What Is the Flesh in the Bible?
The Bible mentions the flesh throughout the Old and New Testaments. But although many Christians are clear about what sin is, many haven’t heard much about their flesh. Unfortunately, Satan’s obscuring of the truth about the flesh over the years has allowed him to damage many of God’s people.
What is the flesh, and why is it so bad? Is it still bad now that we’re saved? Does our flesh get better the longer we’re Christians, or the more spiritual we become? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the flesh.
What is the flesh and where did it come from?
God created man with a spirit, a soul, and a body so man could contain God and express Him. Every part of man was pure, including his body. But when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, something terrible happened. They took in the sinful nature of the devil. This deadened their spirit, damaged their soul, and corrupted their pure body, changing it into the sinful flesh.
We can see the apostle Paul’s awareness concerning the flesh in Romans 7:
“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells.” (v. 18)
Paul’s words are emphatic. Nothing good dwells in our flesh. Why is that?
Note 2 on this verse in the Recovery Version gives a clear explanation of what the flesh is:
“The flesh here is the fallen and corrupted human body with all its lusts. This flesh was not created by God but is a mixture of God’s creature and sin, which is the life of Satan, the evil one. God created man’s body a pure vessel, but this vessel was corrupted and transmuted into the flesh by Satan’s injecting himself into it at the time of the fall. Now Satan as sin personified is in man’s flesh, making his home there and ruling as an illegal master, overruling man and forcing him to do things that he dislikes. It is this indwelling sin, which is the unchangeable evil nature, that constitutes all men sinners (5:19).”
Satan is sin personified, and as Paul says in verse 20, sin now dwells in us.
The flesh after we’re saved
When we receive Christ as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we’re cleansed and saved. But what about our flesh? Is it repaired? Are we free from the lusts of the flesh once we’re born again?
The answer to these questions is hugely important to our Christian lives. After we’re saved, our flesh is exactly the same as it was before—it is still sinful and full of lusts. This is because when we received the Lord as our Savior, we were born again in our human spirit with the divine Spirit of God, but our flesh remains the flesh.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
For as long as we live in this physical life, our flesh remains the same. It never improves, and it never changes, no matter how long we’re saved or how much we’ve grown in the Lord. Only when the Lord Jesus returns will we be rid of the flesh by God’s resurrecting and transfiguring our fallen body, as Philippians 3:20-21 tells us:
“We eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of His glory, according to His operation by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself.”
God’s full salvation promised in this word includes our fallen body. But for now, our flesh remains the sinful flesh.
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Proper knowledge is crucial
Having the proper knowledge that even as believers our sinful flesh remains unchanged is essential, because it alerts us to the danger our flesh poses to us. Whether or not we know this can seriously affect us.
Let’s say we don’t know a particular substance is extremely toxic. Because we don’t know it’s so dangerous, we might be very casual, even careless with it and hurt ourselves as a result. But once we find out its true nature, we’ll be quite careful how we handle it in order to protect ourselves.
This illustrates how having proper knowledge of our flesh can help us believers, and how not having it can harm us. The danger to our spiritual life from our flesh is real. And unlike the toxic substance in the illustration, our flesh isn’t something apart from us that we can simply ignore; it’s part of us, ever present.
Satan’s strategy through the flesh of Christians
Satan’s strategy is to hide the truth about the flesh from Christians. He wants us to think that our flesh isn’t a problem once we’re saved, or that it has improved and is no longer a danger since we’ve been following the Lord Jesus for some time. He knows that if we think like this we’ll begin to drop our guard, and sin will result.
What do we mean “drop our guard”? What does this look like practically?
Let’s say we’re confident we won’t fall into a particular sin because we haven’t committed it in a long time, or we’re confident we would never commit such a sin because we never have before. What happens when we think we’re safe? Often, we’ll allow ourselves to be in certain situations that we don’t realize could stir up our flesh to overpower us.
Perhaps before we were saved we went to bars with our friends and drank. And let’s say now our coworkers or friends invite us out to a bar. We go, thinking, “I can’t be tempted to drink anymore, now that I’m saved.” We don’t realize our flesh hasn’t gotten any better, and it’s still just as strong as before. Our flesh overcomes our willpower, drawing us back into the same life we previously had. We learn too late that we’re still subject to the lusts of the flesh.
Or, using another example, we know that immorality such as fornication is sinful. But we may think, “Now that I’m a Christian, I definitely would never have a problem with that. My strong morals will prevent anything from ever happening.” So we repeatedly spend time alone with a member of the opposite sex, whether at work or elsewhere, because we think we’re immune to the lusts of the flesh. But eventually, through being alone together so much, we become less cautious, and in an unguarded moment, sin can be the result. We don’t realize our flesh is much stronger than our morals. The flesh doesn’t operate only in a certain type of person; it operates in everyone. Every human being has the lusts of the flesh, and every human being, including a Christian, is capable of any sin. Just being in the wrong environment can lead us into sin through the lusts of the flesh.
In this way Satan damages believers, over and over again, lulling them into not guarding against their flesh.
In the book of Romans, a book written to Christians, Paul clearly warns the believers to be on guard not simply against sin, but against sin hiding in their own flesh.
“Do not let sin therefore reign in your mortal body so that you obey the body’s lusts.” (Romans 6:12)
If we aren’t careful with our flesh, sin can reign even in a believer’s body. What a tragedy!
See the danger first
Seeing the danger of our flesh is the important first step in not letting sin reign. Our fallen, sinful flesh is like a wild animal that can never be tamed. Giving it the smallest amount of leeway can allow it to break free and cause great damage. Even things we see and hear can stir up our flesh. We really need to ask the Lord to show us the seriousness of our flesh and how to guard against it! If we give an inch to the flesh because we think we’re strong and can overcome it, or because we think we’re no longer subject to the lusts of the flesh, sin will be the outcome.
In another post we’ll discuss practical ways we can cooperate with the Lord to not let sin reign through the flesh. In the meantime, we encourage you to read our post, What 2 Timothy 2:22 Says about Fleeing Lusts and How It Applies to Us Today.
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