This morning I wrote this definition of the “flesh.” The word is used very broadly in the New Testament. This definition is an attempt to define a narrow usage of the word by Paul in Galatians 5, 1 Corinthians 3, Romans 7, and a few other places. These are my preliminary thoughts and I would love any feedback that you have for me.
The flesh, as spoken of by Paul in Galatians 5, is an orientation of life consistent with that of the natural man attempting to live apart from God, Christ and redemption. At the core of this orientation is a tendency toward the indiscriminate satisfaction of human desire without proper regard for God, other humans, or eventual consequences. Living in the flesh is consistent with living in the world, since the world largely lives by this orientation. Living in the flesh becomes addictive and ingrained in habits of the body and of the mind. Since many indiscriminately indulged desires are physical in origin and since the mind is contained in a physical organ which becomes shaped and programmed toward indiscriminate indulgence, the word “flesh,” when describing this orientation, is often associated with the body. Yet no bodily desire is, in itself, evil.
The flesh is not a sub-part of the human personality that must be suppressed, as I used to think and as many Christians think. Every part of the human personality and all human desires are God-given and good, when oriented properly. Human desires often must be suppressed for the attainment of the greater good, or must be tempered by the truth of reality, but are not evil in themselves. Thus pride is a good desire for significance and honor that is not tempered by the reality of our true position and power compared to God and others. Lust is good sexual desire toward an improper object. Impatience can be an unwillingness to suppress good desire for a greater good, perhaps not recognizing the existence of the greater good.
In contrast, walking in the Spirit, is an orientation of life consistent with the truths of reality, including God’s person, love, plans, and rights. God indwells every believer in Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit involves dependence upon the Spirit and yielding to the Spirit’s lead in the light of the truths, plans, and purposes of God.