The flesh is one of the most confusing words in the Bible. What does it mean? And is the flesh good or bad?
Why did Paul say he was alive in the flesh but then say he had crucified the flesh? Why does he say the body of the flesh has been circumcised (so it’s gone, right), then say he served sin with his flesh (no wait, it’s back!).
It doesn’t make sense.
Nor does it help when some Bibles mistranslate the original word for flesh (sarx) as sinful nature. (I’m looking at you New International Version.)
Fear not. The flesh is not hard to understand. Below is everything you need to know about the flesh. For a full list of scripture references and explanatory notes check out my entry for “The Flesh” in the Grace Glossary.
Everything You Need to Know about the Flesh
The flesh can refer to: (1) our physical bodies, (2) people, or (3) worldly unspiritual things.
To be “in the flesh” means (1) being alive “in the body” or (2) an unbeliever living disconnected from God and living solely from their connection to the physical world. It is walking by sight instead of faith. You are not in the flesh, if the Spirit of God dwells in you.
The lusts/desires of flesh include wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, and wanting to appear important. In a word, the flesh craves control.
To walk according the flesh or sow to the flesh or carry out the desires of the flesh is to live without regard for the things of God. It’s trusting in yourself (your abilities, your understanding) and living solely from the basis of your earthly experience (what you see, hear, touch, know, etc.). Like a butterfly who acts as a caterpillar, walking after the old ways of the flesh is abnormal for a believer.
The desires of the flesh give rise to the deeds of the flesh or the deeds of the body. These include selfishness, sexual immorality, materialism, manipulation, resentment, quarrels, unrestrained ambition, temper tantrums, drunkenness, being envious, and so forth. Fleshly works also include law-keeping, self-denial, long-winded praying and other activities done to curry favor with God.
The things of the flesh are those things that are valued in the world such as human effort, reputation and accomplishments. They can be contrasted with the unseen and eternal things of the Spirit.
A mind set on the flesh is focused on self-preservation and the things of the flesh. An obsession with self leads inevitably to conflict, dissension and death. In contrast, a mind set on the spirit puts God at the center and looks to him to supply our needs. Being led by the spirit leads to everlasting life and peace.
To have weak flesh means my unspiritual body is incapable of living the life that God desires for me.
The flesh profits nothing because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. We all need to be born of the Spirit.
The body of the flesh is another name for your old self.
Having crucified the flesh with its passions and desires means I am done with that inferior and unspiritual way of life. I make no provision for the flesh because I am not a debtor to the flesh. The flesh holds no appeal for me because I am walking according to the new and better way of spirit.
“Know your flesh types.” In the bonus materials for this article, I list 25 ways your flesh reacts to pressure. Available now on Patreon.