Skip to comments.What does Scripture mean by the term “The Flesh” ??
Posted on 02/18/2014 3:16:33 AM PST by markomalley
There are many references to the flesh in New Testament Scripture, especially in the letters of St. Paul. The phrase confuses some who think it synonymous with the physical body, or sometimes with sexual sin.
It is true that there are many times when Scripture uses the word flesh to refer to the physical body. However when the definite article the is placed before the word flesh we are dealing with something else. Only very rarely does the Biblical phrase the flesh (? s??? (he sarx), in Greek) refer only to the physical body (eg. John 6:53; Phil 3:2; 1 John 4:2), but almost always the phrase refers to something quite distinct from the physical body.
What then is meant by the term the flesh (? s???)? Perhaps most plainly it refers to that part of us that is alienated from God. It is the rebellious, unruly and obstinate part of our inner self that is operative all the time. It is that part of us that does not want to be told what to do. It is stubborn, refuses correction, and does not want to have a thing to do with God. It bristles at limits and rules. It recoils at anything that might cause me to be diminished or something less than the center of the universe. The flesh hates to be under authority or to have to yield to anything other than its own wishes and desires. The flesh often desires something simply because it is forbidden.
Some modern Scripture translations often call the flesh our sin nature (e.g. the NIV) which is not a bad term in summarizing what the flesh is. In Catholic tradition the flesh is where concupiscence sets up shop. Concupiscence refers to the strong inclination to sin that is in us as a result of the wound of Original Sin. If you do not think that your flesh is strong, just try to pray for five minutes and watch how quickly your mind wants to think of anything but God. Just try to fast or be less selfish and watch how your flesh goes to war.
The flesh is in direct conflict with the spirit. The spirit here refers not to the Holy Spirit but to the human spirit. The (human) spirit is that part of us which is open to God, which desires him and is drawn to him. It is that part of us which is attracted by goodness, beauty and truth, which yearns for completion in God and to see His face. Without the spirit we would be totally turned in on ourselves and consumed by the flesh. Thankfully our spirit, assisted by the Holy Spirit draws us to desire what is best, what is upright, good and helpful.
Perhaps it is good that we look at just a few texts which reference the flesh and thus here learn more of the flesh and its ways. This will help us to be on our guard and to rebuke it by Gods grace and learn not to feed it. I make some comments in red with each quote.
1. The Flesh does not grasp spiritual teachings [Jesus said] The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)
Having taught on the Eucharist, most of Jesus listeners ridicule his teaching and will no longer take Jesus seriously. So Jesus indicates that their hostility to the teaching on the Eucharist is of the flesh. The flesh demands that everything be obvious to it on its own terms. The flesh demands to see physical proof for everything; demands that it be able to see using its own unregenerate power. And if it cannot see based on its own limited view, it simply rejects spiritual truth out of hand.
In effect the flesh refuses to believe at all since what it really demands is something that will force it to accept something. Inexorable proof which faith demands takes things out of the realm of faith and trust. Faith is no longer necessary when something is absolutely proven and plainly visible to the eyes of flesh. The flesh simply refuses to believe and demands proof.
2. The flesh is not willing to depend on anyone or anything outside its own power or control For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless .I [now] consider this rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Phil 3:3-9 selected)
The flesh wants to be in control rather than to have to trust in God. Hence it sets up its own observance, under its own control. And when it has met its own demands it declares itself to be righteous.
Since the flesh hates being told what to do it takes Gods law and makes it manageable based on the fleshs own terms. So, for example, if I am supposed to love, let me limit it to my family and countrymen but I am allowed to hate my enemy. But Jesus says, no, love your enemy.
The flesh recoils at this for unless the law is manageable and within the power of the flesh to accomplish it, the Law cannot be controlled. The flesh trusts only in its own power.
The Pharisees were self-righteous That is to say, they believed in a righteousness that they themselves brought about through their flesh power. But the Law and flesh cannot save. Only Jesus Christ can save. The flesh refuses this and wants to control the outcome based on its own power and terms.
3. The Flesh hates to be told what to do For when we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. (Rom 7:5)
The disobedience and rebelliousness of the flesh roots us in sinful behavior and prideful attitudes. The prideful attitude of the flesh is even more dangerous than the sins that flow from it since pride precludes instruction in holiness and possible repentance that lead to life.
So the flesh does not like to be told what to do. Hence it rejects the testimony of the the Church, the scriptures and the conscience.
Notice, according to the text, the very existence of Gods Law arouses the passions of the flesh. The fact that something is forbidden makes the flesh want it all the more! This strong inclination to sin is in the flesh and comes from pride and indignation at being told what to do. The flesh is refuses Gods Law and sets up its own rules. The flesh will not be told what to do.
4. The Flesh is focused on itself and its own desires only - Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:5-6)
The flesh is intent on things of this world, upon gratifying its own passions and desires. On account of the flesh we are concerned primarily with ourselves and seek to be at the center. The flesh is turned primarily inward. St Augustine describes the human person in the flesh as curvatus in se (turned in upon himself).
But the spirit is that part of us that looks outward toward God and opens us the truth and holiness that God offers. Ultimately the flesh is focused on death for it is concerned with what is passing away: the body and the world. The human spirit is focused on life for it focuses on God who is life and light.
5. The Flesh is intrinsically hostile to God The mind of the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to Gods law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)
The flesh is hostile to God because it is pridefully hostile to any one more important than itself. Further the flesh does not like being told what to do. Hence it despises authority or anyone who tries to tell it what to do. It cannot please God because it does not want to.
6. The Flesh abuses freedom - You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13)
The flesh turns God given freedom into licentiousness. Licentiousness is to demand freedom without limit. Since the flesh does not want to be told what to do it demands to be able to do what ever it wants.
In effect the flesh says, I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong. This is licentiousness and it is an abuse of freedom. It results in indulgence and paradoxically leads to a slavery to the senses and the passions.
7. The Flesh Demands to be fed So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Gal 5:16-17)
Within the human person is this deep conflict between the flesh and spirit. We must not be mistaken, the flesh is in us and it is strong. It has declared war on our spirit and on the Holy Spirit of God. When the spirit tries to obey, the flesh resists and tries to sabotage the best aspirations of the spirit.
We must be sober about this conflict and understand that this is why we do not do what we most know is right. The flesh has to die and the spirit come more alive.
What you feed grows. If we feed the flesh it will grow. If we feed the spirit it will grow. What are you feeding? Are you sober about the power of the flesh and do you and I therefore feed our spirit well through Gods word and holy communion, through prayer and the healing power of confession. What are you feeding?
8. The Flesh fuels sin - The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-210)
This catalog of sins for Galatians 5 is not exhaustive but is representative of the offensive and obnoxious behavior that flows from the flesh. Be sober about the flesh, it produces ugly children.
So here is a portrait of the flesh. It is ugly. You may say I have exaggerated, that the flesh is not really this bad. Well I am not, just buy a newspaper and see what the flesh is up to.
We may, by Gods grace, see a diminishment in the power of the flesh in our life. That is ultimately what God can and will do for us. He will put the flesh to death in us and bring alive our spirit by the power of his Holy Spirit.
A four step plan -
God by his grace will cause the flesh to die and the spirit to live by his grace at work in us through Jesus Christ.
Msgr Pope ping
I dunno...the author should go back and look at the original Greek and Hebrew scripture and not focus on the English translation for this kind of analysis.
Heady stuff; well done.
Please put me on the ping list.
"3.Step three is, by Gods grace, to stop feeding the flesh and start feeding the spirit on prayer, scripture, Church teaching and Holy Communion.
I would reverse scripture and prayer and knock out Church teaching and Holy Communion.
We learn HOW to commune with God through scripture and we commune with God IN PRAYER (and HE with us)
Amen to that.
Getting' down wid OPP.
Not a catholic but I enjoyed the article.
I have to agree with you out to about 99%.
I do believe there is some good in Church teachings. As a youngun, I grew up learning the bible and other teachings every Sunday school classes held at our Church while my parents attended church services.
Of course we were from an old German settlement but from these teachings my belief in God was established. My parents also instilled these beliefs at home as well.
I still attend the same clapboard church and Sunday school is conducted in the same manner as it was 55 years ago.
Church teachings inform us how a particular passage of Scripture is to be interpreted. This is fairly important for all: think about the differences in denominations on really important issues. Such as the difference between Lutherans and Presbyterians (for the purpose of our discussion, let’s talk about LCMS vs PCA/OPC...so we can leave aside what’s happened in other groups in modern times). Or think about the difference between Baptists and Reformation Protestants (such as with infant baptism and its effect). Or even the differences between Southern Baptists, Independent Fundamental Baptists, and General Baptists. Or think about the differences between charismatics and others. Some of those differences are relatively trivial, some are actually central to the Faith (I think about the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism as being pretty foundational). Yet most, if not all, claim to believe in the Scriptures as their sole source for doctrine and practice.
Church teaching provides for a relatively constant understanding of what, exactly, is meant and what should be believed. Unless you are sitting at home with nothing other than a Bible and a Strong’s Concordance, you will see Church teaching one way or the other.
Pants on women .... long hair on men ... short hair on women ... submissiveness of wife to husband ... etc.
I attend a Baptist church and we are known, derogatorily , as those people that don't allow women to wear pants ... or that pastor that doesn't allow women to wear pants ... neither of which is true.
But about once or twice a year we DO hear the messages from Deuteronomy about that which pertaineth to a man or a woman. (hmmm ... how about THAT ... my spell checker underlined pertaineth ... I guess English is no longer recognized ... )
I rest my case here.
T’anks. What a worthy word study in brief .
“Church teachings inform us how a particular passage of Scripture is to be interpreted....Church teaching provides for a relatively constant understanding of what, exactly, is meant and what should be believed.”
Your church may give you a constant, but what if Rome is totally and constantly wrong? What if you have trusted a false gospel?
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
I compare everything I am taught to the Word of God to see whether those things are so. And rather than trusting men I pray I am one of those “taught of God” in the sense of John 6:45.
Post 12 did not even discuss the Church. It was talking about church teachings from allegedly Sola Scriptura groups. All of which claim to be influenced solely by the Scriptures.
Perhaps you would care to reap pond to that post rather than going on yet another of your tiresome, prideful diatribes.
Prov 29:23 “ Humiliation followeth the proud: and glory shall uphold the humble of spirit.”
II Tim 3:1-5 “ Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, Without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, Traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God: Having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid.”
Or, as Our Lady said, “ He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.” (Lk 1:51)
Today it is easy, fast and free to get back to the original Greek to see depth of meaning and translation interpretations. Blue Letter Bible has a web site and an app with a great concordance, listing all the words in a verse at one time, and then all the verses that use each Greek word. In the old days that would take hours with Strong's; now it takes minutes. The iOS app even has audio pronunciation of each Greek word. BibleHub.com has a free interlinear Bible. I did pay a few dollars for the OliveTree KJV with Strong's, and now I can see the original Greek with one tap on a word, and all the verses that use that word with another.
Here's a quick example: the word "diligence" in 2Pe 1:5 is spoude meaning "speed, haste, dispatch, earnestness, eagerness". It is also the root of the Greek word translated "give diligence" in verse 10 and "endeavor" in verse 15. So, three times Peter was inspired to use this word referring to the list of qualities in verses 5-7. Enhances the meaning and emphasis, doesn't it?
I responded directly to your claim with a question. I even quoted you. Apparently you can take swipes at Protestants but we shouldn’t respond. Frankly, if you don’t like my criticism of Roman Catholicism, then you and the others should stop with the ceaseless Romish propaganda. And believe it or not, my goal isn’t to debate you, and it certainly isn’t to please you. My goal is to sound the alarm. My goal is to make people think and consider what God has said through His Word, not what Rome says, and not other men.
Rome’s gospel is a damning false gospel. You may never believe me, but I pray someone else will. Based on all the emails I receive, lots of people believe me. Believe it or not, I have received much encouragement for challenging all the propaganda. I’ve heard from a number of people looking for insight into the errors of Rome.
I have never posted a single thread on this website. I don’t use it as a platform to spread my faith. But you and so many others do, and since I know that faith is a false religion, I feel duty-bound to warn others when I can. I care about the souls of men, even people I don’t know. It’s very hard to simply scroll past soul-destroying doctrine and remain silent when I know the truth. I know the truth because I know Him. A believer is supposed to be salt and light to a dead and dying world. He can’t hide the truth under a bushel. I know some person reading these posts could be in his final days on this planet and in dire need of the biblical gospel, not the Roman Catholic gospel. Last days or not, I know many who read this site need Christ, the Jesus Christ of the Bible, not Rome’s Christ.
Thank you for another opportunity to post these links. I hope hundreds of people follow them and listen to these message today. And because of you giving me this opportunity, I pray The Lord directs thousands to this post over the coming months, even years. If even one lurking soul is awakened to the dangers of Rome, my time on Free Republic has been well spent.
Why We Must Continue to Oppose the False Gospel of Rome
The Heresy of Roman Catholicism
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
Martin Luther’s Gospel
Well said and well done! God will reach those He is calling through your posts.