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.)


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.

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).

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.

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.

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).

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.

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…

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…

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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