A plaque still hangs in a room at our church listing those from the congregation who died in World War II. When our children were asked by their school teacher to list any relatives who died in a military conflict, we had only one name to mention–my cousin, David.
When there are minimal military conflicts for a generation or two we may assume that there is an absence of spiritual conflict as well. Nevertheless, the Bible warns the believer in Christ to be on guard against spiritual enemies-– especially the world (human society arranged in hostility to God, 1 John 2:15,16), the flesh (Gal. 5:17), and the devil (1 Pet. 5:8). For soldiers to be successful, they must be able to identify the enemy.
Imagine a boxer climbing into a ring with several other guys, yet not knowing which one was his opponent… The first unexpected punch would make it painfully obvious! Paul was aware of an enemy we all have. Comparing himself to an Olympic athlete, he wrote:
“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [for the prize]” (1 Cor. 9:25-27).
The struggle is not merely with the body (which God originally created as good and will some day resurrect – Gen. 1:31; Phil 3:20), but with what the New Testament calls “the flesh.” We will never jettison the flesh until we are with the Lord: “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” (Gal. 5:17). Peter warns us “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
But how do we identify “the flesh”? When used in an ethical sense it refers to the wrong beliefs, values, behavior patterns, and mental/emotional programming that we have learned independently of God. It’s in us, but is not our new spiritual nature in Christ (Rom. 7:17). Michael Wells defines “the flesh” as your “body, mind, will, and emotions under the influence of anything other than Christ.”
A vital point of interpretation is to see the flesh as distinct from the old man (the unregenerate human spirit). For the believer, the old man is out of the picture: “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him…” (Rom 6:6). This co-crucifixion is not just positional; it’s also spiritual and should become experiential as we “reckon” this union as personally true (Rom. 6:10,11). But note: the flesh remains as an enemy: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells …” (Rom 7:18). The flesh patterns are like a Trojan horse, lurking inside ready to betray and defeat us (if permitted).
Because we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us as children of God, we are no longer “in the flesh” as our position, but we still have its unholy infuence. “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” (Rom 8:8,9, emphasis added). In other words, “The believer, though he is no longer in the flesh, may yet walk after the flesh. The flesh [carnality] is no longer a permanent position for the believer, but it is an all too frequent condition.
Did you ever wonder why King David, a “man after God’s own heart”, could fall into the the sins of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11)? Yes, David repented deeply and was restored to fellowship with God (2 Sam. 12; Psalm 32; 51), but the following chapters illustrate the sad truth that “whatever a person sows, he shall also reap” (Gal. 6:7). David still had “flesh” waiting to rob him of the prize. When he let his guard down, and exposed himself to temptation, he fell.
Michael Wells pointed out the necessity of abiding in Christ to have power over the flesh: “It took me years to realize that I–that is, my flesh–am never going to get better. When I am not abiding, the flesh is the same as it has always been: hostile to God. That is why we teach a moment-by-moment victory and ultimate improvement, Christ in us.”
Joseph exemplified the Biblical strategy to avoid fleshly sin. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he refused to even be near her in private; when caught by her, he left his garment in her hand and ran! (Gen. 39:6-13). Likewise we are given this strategy: “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22). “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).
In the “threshold of the mind” we can avoid the snares of the flesh because we have been set free by Christ’s cross (Gal 5:24). So, in practical terms, how could you visualize guarding yourself from the flesh? “Fleeing” can mean: not keeping alcoholic beverages in your home; not parking in front of the donut shop; getting an internet filtering program, listening to spiritually uplifting music…
It also helps to have an accountability friend. As Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” But don’t expect them to do the heavy lifting; that’s your responsibility and the Holy Spirit’s ability!
Our power source is the Holy Spirit: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). The primary path for victory over the flesh abiding in Christ (John 15:1-8). Oh the benefits abiding!
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
We have been “punched” by the flesh enough. Let’s wise up to the identity and tactics of this crafty enemy; it’s no match for the indwelling Christ!
Part 1 of 2
 Gems and Jargon, by Charles Solomon and H. David Clark, p.10. available at GraceFellowshipInternational.com.
 “Lifelines”, Nov.1999, p.17.
Copyright 1999 by John Woodward. Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible: New King James Version (copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson). Any italicized words in biblical quotes are emphasis added.
Notes: This distinction between the “old man” and “flesh” was stated in the Heidelberg Catechism A-43 back in AD 1566. See also Birthright, by David Needham pp. 239-258: https://gracenotebook.com/the-relationship-between-the-terms-old-man-and-flesh/
The concept of the “threshold of the mind” is developed by Anabel Gillham in Bill & Anabel’s Victorious Christian Living CD album from Lifetime Guarantee Ministries.
Lifelines by Michael Wells is available at Abiding Life Ministries.
In case you missed this snazy short film for Mother’s Day, here it is on YouTube video– a tribute to moms. (It was created by our associate, Steve Phinney.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0sVYOosdRI