What Does the Bible Say about the Flesh?

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

The Bible mentions the flesh throughout the Old and New Testaments. But although Christians are clear about what sin is, many may not have heard much about the flesh. Unfortunately, Satan’s obscuring of the truth about the flesh has allowed him to damage God’s people.

What is the flesh, and why is it so bad? Is it still bad after we’re saved? Does our flesh get better the more we grow in the Lord or the more spiritual we become? As believers who love the Lord Jesus and want to go on in our Christian life, we need to know the truth concerning the flesh.

In this post, we can only take a brief look at what the Bible says about the flesh and read some verses and notes in the New Testament Recovery Version.

What is the flesh and where did it come from?

According to God’s plan, God created man with a spirit, a soul, and a body so man could contain God and express Him. Every part of man was clean and pure, including his body. 

But when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, something terrible happened. They took in the sinful nature of the devil. The result was the pure body God had created was changed into sinful flesh.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:18:

“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells.”

Paul’s words are emphatic. Nothing good dwells in our flesh. Why is that?

Note 2 on this verse in the Recovery Version explains clearly:

“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).”

Nothing good dwells in our flesh because Satan as sin personified is dwelling there. 

Then verse 20 says:

“But if what I do not will, this I do, it is no longer I that work it out but sin that dwells in me.”

Paul said sin “dwells in me.” Where does it dwell in Paul? In the flesh. Sin doesn’t occasionally visit our flesh; sin dwells there.

The flesh after we’re saved

When we receive Christ as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we’re saved eternally. But is our flesh repaired? Are we free from the lusts of the flesh once we’re born again? Do we still have the flesh? 

John 3:6 says:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

When we received the Lord as our Savior, we were born again in our human spirit with the divine Spirit of God. This happened with our spirit, but our flesh remains the same as it was before: sinful and full of lusts.

We have to realize that while we live in this physical life, the flesh never changes, no matter how long we’ve been saved or how much we’ve grown in the Lord. 

Many verses in the New Testament show us that believers still possess the sinful flesh.

For instance, Galatians 5:16 says:

“But I say, Walk by the Spirit and you shall by no means fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

Paul wrote this word to believers in Galatia. We have the fallen flesh with its lusts even after we’re saved. 

Only when the Lord Jesus returns will we be rid of the flesh. At that time, He will resurrect and transfigure our fallen body. We have this assurance in Philippians 3:20-21:

“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 of our whole being includes the salvation of our fallen body. But for now, our flesh remains the sinful flesh.

Why we need to know we still have the flesh of sin

We can’t afford to be ignorant or indifferent about the danger our flesh poses to us. If we heed the warnings regarding our flesh, our Christian life will be safeguarded.

To illustrate, let’s say we don’t know that a particular substance is extremely toxic. So we might handle it very casually and even carelessly. As a result, we can do great harm to ourselves. But if we knew its true nature, we’d handle it very carefully and cautiously in order to protect ourselves.

This illustration shows how the proper knowledge of our flesh can help us believers. It also shows us how being unaware of its danger can harm us. And unlike the toxic substance in the illustration that’s outside of us, our flesh isn’t something separate from us; it’s part of us and ever present.

Satan’s strategy with Christians

Satan’s strategy is to hide the truth about the flesh from Christians. He wants us to think our flesh isn’t a problem once we’re saved, or that it’s no longer a danger if we’ve been following the Lord for some time. Satan knows if we think like this we’ll drop our guard. We’ll adopt the attitude that we won’t fall into a particular sin. Or, we become self-confident if we haven’t committed that sin in a long time. Or, we’re sure we would never commit a certain sin just because we never have before. What happens when we think we’re safe? We’ll allow ourselves to be in certain situations where our flesh is stirred and then overpowers us. Sin will be the result.

So practically speaking, what do we mean by “drop our guard”?

As an example, let’s say before we were saved we used to go to bars with our friends and drink. After we’re saved, our coworkers or friends still invite us out to a bar. We go because we think, “I won’t be tempted to drink anymore, now that I’m saved.” Since we don’t realize our flesh hasn’t gotten any better and is just as strong as before, we’re in a dangerous position. Our flesh overcomes our willpower, pulling us back into the life we previously lived. We learn too late that we’re still subject to the lusts of the flesh.

Let’s use another example involving immorality. We know immoral acts such as fornication are 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 me from sinning that way.” Because we think this way, we repeatedly spend more and more time alone with someone, 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 is the result. We didn’t realize our flesh is much stronger than our proclaimed morals.

These are just a few examples of what it means to drop our guard. And we shouldn’t think that the flesh is active in only certain types of people. It operates in every kind of person: weak or strong, educated or illiterate, rich or poor. Every human being has the lustful flesh, and every human being, including a Christian, is capable of any sin. Just being in the wrong environment can lead us to sin.

When we’re unaware of or unwise about our sinful flesh, Satan has a way to damage 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 against sin hiding in their flesh. Romans 6:12 says:

“Do not let sin therefore reign in your mortal body so that you obey the body’s lusts.” 

If we believers aren’t careful with our flesh, sin can even reign in our body and rule over us. This brings damage to our Christian life. What a tragedy!

Make no provision for the flesh

We can’t afford to give an inch to the flesh by thinking we’re no longer subject to the lusts of the flesh or that we’re strong and can overcome it. 

In Romans 13:14 Paul says strongly:

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.”

What does make no provision for our flesh mean? Let’s read note 2 on the word provision in this verse:  

“Or, arrangement. This word has the same root as the Greek word for take forethought in 12:17. To take forethought includes the meaning to provide. To make no provision for the flesh is to not take any forethought for the flesh or provide the flesh with anything that will support it and make it convenient for it to fulfill its lusts.”

We can apply this word to our lives by considering what places, what things we see, what things we hear, and what things we do would make it convenient for our flesh to fulfill its lusts. We need to take forethought concerning these things and avoid them so as not to make provision for our flesh. We don’t want to give any support to our flesh.

Seeing that our flesh is still a danger to us 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.

We need to ask the Lord to show us the peril of our flesh. Then we must guard against it and make no provision for it! We encourage you to read our post, 2 Timothy 2:22: Flee Lusts and Pursue Christ. And if you live in Australia, you can order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version here to read all the helpful notes on the verses in this post.

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