I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For 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 that you wish.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul talks about walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The Spirit is easy enough to understand, but what is the flesh? This word is commonly used throughout the Old Testament (about 200 times) and New Testament (about 150 times) to refer to the material stuff of the body. It is also used to refer to the weakened nature of man.
More than any other New Testament writer, Paul uses this word to draw a distinction between who we were before Christ and who we are now. In this usage, the flesh is our fallen nature that was crucified when we believed in Jesus. It has been put to death and we have become a new creation in Christ. We are redeemed and forgiven. This word, however, can be easily misunderstood and confusingly translated. In the NIV, flesh is translated as sinful nature, giving us a picture that we are not fully made new by Christ. I like the way Greg Boyd says it:
“In my opinion, this translation is unfortunate, for it gives the impression that believers carry around a sinful “thing”—a “nature”—against which they must forever be fighting. We normally think of a person’s “nature” as intrinsic and essential to him or her. So if believers have a “sinful nature,” it would seem to follow that whatever problem with sin we have must ultimately be a problem with who we essentially are. Part of our identity, this translation implies, is sinful.”
Now, we know that we truly do battle against our flesh. We are commanded by Paul to crucify it daily. But our true identity is no longer that of a sinner. We are literally now in Christ. The desires of the flesh, urged on by the compelling surroundings of a fallen world, battle against our new redeemed self.
The Truth: The Flesh Is A Lie!
So, if the flesh isn’t this sinful nature that is still a part of our identity, then what is it? How can we battle this flesh if we don’t know what it is? Greg Boyd, in his book Seeing Is Believing, puts forth the idea that Paul is talking about the flesh, in this instance, as a way of living, a deceptive state of being:
“In other words, the flesh is a worldview that is based upon a lie and that therefore opposes truth. The truth is that God originally created us to be completely dependent upon him. Rooted in the deception of Satan, the flesh says that we can do better by living independent from God.”
The Key to Winning the War: Identifying the Imposter
I think the most crucial thing we can do in this civil war between our flesh and spirit is to remember which is the true nature and which is the imposter. The flesh is not the resident nature. It’s an invading party, waging war against what God has made us. This invading party has a leader: the enemy, Satan, the Devil.
“The only way for this deceptive state of being to be confronted effectively is in the very heart of its deception—not in the behaviors that are mere symptoms of this deception. To live in the Spirit, then, is to live in such a way that the lie of the flesh is confronted and increasingly overcome in our lives. The more we allow the Spirit to do this work, the more we are freed from the grip that the pattern of this world has on us. Hence, the more we align our experienced self-identity with our true identity, the more we walk in the abundant life Jesus came to give us (John 10:10).”
When we said yes to Jesus, our identity was changed and our sinful nature was dealt a death blow…but the Deceiver is constantly trying to revive that sinful nature in our flesh. We’ve all felt this, that sudden desire to do what you know is counter to God.
How do you say no to this attack of the enemy and choose to live in the Spirit? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Use the comment section below to share how you live in the Spirit.
Also published on Medium.