I'd feel good about myself. That's called self or selfishness in scripture. It isn't godly at all.

It LOOKED like I was doing it for others [at least to them] and maybe I was to a degree on the surface. But when honestly examined, it was FOR ME. That's basic selfishness and ego. But it appears that is the norm for all unregenerate life. That pattern was unknowingly fed by grateful people who appreciated what I was doing, it is true. But that particular aspect of my "flesh" was developed by my choices motivated by self. 

Now, get that boy converted, and I was. Get him doing pastoral ministry, and I did. WOW,  he discovers that he STILL struggles with wanting to feel good about himself by getting his strokes from helping others. Only now he realizes that, as a Christian, there is to be a different motive for ANY behavior. BOOM! You have an on-going struggle or battle of "flesh" against the Spirit and the enemy wins often it seems. Your "flesh" may look different than mine, but yours is no less an enemy to your walk in the Spirit than is mine.

Now we understand Paul's admonition at the end of Galatians 5 where he says, "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us NOT be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another." [24-26] We can behave differently BECAUSE we are new in Christ  EVEN THOUGH we can still act out the patterns of our "flesh" when we're not willing to experience the way of victory. 

So the final issue is__How do we experience our victory over the flesh?

Paul wrote to the Galatians to remind them that we are fundamentally new people. He said it this way..."I  have been crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh [body] I now live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  [Galatians 2:20]  That is our testimony as well. When we, in repentance, came to Christ, we were spiritually united with Him in every way. When He died, we died. When He was raised from the dead, we were raised. We should know that we HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED! But then we HAVE BEEN RAISED together with Him as well. WE ARE NEW!! 

We must understand this, acknowledge this, believe this, and confess this to be true. This is foundational to walking after the Spirit.

That's who we are.

Now, with that biblically declared knowledge believed and rested on [faith] we can begin dealing with our enemy the "flesh." We know the "flesh" has been crucified, [Galatians 5:24] so it doesn't have dominion over us any longer. We can now behave like the NEW PEOPLE we are in Christ. For that to happen it takes our walking by faith and allowing the positive empowering of God's grace by His Spirit to over-ride any and all negative patterns of selfishness that may have formed in the desires of our "flesh." 

It is these propensities, first, for action___ idolatry, immorality, lust, greed, selfishness___ and then, reaction___strife, envying, hatred___ that are the old in us and which our enemy, the devil, [We will see this enemy next time.]  is able to plug into and tempt us to manifest his selfish nature.

As we accept the reality of who we are, and the Spirit does His work. Then we have to be honest about the old patterns, name them, [confess them] say "no" to them, and the battle is the Lord's. This is regardless of what your "flesh" looks like, selfishness, immorality, [sensual] strife gendering, lust, greed, covetousness, hatred or whatever. 

What we DON'T do, however, is try to suppress the "flesh" or train the "flesh" to godliness. We reckon it to be what it is, crucified, but because the Spirit is alive in us the battle is the Lord's. When we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the 'flesh." It isn't trying to keep the flesh down and thereby walk in the Spirit. That would be, as I read someone say, "spiritual dyslexia." 

It is to walk in the Spirit, and when we do, His power is really there to enable us to mortify [cut off/say no to] any power [deeds] of the flesh. [Reread two paragraphs above.] It is a new life in Christ we now live by faith whose fruit is described in Galatians 5:22-23 as "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,  against such there is no law." This is a lifelong battle don't forget. 

That's how we are to live and act.

 I realize this is only touching the hem of the garment on this issue, but study it with this mind and remember that it is ALL a faith venture. 

Paul B. 


Aussie John said...


Excellent! Thank you.

I love your term, "spiritual dyslexia", dyslexia being a learning disorder, but IMHO, it is even worse,as I have come to believe it is more akin to one aspect of DID (Dissociative identity disorder),that of feeling as if one is more than one person. One who has become "the new man" and the other, the "old man". For so many of my young years that was my experience.

There was some good in that experience, in that I understood where many of the struggles brethren, who expressed the very dual personality thoughts I mentioned, were asking help for, during my early days of ministry.

I was thankful to have found the truths of your article prior to those days.

No wonder the church is now nonexistent,or drowning fast,in places where the legalistic, performance oriented opposites have been the teaching imparted.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J and all others who enjoy commenting,

I've just returned from being away from my computer and found I'd been hacked. I've removed the hacked comments but have begun comment approval by the blog host as a necessity until I get it all taken care of in a manner that will again allow you to directly comments. Sorry for the need to do this.

Aussie John said...


The sad sack got me as well through my comment on your site.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie K,

I'm sorry about that. Maybe we can get the sad sack limited with his mischief, if not stopped, this way.

Thanks for being so consistent in commenting and being such a good sport about all this.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I've just reread your comment and, as usual, there is more there than often meets the eye. What you said with this... "I have come to believe it is more akin to one aspect of DID (Dissociative identity disorder),that of feeling as if one is more than one person. One who has become "the new man" and the other, the "old man". For so many of my young years that was my experience."

That is superb and describes how too many Christians, unfortunately, think. Excellent!