I AM assuming in this Red Run post that you have been “walking the talk” as a Christian for a little while at least. And so we are among those “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4) or as the Amplified Version re-frames it “our lives governed not by the standards and dictates of the flesh, but controlled by the Holy Spirit.” O that it was that easy! Paul struggled with it and so do we.
What really helps is when we see those ‘dictates of the flesh’ coming – and head them off. Here are the four common traps.
1. The old response is still the familiar response
The problem is, we have a lifetime’s training in the old self-indulgent ways. If we’re not strong in the Holy Spirit, it’s easy for the devil to get us on his track, “the course of this world, following the… spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…”
We become Christians. We ask Jesus into our lives. We become Christians – but maturity is not instant but a process, a transition into making different choices. It’s all too easy to slip back into unspiritual ways – or perhaps we never left them. Then, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we are infants in Christ, people of the flesh rather than spiritual people (1 Cor. 3:1 ESV). Our allegiance has changed but our behaviour is still playing catch-up.
2. It’s the Achilles heel of being human
We all have a lot of inbuilt self-preservation and the desire to look after number one: “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). It’s how we are, and it’s a weakness to acknowledge. Paul wrote to the Romans in these terms:
“I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh – doing what you feel like doing, not caring about others, not caring about God” (Rom. 6:19 NASB + The Message).
It’s a weakness of the design, if you want to put it that way – but forewarned is forearmed. The more we recognise this tendency, the better we can avoid just ‘doing what we feel like doing’.
3. Spirit and flesh are always in contention
Recognising the nature of the battle puts us well on the way to winning it. Everybody battles with this, as Paul himself relates:
“I can anticipate the response that is coming: ‘I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?’ Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison” (Rom. 7:14 The Message).
So Paul is being real about the choices that have to be made – choices to pursue what is of the Spirit and life-giving and choosing to avoid what is of the flesh and life-sapping. He puts is more bluntly:
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you” (Rom. 8:6-9NIV 2011).
We can make an ‘empowered choice’ with the help of the Spirit – with a little will power.
4. Everything swerves to rot
I’m tackling an overgrown garden at the moment. You know how it is – turn your back for a moment and what is supposed to be garden reverts to brush and ground elder. The wrong things grow and start to take over and we have to cut them down and root them out
This flesh thing is the same. It grows and starts to take over, unless we keep on putting it to death. The flesh life must die:
“For if you live by its dictates [of the flesh nature], you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Rom. 8:13 Amp).
“And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God” (Colossians 3:5 The Message).
The enemy is always on the lookout to exploit any weakness he can find and this flesh tendency is a weakness he often finds – there’s a battle on. It’s part of being human and having free will. But we have the Holy Spirit, we have the choice and we have the authority to exercise it.