If you are Christian, you have probably heard the term “the flesh” used. Most describe it as your physical body and its desires. Some describe it as your lustful, sinning nature. The so-called, “sin suit.” The flesh is “Satan in your skin” so they say.
Are you scared yet? Most would say you should be!
However, a further glance at scripture helps us to see that the flesh is really a description of a pattern of relying on and turning to our own abilities and understanding in our lives.
When Christ remade us into a new creation, the option and ability to rely on and turn to ourselves and our efforts remains. We can still turn to a life of striving and performing our way to goodness, Godliness, value, and success instead of turning to Jesus and His work on the cross to save us, remake us, and give us life.
Every time we live holding onto guilt and shame, we are turning to the flesh. Every time we strive to please God through our performance in life, we turn to the flesh. Every time we believe we are condemned to a life of repeated sin, we turn to the flesh. Every time we turn to ourselves, our understanding, and our performance instead of Jesus and His performance, we are turning to the flesh. Every time we allow people, their opinions and behaviors to define and negatively influence ours, we turn to the flesh. Every time we see ourselves any less than Jesus and His righteousness, we turn to the flesh. Why, because we are focusing on ourselves and our performance, not on Jesus and His.
Behind every sin, insecurity, anxiety, worry, destructive behavior or mindset etc. is a pattern of the flesh. This is the essence of the flesh, a pattern of self-effort and reliance that leads to self-destruction. All self-effort/reliance leads to self-destruction.
The flesh, therefore, is much more about destructive patterns in your life than it is about your personhood. In fact, your old, sinful nature was put to death with Jesus on the cross. There ends that issue. And one could even say, when Paul contrasts following the Spirit over the flesh in scripture, when he refers to the “Spirit” he is actually referring to the Spirit that is Jesus in you.
Therefore, His Spirit has much more to do with your personhood than any idea of flesh has to do with your personhood.
Now here’s the kicker, following the impulses of the flesh can lead to doing things that are very well-intentioned and may even appear noble and deeply spiritual. The only problem being, we turned back to a pattern of self-effort, reliance, striving, rule-keeping, and performance in the process. That’s the flesh. It’s the opposite of faith.
One could say that many (if not all) of our spiritual disciplines as Christians can be and are often done “in the flesh.” For example, thinking our hours of praying long-winded, emotional prayers can wrench a blessing out of God who apparently needs to be compelled to move a single muscle on your behalf. This is the flesh, posing as faithfulness. Wow, I wonder how much of our modern Christian lives is really more about the flesh than it is about faith?
Paul was right when he alerted us to the lures of the flesh, unfortunately, we have confused the flesh with something about our nature, instead of a turning to and reliance on ourselves, not Jesus and His mercy, grace, and favor, despite our nature. The flesh is not something that is an evil part of you that you cannot avoid, it is a pattern(s) left over from your old self and the world that you can turn away from as you focus on Jesus and who you are in Him. In fact, do a study and take a look at what are described as some of the lusts of the flesh in scripture. Behind every one of them is a destructive pattern of wrong believing and/or a reliance upon self. The same is true in your life and mine. Behind every wrong or negative behavior is a destructive pattern of wrong believing.
Grace is the great flesh, pattern breaker. The more you try and strive in life, the more you engage the flesh and succumb to its patterns. The more you rest, trust, and believe in the loveliness of Jesus and His perfect love of you, the more you walk in the Spirit. That is, you walk in the real you, completely whole, holy, righteous, forgiven, and divine in Him.
Right believing leads to pattern breaking! How did these flesh patterns form? The patterns you have formed as you experienced the details of your life and attached a belief to the action. For example. my family was volatile and and never went to church with me which was required for the private school I attended. BUT when I was in the finals of the schoolwide Spelling Bee or the lead in the play they all went to church with me and got along! I developed the fleshly thought process that my good performance put things in order and kept the peace! That is alot of weight to hang on a child but every time a new role or competition happened it was repeated until I lived the majority of my life performing to keep the peace and put things in their place. It was exhausting! Now I have replaced those fleshly patterns by practicing a brain switch. Its not my responsibility to keep the peace for everyone else and it is not my responsibility to push others into acceptable behavior. Another example is my fleshly habits of hiding away when unpleasant things happen. They fought so much when I was growing up that I had many hiding places around home, usually climbing up a tree with a good book or under the fig bush. As an adult, when it would get confrontational around the house I would get in the car and leave. Just go shopping or even get a motel room for the night with no one knowing where I was and coming back when I thought it should be over. That didn't solve any problems but created new ones. I did have to get to a point that I felt safe before I could address the problems and learn that they could be addressed constructively. Our fleshly patterns can really get in the way of an abundant life! It takes learning where they come from and switching the paths to the right direction most of the time more than once but it can be done through Christ! Turn off that stinking thinking and get on with a joyful life! I've got a good book club selection to help you and a few podcasts so hit me up if I can lead you too them.
Greater is He that is in you. Your Spirit is far greater than the flesh.