“And Such Like” – Identifying What Is of the Flesh7 min read
At the end of our list of deeds which the flesh produces, we find the phrase “and such like,” meaning there are many more deeds which could have been listed. And perhaps the reader comes to that phrase and asks himself “What more could there be?” The question is an important one, because we need to understand that though a certain action may not be on this list, we cannot then conclude that it is fine. God has provided a representative list in Scripture that we might know the nature of how our flesh works: because not every possible sin is mentioned, we must therefore be called to discern right and wrong, not based on a list, but by spiritual wisdom. To do this, we will ask the question “What are general characteristics of our representative list, and how can we derive principles from them?” then try to search the Scriptures, like every noble Christian does, and see how God has spoken on the issue.
When it comes to common characteristics of the sins in our chapter, we can make five logical observations that are consistent with the Word of God.
- These are marked by a lack of self control. We will look into this more when we examine the spiritual fruit temperance. For now, however, ask yourself whether a Christian man who could control himself would fall into the sins mentioned. Obviously not, because he would have noticed and dealt with them. Paul said regarding this issue “I beat my body and lead it captive (into subjection).” While he was not literally wounding himself (he knew his body was a temple of the Spirit), he did emphasize the need to control it by subduing it. While we can never eliminate our flesh and its desires, we can dominate the means by which it acts – our bodies.
- These works are marked by self-centeredness. Which sins in our list could possibly be seen as an ultimate benefit for others or at least a means to sacrificially edify another person? Absolutely none. While things such as drunkenness can satisfy peer-pressure, the ultimate factor is selfishness of the sinner. He did not want to sacrifice his ego in the name of standing against sin. This is not the only issue of selfishness we could consider. The essential point to understand is this: a truly selfless man, according to Christ’s model of servitude, will not be a man who caters to the flesh.
- Related to the issue of conceit in these sins we need to understand that a victim is often involved. To promote self, it is necessary to demote others. Consider those we stumble because of our loose convictions: are they not victims? Consider the wife who deals with the grief over an unfaithful husband. Consider those who are led astray doctrinally because of false schools of opinion we form: are they not victims? When asking whether something is promoted by the flesh or the Spirit, consider who is involved and if they will be profited or degraded.
- As with every sin, these contradict the very nature of God. This is obvious since the flesh contradicts the Spirit, Who is God. With adultery and fornication, for example, God’s character of faithfulness is contradicted. With drunkenness, God’s character of perfect balance and wisdom are contradicted, for where sobriety is lacking, there cannot be either of these. To be discerning Christians when we do not have a specific Bible verse for a specific situation, we need to have a grasp of God’s character. Spend time studying the One Who saved you.
- Testimony is ruined by these sins. Notice 1 Corinthians 5 and the sins which require assembly discipline: many coincide with the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5. The purpose of that chapter was to restore assembly testimony by means of purifying God’s people. To be sympathetic toward a sin is to destroy the very meaning of Christianity: we are a people to be known for the opposite. So then, when trying to discern between carnal and spiritual, understand that the flesh will hinder godly testimony in some way. It doesn’t matter whether or not we have a chapter and verse come to our mind when faced with an issue: if it could potentially harm our testimony – collective or personal – it is not for us. How much richer our faith would appear to the onlooking world if we actually did what we claimed to do: be separate.
Searching the Scriptures
The following Scriptures will speak of unregenerate man in many cases, but the principles contained therein still help us in discerning what is leading us in a specific situation, whether they be spiritual desires or carnal desires.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14 – “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural man is not simply a Christian without spiritual discernment: he is the unsaved man who cannot understand God’s wisdom, because he is led only by the flesh, which in reality makes up his whole drive and power. This is the basic psychology of fallen humanity. While our title is not “the natural man” when we are saved, there is still that carnal nature within us that remains with tendencies toward naturalistic, material-oriented living. So then, to identify whether or not we adhere to the flesh more than the Spirit, we should ask ourselves how we are doing with spiritual understanding. Do we lack both the desire and ability to search out the meaning of a passage in Scripture? Are we so naïve to think we need a “thou shalt” for everything we do in life (thus putting us under Law), when we are actually to be discerning good and evil by a spiritually-informed, Scripture-based conscience (1 Tim. 1:15)? These are signs that we need to do dealings with our flesh and refocusing with our spirits.
- 1 Corinthians 3:1 – “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” The sign of carnality here is spiritual immaturity. Though saved for some years, the Corinthians were still child-like in their faith. How many years have you been saved? With that, what kind of growth have you seen? Morally, have you seen spiritual fruits manifest themselves in your life? Doctrinally, are you still struggling with certain doctrines that should be a given in every believer’s life (Heb. 6:1-2)? Scripturally, is your only appetite one-minute devotionals and quick-read “layman” commentaries? A spiritual Christian learns the art of a deep-rooted faith.
- 1 Corinthians 3:2 – “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” In the same context as the above passage, Paul descries carnality as “walking like men.” In other words, the Corinthians were not only failing to grasp spiritual meat, but they were failing to remember their distinction from the world – the sytem which operates on man’s fallen wisdom. The flesh and the world go hand-in-hand: what the world offers the flesh desires. This is not only true in terms of sin, but in terms of spiritual patterns (Jm. 3:15). A church or a believer that is sympathetic towards the world’s causes and lifestyles and patterns cannot claim to be spiritual. When weighing the options, ask which one the world would appreciate more for reasons that are less than spiritual, and see how that changes your outlook on decision-making.
- 1 Corinthians 3:4 – “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” Also in the same context, we see that carnality is linked with adhering to a head other than Christ. For Corinth, this was linked with the divisions described in verse 3. For us, we can apply the principle by asking: “Is my authority and belief-system based on someone other than Christ?” The flesh won’t despiritualize someone immediately: it works in steps, the first of which is making a Christian’s authority less than the Word of God, both the written Word and the Word made flesh. A person with a loose attitude toward His Word and towards the priority of glorifying Him first and foremost will not be a spiritual Christian.
So then, as this article is concluded, rest assured that a Scriptural approach has been taken as to identifying the flesh. It is a subtle factor in our lives, yet it is not unknowable if we are watching. May we be concerned in such a way that causes us to watch. This watching can only come by spiritual motives. So then, let us not be led by preference, but by discernment. Life is more than what we want to do: it is about what we should do to glorify Him. With this outlook, one will be on a good start toward spiritual maturity.