Part 4 – What are we to do?
CHAPTER 5 – Living The Christian Life continued…
Our Conduct Or Behavior As Believers
The Christian life is
A WALK, A RACE, A WARFARE, FRUITFUL,
A LIFE OF PEACE, A REST, A LIFE OF PRAYER.
The Walk is One of Obedience (continued)
The second area in which the believer faces conflict is the flesh. In Galatians 5:16,17, it says,
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
The opposition between the flesh and the Spirit is described in this passage. Flesh, as used here, refers to the principle of life that operates in a person who is not controlled by the Holy Spirit.
God’s design is for the believer to yield to the Holy Spirit to be filled with the Spirit and to be controlled by Him in life and actions. If the believer chooses to act independently of the Spirit, the believer operates only from his human abilities (his soul and body). Such a way of operating will be controlled by the lust of the flesh. The word, lust, can also be translated desire. But when the person follows the lust of the flesh, it will result in the works of the flesh, as listed in Galatians 5:19-21.
When it says in Gal. 5:17, …ye cannot do the things that ye would, the thought is that the person who is operating in the Spirit cannot also be following what his own self-will would choose. Thus, we learn that operating in self-will is operating from an egocentric basis, with self trying to be in control, instead of operating from a Christ-centered basis, with Christ in control of the life.
The flesh can produce nothing better from God’s viewpoint than the works mentioned in Gal. 5:19-21. If the child of God is to avoid such results in his own life, he must choose to walk in or submit to the Spirit. His focus, therefore, cannot be on keeping from doing the works of the flesh, but rather on walking in the Spirit.
We see that the only remedy for the child of God to have victory over the flesh is by walking in the Spirit. This is the obedience to the command of verse 16, Walk in the Spirit, which walking, alone, can bring victory.
A further description of the flesh is in I Corinthians 3, as the Apostle Paul confronts the Corinthian believers along with the believers of all time with the condition of carnality. In I Corinthians 3:1, he says,
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
I Corinthians 3:1 gives us further understanding about the flesh in the word, carnal. Carnal and flesh both come from the same word-stem, sarx, in the New Testament Greek. In Greek word derivatives, carnal is to flesh as spiritual is to spirit.
The child of God can operate either as being spiritual or carnal, as is presented in I Corinthians 3:1. In addition, the passage equates being carnal to being babes in Christ. If these carnal people referred to in this passage had recently come to Christ, Paul would not have described them as carnal. He is evidently rebuking them for their immaturity since they have had time to grow spiritually, but they have not done so. In verse 2 of I Corinthians 3, Paul explains,
I have fed you with milk, and not with solid food; for to this time ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
This rebuke is similar to that found in Hebrews 5:12-14, which says,
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye…are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.
For everyone that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.
But solid food belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The term, milk, is described in this passage as being unskillful in the word of righteousness, indicating that an understanding to know how to recognize righteousness through the knowledge of God’s Word has not been developed in one who is a babe spiritually. Those Christians who are of full age have their senses exercised (by using the word of righteousness) to discern both good and evil. These Christians are the ones that Paul calls spiritual in I Corinthians 3:1.
In I Corinthians 3:3,4, the Apostle Paul further described those that are carnal (or, fleshly):
For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
A further description here of carnality includes envying, strife, and divisions. The characteristics of envying, strife, and divisions are then illustrated by the tendency to have preferential regard for one leader in opposition to any other leaders. There is a very human tendency to regard one spiritual leader as being perfect in one’s own viewpoint, and to be critical or judgmental in regard to all other spiritual leaders. Carnality is evidenced by this attitude which leads to factions in the body of believers.
Similarly today, believers need to walk in the Spirit, which will enable them to avoid envy, strife and divisions and the preferential regard for one Christian over another. Comparative passages are in Genesis 6:4, where we see the origin of an aristocracy (See p. 12) which God judged at the time of the flood, and in James 2:1-3, where believers are warned against showing respect of persons.
Believers are exhorted in II Corinthians 7:1,
…Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The way to accomplish the cleansing of the filthiness is stated in II Corinthians 6:17,
Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
As the child of God is led by the Holy Spirit, he will know what is regarded by God as being unclean, as revealed in God’s Word. As the believer heeds the Spirit’s cautions, he will refuse to indulge in anything thus declared unclean. By following the Spirit’s leading in this way, the believer will realize the cleansing of his body and spirit.
The flesh was a problem for the Apostle Paul, as he testified in Romans 7:14,18,
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.
The flesh, as used by Paul in these passages, seems to relate to a part of one’s being other than merely the physical body. The flesh relates to the wrongful control factor of the outer man over the inner man, which is the reversed order of God’s design. Flesh (or, being carnal) suggests that there is a manner in which an individual can live his life that is antagonistic to the law which is spiritual.
We can understand why Paul can say the law is spiritual when we consider the law (of Moses) as a revelation of God’s righteousness. When a person receives Christ as Saviour, his soul is redeemed (saved) and his spirit is regenerated (born again), but the law (or, principle) of sin is still working in his members (Romans 7:25). The law of sin working in the body is always a possibility until the body experiences redemption at the resurrection (Romans 8:23).
The believer is given the choice as to whether he will yield to the Holy Spirit, having his spirit under the control of the Holy Spirit (the inward man…renewed day by day, II Corinthians 4:16), or to choose to live according to the lusts of the flesh, with self in control, resulting in corruption (Galatians 6:8). Yielding to the Holy Spirit will occur by walking in the Spirit, Galatians 5:16, and yielding his members as instruments of righteousness, Romans 6:13. (See the three sections on walking in the Spirit from the chapter, Living the Christian Life.)
The Apostle Paul then seems to refer to the constant pull of the flesh as that which is sold under sin (Rom. 7:14). Thus, as the believer operates with the flesh in control, he realizes the law (or, principle) of sin and death (Romans 8:2) is the controlling principle. The solution to such a dilemma is given in Romans 7:24,25,
Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
The explanation of how victory over the flesh is accomplished is given in Romans 8:2,
For the law (principle) of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
The child of God can then say, “Thank God, I have been delivered from the body of death through Jesus Christ our Lord,” as Paul said in Romans 7:25!
In order to understand the ways in which the flesh can prevent believers in Christ from receiving the blessings of the spiritual life, we need to be aware of the following passage in Romans 8:5,7,8:
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be.
So, then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
The ultimate condition and necessary choice for the believer to make is stated in Romans 8:13,
For if ye live (continually) after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify (put to death, continually) the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
Deeds a person might do if he follows the body’s demands (living after the flesh) can be put to death only by choosing the Holy Spirit to be in control of the person’s life and actions (Rom. 6:13,16,18). When a person neglects or fails to so yield himself he finds that he readily lives after the flesh.
In Ephesians 2:3, the Scripture indicates every human being has come from the same background, as a sinner, of living according to the flesh,
Among whom (the world, v.2) also we all had our manner of life in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Although our ruling disposition as sinners was to fulfill the lusts of our flesh, once we come to Christ and receive Him, we are made alive with Christ, are seated in the heavenlies in Christ (Eph. 2:4-6), and are freed from any obligation to do the bidding of the flesh. (Please see Fact 50, United with Christ [Identification].)
In Colossians 2:11, the provision concerning the believer’s relationship to the flesh is given,
In whom (Christ) also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.
This Scripture indicates that God has made full provision for the believer through Christ’s work in His death and resurrection. God sees the believer as distinct from the person’s deeds of the flesh, and as being joined with Christ. As these truths are accepted by faith, and the believer reckons and yields (See Reckon and Yield near the beginning of Chapter 5), he will experience victory concerning his former sinful practices.
The person who presumes to be a believer, but is not, will be under the terrible grasp the flesh can have on a person who pretends to be a believer, but whom God knows is still ungodly, as is seen in II Peter 2:9,10,18,
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished;
But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they; self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that are just escaping from them who live in error.
The passage in II Peter 2:9,10,18 is referring to the unsaved, but because the flesh can be such a strong foe, the child of God must flee to the refuge of his life in the Spirit continually if he is to have victory over the flesh.
Next Week: Part Five continued: The Devil
Copyright © 1996 A. Ward Brandenstein
Used with permission.
A. Ward Brandenstein
Pastor Ward earned an M.A. in Guidance and Counselling from Eastern Michigan University after taking special courses in psychology at Wayne State University, and earned a Bachelor of Theology (Th.B.) from Baptist Bible College and Seminary with Greek and Hebrew studies, and earned a diploma from Philadelphia Bible Institute (now Cairn U.), including New Testament Greek studies. His knowledge of the Bible and close walk with God are appreciated by all who know him and have sat under his teaching. Pastor Brandenstein and his wife Rose Ann reside in California, teaching college level singles and married couples, young professionals, and retired pastors and missionaries.