The Works of the Flesh

by Sunday Ayandare
via Words Of Life, Vol. 16, No. 1, Jan-Mar. 2009.

We live in perilous times. Morals have degenerated to an abysmally low level. One could be tempted to say that the situation has reached its nadir. Reminiscent of the days of old, men are today calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). But sadder still, as far as the pattern of life for some is concerned, the distinguishing marks between the children of God and those "fathered" by the devil have been reduced to zero. But Paul says those who practice the works of the flesh "shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21). This is another way of saying they will be lost and will be lost eternally.

What Is The Flesh?

In the Scriptures, the flesh (sarx) is used in various senses. It is taken for living men and even animals in general (Genesis 6:13; 7:15,16). It may also be used to refer to a relation or one of the same kindred (Genesis 37:27). In I Corinthians 15:50, "the flesh and the blood," which cannot inherit the kingdom of God, has reference to the quality of corruption to which our bodies are subject in this life. When Paul speaks of living in the flesh or abiding in the flesh in Philippians 1:22,24, it is obvious from the context that he has in mind the estate of this present life. Moreover, that Ishmael was "born after the flesh" is an allusion to the fact that he was born according to the course of nature. However in Romans 7:18; 8:1,4-7, the flesh means not just the physical body, but that capability of wrongs which may include both body and mind. We should take cognizance of the fact that the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 include both sins in which the human body is active (e.g. fornication and drunkenness) and also those that involve an attitude of heart (e.g. hatred, emulation, envy).

Contrary to the thinking of some, man does not inherit deep-dyed perversity from Adam. When he was created, God's pronouncement on him was "good" (Genesis 1:31). Nevertheless, he became a sinner essentially because of the transgression of God's Will (I John 3:4). He was not forced to transgress God's Will, but he fell because he was "drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it bringeth forth death" (James 1:14,15).

By nature, man is neither carnal nor spiritual. But he chooses to be either. He has the capacity of choosing which way he wants to go. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the flesh which "lusteth against the Spirit" (Galatians 5:17) and of which "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8) represents the perverse desires that hijack our hearts from God. These perverse desires are "your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate ambition; evil concupiscence and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). These desires must be mortified. Viewed from this perspective, the flesh must be crucified with the affections and lusts thereof (Galatians 5:24).

Is crucifying the flesh an easy task? No. Indeed, it is a painful exercise. In order for us to subordinate our own will to that of God, there must be a kind of suffering and self-denial. There is a cross to bear daily (Luke 9:23). The body must be kept under and brought into subjection (I Corinthians 9:27). Every thought must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). We must endure hardships (II Timothy 2:3). As a matter of fact, we cannot cease from sin unless we are willing to suffer in the flesh (I Peter 4:1). But the pain will be assuaged by the enjoyment of eternity with God.

Why Do Some Choose To Walk After The Flesh?

Many are carried away by the glamorization of carnality that is so prevalent around us so much that be the time they realize it, they are already captured by the adversary. Remember, "each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin, and the sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death" (James 1:14,15).

We are not to admire sin in any form. Rather, we are to hate it (Jude 23). "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil" (Psalms 97:10). The Yorubas have a saying that you do not have to smell something you are not prepared to eat. To avoid drunkenness, for example the word of inspiration says, "look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright, at the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder..." (Proverbs 23:31-35).

Old habits die hard, people say. Perhaps because of this, some have not found it easy to discard entirely the practices of the flesh. Like the proverbial dog, they turn to their own vomit again (II Peter 2:22). But when a person decides to become a Christian, he becomes "a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). We should say together with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

On the other hand, as a result of forgetfulness, some others have lapsed into fleshly lusts. Peter tells us of the possibility of forgetting that we have been purged from our old sins, resulting in barrenness or unfruitfulness in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:8,9). Moreover, we are commanded to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). But it should be very obvious to everyone that when growth is not evident or it is stunted by inadequate spiritual nourishment, the result will be a life saturated with the practices of the flesh.

How To Crucify The Flesh

Let us now shift our focus and reflect on how to crucify the flesh. Surely, the flesh could be crucified. Paul says those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24). How? First, if we fear the Lord and fear Him sufficiently enough we are going to overcome the flesh. The word of inspiration says: "... by the fear if the Lord, men depart from evil" (Proverbs 16:6). When questioned by Abimelech, king of Gerar, as to why he did not disclose that Sarah was his wife, Abraham replied that "because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place and they will slay me for my wife's sake" (Genesis 20:11). Moreover, what prevented Joseph from committing adultery with his master's wife? The fear of God. Period. Listen to Joseph: "how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against my God" (Genesis 39:7-9). Oh yes! "the fear of the Lord is to hate evil ..." (Proverbs 8:13).

As a corollary to this, if it is our heart's desire to overcome the flesh, we should not naively associate it (the flesh) with glamour. Rather, we should abhor and detest it. Remember, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil. Joseph did not have to look at that woman to decide whether she was glamorous. He had a strong determination, rooted in the fear of God, not to give in and he did not. The Word of God says, "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil" (Psalms 97:10).

Still drawing from the example of Joseph on the ways of overcoming the flesh, we read that when the woman got hold of Joseph and asked him to "lie with me," Joseph "left his garment in her hand and fled and go out of the house" (Genesis 39:11-13). The Bible says: "flee fornication" (I Corinthians 6:18). Joseph did just that! The apostle Paul warned about youthful lusts and suggested a way of overcoming it: flee (II Timothy 2:22). Indeed, we are to abstain from every appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22). The trouble with many is that instead of paying attention to these admonitions and fleeing from the works of the flesh, they prefer to see how close they can get to sin. And in doing that, they are caught in the web of the flesh.

Do you want to overcome and crucify the flesh? One good way of doing that, according to the Scriptures, is to flee, to abstain.

Fourth, develop an optimistic attitude. Know assuredly that you can conquer the flesh. Paul says, "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh ..." (Galatians 5:24). It is the promise of God that He "will also make a way of escape" out of every temptation for His children (I Corinthians 10:13). Remember, "God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love and of a sound mind" (I Timothy 1:7).

Fifth and perhaps most importantly, be prayerful. We should realize that of our own selves we do nothing (John 15:5). Peter learned this the hard way. He denied his Lord three times (Matthew 26:75). But this was the very Peter who had boasted a while ago that "though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee" (Matthew 26:33,35). Could it be that Peter was basking in the "arm of flesh?" Was he relying on his own power to stick to his Lord? Perhaps. In contrast, Paul says he can do all things. How? "Through Christ that strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). The Lord Jesus shortly before He ascended up to heaven left a promise behind that "lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:10). "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Romans 8:37). So, let us be thankful to God who causes us to triumph in Christ (II Corinthians 2:14).

In conclusion, consider the fact that life is short and death is sure. Many things are uncertain in this world, but by inspiration, we know judgment is certain. Sooner or later, we shall appear before the great tribunal and give an account of ourselves to the righteous Judge. Surely, heaven will be worth whatever price we may have to pay.

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