“Stand Firm Against the Flesh”
Paul addressed the important things around which to align our life that enables us to find joy no matter what in a letter written to followers of Jesus living in the Greek city called Philippi.
1. ADOPT THE RIGHT AXIS – A Passion to praise Christ
2. MAINTAIN THE RIGHT ATTITUDE – A Passion to please Christ
3. PURSUE THE RIGHT AIM – A Passion to pursue Christ
4. PRACTICE THE RIGHT ACTIONS – A Passion to live Christ
He specified several actions throughout chapter four.
The first admonition is to “stand firm in the Lord.”
A. Stand firm in the Lord 4:1
Therefore, my brothers, dearly loved and longed for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, dearly loved.
Over the past weeks, we have explored numerous Bible passages calling us to stand firm in the Lord. These passages apply to various life situation.
APPLYING STANDING FIRM IN THE LORD
Stand firm against persecution and false teaching
Stand firm in the storms of life.
Stand firm against the schemes of the Devil
Stand firm in The Faith.
Stand Firm Against the Flesh.
Peter strongly urged the followers of Jesus to address this deadly enemy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 2:11
Peter used a present active verb indicating an action you do regularly. “Continually abstain from these fleshly passions.” He didn’t say moderate these pesky passions.
He didn’t say ignore these passions. Because these passions continually wage war against our inner life, we are to continually abstain from, discard, get far away from, do away with them. We are not to give in to embedded sinful passions. “Do not give in” is literally “abstain,” with the idea not only of refraining from indulging in something, but of not allowing it to dominate one’s life. The term translated “flesh” can refer to several things. The term appears 147 times in the New Testament; 91 by Paul mostly in Romans and its partner letter Galatians. It is used to describe the physical human body. “Flesh and blood” “two became one flesh”
It is used in connection to humanity or blood relatives. “All flesh will see the glory of God”. It can refer to a morally neutral aspect of humanity. It can have reference to the physical body. i.e. Jesus became flesh.
It also appears in a specialized theological sense to refer to an inner drive or passion to function apart from God or any spiritual influence. In this sense, it refers to a morally negative bent passed on because of Adam’s sin. The modern translations often translate the term by the English “sinful nature.” Actually, there is no Biblical term “sinful nature” – it is a translation of “flesh”. Paul primarily focused on this aspect of the flesh. I think a more consistent translation would be “sinful flesh” to differentiate it from the plain amoral references.
Here are some core passages which reference this thing we are instructed to abstain from.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 1 Peter 1:14
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3
Having put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… Eph 4:22
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Titus 3:3
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:16-17
Like a substance addiction, these cravings come imbedded in our physiology from birth and affect our thinking, our feelings, our choices. We are like addicts no longer free to function any differently than dictated by these overpowering drives. Paul said we ALL once lived in passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. Paul documented the external manifestation of the sinful flesh.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It is not difficult to identify the operation of the flesh in our culture.
We see sexual passions contrary the Biblical delineated boundaries destroying lives.
We see impurity of all kinds.
We see people driven by their senses rather than their reason.
We see the pursuit of meaning in anything else but the true God.
We see involvement in occult practices.
We see the disintegration of relationships.
We see the drive to substance abuse and self-medication from life’s difficulties.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? 1 Corinthians 3:1-4
Many of these things are humorized or graphically displayed in the media as entertainment. One actor played a sexually perverted, crass, arrogant person on a sit com. They added a laugh-track and tried to make us think everyone thought it was funny. When that same actor acted that way in real life, even Hollywood reacted.
Because we have for so long focused on the obviously destructive passions we often fail to see how much of our own lives are driven by these fleshy passions that do damage to our inner life. When can easily become addicted to the triggering of dopamine in the pleasure centers of our brain. God is not opposed to pleasure.
He created us to experience pleasure. The problem comes when pleasure for pleasure sake becomes our ultimate goal. We live in an overstimulated and easily addicted culture. Sensual stimulation can easily take over our life. Paul also listed the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s operation which results in quality relationships.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:19-23
At times, it seems like a whole other entity inhabits our body complete with thoughts, emotions, drives, passions and dictates our choices.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8
Every believer experiences this excruciating conflict raging within.
The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:17
The genuine Christians fights two sets of inner longings.
Paul graphically described his conflict.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. Romans 7:14-20
Paul refused to personally identify with or embrace these sinful desires anymore.
He called them the cravings or desires of the flesh warring against the spirit. He clearly expressed his true longings for serving and pleasing God. He identified a resident evil an indwelling sin which I believe is the flesh. His true longing was to please God. We find ourselves in a tug of war between two opposite longings. The brain and the entire body came programed with these self-centered passions for pleasure, possessions and prestige without consideration of what God wants for us. The flesh seeks self-fulfillment. Maslow ranked human needs in order of importance. It is called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the top of his pyramid is “self-actualization.” The flesh continually pursues self-satisfaction.
These passions of the flesh are thoroughly imbedded in the brain, emotions and will and our entire physiology. The desires of the flesh function contrary and even hostile to the desires of God. The flesh wants nothing to do with God. Nothing of the flesh can please God.
The imbedded sinful flesh prevents individuals from doing the will of God. The flesh can only be defeated through new birth and the continual work of the Holy Spirit. Many of us still feel like addicts to these fleshly sinful passions. We ignorantly own these passions as our own feelings although we hate them and continually struggle with them. We feel schizophrenic. We feel like a part of me really wants to follow these passions. Another part realizes the futility of living a life driven by self-centered passions. To deny the flesh feels too much like denying a part of ourselves. Our current culture encourages us to satisfy these passions.
They claim it is unhealthy to deny yourself. Paul frames this battle as a battle against the fleshly passions NOT ourselves.
So what do we do about it How do we win this battle? There are several passages that provided counsel regarding this life-long battle. The first step in living differently is to realize there is something different about us. God renewed the inner core of our being and the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
REALIZE WHO YOU ARE
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
The first step in rising above these passions is to realize that in the core of our inner being we do not really want to carry out the desires of the sinful flesh. God stirs new longings for community with God and each other. We have a deep longing to please God. God Himself constantly works within us to the point where we WANT and DO His good pleasure not ours.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13
That is the definition of spiritual maturity. We demonstrate spiritually maturity when we not only SEEK to please God but WANT to.
BE WILLING TO SUFFER
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
1 Peter 4:1-2
This tells me that abstaining from the flesh is not easy. It resembles trying to get free from substance abuse.
It can be painful. It can be extremely difficult. It requires help and diligence and a multi-faceted approach.
It requires a new way of thinking about life.
WALK BY THE SPIRIT
Start with positive.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16
Notice the order. It doesn’t say, “don’t gratify the desires of the flesh in order to walk in the Spirit.” It tells us to live our life by the direction and enabling grace of the Holy Spirit.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified (point time action) the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live (present active) by the Spirit, let us also keep in step (march in line) with the Spirit. Galatians 5:24-25
present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Romans 6:11-13
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ Rom 13:12
RUTHLESSLY DEAL WITH THE FLESH
Just like denying a sugar addiction, we are to deny sinful passions fulfilment. The flesh cries for fulfilment and constant feeding. Request denied.
Abstain from the passions of the flesh
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
Consider yourselves dead to sin.
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. Colossians 3:5
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Stop letting sin reign
Stop letting sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Rom 6.11
Stop presenting your members to sin.
Stop presenting your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness Rom 6:11
Put to death the deeds of the body (flesh)
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14
Put off the works of darkness and deny any gratification to the flesh
The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on (point time action) the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not give forethought (present)for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:12-14
Discipline the physical body
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The term translated “discipline” is a term which meant to “hit under the eye”. Paul said, “I constantly punch myself in the face in order to keep the body under
RENEW YOUR THINKING
Do not be conformed (present passive) to this world, but be transformed (present passive) by the renewal of your mind, to prove (demonstrate) what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
We need to constantly examine our thought life. Over the years, we develop certain thought patterns and ideas about life. Many of which are not biblical. These ideas imbed in our members and dictate our behavior.
These thoughts need to be constantly challenged against truth.
For though we live in the flesh (body), we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:31-32
We can only win the battle against the sinful flesh by a reprograming of our faulty thinking. Our lives are transformed by the renewing of our thinking. Our thinking is renewed through continual exposure to and interaction with truth.
What or who controls your life?
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Isaiah 55:1-3
Satisfying life is found in Jesus yet we look for it so many other places. The flesh promises a false sense of satisfaction. The Israelites craved meat and God gave them meat for their stomachs but they experienced leanness in their soul.
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man. Proverbs 27:20
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Ecclesiastes 1:8
The flesh promises satisfaction from food, pleasure, entertainment, sensations, achievement, notoriety, stuff, media, games, smart phones yet not really satisfies.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this (physical) water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the (spiritual) water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
It’s time to detect the lies of the flesh. It is time to deny the screams for satisfaction. It is time to decide to live by the direction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Do you want to know who is in control?
How many deeds of the flesh are showing up in your life? How much fruit of the Holy Spirit can other people recognize in your life?