“…and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Jdg 17:6)
Since most of us have grown up with a works-based view of salvation, we tend to think of sin as doing bad things. If we avoid doing bad things then we’ll avoid sin. But the Bible has a completely different definition of sin. “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rm 14:23). According to this definition, walking after the flesh is sin because it takes no faith to do what is right in your own eyes. No doubt that this comes as a bit of a shock. After all, walking after the flesh comes naturally to all of us. But have you ever noticed that the consequences of walking after the flesh are exactly the same as the wages of sin (Rm 6:23, 8:13)?
Instead of judging everything in terms of good or bad works, it is more helpful to think in terms of flesh versus spirit. To illustrate this, I have made a list of 12 of the most infamous examples of walking after the flesh found in the Bible. This is a list of carnal choices that, in some cases, led to terrible suffering.
There are two surprising things about this list. First, it contains both wicked deeds and choices that we would define as harmless, even good. If you think you can please God by doing good works and avoiding bad ones, then this is really going to mess you’re your theology! You need to see that Sin is no respecter of works. Sin doesn’t really care what you do, as long as you do it in the power of your flesh.
Second, the fleshly works on this list were done by both godly and ungodly people and both groups suffered as a result of their choices. Whether you’re in Adam or in Christ, if you sow to the flesh you will reap corruption (Gal 6:8). I am not referring to eternal consequences – what is born of the spirit cannot be undone by the flesh. But the consequences of carnal choices affect everyone, saved and unsaved.
This, then, is a list of righteous and unrighteous people doing both good and bad things. So what’s the common thread? What’s the one thing all these choices have in common? As you read the list, see if you can identify it. I will give you the answer below.
12 Infamous works of the flesh
1. Adam eats the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:6). The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not a bad tree; God doesn’t do bad trees (Gen 1:31). Everything in the world was good so the serpent had to tempt Eve with something that was “good and pleasing” (Gen 3:6). Compared to the manifest works of the flesh in Galatians 5, eating a piece of fruit might not seem that big a deal. But I’d say the consequences of this were fairly substantial, wouldn’t you?
2. Abraham sleeps with the maid (Gen 16). He knew God had promised him a son but God was taking too long. Yet another work of the flesh that we’re still paying for.
3. Moses defends a Hebrew slave (Ex 2:12). Prince Moses, “mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22), perhaps saw himself as a deliverer of Israel. 40 years growing old in obscurity killed off that idea.
4. The Israelites don’t want to enter the Promised Land, then want to (Num 14). It’s perfectly natural to be afraid of hostile giants – especially if you’ve got small children. But it meant missing an opportunity to see God do mighty exploits. It also meant dying in the wilderness.
5. Saul saves the best for God (1 Sam 15:15). God wanted the Amalekites dead, down to the last donkey. Saul had a better idea. Bye bye House of Saul.
6. David counts his soldiers (1 Chr 21). 70,000 men died as a result. So much for your army David.
7. Elijah runs like a chicken (1 Kgs 19). A scary lady said some nasty things, Elijah got spooked and not even God could lift him out of his funk. It cost Elijah his ministry.
8. James and John want to toast the Samaritans (Luk 9:54). “Well Elijah did it and he didn’t get in trouble.” That was Elijah fellas; Jesus has a different spirit.
9. Peter tries to save Jesus’ life (Mt 16:22). For this Peter receives the most famous rebuke in the Bible (Mt 16:23). And then he does it again (Jn 18:10)! Nice one Peter. You could’ve ruined everything.
10. Saul the Pharisee persecutes Christians. Saul was so zealous for God that he was instrumental in the jailing and killing of Christians (Acts 26:10). For this he later calls himself Chief of Sinners.
11. The Judaizers preach just a little bit of law (Acts 15:1). “All we’re asking for is a snip to the tip.” No wonder the men of Antioch were glad when James said “No” (Acts 15:31).
12. Peter draws back from the Gentiles so as not to offend (Ga 2:11). This time it’s not Jesus but Paul who gets in his face telling him he’s “clearly wrong” – not misguided, not confused, but “I’m putting this in the Bible so everyone knows about it,” wrong. Ouch.
What is the common thread running through these good and bad deeds done by godly and ungodly people? Well I gave you a pretty big hint at the top of this post: In each case the person involved did what seemed right to them at the time. This is the hallmark of flesh-based living. It is walking by sight.
The irony of this is that when you walk by sight you’re putting yourself back in the kingdom of darkness. You’re allowing yourself to be influenced by the natural realm which is the enemy’s realm (1 Jn 5:19). Again, I am not talking about your salvation. We’re not saved or unsaved on the basis of works – this is carnal thinking. But when you leave the Giver of Life out of your choices, how can you expect to reap anything other than death? This is why so many of our ventures resemble Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. We’ve tried to bring something to life and only the Spirit can do that (Jn 6:63).
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Pro 14:12)
Creation is still waiting for the mature sons of God to be revealed and we don’t reveal our true selves by acting in the old ways of the flesh. These stories are in the Bible for our edification, to teach us how not to live. Again, it’s not what we’re doing that’s particularly important, but how we’re doing it. Are we trusting in the dead hand of the flesh or are we relying on the life-giving might of the Spirit?
- How to walk after the flesh in 20 easy lessons
- When doing good is bad for you
- 12 examples of walking in the spirit