“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”
Last week we examined how our adversary the devil utilizes the world as a weapon to wage war against men. But he has another powerful partner in his axis of evil that we must combat daily in spiritual warfare – the flesh. Most likely when we think of the flesh we think of our physical bodies. It is here that our spirits dwell and therein lies the struggle – between our spirit and the desires of our flesh. It is these desires that war against our soul (1 Peter 2:11). This internal struggle is common to us all as “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things you wish (Galatians 5:17).” It is the recognition and understanding of this struggle that is the first step to victory over the flesh.
In our flesh we have natural desires, which of themselves are not bad. When we exert ourselves we desire rest else we may wear out and do harm. Rest is proper but laziness, however, is condemned (Proverbs 21:25, Matthew 25:26, 2 Thessalonians 3:10). We grow hungry and have a desire to eat but to fulfill this desire improperly is sinful (Proverbs 23:20). Most of us have natural sexual desires, upon which subsequent generations depend. But to satisfy those urges outside of God’s purposes are damning (Hebrews 13:4). These natural appetites must be our servants and not our masters. Esau became the poster boy for failing to control his appetites to his ruin (Genesis 25:29-34), while Jesus demonstrated a refusal to bow to His hunger lust (Matthew 4:3-4). David succumbed to adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-4), while Joseph spurned forbidden sexual fruit (Genesis 39:7-13) and is the example of seeking the way of escape forever (1 Corinthians 10:13, 6:18).
Each of us must daily confront this struggle between the flesh and the spirit. Which of these we choose to feed has great consequences. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Romans 8:5-6).” Which of these desires we feed and nurture will grow and rule us.
James explains that it is our own unchecked desires that entice us and draw us away (James 1:13-15). When we choose to satisfy these desires unlawfully we are drawn away and give birth to sin. James uses hunting language to demonstrate that we are lured and drawn into a trap by these desires. The fish doesn’t see the hook nor does the beast see the trap, but rather the bait. Fulfilling our desires sinfully always has the promise of pleasure but it cannot ultimately satisfy (Genesis 3:6). The substance abuser snaps at the bait of a temporary high and is soon a prisoner who has sacrificed career, family, reputation, and more to a cruel master who sets the hook and won’t release.
There is a remedy that will allow each of us to overcome this enemy. Our fleshly selves must be put to death. Understanding that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50) we must choose to crucify the flesh (Galatians 5:24) and no longer provide for fulfilling its desires unlawfully (Romans 13:14). This crucifixion begins at baptism (Romans 6:3-6) and each day we must make the determination to put to death those desires that once motivated us (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5). In this Paul could say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I NOW live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).”
We are to carry that daily reminder of His death for us in the flesh (1 Peter 4:1-2) so that we may live for Him in the Spirit. In return, we present our bodies as a LIVING sacrifice back to Him (Romans 12:1). When you consider the reward, it really is no sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).”