THE FLESHPrint This Page.
The word flesh is used in many different ways in the Bible. Here we will mention only its two most important uses. First, it is used in reference to man's flesh. Second, it is used in reference to the lust of man's flesh. When it refers to the flesh, it means the physical body. When it refers to lust, it means the psychological flesh. What is the lust of man's flesh? The human body has five senses. These five senses have their desires. The eyes desire beauty. The sense of touch desires gratification. The "itching ear" desires sensuous sounds. The mouth desires titillating tastes. The nose desires exotic aromas. There are many other desires. Because these lusts are of the flesh, they are also called the flesh.
THE UNREGENERATED MAN AND THE FLESH
Man was born of the flesh. This means that he was born of the will of man. Hence, man is flesh (John 3:6). To say that man is flesh means that man is filled inwardly with the lusts and the things of the flesh. All day long, his thoughts are filled with evil. Man has nothing besides the flesh. This is why man is called flesh (Gen. 6:3). This means that he is a living composition of lust. Since man is flesh, he behaves "in the lusts of [his] flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts" (Eph. 2:3). Because of the utter filth of the "different flesh" (Jude 7) and the defiled flesh (v. 8), Jude charged the believers to hate "even the inner garment spotted from the flesh" (v. 23).
Because of the sin of Adam, man's flesh cannot fulfill the requirement of the law (Rom. 8:3). Moreover, man is according to flesh and he minds the things of the flesh. As a result, he ends up in death (vv. 5-6). "Because the mind set on the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be" (v. 7). The minding of the flesh comes from being according to the flesh. Those who are according to the flesh are the unregenerated ones. Those who are regenerated will not walk according to flesh but will walk according to the spirit (v. 4). Furthermore, those who "live according to the flesh..must die" (v. 13). They live according to flesh because they have not accepted the condemnation of sin in the flesh through the Son of God becoming the sin offering in the likeness of the flesh of sin (v. 3). This is why they are "debtors...to the flesh to live according to the flesh" (v. 12). "For when we were in the flesh, the passions for sins, which acted through the law, operated in our members to bear fruit to death" (7:5). Hence, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (8:8).
"For that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14), and God "was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). This One, dying on behalf of men and bearing the judgment on all sins, became a sacrifice for sin. When a sinner believes that the Lord Jesus has died for him and has become his Savior, he is regenerated (John 3:16). The minute he believes, the Holy Spirit enters into his spirit to regenerate him. The eternal life of God is mingled with his spirit, and he has eternal life. Regeneration is a begetting relationship between God and man. This relationship can never be annulled. For example, when a father begets a son, regardless of what he becomes or what his son becomes, the relationship—that his son has been begotten of him—can never be annulled. A believer, who is regenerated, is saved forever. Although he may fall, he still has eternal life. This begetting relationship can never be dissolved. Moreover, God's life has already been mingled with his spirit. He will lose his life only when God's life dies. If God's life can never die, his eternal life can never be lost. Formerly, he was "in the flesh" (Rom. 7:5). Now he is "in the spirit" (8:9). In this way, he is "begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). He is also "born from above" (John 3:3, lit.) and "born of the Spirit" (3:6). He is born of God because God's life is mingled with his spirit. He is born from above because this life comes from heaven. He is born of the Spirit because regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. Now "the Spirit of God dwells in you [in your spirit]" (Rom. 8:9). Through this Holy Spirit, Christ also dwells in us. Hence, "though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness" (v. 10).
After a believer has believed, although he is spirit (John 3:6) and also is in the spirit (Rom. 8:9), he is not yet spiritual; he is still of the flesh. Paul told the church in Corinth, "And I, brothers [he addressed them by such a title because they had already believed in the Lord and were regenerated], was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshy, as to infants in Christ" (1 Cor. 3:1). Although they were already regenerated and "in Christ" (v. 1), "jealousy and strife" were still among them. "For when someone says, I am of Paul, and another, I of Apollos, are you not men of flesh?" (v. 4). "For you are still fleshly" (v. 3).
"Infants in Christ" (1 Cor. 3:1) means that they were regenerated and had become infants. They were joined with Christ and were in Christ. However, they did not go on but remained in the rudiments of the beginning of their spiritual life (cf. Heb. 5:11-14). They had not grown for a long time. In this stage, they had not been developed through practice and were not able to discriminate between good and evil (5:14). They did many things in the flesh and were truly fleshly! To be fleshly means that one is bound by the desires and lusts of the flesh; it means to make "provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts" (Rom. 13:14).
What are the things of the flesh? "And the works of the flesh are manifest, which are such things as fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, divisions, sects, envyings, bouts of drunkenness, carousings, and things like these" (Gal. 5:19-21). Believers should not commit these sins. Yet believers may commit these sins. When the flesh is aroused and the five senses are stirred up, the soul will produce these things. The soul is the strongest part of our being when it comes to the matter of obedience. Infant believers are strong in their flesh. As a result, the soul becomes subject to the flesh. A full understanding concerning the application of the power of the cross is lacking in the personality of such persons. Therefore, the spirit is weak and unable to rule over the whole being. Satan takes this opportunity to come in to stir up the flesh, and the person sins. If a believer has any of the above sins, he is of the flesh.
It is a pitiful thing for believers to be of the flesh. They repeatedly make up their minds to obey the Lord's will, only to find that they cannot do it. They are determined to please and serve the Lord in this and that way, yet there is a power in the flesh which urges them to do the things that please the flesh. "For what I will, this I do not practice; but what I hate, this I do...Now then it is no longer I that work it out, but sin that dwells in me...For to will is present with me, but to work out the good is not" (Rom. 7:15, 17, 18). When the flesh is aroused, a formidable force seems to urge man on until he is forced to unleash the lust of the flesh. Sometimes he may be urged to satisfy only some physical need and not his lust, yet even that is uncontrollable. This was the way the disciples were before Pentecost. On the night the Lord Jesus was betrayed, they were with Him in the garden of Gethsemane. The Lord wanted them to be watchful, yet they closed their eyes and went to sleep. This does not mean that they did not love the Lord, nor does it mean that they were not willing to be watchful. It was because "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Their spirits were too weak and unable to rule over their flesh. They were subdued by the flesh and were not able to be watchful together with the Lord, but all went to sleep. This is usually the case with fleshly believers who do not understand the teaching of the cross.
We should make one point clear: some behave one way when they are fleshly, and others behave another way when they are fleshly. In the church in Corinth, the manifestation of the flesh was in strife and fornication. In the disciples, the manifestation of the flesh was in the inability to subdue the body and be watchful in prayer. Although the results produced by the flesh were different, they were nevertheless of the flesh. The warfare Paul mentioned in Romans 7 depicts one level in the believers' experience: "For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells...I find then the law with me who wills to do the good, that is, the evil is present with me...But I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me a captive to the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (vv. 18-25).
DELIVERANCE FROM THE FLESH
The unique way to be delivered from the flesh is the cross. An unregenerated person is regenerated through believing in the substitutional death of the Lord Jesus on the cross; he need no longer be according to the flesh or mind the things of the flesh. However, sometimes he may still mind the things of the flesh and may still commit the sins listed in Galatians 5:19-21. There is a difference between the unregenerated mind and the regenerated mind. Before regeneration, the mind is generally set on the things of the flesh. After regeneration, the mind may stumble temporarily through sudden temptations, but we do not want this to be our usual experience. If a person will take a step forward to the cross, he becomes victorious.
"For that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). The Son of God has not only borne our sins on the tree and become our sin offering, but has also "condemned sin in the flesh" so that we who are joined to Him may no longer serve sin in the flesh. Because He is the Son of God, He is able to be the sin offering; this is His substitutional death. Because He was in the likeness of the flesh of sin, He was able to condemn sin in the flesh. This is the "co-death"—when He died in the flesh, He crucified His flesh together with sin. On the cross the Lord Jesus not only bore the judgment of sins for the sinner, but He also brought the sinner and sin along with Him to the cross. When He died, these died with Him.
Those who are infants in Christ should go on one step further to learn the truth of the cross. When one believes in the substitutional death of the Lord Jesus, he is regenerated. But for a believer to be delivered from the flesh, he has to die with the Lord. Paul said, "But they who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its lusts" (Gal. 5:24). The flesh must be crucified. One cannot cleanse the flesh or educate it. The only way is to crucify the flesh with the Lord on the cross. The passions of the flesh love many things and are extremely powerful. The lust of the flesh has all kinds of desires and will never be satisfied unless they are all gratified. When the passions and the lusts of the flesh break loose, we see the various sins mentioned in verses 19 through 21. To remove sins, one has to remove the root of sin. Since the believers have known the substitutional death of Christ, they should go on to know the co-crucifixion with Christ. Then they will no longer be bound by the flesh but will walk according to the spirit, becoming spiritual believers.
Colossians 2:11 says, "In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ." This circumcision is our crucifixion with the Lord, of which baptism is a figure. The next verse says, "Buried together with Him in baptism, in which also you were raised together with Him." Formerly, we were "dead in [our] offenses and in the uncircumcision of [our] flesh" (v. 13a). God forgave us through the death of the Lord Jesus and made us alive together with Him (v. 13b). Only the death of Christ can sever us from the lust of our flesh. Some think that the keeping of ordinances will deliver a person from the flesh. Actually, these ordinances merely give men "a reputation of wisdom [which is hypocritical] in self-imposed worship [which is of man's regulation instead of God's way] and lowliness [a kind of false humility] and severe treatment of the body [treating the body harshly in clothing, food, and activity, thinking that in so doing, the lust of the flesh will be subdued], but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh" (v. 23). God's way, the effective way, is to die with Christ (v. 20). Man is flesh because he is born of flesh (John 3:6). Man inherited his flesh by being begotten. Hence, in order to be delivered from the flesh, one must look for a way that runs opposite to the way of begetting. The opposite of life is death. Man receives his flesh from birth; he must therefore lose his flesh through death. Man receives his physical flesh by birth; he loses his physical flesh through death. The psychological flesh also came by birth. Hence, deliverance from the psychological flesh must also be through death.
"The old man" is the flesh. Sin is the chief motivating power of the flesh, because sin is in the flesh (Rom. 7:17). (In the Bible, sin in the singular always refers to the original sin or the nature of sin. First John 1:8 says, "If we say that we do not have sin..." Then verse 10 says, "If we say that we have not sinned..." "Sin" is the nature and root of sin within us, and to have "sinned" is what "sin" has done as an act.) The old man must be crucified, and sin has to be removed. We do not crucify the old man with our own strength. Rather, we trust in God for the fact that He has accomplished for us. God's fact is, "Our old man has been crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin as slaves" (Rom. 6:6). We are those "who have died to sin" (v. 2) and "have been baptized into His death" (v. 3). The cross of Christ is the cross of the sinner. His cross has become the sinner's cross. The human race under old Adam is fallen and is beyond reparation. It is full of Satan's serpentine poison. God cannot improve, modify, or reform this corrupted human race. His unique way is to crucify this old human race so that it can become a new race under Jesus Christ. This work was accomplished by the Lord Jesus on the cross. There is now no need for us to crucify ourselves. All we have to do is to believe that our old man has been crucified with Him on the cross. We should accept God's word and reckon it as true. Apart from believing, there is no other way for the old man to be crucified. Believers should claim God's grace by faith in a definite way and should apply it in their experience. One should ask himself, "When the Lord Jesus died, we all died with Him; but have I personally died?" This is where faith is applied. If a person believes that we have all been crucified with the Lord, then, based upon the general expression, "we have all been crucified," he should be able to claim that he personally has been crucified. He is dead, but he must still ask himself, "I am dead to all sins, but have I died to every single, minute sin in my life?" This again is where faith is applied. Since we have believed that we have died to all the sins, then, based upon the fact that we have died to all sins, we should have the faith to claim that we have died to every single sin. We have all died with the Lord, and we have died to all sins. These are facts in God. We should believe them and should claim them. Every time the flesh is aroused, we should deal with it by claiming the Lord's death. As an illustration, in North America the white people used to keep the black people as slaves. After the struggle of a great war, the decision was made to emancipate the blacks. In one place, most of the rich men had black slaves. When the proclamation of emancipation of the black slaves reached that place, the proclamation was not announced to the slaves, because these slaves were considered their properties. If the proclamation had been announced, the black slaves would have soon been freed, and the owners would have suffered soon also. When one slave found out about the proclamation, he left his master and walked away free. Later he told the other slaves about the proclamation. Those who believed him left their masters and also walked away free. Man was the slave of sin. But the Lord Jesus came and died for men; He won the battle. Now the Word of God proclaims us free men. Those who believe and who trust in the victory of this proclamation are free; they need not "serve sin" anymore. Those who do not believe may be free legally but are not free experientially. The black slaves had to believe individually before they could be free one by one. In the same way, we have to believe individually and item by item before we can no longer be "slaves of sin." Every time something happens, we have to apply the Lord's comprehensive death and put to death that particular matter. If we do this for every matter, we will have the experience of victory.
"So also you, reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11). To "reckon" is an act of faith. One should reckon himself dead to sin, that is, to be dead to sin in Christ Jesus. To reckon does not mean to see. If one has to see with his own eyes that he is dead to sin, probably he will not see it in his lifetime. To reckon is not the same as to feel. If one has to feel that he is dead to sin, probably he will not be able to do so before he dies. To reckon is to believe. Reckoning is instantaneous; a man can immediately reckon himself dead to sin, believing that he is already dead to sin. There is no need to touch, to feel, or to see anything. All one has to do is to believe what he reckons to be true and factual. If we reckon moment by moment and consider ourselves dead to sin moment by moment, sin will indeed be unable to lord it over us. On the one hand, one has to reckon himself dead to sin. On the other hand, he has to reckon himself alive to God "in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11). Death is negative, while to be alive is positive. When one dies, sin has no more dominion. When one is alive, there will be the power of God. "Reckon yourselves to be dead to sin..in Christ Jesus." This means that we are joined to Christ. As Christ has died to sin, so also we reckon ourselves dead to sin. As Christ is alive to God, in the same way we also reckon ourselves alive to God. This verse does not say that we ourselves are dead. Rather, it says that we ourselves are alive "to God." We are dead to every sin and every fleshly thing, but we are alive to God. If a believer only reckons himself dead to sin once, without reckoning himself alive again unto God, he will not have the power of life but will instead be very weak. When the temptation of the flesh comes, he will fail through the lack of the power of life in his spirit. However, if he remains on the standing of his resurrection with the Lord, his spirit will be full of the resurrection life. Although he will face temptations in his Christian life, he "by the Spirit" will be able to "put to death the practices of the body" (Rom. 8:13). If this is not the case, even after reckoning himself dead to sin once, he may often return to the standing of the flesh, being unable to put to death the practices of the body.
After a believer has once reckoned himself dead to sin, he must unceasingly remain on the standing of having been crucified with the Lord and must put to death the practices of the flesh, through his spirit which is joined to the Lord (Rom. 8:13). Only then will he go on gradually to submit to the Holy Spirit and be a spiritual person.
Although at present, believers are not yet free from the body and still "walk in flesh" (2 Cor. 10:3), they should not walk according to the flesh. Although they still "live in the flesh" (Gal. 2:20), it only means that they are in their bodies; it does not mean that they are walking according to the flesh. The believers' walk should not be "according to flesh"; they should not be entangled by the passions and the lusts of the flesh, but should walk according to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their spirit (Rom. 8:4). The Holy Spirit abiding in the spirit of the believers will work until, in experience, the body of sin is annulled, just as the Lord in the likeness of the flesh of sin was put to death on the cross.
This does not mean that henceforth we will no longer obey the lust of the flesh or walk according to flesh. It merely means that if we maintain the attitude of not allowing sin to reign in our mortal body (Rom. 6:12) while walking according to the Holy Spirit, the flesh will not have any ground, and we will not "fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). By this we will be kept from becoming fleshly.
God's commandment to this kind of Christian is, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts" (Rom. 13:14). When at times one is unfortunately defiled by the flesh, he should "cleanse" himself (2 Cor. 7:1). "Beloved, I entreat you as strangers and sojourners to abstain from fleshly lusts" (1 Pet. 2:11).