What does the Bible mean by sinful flesh?

…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

The flesh is our internal enemy and a seed of corruption that lingers in us until our glorification following death. In brief, the flesh is our fallen internal resistance to obey God and put self-interests above God’s interests.1 Flesh sometimes means a physical body, as when the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ.2 But the Bible does not locate our sin in our physicality as ancient and contemporary Gnostics do. The sinful deeds of the flesh come from every part of our person.3 Paul uses flesh to refer to our innate propensity to sin against God; he says that the flesh is the seat of our sinful passions,4 the realm of sinners,5 and the source of our evil desires.6

The Bible commands Christians to respond to the flesh in three ways.

(1)       We are to recognize that we are no longer under the flesh’s bondage.7 Jesus’ death for our sin and his resurrection for our salvation give us a new nature and a new power from God the Holy Spirit that enables us to say no to our flesh and yes to God.

(2) We are to walk in conscious submission to the Holy Spirit.8 Because the Holy Spirit is more powerful than our sinful desires, he alone can get us out of unholy sin and into holy worship.

(3) We are to put to death, or what the Puritan John Owen called “mortify,” sinful desires.9 The opposite of mortifying sin includes excusing sin, tolerating sin, or merely wounding sin by attempting to manage it. Mortification is Holy Spirit-enabled conviction followed by repentance of sin, faith in God, worship of God, and perseverance in holiness so that sin remains dead and joy remains alive.

Is there any area of your life that you are experiencing victory over your flesh? Is there any area of your life that you are experiencing defeat to your flesh?

1Mark 7:21–23; Gal. 5:19–21; Col. 3:5–8; James 1:14–15.
2John 1:14.
3Gal. 5:19–21.
4Rom. 7:18, 25; Gal. 5:16, 19; Eph. 2:3.
5Rom. 7:5; 8:8–9.
6Col. 3:5.
7Romans 6.
8Gal. 5:16.
9Rom. 8:13–16.

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