Summary: This is the first sermon in a series of two from the perspective of The Exchanged Life which seeks to help the believer to understand what the programmed flesh is.
I often hear believers comment as they’re attempting to live the Christian life, “My life seemed a lot easier when I wasn’t a Christian.” Or, they’ll say, “Why am I having such a hard time, when those who don’t live for Christ seem to be so ‘happy go lucky’, they seem to live without a care in the world?” Which brings me to ask us; “What is that makes the Christian life so difficult to live?”
Even the Apostle Paul seemed to express difficulty in living the Christian life when he wrote in Romans 7:15, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” If you were to ask most defeated Christians about issues in their lives, they would tell you they have a problem. It’s a problem that they believe is keeping them from experiencing peace, joy and freedom that comes with the life in Christ. These problems may range anywhere from a spouse who doesn’t respond appropriately to an addiction to an eating disorder. However, the truth is what appears to be the problem in the life of a struggling or defeated Christian really isn’t the problem at all!
One Christian counselor put it this way: “Your problem is that you don’t know what your problem is. You think your problem is your problem, but that’s not the problem at all. Your problem is not your problem and that’s your main problem.” So, just what is the problem? The problem is that the Christian life is not difficult to live, it’s impossible. You can only live the Christian life as you trust Jesus Christ to BE your life and live His life through you. However, the truth is the majority of believers live most of their lives out of their own resources rather than living through Christ as their source of life. As a result, we become pretty much set in our own ways, ways that aren’t so easily changed. Ways that may have somewhat met your needs and even appeared godly. Those old ways that you have depended upon and lived by for so long constitute what the Bible calls “THE FLESH.” And it’s the flesh that’s the major barrier to experiencing Christ as your life. So in seeking to understand the flesh, first of all let’s answer 3 important questions beginning with:
I. What is the flesh? verses 16-17
The word itself comes from the Greek “sarx” meaning the corrupt ways of man, subject to his selfish appetites and passions. From that root we get “sarkikos” meaning carnal or fleshly. In fact, flesh is referred to 163 times in the New Testament and 250 times in the Old Testament. Flesh has many usages from meaning skin - whether of man, animals, birds or fish. It’s also used of the human body as well as people in general, all mankind or the world in Genesis 6:12 when God looked on the earth and behold it was corrupt; for “all flesh” had corrupted their way upon the earth. There are many other usages of flesh, however the most common usage is to point out the personality of an individual focused on self-centeredness.
Now, when we talk about “the flesh” most people tend to think in terms of the deeds or results of living after the flesh. Paul gives us that suggestive list in verses 19-21. But “the flesh” is not just smoking, dipping, drinking, running around and profanity. The flesh is the way that you seek to meet your needs out of your own resources. Paul gives a description of his flesh in Philippians 3:3-6 . . . He includes his status, his education, his religious zeal, family line as well as commitment to a cause.
Another definition by Bill Gillham is “Flesh refers to the old ways or patterns by which you have attempted to get all your needs supplied instead of seeking Christ first and trusting Him to meet all your needs.” Another biblical description is found in 1 Peter 1:18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers...” So the flesh is all of the habit patterns that you have developed over the years to meet your needs out of your own resources. And that’s what many call it the Self-life or self-sufficient life. The actual problem is, we’re living out of our own resources rather that living in Christ’s resources.
Neil T. Anderson characterizes the flesh as “learned independence.” In The Bondage Breaker, he states, “You brought to your Christian commitment a fully conditional mind-set and lifestyle developed apart from God and centered on yourself. Sure, you were born physically alive, but spiritually dead. You had neither the presence of God nor the knowledge of God’s ways. So you learned to live your life independent of God.” Your flesh patterns are the ways you’ve learned to find life, to live life, to make life work without depending on God. That’s what the flesh is. But to get a better understanding of “The Flesh” there’s another important question we need to answer. Secondly: