Use these four insights to beat the flesh at its own game


The ‘glass half-empty’ is a common response of the flesh that blocks the perspective of the Spirit.

Romans 8:3-5 NIV
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live [lit.walk] according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

What do we mean by ‘flesh’? It is one of those Greek words (sarx) that doesn’t translate well. Here are four facets that give a picture of the particular Bible use of the word ‘flesh’.

1. The darker side of human nature

Human nature comes somewhere near but it isn’t quite the same thing.

The renowned Greek scholar W. E. Vine calls it “the weaker element in human nature, the unregenerate state and the seat of sin in man”.

‘Flesh’ is the dimension of human nature which is definitely not spiritual — in fact it is operating a rearguard, controlling action to prevent the threat to our own comfort that seems to go with growing spiritually.

Have you asked Jesus into your life? Or, if you have taken this life-changing decision, have you asked Him to be Lord of your life today? If that makes you uncomfortable, it is most likely the flesh part of you that is reacting. Asking Jesus into your life is to the flesh like joining the SAS and it says, “I don’t want to go there!”

The adventurer Bear Grylls has done both of those things, so he might have a view on that! I suspect the flesh desires for comfort, security and familiarity don’t get much of a hearing for him. We may be wired differently.

2. Conditioned by experiences

Another aspect of ‘flesh’ is about habit and conditioning and how much they shape us – or even define us. If you had a critical parent, you’ll feel everyone is criticising you. If you had a harsh one, you’ll say “Stop shouting at me!” when someone asserts a contrary view. If your teachers told you that you weren’t good enough, you’ll easily swerve into thinking that you’re not doing things right. On the other hand, if you were the child that could do no wrong, you’ll probably have an arrogant streak.
To relate in a balanced, true way to a spiritual Father can be quite difficult, in a strange sort of way. There are opposites to cope with – He is the Creator of all and He has total ownership of all, but at the same time He is gracious in understanding our failings and shows a loving kindness that’s beyond human measure.

3. Conflicting choices

So we are already poised to get the wrong end of the stick. Add to that the life habits and coping mechanisms and elements of conditioning so we have collected over the years, and all sorts of things can kick off. Most of them unhelpful.

If we have a personal relationship with God – from having accepted Jesus, what He has done for us and who He really is – we are changed. We have this new life within us. There’s a security that wasn’t there before. We can tell those fears to back off and we can experience what it is to be held in the grip of the Father’s love. It changes everything.

4. The pull of old, familiar ways

It changes the old patterns of how we react, how we behave, how we respond, how we think – but there’s a timescale involved. And we have a very human ‘flesh’ tendency to slide back to the old ways, at the mercy of our feelings.

If you were a ‘glass half empty’ person, always wanting sympathy in your self-pity – now you know, personally, the person that always has a fill-up to offer you. But you are more used to the lack, more used to the fear of being empty, more used to being passed over. You still have that tendency to respond in the old way. You have to train yourself to live as that new person and to take hold of that new hope and new expectation which is yours, and to say a firm ‘no’ to the nagging voices of doubt.
In a church context, we have people trained to pray with others and to keep confidences and we often do this at the end of a service or in a small group setting. We often find that on these occasions, the Holy Spirit will very gently flag up a memory or an unresolved issue that is holding a person back; holding them back in the flesh (rather than Spirit) of “this is how I am” and feeling trapped.

We all need to encourage one another to live by leaning on God, not leaning towards what is safe and familiar – in other words to “walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh” in the slightly quaint but explicit language of the more formal versions of the Bible. Easy to say, a bit more challenging to do. That’s why the Way of Jesus is about fellowship and shepherding one another.


• A large part of God’s provision for us is otherChristians. Are you active in a church small group which has a high value on unconditional love?

• Which of the four facets above particularly spoke to you?

• What was a recent conflicting choice for you, that was a flesh vs Spirit issue?

Dig deeper on Red Run: The 4 flesh tendencies we easily overlook

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