Hindering the Flesh9 min read
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these…” Galatians 5:19a
In Galatians 5 we are presented with 17 obvious works of the flesh – works which find their root in our old nature and are contrary to what God’s Spirit leads us into. Though Paul does not fully develop the topic here, there are various other Scriptures which point us toward success in hindering these works, and it is essential to have a firm grasp of those concepts before ever considering specific measures that must be taken in regard to specific sins. The principles set forth will be timeless and without exception (if they are from God’s Word, how can they not be?); so then, they cannot but be a great help in our intense day-by-day struggle.
Principle # 1 – We Need a Working Knowledge of Its Character
It is clear from our text itself that we must have a firm grasp of where the flesh shows itself, why the struggle with it is so real, and what characterizes it. “The works of the flesh are manifest (evident, revealed, exposed),” and thus we are responsible to see what is so clear in terms of our sin. It is a well known fact that he who is easily predicted is easily defeated. Why? Because precautionary measures will then be taken by the opponent so that every possible move done against him has an appropriate and effective counteraction. The predictable man is a vulnerable man. That is why in times of war codes are so necessary: no country wants its plans revealed, lest it become open and helpless. Thankfully in our battles we have the all-knowing God as our Commander who has already predicted for us the attacks which the flesh will bring against us. We must take advantage of these predictions and plan our spiritual defense accordingly. We are doing the Kingdom of God no good when we are naively oblivious to known attacks. We must be ready. We must be prepared. And if not, may God help us to understand this before it is too late. So then, do you want to be spiritual? Predict. Prepare. Prevent.
Principle # 2 – We Need a Use of Proper Weapons
It would be foolish to bring a short-range weapon to a long range battle. It might be effective in its place, but it will only strip a man of his protection if that is what he uses in a battle of much different warfare. Paul approaches the spiritual battle in much the same way. He says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)” These verses present to us a general principle: if you want spiritual victory, you must use spiritual means as you depend upon spiritual power. And what better way is there than what Paul points us toward? This type of warfare is mighty through God! When we use material-oriented means to subdue our old nature, we minimize our exposure to the power of our infinite, living God. There will never be spiritual success this way. No, a spiritual battle must be fought with spiritual weapons. Our old nature is no surface issue that is easily fixed: we need external power. We need God.
Principle # 3 – We Need a Separation From the World
“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Ephesians 2:2-3. In these verses we see an important connection between the flesh and the world. (It actually points to all three of the believers enemies: the flesh, world, and devil). We see from this connection that the flesh thrives in an atmosphere of the unsaved under the power of Satanic influence and blindness (2 Cor. 4). Furthermore, note this same connection in 1 John 2:16 – “For all that is in the world: the lust of the flesh… is not of the Father, but is of the world.” John understands the same thing which Paul does: though our flesh will always have its sinful tendencies regardless of influence, its sinful tendencies are made manifest according to atmosphere. The unregenerate, being inevitably and always part of the world, will have very limited power to resist sin, because the world is his home and the devil his guide. But for the saved, we choose our attitude toward the world – its exposure and embrace – and therefore have a level of choice as to our power over sin.
Are you having trouble overcoming your flesh? Did you ever think that it is because you have given it an atmosphere to thrive in? That which you feed will become stronger. If your movies, your music, your books, your friends, and convictions resemble something of the world, you can be guaranteed: you will have no power over your flesh. And at that point, one’s salvation is probably the issue, rather than his spirituality. But since you do want to hinder your flesh, surround yourself by the opposite: enjoy God’s book with God’s people in God’s assembly. Give no ground for your flesh to take root in. This is key.
Principle # 4 – We Need a Consistent Life of Communion
“Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation, for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41). Though the context might give a slightly different interpretation, the principle is still this: consistent, devoted, and intelligent communion with God will always be the attribute of a pure believer. We need this in our own lives, because it reminds us to think humbly and of our need. You see, it is easy in our proud ways to think that we can conquer the world and anything else that may come our way. After all, we are all overcomers, right? Wrong. Peter – the one who bragged about his faithfulness and yet denied the Lord – would be the first to say “No! Don’t say such a thing! You have no idea what you’re capable of.” It seems easy at that moment of thought that we will be able to resist sin, because we have not yet been exposed to the temptation. But when it finally comes, after we thought we could handle it all, after our little pep-talks with “me, myself, and I” we are reminded – perhaps by falling – that our flesh indeed is weak. That is, when our inward desires begin to surface through our physical body, it becomes more difficult than we thought at the first to resist. It is always easier to condemn sin than it is to resist it: but we must resist nevertheless. Unless we respond in humility and dependence upon God by fervently consulting Him daily, we will find ourselves quickly condemning sin, not out of holy anger, but that our defiled consciences might be numbed, because without God we will most certainly fall. It is always easier to fall than we first expected.
Principle # 5 – We Need a Caution Surrounding Our Opportunities
Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, unto its desires (and their fulfillment).” The thought behind provision for the flesh is that one sees a possibility of fulfilling its desires, yet still subjects himself to that situation. It is a lax attitude toward the flesh. It is an overestimation of our ability to say “No” to temptation. There is clear foresight, but little resistance. This is the kind of man that falls into sin. He is not a fully rebellious man, but he might as well be, because his is still the attitude of carelessness toward sin, and thus carelessness toward the holiness of God. Don’t be that person. If you know that you struggle with a specific sin, take measure to avoid exposure to it. Don’t waste the privilege of foreseeing a circumstance in which sin is possible by walking into it anyway. Now, it is possible to resist sin in the circumstance, but at that point very unlikely. Why? Because if one is weak and lax enough to make way for temptation, he certainly won’t be strong enough to resist it at the point of its highest intensity. Be sure of that. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” (Prov. 23:3 / 27:12).
Principle # 6 – We Need a Mortifying of the Flesh’s Deeds
Romans 8:13 “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” In context, this verse tells us that a true sign of life in a person is his ability through God’s Spirit (because all believers are indwelt by Him) to overcome a flesh-oriented life, or to “mortify (put to death) the deeds of the body.” Now, the fact that the word “body” is used (as opposed to “flesh”) does not convey the idea that material things are evil. (The body and the flesh are very closely linked, but are still distinct as set forth in Scripture). Rather it indicates that our physical body is the fulfillment center of our flesh and its desires. So then, we are called to live lives which revolve around that which is spiritual, rather than having our goal, our joy, and our fulfillment in the temporary, fleeting physical realm. This will involve putting a final and abrupt end to our activities which originate in the flesh and manifest themselves in the body. It will also mean a continual, daily effort to see this through. There is no easy way to do this, but it must be done. And as believers trying to subdue our old nature, there may be times when the only way to answer our carnal habits is intense, painful effort to cut these off from our lives. It will not be invigorating, but for Christ’s own sake let us be diligent about it! A sinful habit not being put to death is a sinful habit we are nurturing to life. Serious matters.
For you as a believer, there is nothing more important than that you make it your priority to live for God. But you cannot live for Him if you are not dealing with your flesh. No man can serve two masters. The principles considered are solid and Scriptural: there is no substitute for them. So then, please with God’s help implement them into your life and keep them continually and repeatedly before you that you might not forget the battle and also not forget how to conquer. So much is at stake.