We’re continually told to fight against our flesh and its sinful urges. Most of us believers 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.
The objective here is to clear away the smoke and carnage from the battlefield within –to make life as a believer joyful and the battles winnable. Just for now, set aside those oppressive feelings and consider the following observations.
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 are our skeletal framework and muscles, 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 context for 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 his life was sustained by harvesting. (Romans chapter five says that Adam is a type, or foreshadow, of Christ. Moreover, his kingdom corresponds to the kingdom of heaven.)
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 His kingdom with His bride.)
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 decision making), 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. Over them all is the soul –it’s the governor of the body.
The New Testament, like the Old, uses the word “flesh” to convey our natural motivation. Probably the word with the closest meaning 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…)
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. And knowing means “to competently discern,” “to fully comprehend,” “to be thoroughly familiar with.” It’s about judging people –something that only He is qualified to do.
Eve was a small part of the creation, not the Creator. So 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 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.
God put two trees in the middle of the garden. Noted first was the tree of life –and second was the tree of death. Those trees represent the only two laws by which He evaluates everyone. 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.
I call the second one “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.)
Eating the fruit from that tree wasn’t the tipping point –eating it was simply proof that she wanted to be the ultimate decider of what was “best” (for her). It was evidence of what was already in her heart.
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 –and so have we.
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 ).