More often than not, we are our own worst enemies.
Much of our suffering, anguish and pain comes from what we have done to ourselves and our relationships. As the old blues song communicates so well, “ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.” The Bible has different terms for this part of ourselves that destroys our lives from within: the old man, sin within me, and the flesh. If we are a Christian, then we do not just have the flesh leading us and deceiving us—we also have the Holy Spirit that is giving us truth and freedom.
Our life can be seen as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit over every aspect of who we are (Mark 14:38). The Spirit is seeking to have more and more control, while the flesh is attempting to maintain control over us. However, the only thing the flesh is really interested in doing is to keep us in comfort and ease. The flesh wants us to feel good and to be comfortable. Although the flesh often encourages us to sin and to take a good thing and to do it to excess, the flesh might also encourage us to do something the Spirit wants us to do, if it meets its own desires.
1. Maintain a focus on the kingdom of God, not oneself, not this world (Mark 8:34; Matthew 6:33)
Our first and only priority is to do God’s will and to establish God’s rule on earth. In all that we do, we need to focus on God and his ways. If there is anything we do without God as our focus, then the flesh has control over that area in our life.
In order to gain that focus, we have to make a shift in our lives, and change patterns we were once used to. This is difficult—possibly the most difficult thing to do in our lives. We have to change our relationships, our morality, our actions, our motives. And this can only be done through the power of the Spirit. Our flesh must be denied and Christ becomes most important in our lives. But once we are in Christ, even our flesh will want to maintain that relationship. However, it is only the Spirit that wants us to have the kingdom of God as our only priority.
2. Battle Against Sin (Hebrews 12:4; Matthew 5:29-30)
Sin in our lives isn’t just a part of us—it is what wants to destroy us, to tear us apart from the inside out! We need to take sin seriously—as serious as a heart attack, for it, like a heart attack, is the indication of encroaching death.
When we look at the sin in our lives or the sin we might do, we need to look at all the consequences of the sin. We need to recognize all the misery the sin does and how even one seeming small sin can destroy our whole lives. Sin destroys relationships, destroys our bodies, destroys our finances.
Then we need to look at the positive things that would happen to us if we repent and cease to do the sin. The opportunities for forgiveness, the open doors, the freedom from guilt and excess. We need to seek the good we can gain from doing God’s will.
Then when we see the seriousness of sin, we need to take drastic, life-changing steps to get rid of it. Whatever it takes, let’s do it!
3. Establish disciplines that support your placement in God’s kingdom—taming the flesh
One of the strongest tools of the flesh is inertia—continuing to do the habits that we have been doing in the past. We find it more comfortable to do what we have always done, and to do something we are used to feels better than doing nothing. We can use this for the benefit of the Spirit by developing habits that help us conform to the Spirit of God and drive us away from the excesses of the flesh. These habits that lead us to God are called “disciplines”. Once they become a habit, they are ways in which the flesh can help you stay in the kingdom
We must remember that these disciplines do not make up the life in the Spirit in and of themselves, but they can assist you in overcoming the flesh and to do God’s will.
Interceding for others; blessing others; asking God for justice, the Holy Spirit, healing, etc.
(Luke 11:1-13; Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; Mark 9:28-29; I Thessalonians 5:17.)
To teachers of the word; to the Spirit; to God’s word; to the community of saints.
(Mark 4:24; Luke 10:39-42; Luke 10:16; Luke 18:15-17; Luke 16:31.)
Participating in the Lord’s supper; singing hymns and psalms; thanksgiving; saying the Shema.
(John 4:23-24; Mark 14:26; I Corinthians 11:23-26; Mark 12:28-32; Mark 8:6.)
d. Speaking the gospel
Proclaiming the kingdom of God; discipling with Jesus’ teachings; speaking of the death and resurrection of the Lord, fellowshipping with other Christians.
(Matthew 10:32-34; Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 9:60; Matthew 10:27; Luke 24:45-48; Hebrews 10:11-12.)
e. Downward mobility [humility]
Taking the “one down” position; not seeking prestige; serving in ways others don’t want to serve.
(Luke 14:7-11; John 13:12-16; Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 18:10-14.)
f. Giving to the poor
Hospitality; giving food or drink; providing for the needy according to their need.
(Luke 12:33; Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:9; Luke 10:25-37.)
Refraining from food or other item for a set amount of time.
(Matthew 6:16-18; Mark 2:20)
Even these disciplines can be used in excess to disobey God—forcing others to do disciplines by using harshness; judging others because they do not do these disciplines in your way, trusting in the disciplines to keep you right with God rather than listening to and doing his will. Any discipline we use must be done in devotion to God, and for the benefit of others around us.
We need to see the disciplines as tools in order to do God’s will. They help keep us focused on God, but they are just a means to an end—remaining right with God.
4. Seeking The Spirit (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20)
To overcome the flesh, we must delve deeper and deeper into the Spirit. To do this, we must pray for the Spirit, be alone with the Spirit and be in groups that have the Spirit manifest. The more the Spirit shows his power in us, the less we are in the flesh. How else can we seek the Spirit? We need to take time regularly to focus on the Lord, apart from the world. We can spend time before the Lord praying for our needs. We need to be open to the Holy Spirit speaking in us and through us in any way He pleases—we need to have an attitude of being here for His service, not Him for ours. And when the Spirit clearly leads us, we need to obey that leading. When we do, the Spirit will lead us some more. If we focus on the Spirit and live in the Spirit, the flesh has no power over us.
5. Taking Up The Cross (Mark 8:32-38)
The way of the cross is the opposite of the flesh. It is better than fasting, for it is following Jesus precisely, acting as He acted, thus being completely acceptable to God. In summary, the way to follow the path of the cross is as follows:
a. Accept the word of the Lord as what is right to do.
b. Accept and prepare for the suffering you will have to endure to do it.
c. Sacrifice yourself for the love of others.
d. Cry out to the Lord for strength through the suffering.
e. Do the will of God, waiting for God’s deliverance from suffering
This way is not easy, nor is it always simple. But there is no better way to overcome the flesh than to follow the way of Jesus. For most people, the previous four steps must happen before we can be ready for the fifth, most drastic, way of overcoming the flesh.
The Flesh destroys us. Don’t just take it. Fight back.