If you’ve been around church for very long you’ve heard people talk about the flesh. The flesh is basically our sinful nature. It is something that every human on earth has. It is something that dominates us before we come to Christ and something we wrestle with from that moment on. The basic idea of the flesh is that it refers to our capacity and disposition to put self above God. It is our internal wiring that leads us to be resistant to obey God.
Before we look at how to fight the flesh, there are two important facts about the flesh we must know. The first is in regards to unbelievers. In Ephesians, we are told, “among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” (Ephesians 2:3 NKJV)
The Bible tells us that apart from Christ all people are enslaved by their flesh. This is true for all people everywhere and it was true for us at one point in our lives. Those who have not trusted in Christ, live their lives fulfilling the lusts and desires of the flesh. Slavery to the flesh is not something someone can escape from through his or her own strength. The only way anyone can be freed from slavery to the flesh is through faith in the Gospel of Christ.
The other fact we need to know is what the Bible says about the flesh for believers. “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.” (Galatians 5:17 NKJV) Here we see the truth that the flesh doesn’t go away once we are saved. Instead, the flesh is present within us always fighting against the things the Spirit of God is leading us to do. The flesh and the Spirit within us are always at odds. They are always diametrically opposed to one another. This means that at no point in time will the flesh lead us to do the things that the Holy Spirit wants us to do. It also means that at no point will the Holy Spirit lead us to satisfy the desires of our flesh.
One of the spiritual battles we must be active in fighting, is the one that is going on inside us. I’m pretty convinced that if we don’t win the battle going on inside us, then we can’t win the battle going on around us. We must start the fight by fighting against our own propensity to resist the Holy Spirit and rebel against God.
How do we fight the flesh?
Recognize that you are no longer enslaved by the flesh.
The fight against the flesh starts by recognizing that we are no longer slaves to satisfy the lusts and desires of our flesh. When we trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior, He freed us from all forms of slavery. We aren’t slaves to the law, we aren’t slaves to legalism and we aren’t slaves to our flesh. Take some time today and read Romans 6-8. These chapters provide a detailed explanation of the fact that Christ has set us free from slavery to the flesh.
“But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18 NKJV) We were slaves but Christ has freed us.
“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. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” Romans 8:9-12 (NKJV) The Holy Spirit lives within all genuine believers. Therefore we have no responsibility to fulfill the desires of our sinful nature.
A major part of what it means for us to recognize that we are no longer enslaved by the flesh is that we give up the victim mentality. The victim mentality says, “I can’t help it. There is nothing I can do.” The victim mentality is a slave mentality. To give up the victim mentality I must truly believe that Christ has set me free from slavery to my flesh. I must also accept that sin is a result of choices I willingly make and not a default setting over which I have no control over.
Surrender to the Spirit’s leading.
Since the flesh and the Holy Spirit are both at work in us as believers, they are both wrestling for control. What is interesting is that they aren’t wrestling for control over the other. Instead, they are wrestling for control of us. You see the flesh isn’t equal in power with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is much more powerful than the flesh.
The picture I’ve always had of this struggle was that of the Holy Spirit wrestling with the flesh. There they were locked in an ultimate fighting match just waiting on me to urge one on and make it the stronger one so it could win for a time. I’ve heard illustrations of bulldogs in a fight and the one that wins is the one you feed. However, that’s really not the picture Scripture paints.
Instead of the flesh and the Spirit being locked in an ultimate fighting match with one another for victory, they are wrestling with us for control. The flesh is wrestling with us to do the works of the flesh and to give into excesses and the desires of the flesh. The Holy Spirit is also wrestling with us to live a disciplined life, resist temptation and do the good things that God has for us.
The one that wins is the one we surrender to. The one that wins is the one we choose to follow. The flesh cannot match the Holy Spirit for power. What it can do is convince us that its ways are better than the Holy Spirit’s ways. When this happens, we actively resist the leading of the Holy Spirit and willingly submit ourselves to follow the flesh. So what we must do is continually, moment by moment, choose to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 NKJV)
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 NKJV)
When we walk in the Spirit, aka be submitted to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts and desires of our sinful nature. Walking in the Spirit is something we are to be doing on a moment by moment basis. To walk in the Spirit is to keep in step with the Spirit in the same way that soldiers keep in step with one another in a parade. If I’m surrendered to the Spirit’s leading, then I will move when He moves and step when He steps. As I do this, I will not give in to the passions and desires of the flesh.
Crucify the flesh.
The Bible uses pretty strong language on how we are to deal with our flesh. We are not only to actively resist it, but we are also to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires as well as put to death the deeds of the flesh.
“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24 NKJV)
The first thing we need to see is that it says “have” as in past tense. The idea here is that those who belong to Christ have understood the dreadful evil of the passions and desires of the flesh and have dealt with them appropriately. Secondly, we can’t miss that it says, “crucified”. Now we are probably all familiar with the wording here. What I’m afraid of is that we might have become so familiar with the wording that we miss the significance of it. The word is crucified, as in what happened to Jesus crucified. Crucified, as in a bloody, horrific and painful death crucified.
A huge part crucifying the flesh is to deny ourselves. Denying ourselves is the starting point for crucifying the flesh and maybe even the most crucial element of it. If we will not deny ourselves, we will never be able to crucify the flesh. As we’ve seen, the desire to resist the Holy Spirit and rebel against God will always be with us. We cannot wait for the desires to go away before we begin to crucify these things. Instead, when these desires well up within us we much choose to deny them. If we will not deny ourselves, we will never put to death the deeds of the flesh. We must deny the desire to indulge in our sinful appetites, urges, thoughts, feelings, enticements, pride, scheming, boasting and reactions. As we deny them, we are crucifying them and putting them to death.
Of course, this is hard. Denying ourselves isn’t something most of us are particularly good at. We are an indulgent people living in an indulgent culture. This makes it doubly hard to deny ourselves anything but no less necessary. We also have to realize that this won’t be a once for all time thing. This is something we will have to do consistently.
One last thing on this I want to point out. This doesn’t mean that we only crucify the acts of the flesh, but we must also crucify the passions and desires of the flesh. What this means is that if I desire to gossip and don’t tell the gossip but instead just think about the gossip, I haven’t crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If I have a desire to say something hateful and judgmental and don’t say it but instead think about it and go over it again and again in my mind, I haven’t crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If I desire to sin sexually and don’t but instead go over it again and again in my mind, I haven’t crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
I cannot merely deny myself the outward action. I must also deny myself the inward passion. I may not be able to stop a desire from welling up within me. I may not be able to stop a thought from popping in my head. But I can certainly stop myself from acting on it and I can stop myself from dwelling on it. When I allow myself to set and think on the desire I’m tempted by, I am not crucifying it. Instead, I am giving it a place in my life. The more I give into the inward passion, the more likely I am to give into the outward act. I must crucify the inward passion as well as the outward act.
It is so very important for us to understand that it is possible to live in victory over the flesh. Jesus Christ has won this victory for us on the cross. His Spirit lives within us giving us the power we need to crucify the flesh, follow His leading and live victoriously over the flesh. Trust Christ and believe Scripture that you are free from slavery to the flesh.