Understanding my flesh helps me understand faith.
Devotional Thought: I see now that I have done a lot of stuff in the flesh.
We have misinterpreted the word “flesh” in the Bible. Flesh does not mean bad actions or wrong desires, what we call “sin.” It means human effort. That’s a game changer.
It blows up how I use to understand the New Testament. It changes everything.
Paul the apostle was precise about this in Philippians. He clearly was not talking about sinful actions (the way we think of sin) but about his religious efforts to please God.
Listen to Paul’s definition of the flesh as he retraces his religious credentials.
though I myself have reason for confidence in the FLESH also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the FLESH, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-7 ESV)
Paul was not talking about have confidence in his sin. He was talking about his religious upbringing, his religious heritage and his religious passion as “flesh.” It was his efforts to live right and serve God. He was talking about his own efforts.
With that definition of flesh, the New Testament makes a lot more sense. Consider these verses in Romans 8 by defining flesh as human effort:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT), could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (HUMAN EFFORT) and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT), in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT) but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT) set their minds on the things of the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT), but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT) is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh (HUMAN EFFORT) cannot please God. (Romans 8:3-8 ESV)
Receiving Christ does not mean you never do anything wrong. We all still sin even after putting our faith in Jesus. If flesh means committing a sin, then we are all in serious trouble. Thankfully, however, flesh means something entirely different. Living by the flesh, your own efforts, will certainly lead to wrong actions. But the two are separate.
Consider this verse in Galatians.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have CRUCIFIED THE FLESH with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24 ESV)
Crucified the flesh! I use to read this verse and think to myself, “Oh, no! I don’t think my flesh got crucified because I still get in foul moods, lust and act selfishly. I must not belong to Christ. What’s wrong with me?”
But now I get it. Flesh doesn’t mean I don’t want to do wrong sometimes, it means I’m done relying on my efforts to be good, serve God, stop sinning, lead my community to Jesus, change the world or whatever else I put on myself. Flesh just means I give up.
That’s right. I give up! I give up doing anything on my own. I’m done. This is not semantics. It’s not religious jargon. Done means done. I…am…done.
Don’t try to guilt me into supporting your ministry. It won’t work. I won’t do it. If God lead you to do what you’re doing in ministry, that’s fine. Go ahead. But don’t expect me to get on board out of obligation. If God lead you, then He will just have to figure out how to support you.
I am done doing everything within my grasp to try to please God or ramp up my spiritual credentials. I’m done wearing myself out trying to serve/please God in a hundred ways. Done means done.
I’m done with Bible reading plans that I never finish. I’m done trying to pray the way the experts say I should pray. I’m done volunteering for everything in sight. I’m done giving to causes simply because I am moved emotionally. I’m done with the flesh.
And freedom never felt so free.