Flesh: What is its Nature?
Scripture Reading: 1 John 2:12-17
Text: Romans 7:18
Sermon Idea: There is an ever present battle between the flesh and the Spirit.
There is the story of an old deacon who used to lead prayer meetings would often finish them with this phrase in his prayers “O Lord, clean all the cobwebs out of my life!” His next door neighbor could take it no longer because he knew how the man really lived. Well one “Wednesday night” the deacon “ended in his usual manner.” His neighbor who couldn’t control himself any longer and jumped up and “shouted, Don’t do it Lord! Don’t do it! Make him kill the spider!” (Zuck 352).
The word flesh has many meanings in the Greek language. “Kreas” (2907) is one of the words used for flesh and its meaning is for meat, “nonliving flesh” (Zodhiates 886). Another word for flesh is “sarx” (4561) it has a number of different meanings and synonyms and antonyms. “Sarkos, fem. Noun. Flesh of a living creature in distinction from that of a dead one, which are kreas (2907), meat” (1280).
The word flesh is a word that used singularly is talking about the parts of the body. In its plural form “kai sarkas, fleshy parts” (1280); “figuratively” (1280) and in exaggerated terms, the word “phago (5315), which means to eat, consume, to destroy flesh” (1280).
The word flesh is generally used in connection with the covering of the body, with no evil or good connotations (1280). The use of “sarx” is used more frequently in the New Testament than in the Old (1280). The word is also used in the context of meaning frailty, weakness, imperfection, both physically and spiritually (1280). It is also having, been linked to sinfulness, potential to sin, carnality, the center of a “carnal appetites and desires, sinful passions and affections whether physical or moral” (1280).
The way it is used most in the New Testament is in its relation to the “human nature” (1281). That is where we come to another derivative of the Greek word for flesh “sarkikos” (4559) “pertaining to the flesh, carnal, sensual, with proneness to satisfy the desires of the flesh” (1281). “Sarkinos” (4560) is another derivative of the word “sarx.” It is dealing with the actual material of the flesh. Flesh being made of flesh.
The word flesh as used in our contemporary society outside the church uses the word in the context of the body and all of its connections there in “meat, fat, muscle, brawn, tissue, cells, flesh and blood, protoplasm, plasm, plasma, body parts, heart, insides” (Laird 157). The only other way flesh is not used in that way are references to families and relatives “one’s own flesh and blood” (157). Only within the church is the word flesh used in the connotation of men and women still dealing with the sensualness and carnality of human nature and its potential for sinfulness.
After, the discovery of the various words and meanings, that the Greeks have for the one word, we use that has many different meanings. We can now look at how Paul meant his use of the word “sarx” to be understood. Paul in my estimation was using derivative “sarkinos.” This derivative of flesh is used under the connotation of sensualness and carnality. The pleasing of the body. What does Paul have to say about flesh and its nature as it relates to us doing good?
I. How do we do good? (Rom. 7:18)
We are in a constant battle against our natural inclination of satisfying ourselves. Man’s failure in the garden caused us not to be able to reach our “potential.” In not achieving our potential, we are unable to please God. We are continually wanting to satisfy our body, mind, self, and peers. We want to be loyal and obey God, yet our loyalty is sometimes overcome by our former master who still longs to hold the deed to our life. We want to obey God and His law but somehow we are powerless to do so. The flesh or “sinful nature” is a part of every believer in which there is no good. We have the want to but to actually accomplish it leaves us lacking.
Malcolm Muggeridge has said this about the “sinful nature” or flesh,
It is precisely when you consider the best in a man that you see there is in each of us a core of pride or self-centeredness which corrupts our best achievements and blights our best experiences. It comes out in jealousy which spoils our friendships, in the vanity we feel when we have done something pretty good, in the easy conversion of love into lust, in the meanness which makes us depreciate the efforts of other people, in the distortion of our own self-interest, in our fondness for flattery and our resentment of blame, in our self-assertive profession of fine ideals which we never begin to practice.
How do we do good? We do good by changing our mind set. We must begin to set our minds on the things of God. To break free from the old master we must set our mind on “the newness of life.” There is a new way to live. Serving God with our mind allows us to be able to put our “sinful nature” in check. What does Paul have to say about flesh and its nature as it relates to us pleasing God?
II. How do we please God? (Rom. 8:8)
There are thirteen contrasts that we must look at when it comes to the “Law of My Mind vs. The Law of Sin” (Murphy 69). Upon entering the meeting you should have received a piece of paper, entitled, “The Law of My Mind vs. Law of Sin” (69). Let’s take a look at that paper. On it you will find scriptures that give support to the changing of our mind being of great importance so that we may succeed in pleasing God.
The Law of My Mind vs. The Law of Sin
1. “We know that the law is spiritual,” v. 14a 1. “I am of the flesh,” v. 14b.
2. I would like to do different than what “I am doing,” v. 15a. 2. I am “sold into bondage to sin,” v. 14c.
3. “What I do, “I hate,” v. 15d. 3. “I am doing (what) I do not understand,” v. 15a.
4. “I do not wish to do” what I am doing, v. 16a. 4. “I am not practicing what I would like to do,” v. 15b.
5. “I agree with the law, confessing that it is good,” v. 16b. 5. “I am doing the very thing I hate,” v. 15c; I am doing “the very thing I do not wish to do,” v. 16a.
6. I am not doing what I am doing, v. 17a. 6. The “sin which indwells me” is doing these evil things, v. 17.
7. “The wishing (to do good) is present in me,” v. 18b. 7. “The doing of the good is not” (in me), v. 18b.
8. “I wish” to do good, v. 19a. 8. “I do not do the good I wish,” v. 19a; “I am doing the very thing I do not wish,” v. 20a.
9. I am not doing what I am doing, v. 20b. 9. “Sin which dwells in me” is doing what “I do not wish,” v. 20b.
10. I am one “who wishes to do good,” v. 21. 10. “Evil is present in me,” v. 21.
11. “I Joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,” v. 22. 11. There is a “law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind,” v. 23a.
12. “The law of my mind” (the opposite of the law of sin), v. 23. 12. That different law makes “me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members,” v. 23b; I am a “wretched man,” v. 24a; I am a prisoner of “the body of this death,” v. 24b.
13. “With my mind (I) am serving the law of God,” v. 25. 13. “With my flesh, (I serve) the law of sin,” v. 25b.
Today we are limited by time to do justice to these contrasts. We will have to deal with them in future messages. I wanted you to begin to see and think about how powerful the mind is.
It also points out how we should be living in the Spirit. Yet we continue to live in our “sinful nature.” That is why we can’t please God. We must examine closely, but the possibility may exist that our continuing control by our “sinful nature” could mean that we have the possibility of still being in an unregenerate state. If this possibility is a fact then we “cannot please God” in this state.
Greg Keener tells us that the philosopher Philo did not speak highly of those people who sought only to fill their minds with the pleasures derived from the body. The philosophers and Judaism divided people into two classes. For the prior they were “the enlightened and the foolish.” For the latter it was “Israel and the Gentiles.” Paul divided them into those of the “Spirit and those left to their own devices.”
Paul is describing how the coming of the Spirit into ones life does not rid us of the flesh. We must learn to allow the Spirit to become dominant in order to please God. What does Paul have to say about flesh and its nature as it relates to living in the Spirit?
III. How do we live in the Spirit? (Rom. 8:13)
When we live our lives, according to the flesh, we have set our mind on the things of the flesh. Our own appetite, feeling good, sensualness. When we set our mind on the things of the Spirit, we live according to the Spirit. Peace, love, and joy dominate our lives. The things of God are what we are about.
“An electrician converted a gas stove to electricity, but he did not have time to adjust it. He had to do it the next day. So he took a piece of cardboard and wrote on it, ‘Converted but not adjusted’” (Zuck 361). We are not taken out of our body to live. God has given us the power that allows the Spirit to be the dominant personality instead of the flesh.
Many people are discouraged because they don’t see how they can put living in the Spirit into practical terms. Paul tells us that it is all a matter of changing our behavioral patterns. When we allow the Spirit to direct us, it is very easy to do. Ted Engstrom has given us a few ideas on another sheet. You should have received in your bulletin. Let’s take a look at this one:
Spiritual Development1. I deliberately place myself daily before God to allow Him to use me as He wills (Rom. 12:1-2).
2. Ask God at a specific time daily to reveal His strategy and will for me that day.
3. Set and achieve a goal for personal spiritual development through reading one significant book per week.
4. Isolate a known point of weakness (spiritually), and work on it with the help of the Holy Spirit to correct and improve this weakness.
5. Make a study of several Bible people who are good examples—and seek deliberately to emulate them in their strong points.
6. Set up a measuring device to check spiritual development (quantitatively) and measure regularly.
The things on this list are things that lead to life. Paul talks about life and death in this verse in the spiritual sense. Whether man is in the Spirit or unregenerate, he is destined to die. There comes a time when man will no longer be able to have the opportunity to live with God. So he will live apart from God spiritually. When we live according to the Spirit by having our mind on spiritual things we can “put to death” sin and live in the Spirit.
When we live in our own strength, when we don’t set our mind on the things of God and turn away from the “sinful nature” we will die and not see the resurrection. However, those who live by the Spirit will be resurrected.
There is one final contrast, I would like us to examine concerning life in the Spirit and that is this:
(According to the flesh) In Christ
(According to the Spirit)
Law, weak through the flesh powerless. No condemnation.
Condemned sin in the flesh. Law of the Spirit sets free from the law of sin and death.
Mind set on the things of the flesh. Mind set - on the things of the Spirit.
Mind set - death. Mind set - life and peace.
Mind set - hostile to God, does not submit to God’s law, cannot do so, cannot please God. Spirit dwells within, your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Self-centered. Centered in Christ.
We cannot be like the man at the beginning whom only wanted the cobwebs swept away. We must be on guard against,
1. Our cravings - giving into our pleasures.
2. Our lust - wanting what someone else has.
3. Our boasts - letting everyone know how great we are.
As a Spirit led person, the world is an uncomfortable place to live because we are careful not to conform to the world’s cry for separation from God. We want to be close to Him as humanly possible. We are careful, what we place in front of our eyes and careful in what comes from our lips. We seek to glorify God and His world.
Today we have spoken about how to do good, by changing the way we look at things. We have also spoken about pleasing God, by looking at things the way God looks at them. We have also talked about living in the Spirit, by allowing the Spirit to control our lives in a conscious effort.
In your hands I have placed some tools to help you begin this process of Spirit led living if you have not already begun to do so.
We will sing chorus number 72 to the tune of Danny Boy. As we sing this chorus two times through, I would ask that you make your way to this place of prayer if you need the Spirit to take complete control of your life.
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