Christian Boxing Ring: Flesh versus Spirit
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.
As a spiritual being, your identity is not in the things of this world. One day, you’ll leave them all behind. This is why it’s so important, right now, that we lay down anything that would prevent us from pursuing God’s plan for us. That means letting go of anything not guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. In other words, letting go of everything in the flesh.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Many believers wonder why, if they are
now spiritual beings, they have such great struggles and still act like the same
people they used to be. Little seems to have changed for them. The reason is that, although we are spiritual beings, we have to choose to act like spiritual beings. The spirit life is an abundant life, but it is a choice that has to be made. Then you have to walk in that choice, day in and day out.
Of course, Satan doesn’t want you to live like the spiritual being—the child of God—that you really are. Satan will throw everything he has at you to try to dissuade you. Your flesh doesn’t want to live by the spirit, either. Instinctively, our flesh rebels against God’s authority. Just like an unruly two-year-old rebelling against his parents, we decide to make the rules and do things our own way. Although the flesh is not who we truly are, we are tempted to go back to our old ways, the way we used to live before we received the Lord. Consequently, we have two main forces vying for our true person: the flesh and the spirit.
So what exactly is the flesh? The “flesh” can be described as your natural instincts before you accepted Jesus into your life. It is the thoughts and actions that come from the heart and mind of the unsaved person. Even though some of these instincts can appear to be good, they are not born from Christ. Thus, they can never please God. The Greek word for flesh is i>sarx. In a general sense, sarx means our physical bodies to which sin can attach.
Another Greek word, i>soma, is also related to the physical body, but without the spiritual implications. For use in this book, the word “flesh” does not refer to the physical body, soma, but to sarx, the part of our flesh that desires to be independent of God. It represents the self-life and all the survival tactics we use to live life on our own terms. The flesh wants to protect itself. It wants to always defend its actions. (Do you feel that you always have to “win” an argument or a game? That’s the flesh.) It wants to take the most convenient, expedient path. It does not want to esteem anyone or anything as more important than itself. It can never show agape love, or God’s immeasurable, unconditional love. Although fleshly sacrifice is possible, we know from Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 that, without God’s love mixed in, it accomplishes nothing.
The acts of the spirit, on the other hand, i>are born from Christ. They come from the new nature that God gives us after we accept the lordship of Jesus and put ourselves
under His control. Only that which is done in the Spirit can please God. The flesh and the spirit war against one another. Therefore, part of embracing our true spiritual identity is learning to distinguish between the two. Once we can identify when the flesh raises its ugly head, like the popular child’s game “Whack-A-Mole,” we can bash it back down again. Notice that we have the flesh both before and after salvation. The difference is that, after salvation, we do not need to submit to the flesh’s control—its desires, impulses, ambitions, lusts, and the like. (See Galatians 5:19–21, especially KJV) The Spirit of God indwells us after salvation to give us power against these impulses. Even with this power, it is still a daily battle. Paul said that even he had to crucify his flesh (or “nail” his fleshly desires to the cross) on a daily basis (1 Cor. 15:31). Believe me. I know how hard this is.
My flesh still regularly raises its ugly head, although less and less as I grow in Christ. The Lord seems to just shift to new areas of the flesh that need work. One day, you might struggle with lust. Another day, you might struggle with prideful ambition. Yet another day, you might struggle with control issues. The Lord is faithful to help us overcome each of these desires in turn if our commitment and spiritual disposition are to press hard after Him.