The Flesh Can't Please God


Since God made us with flesh so that we would survive, and even thrive, in this world without His constant intervention . . . then why isn’t He pleased with us in that naturally independent state?

It’s because He made us for the expressed purpose of being His helping wife –His helpmate.

In the allegory of marriage we saw that what Jesus did for us parallels Adam’s account. He reigned over his magnificent kingdom, yet he was lonely. So Eve was formed to be his helpmate. And even though she was rebellious toward him, he left his home –and his position of supremacy– to pursue her with such selfless devotion that he wearily worked and willingly gave up his life to be united with her.

Pleasing God is only accomplished by giving up our naturally independent, self-serving, self-sufficient ways after accepting Jesus’ marriage proposal. (I use the word naturally throughout to highlight the way we are through our own efforts.)

So what are we supposed to do with this rebellious nature? Let’s begin by understanding how it works.

Our Flesh . . . the Judge

Up to this point we’ve looked at the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus to see our original condition (citizens of death) and the resolution (becoming a citizen of life as the bride of Christ). Then we saw that the Law of Moses predicted Jesus would be our Savior –and it proves that no one else is.

But there’s another law to seriously consider. I call it the law of the flesh since it describes “why we do the things we do.” It’s the gold-standard that we use for making decisions.

All day long we judge –it’s in our nature. 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. Unwittingly, we’ve taken it a step further by misappropriating His word “good” to mean what’s valuable to us –and His word “evil” to direct attention away from ourselves and onto some dark, nebulous force.

Most of our childhoods are spent learning what to do when our senses are aroused –or when memories spring up –or when thinking about the future. Over time, our flesh learns what responses yield the “best” results. The accumulation of those cause-and-effect pairings become its law.

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

Here’s a sample (partially from a secular setting and partially from church) –listing causes and desired effects.

  • When danger looms, we quickly look for help from any source –to regain a sense of security. Seeing people with detestable bodies leads us to change our habits –to not be like them. When criticized, we berate the critic –to maintain our reputation. Upon 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 that includes things comparable to these and so does mine. Romans chapter two 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 the mind where our laws are kept. Some refer to it as our “core principles” or “central being.” (It’s not referring to our fickle emotions.)

Being just like Eve, we naturally attempt to fulfill God’s role. 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.

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)

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

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 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 rebellion is someone else’s rule . . . “The power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).

Designed to Fail

Even though we’ve accepted His proposal (we’re saved), most of the time we still 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 good, faithfully following the Ten Commandments, gladly tithing, worshiping in church . . . We’re not even conscious of the fact that these attempts to be 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 deliberately frustrates us. Romans 8:19-21 (through the end of that chapter) explains that He has subjected the whole creation to futility to reveal 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 us to Himself . . . and grow us into maturity.

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 the things in our lives that we can’t. That’s the Holy Spirit systematically 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. Those really are our only two guides for direction.

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 appalling, 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?