Feeding the Flesh

DugDownDeep-smallest.jpegThe fol­low­ing is an excerpt from a chap­ter on sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion from a sim­ple book on doc­trine called: Dug Down Deep. In it Josh Har­ris answers ques­tions like “If we’re new, why do we so often act old? If we’re changed by faith in Christ, why do so many parts of our lives still need ren­o­va­tion? Why do we still face temp­ta­tion? Why do we still sin?” As he talks about our ongo­ing strug­gle against sin, he shares a few car­toons to help make his point.


Until the final day, until we’re changed and freed for­ever from our strug­gle against sin, we have to deal with the ongo­ing pres­ence and influ­ence of sin
Until the final day, until we’re changed and freed for­ever from our strug­gle against sin, we have to deal with the ongo­ing pres­ence and influ­ence of sin
–what the­olo­gians call indwelling or remain­ing sin. Indwelling sin describes the fact that even as Chris­tians we can still be enticed and tempted by our old desires, what the Bible often refers to as “the flesh.” Gala­tians 5:17 says, “For 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 pre­vent you from doing what you would.”

Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no pro­vi­sion for the flesh, to grat­ify its desires.” Once when I was work­ing on a ser­mon on Romans 13:14, I started doo­dling on my notepad (a habit that helps me think but that some­times annoys other peo­ple when I’m sup­posed to be pay­ing atten­tion in a meet­ing). Any­way, I drew some car­toons to try to illus­trate the Christian’s rela­tion­ship to the flesh. My kids liked the pic­tures, so the fol­low­ing is my first-grade-friendly expla­na­tion of “the flesh.” (Feel free to color.)

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1. This is you. Or us. We’re humans made in God’s image (Gen­e­sis 1:26–27). Ladies, sorry you have to iden­tify with a lit­tle guy. And I’m not sure why he doesn’t have on a shirt. That’s just how I drew him.
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2. This is the flesh. He’s kind of Jabba the Hutt meets WWF wrestler. The flesh rep­re­sents the sin­ful, cor­rupted desires of our heart. It’s not a ref­er­ence to our bodies–our bod­ies are cre­ated by God and are good. And though my car­toon can’t do this jus­tice, the flesh isn’t some­thing out­side of us or just a part of us. It’s who we are apart from Christ. The flesh rep­re­sents our sin­ful crav­ings to live for our­selves and dis­obey God’s laws and com­mands (Romans 7:18).
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3. Before Jesus saves us, this is how all of us relate to the flesh. The Bible says that we are slaves to our sin­ful desires (John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:19). Our flesh is boss. It tells us what to do (Proverbs 5:22). Even the good things we do are stained by sin and self­ish­ness.
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4. This is what hap­pens when we trust in Jesus. Because Jesus died on the cross and con­quered sin and rose again, we are freed from the power or domin­ion of sin (Gala­tians 2:20). It no longer dom­i­nates us (Romans 6:22). It’s no longer our boss. See how the chain is bro­ken? And we get clothes, which is really great.
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5. But our flesh doesn’t dis­ap­pear. It no longer reigns, but it’s still a real­ity (Gala­tians 5:16–17). It still hangs around to entice us. After we’re Chris­tians, we’re no longer slaves to sin, but the flesh can still tempt us. We can choose to give in to temp­ta­tion and indulge the flesh. Jesus broke the power of sin, but until heaven we still live with the pres­ence and influ­ence of sin­ful desires. Don’t think it’s a stale­mate. The Holy Spirit indwells believ­ers and empow­ers us to say no to the flesh. He is at work in us, trans­form­ing us to be like Jesus (2 Corinthi­ans 3:18).
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6. That’s why the Bible is full of encour­age­ment to fight our fleshly desires. We can’t live at peace with the flesh. We have to attack it and deny it and kill it (Romans 8:13; 13:12). In hind­sight, I guess draw­ing a “sword of the Spirit” would have been a bit more bib­li­cal. Oh well. This is the “stick” of the Spirit.
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7. The prob­lem is that too often Chris­tians make friends with their flesh. In fact they feed their flesh. That’s what “mak­ing pro­vi­sion” means (Romans 13:14). We feed our flesh when we do things that encour­age or fos­ter our old sin­ful desires. This is choos­ing to live like who we used to be. Giv­ing in to temp­ta­tion, dwelling on sin­ful thoughts, spend­ing time with peo­ple and in places that cel­e­brate sin are like giv­ing our flesh three well-rounded meals a day with snacks and dessert. We might think that since we’ve been freed by the Cross, it’s okay to indulge the flesh, but that’s not true (Gala­tians 5:13, 24). And there’s a real prob­lem. When we feed the flesh…
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8. Our flesh can grow! And before we know it, the flesh is big­ger and stronger than we are and starts to push us around (Romans 6:12). This is why even gen­uine Chris­tians, who are no longer wear­ing the chains of sin, can feel like their flesh is bul­ly­ing them (Gala­tians 6:7–8). That’s why Paul tells us in Romans 13 that we need to…
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9. Starve our flesh! This is what we want our flesh to look like. We want the flesh gaunt and fee­ble (2 Corinthi­ans 7:1). We should never expect it to be com­pletely gone until Jesus returns and for­ever frees us from the pres­ence of sin. Even a weak, wimpy flesh can try to trip us up (1 Corinthi­ans 10:12–14). But when we starve the flesh, it’s eas­ier to resist temp­ta­tion and walk in obedience.

Again, one prob­lem with my car­toons is that they could give the impres­sion that the flesh is an out­side force attack­ing us. But it is called indwelling sin because it’s in us. It resides in our hearts.

The real­ity of remain­ing sin should cause us to walk humbly, to live depen­dently on God, and to seek the help of other Chris­tians. The truth is, we can be deceived. Our motives are not per­fectly inno­cent. We need the power of the Spirit and the Word of God to search us.


Excerpted from Dug Down Deep by Joshua Har­ris © Copy­right 2010 Mult­nomah Books.


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