Considering the Flesh to Be Dead
When we speak of “flesh,” it is important to understand that we are not talking about the human body.¹ Rather, the “flesh” is the part of us that is opposed to the Spirit of God—our ungodly desires and selfish motives. Thus, while the “world” is an outward spiritual enemy, the “flesh” is the spiritual enemy inside us. Our sinful nature, though dead, has a residual effect upon us in our Christian life.
We can adopt a correct view of God, revise our false beliefs, and repent of our sinful habit, but a part of us inside is going to want to commit that sin again. We all have been disappointed in ourselves when we have thought we had left a sin behind, only to sense that deep inside we really, really want to go back to that sin. That’s our flesh calling to us.
The apostle Paul assured us, “Dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature [flesh] urges you to do” (Romans 8:12). That’s good news indeed. But how do we avoid the effects of our flesh? Paul continued, “If through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live” (verse 13). The phrase “turn from it,” in the Greek, more literally means “put it to death.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can consider the flesh, or our sinful desires, to be dead.²
In another place, Paul described it this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24). We can crucify our flesh (sinful desires) spiritually because Christ’s flesh (His body) was crucified physically for our sake. We no longer need to obey our flesh as it seeks to govern our words, thoughts, and actions.
Of course, just because we have the power to refuse temptation, that does not mean we will necessarily use the power. We might choose to do what is comfortable and familiar. That is, we might follow the preferences of our old sin nature, even though it is dead.
Remember, the Spirit is opposed to the flesh. As we pray and follow the Holy Spirit in refusing to sin, gradually the sinful desires lose their power over us.
Resisting the Devil’s Schemes
Along with the world and the flesh, another spiritual enemy is the Devil. This is the being known as Satan, or the Adversary. We do not know everything about him, but we know clearly from the Bible that he is God’s enemy and ours. Along with his fellow evil spirits, he seeks to orchestrate events so as to harm us, spiritually and otherwise. “Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy,” warned the apostle James. “He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2).
While too much human wrongdoing has been attributed to the influence of Satan (the Devil does not always make us do it), certainly evil spirits will do what they can to put us in a place where it is easy to do wrong. They do not have ultimate control over our experiences—God does. But they may seek God’s permission to tempt us. In the early chapters of the book of Job, we are given a glimpse into how this worked for one Old Testament believer.
Is it a coincidence that a person who has a problem with stealing is presented with an opportunity to make off with someone’s wallet? Perhaps not. Is it chance that someone who is trying to quit gossiping hears a juicy tidbit about an enemy? Possibly not. In such situations, Satan may be setting out bait for us.
The Devil whispers temptations, suggests evil courses of action, and tries to implant doubt. And then we allow ourselves to become aware of a temptation if we are susceptible in that area. Sometimes our susceptibilities may surprise us.
Satan sets out the bait, but it is up to us to decide whether we will nibble at it. For His part, God always leaves us an escape route from temptation.
Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
¹That misunderstanding has led to the unfortunate belief by many that the body is bad in itself.
²In Romans 8, Paul was circling back to the same point he had made in Romans 6. We have died to sin.