What Does the N.T. Mean by “Flesh”?

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Rom. 8:7-8

Recently, my wife talked with a young man who claimed to free from all sin. Obviously, this young man failed to read the Letter of First John, “”If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8). Also, he does not read the Apostle Paul correctly: Paul declares in both Romans and Galatians that our flesh is still with us until the resurrection from the dead.

Our fleshly, sinful nature takes our basic needs and turns them into obsessions (Rom. 8:1-8). Our flesh, that is our fallenness, yearns to govern us and divert us from intimacy with God. Our flesh cries out for attention and desires to rule us and others.

Our sinful nature is an idolatrous over-desire that arises from deep within our being: a heart that is afraid of disappointment, doubts that God will be faithful, worries about unmet needs, and angered over frustrated goals. The flesh takes elementary human desires and turns them into addictions, cravings, and fixations.

Discipline is not the favorite word of our flesh (Prov. 23:12). Discipline says to the flesh, “No more control.” Discipline looks to the Holy Spirit to work in us what Christ did for us on the Cross. The Holy Spirit imparts sanctifying grace to enable us to say, “no,” to worldly passions and unrighteous desires (Titus 2:11-14).

Freedom from our sin nature is the reward of disciplined trust in the Holy Spirit. We depend on his grace to enable us to make godly choices and there we find release from the flesh’s bondage. The Holy Spirit empowers us to overcome the flesh’s grip: he puts to death its passions and desires (Gal. 5:16-21).

Our flesh is always searching out opportunities to gratify itself according to the particular sinful desires each of us has.

Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day-by-Day (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 273.


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