After learning about God’s grace, and even after sampling the peace that comes with it, somehow we’ve been convinced that we must continue to fight against our flesh and its sinful urges.
Most of us believers really think that we know what the flesh is –but if we were right then we wouldn’t still be battling our thoughts, regretting yesterday’s decisions and dreading what tomorrow holds.
That part of us –our flesh– is actually well described in some familiar Old Testament accounts just so that we can understand it.
Genesis chapter two describes our human makeup. It’s where Adam said of his mate, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Those two elements might seem like our skeletal framework and its overlaying soft tissue, but there’s much more to it. Bone, in Hebrew, refers to the whole-living-body –including all that it does. Flesh alludes to the body’s motivation –the cause for what it naturally does.
The phrase “bone and flesh” is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament to call attention to a person’s kindred features, character and family relationships. It’s even part of Jesus’ poignant statement to His disciples after the resurrection in Luke chapter 24.
Let’s not lose sight of the situation pictured in this Genesis passage. Essentially, Adam was the first earthly king. His land was the pristine Garden of Eden –his subjects were all of the living creatures –his purpose was to rule over them –and life was sustained by cultivating the garden and harvesting from it. (Romans chapter five says that Adam is a type, or foreshadow, of Christ. Correspondingly, his kingdom parallels the kingdom of heaven just as cultivating in, and harvesting from the garden depicts the saving of our souls.)
Adam’s life appears to have been perfect. Yet, it lacked one thing –there was no one in his kingdom who was like-minded, like-bodied and like-hearted for him to share it with (). To satisfy that longing, God separated Adam into two parts –both his whole-living-body (bone) and his motivation (flesh). The larger portion remained Adam –and the smaller portion became Eve. There’s an implication: Adam would only fulfill his designated purpose when she was his helpmate. (In like manner, Christ will govern the new creation when His bride is with Him.)
The New Testament provides a more granular view of our whole-living-body. It’s comprised of a physical body, a soul and a human spirit (from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and others). Allow me to briefly define what might be obvious…
The physical body is the set of components (including the senses) for performing life-functions. The soul consists of the mind (for thinking, planning and making decisions), the emotions (for expressing the many aspects of those thoughts) and the will (for carrying out what it wants done). And the human spirit is dedicated to searching out what’s beyond detection by those senses. Although the physical body houses the soul and spirit –the soul is our governor.
The New Testament, like the Old, uses the word flesh to convey our natural motivation. A close ally to that word –one that we use in our daily vocabulary– is “selfish.” There are others: self-aware, self-absorbed, self-confident, self-worth, self-motivated, self-analysis, self-pity, self-esteem, self-help, self-protection, self-indulgent, self-sufficient… Self is what has driven us since birth.
The flesh is neither good nor bad to God. Rather, He designed it so that we can naturally operate independently –without His constant intervention. However, the flesh’s goal is to remain self-serving and self-sufficient. That’s why it’s also called the sin-nature –there’s no instinctive need for God, for His kingdom or for His life. (You must be asking “Since–and even basic logic– says the flesh is sinful, then how can it not be bad?” Keep reading…)
I’m repeating a bit –but wanting to keep the context intact. It really is important…
In Genesis chapter three, Satan said to Eve “…when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Let’s look closer at Satan’s seemingly innocuous words. (Keep in mind that knowing good and evil are in the context of being like God.)
Good means “valuable” –it’s what God cherishes and will keep with Him forever. Evil means “worthless” –it’s what He will abandon to oblivion. Knowing means “to competently discern,” “to fully comprehend,” “to be thoroughly familiar with.” It’s about judging people (and the circumstances that mold them) –something that only He is qualified to do. And her eyes will be opened means “become aware of” –it was realizing her inclination to judge.
Eve was a small part of the creation, not the Creator. Although she would judge, she didn’t have the capacity to know (to competently discern, to fully comprehend, to be thoroughly familiar with) the purposes of the many parts of His creation. Trying to “be like God, knowing good and evil” is encroaching upon His role as Judge. It’s why He put a separation between them and Himself –and He called that separation “death.” But it wasn’t without first providing a way to life.
In the account of God putting those two trees in the middle of the garden, He first brings our attention to the tree of life –and second to the tree of death. Romans 8:1-2 labels them the law of the Spirit of life which describes the ways of eternal life –and the law of sin and death which describes why we need that life.
The second one is the tree of death because God said “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” There’s no “if you eat from it” –it was just a matter of time until she did. Rebellion (sin) and death are our inheritance from her. (Some maintain that God didn’t directly tell her to not eat the fruit …maybe to excuse her and somehow shift the blame to Adam. But God told them both at the same time –it was while they shared the same body.)
Eve’s flesh –her natural motivation– was to seize control of her life and whatever affected it. She wasn’t satisfied with merely being her husband’s helpmate. Genesis chapter three is quite telling (in its veiled way). “Your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Desiring her husband wasn’t limited to possessing him –she aspired to be the king who ruled over all. Likewise, we (her heirs) try to be like God rather than accept His sovereignty over us.
Eating the fruit was merely evidence of what was already in Eve’s heart. She had taken over God’s role as Judge. She would decide who and what were good and evil.
That Romans chapter five passage describes death as a king too. We start out in its kingdom, under its reign –and we can’t escape by walking up to the tree of life and picking its fruit. That tree was taken out of human reach and angels stand guard. They carry a blazing sword that serves as a welcoming beacon for those who seek eternal life and as a foreboding deterrent to those who are still trying to be God –the Judge. That tree –the tree of life– is pictured by the cross and its fruit is Jesus’ blood and flesh (from ).