Why the Flesh Does What It Does

Since God made us with flesh so that we would survive, and even thrive, in this world without His constant intervention, why aren’t we automatically pleasing to Him? The answer to that age-old question can be found in the account of that first couple.

God is making someone very special for Himself –like Eve was made for Adam. She is someone who will be like-minded, like-bodied and like-hearted for Him to share His kingdom with.

His design for her is such that she can’t realize fulfillment until she is joined together with Him. That emptiness is displayed in her many insecurities –it drives her to do most everything she does. She starts her earthly life by being independently rebellious to her core –but He pursues her –showing her that He is all that she will ever need or want. She connives and demands to be his equal –He lets her have her way so that she experiences the failures of trying to be Him. She eventually finds out that fulfillment can only come from a new life as (a new creation) as the bride of Christ.

Yes, I’m describing what takes place with each of us individually. Some fall in love with the One who gave His life for them. And there are some who refuse His proposal of marriage. He knew that’s what would happen from the start. Yet, it’s all worth it to Him –to have His perfect, eternal mate.

Our Flesh –the Judge

Up to this point we’ve only looked at those laws that God set up. But there’s another law to seriously consider: the law of the flesh. It describes why we do what we do –it’s the gold-standard that the mind uses for making decisions.

Each one of us makes judgments all day long. The things we like, we rank as good, better, best, wonderful, awesome, magnificent… What we don’t like, we rank as bad, worse, worst, terrible, horrific, catastrophic… We’ve even misappropriated His word “good” to mean what’s valuable to us –and His word “evil” to direct attention away from ourselves and onto some shadowy, nebulous force.

Most of a person’s childhood is spent learning what to do when the senses detect changes in the surroundings –or when memories emerge from the past –or when contemplating the future. Over time, the flesh learns what responses yield the “best” results. Those cause-and-effect pairings become its law.

As new circumstances are encountered, (supposed) improvements are made to that law –even by adapting bits and pieces from moral and legal codes and possibly part of what’s in the Bible. This law is the basis of what we believe is right and wrong. It’s what Paul wrote about in Romans 2:14-16.

Here are a few illustrations (some from a secular setting and some from church) –each listed with a cause and a desired effect.

  • When danger looms, we quickly look for help from any source –to regain a sense of security. Seeing people with detestable body conditions leads us to change our eating habits and add exercise to our regimen –to become healthier and happier. When criticized, we berate the critic –to maintain our reputation. After routinely seeing beggars on street corners, we pretend they don’t exist –to avoid feeling guilty for not helping…
  • After hearing a condemning sermon, we try to change our behaviors (through anger-management, addiction-control, financial-planning) –to appear godly. When in public, we present ourselves as kind, gentle and caring (more so than usual) –to appear spiritual. We stay on our knees in hopeful prayer for hours, we financially and personally help with the needs of the church, and we witness to everyone –to please God…

Your flesh has a law comparable to this and so does mine. That Romans chapter two passage states that our consciences are familiar with our laws (with what we believe is right and wrong) …and our thoughts waiver between condemning and defending, accusing and excusing us.

The heart is that intangible place within us where laws are kept. Some refer to it as our “core principles” or “central being.” Nonetheless, it has nothing to do with our fickle emotions.

As Eve’s heirs, we naturally attempt to fulfill God’s role of Judge. The flesh has been fooled into thinking that its law (its ability to judge) is perfect. So when it’s confronted with another law that’s elevated above its own (the Ten Commandments or practices for godly living or doing the right thing) our flesh brazenly rebels against it –and more importantly, against the authority that made it.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; (1 Corinthians 15:56)

But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me. (Romans 7:8-10)

What is it that enables and gives power to our rebellious ways? Isn’t it “someone” else’s law that’s forced upon us –a law that’s esteemed above our own? Our jealous flesh wholeheartedly believes that it is God –the absolute authority of what’s good and what’s evil– so of course it’s going to rebel.

These laws of ours are what we use to judge –and they’re not just for evaluating how pleasant or harsh the circumstances are. We use them to judge the value of people. We even judge ourselves and decide our worth to God.

Our flesh naturally establishes its law to judge who is valuable or worthless. It’s offended by, and spontaneously rebels against every opposing authority: “The power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).

Our Flesh Is Designed to Fail

Most of the time we operate independently –relying on our own strength, endurance, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, wealth, ability, tenacity, charisma… That’s how we go through each day –just like the one before– delusionally thinking that we’re being moral, doing the right thing, faithfully following the Ten Commandments, gladly tithing, worshiping in church… We’re not even conscious of the fact that these attempts to do good are what our flesh routinely does to gain adoration.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)

We might naturally live out our days contently with just our flesh in control –being our own gods and working according to our laws. But God doesn’t leave us that way. He intentionally frustrates us. Romans 8:19-21 (through the end of that chapter) explains that He has subjected the whole creation to futility to bring about our salvation –that includes providing all of our adversity. For example, He created well-being and disaster (from Isaiah 45:7) –the calm and the storm (from Psalm 148) –good health and sickness (from Job 33) –sight and blindness (from John 9) –all of the angels, including helpers and adversaries (Hebrews 1:13-14). He created all things and nothing exists that He didn’t make (from John 1:1-5).

Our flesh relishes taking credit for trying to make this world better –restoring the environment –eliminating poverty, disease and hunger –and making people moral, law-abiding and kind. But He broke the creation so that these very desires will frustrate us and we will turn to Him for help. It’s not ours to somehow fix what He has put in place to draw people to Himself.

It’s when our world falls apart, when we realize that we can’t really make things turn out the way we want, when emotional peace can’t be found, when our own resources are exhausted –then we might seek God to fix what we can’t. That’s the Holy Spirit interrupting our routines to point out our flesh’s limitations –and each time He does it a little more conspicuously.

If we made this place into “heaven on earth,” there would be no reason for the kingdom of God. And if this body wasn’t failing, we wouldn’t need eternal life through Jesus’ resurrection. And if life was easy, we wouldn’t crave the Holy Spirit’s peace that surpasses understanding.

Every day the Holy Spirit confronts us with opportunities to either trust our flesh or to trust Him. In hindsight we can look back at the times that we relied on our flesh and see that He has even worked out those bad choices for our good. Gradually, He demonstrates that He is the only One who is trustworthy. That’s how He builds the perfect bond with us –proving His compassion with peace that surpasses comprehension.

Although circumstances might be heart-wrenching or horrific, since God is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), what sense does it make for us to call any of them bad?