A while back I talked about how to guard your heart. In response to that post Santi asked a good question: “Can you explain more about “flesh”, “sinful nature”, “old man”, “body of sin”? It’s confusing.”
The concept of our flesh is talked about throughout the New Testament. Jesus referred to it in each of the Gospels and every New Testament writer also mentions the flesh. Some of the writers mention it almost in passing, like their assumption is that everyone already understands it.
So when you come right down to it this is something very basic that all Christian believers should understand. Unfortunately far too many Bible preachers and teachers fail to explain this core principle to their congregations so there are lots of folks like Santi who find it confusing.
Fortunately it is pretty easy to get our minds around what our flesh is and the trouble it causes us. So lets dive in and clear this up.
Three Part Beings
In another post I explained the difference between our soul and our spirit. I recommend you go read that if you haven’t already.
In that post I explained that we humans are made up of three parts:
- Body – this is the physical part of us that we can see and touch.
- Soul – this is our mind, will and emotions where we think and feel.
- Spirit – this is the intangible, eternal part of us where God comes to reside when we become born again believers.
Our Flesh Defined
From that understanding of our three part nature we might assume that our body is the same thing as our flesh. That is close. But it is incomplete.
When the Bible talks about our flesh it is talking about the intersection of our body and also the parts of our soul that are still thinking, feeling, acting, behaving and believing in worldly ways instead of in godly ways.
The image I made for this post helps us get our minds around what we mean by the intersection of our body and soul, though it would probably be more appropriate to include all of our body I think. (But that would mess up the balance of my diagram. Sigh.)
The New Testament often contrasts our flesh with our spirit. For Example:
- Talking to Nicodemus Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
- When nearly everyone left him because they thought he was talking about cannibalism Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” (John 6:63)
- When the disciples fell asleep instead of praying with Jesus in Gethsemane Jesus said, “the sprit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
- In Romans 8:6 Paul said, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” In this verse, “carnally minded” is the same Greek word that is translated 147 other times in the New Testament as simply “flesh”.
- Works of the flesh are contrasted with Fruit of the Spirit by Paul in Galatians 5.
There are a bunch of others as well, but I think you probably get the idea.
Some of the newer translations will use a phrase like “sinful nature” instead of “flesh” and I think that’s unfortunate because it makes things more difficult to understand rather than easier.
According to Strong’s this Greek word, σάρξ or sarx, means “flesh (as stripped of the skin), i. e. (strictly) the meat of an animal (as food), or (by extension) the body (as opposed to the soul (or spirit).”
By extension that can be referring to our natural fallen frailties as humans.
However unfortunately when sarx is translated “sinful nature” the implication is that we hopelessly carry around a sin problem that was never really dealt with on the cross like it’s just part of our nature.
That muddies the waters and dilutes the impact of the good news by diminishing what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus said, “it is finished” because, well the sin problem was dealt with once and for all.
Mastering Our Flesh
Instead of a “sinful nature” that we’re stuck with, the Bible teaches that as believers we can gain mastery over our flesh. The key is to focus on the Spirit and spiritual things instead of the world and fleshly things.
Basically it’s a case of majority rules.
As humans we are three part beings: spirit, soul and body. When our body and soul are in agreement they usually override whatever our spirit is trying say. Then all those works of the flesh that Paul talks about show up in our lives.
Fortunately the Bible explains that we can be transformed by renewing our minds. As we expose our minds to more and more scripture it changes our perspective and ultimately it changes the way we think.
Then we get to a point where our soul (i.e. our mind, will and emotions) starts to line up more with our spirit than with our body. It becomes two against one. When that happens amazing, supernatural things begin to happen in our lives.
So as you can see, our soul becomes the deciding vote. As an example, when we get self centered and we focus on our rights and making sure we get what we deserve we are walking the flesh. Or we can face that same situation and our souls can side with our spirit by choosing to focus on and agree with what the Bible has to say about those circumstances.
Either way it’s two against one, majority rules.