After learning about God’s grace, and after sampling the peace that comes with it, we have been convinced to now battle and somehow conquer our flesh along with its shameful urges.
We believers (at least most of us) really think that we know what the flesh is and what must be done to overcome it so that we can be spiritually and emotionally close to God.
But if we were right then we wouldn’t still be fretting about our thoughts, regretting yesterday’s decisions and dreading what tomorrow holds.
That part of us, our flesh, needn’t be a mystery.
Let’s reconsider that first description of our human makeup. It’s where Adam said of his new helpmate, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). Those two elements might seem like our skeletal framework and its overlaying soft tissue—or our body and its mental faculties. Yet there’s much more to it.
The phrase “bone and flesh” is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament to accentuate a person’s kindred features, character and family relationships. It’s even in Jesus’ poignant assurance to the disciples when they saw Him after the resurrection (in Luke chapter 24).
The New Testament provides a more granular view of our whole living body (“bone”). It’s comprised of a physical body, a soul and a spirit (from 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Those elements describe what we are. Some of what we do are: eat, drink, perpetuate families, have jobs, relax with hobbies and friends—experience life. Together they make up the bone part of us.
Although the physical body houses our soul and spirit, the soul is the governor. As such, it chooses between its only two guides for direction (motivations). The one that normally drives us is the blusterous inhabitant of the mind: it’s the flesh. The other is subtle and meek. It’s our spirit, and through it the Holy Spirit can communicate with us. (We will get to that one shortly.)
The New Testament, like the Old, uses the word flesh to convey our natural, primary motivation. A close ally to that word, one that we commonly use, 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. (Some understand it better as our “animal instinct.”)
To God, the flesh is neither good nor bad. Rather, He designed it so that we can operate independently—without His constant intervention. However, the flesh’s goal is to remain self-serving and self-sufficient. That is why it’s also called the sin-nature; it has no instinctive need for Him, for His kingdom or for His gift of life.
God designed our flesh so that we can naturally operate independently—without His constant intervention.
It wasn’t long until Satan said to Eve ”. . .when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (from Genesis 3:4-5). His words might seem innocuous but keep in mind that “knowing good and evil” are in the context of Eve trying to “be like God.”
Good means “valuable.” It’s what God cherishes and will keep with Him forever. Evil means “worthless.” It’s what He will eventually abandon to oblivion. And knowing means “competently discern,” “fully comprehend,” “be thoroughly familiar with.” It’s having the wherewithal to judge people and the circumstances that mold them—something that only He is qualified to do.
I realize that I’m repeating a bit, but it’s to keep their story intact:
Although Eve would judge, she didn’t have the capacity to really know the purposes of the many parts of His creation. Trying to “be like God, knowing good and evil” is encroaching upon His role as the Supreme Authority. 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 putting those two trees in the middle of the garden, God first brings our attention to the tree of life, and then to the tree of death. The two laws that they represent are found in Romans 8:1-2. It labels them the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which describes the ways of eternal life, and the law of sin and death which describes why we need that life.
Referring to the tree of death, He 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. Sin (displacing Him, encroaching on His role) and death (spiritual death) are part of our natural condition.
(Some maintain that God didn’t directly tell her to not eat the fruit—maybe to excuse her and somehow shift the blame to the man. But God told them both at the same time; it was while they shared the same body.)
Eating the fruit was merely evidence of what was already in Eve’s heart. She appointed herself to be the Judge, the Supreme Authority. She would decide who and what were good and evil.
Eve’s flesh (her primary, natural motivation) seized control of her life and whatever affected it. She wasn’t satisfied with merely being her husband’s helper. The passage is quite telling (in its veiled way): “Your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you” (from Genesis 3:16).
Desiring her husband wasn’t limited to possessing him; she aspired to be the king who ruled over all. Likewise, we naturally try to “be like God” rather than accept Jesus’ sovereignty over us as our Husband.