For part 1 of this 2 part series click here.
Some Definitions and the New Man
The Bible uses the term “flesh” in different ways. The term “flesh” can be defined in the following way when referring to the wayward and sinful inclinations of Man:
Flesh (sinful): The deformed desires of the body and mind that have been perverted by living separated from God and His righteousness
At other times the term “flesh” just means:
Flesh (natural): The earthly nature of humanity
In John 1:14 we are told the Word became flesh. We know that Jesus took on humanity and lived and died as a man. But we also know that he walked in fellowship with God from his mother’s womb. In the famous Messianic Psalm that prophesies the crucifixion of Christ, we read, “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast” (Psalm 22:9). Since he lived in continual fellowship with God the Father, his human desires never became unbridled or perverted. The desires of his body and mind were always kept in perfect submission to the will of the Father; he walked righteously and remained righteous.
Satan was able to tempt Christ, since he was a man with all the natural desires of men. Jesus had the natural and godly desire to live, and not die. Satan tried to pervert this desire and get him to disobey the command of the Father to lay his life down for his sheep. Though this desire was intense and led Christ to sweat blood in the shadow of his impending death, Christ submitted to the will of Heaven.
Though Christ knew that Psalm 2 promised him the nations as His inheritance, he also knew that Psalm 22 said that this destiny would only be achieved through death on the Cross. So when the Devil played on this desire for exaltation during the third temptation in the wilderness, Jesus submitted that desire to the Father’s will and timing. Jesus lived his life with all the desires of a man, so he was tempted in every way a man can be tempted. But he didn’t live his life as a man separated from God, corrupted by the World, and inflamed with perverted desires. He is the one who was in every respect tempted as we are, yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).
In the Garden Man walked in fellowship with God through his intimacy with the Holy Spirit. Man’s spirit was joined to and united with the Spirit of God. Through this fellowship Man was able to know and submit to the will of God. Man’s spirit was free to submit to God, and had the grace and light it needed to control the desires of his body and mind. But when Man sinned he was cut off from that grace and light, and he was left with only his earthly desires to follow. The spirit of Man was no longer free to lead every aspect of his humanity, but instead had to follow the desires of his body and mind. Satan made sure to entice every possible physical and mental desire in order to enslave the spirit of Man. In this way the Devil took control over mankind. Man was no longer free to follow God, because he no longer had access to God.
Jesus was born in fellowship with God, just as Adam was on the first day of his existence. But Jesus continued to submit all of his natural inclinations and desires to the lordship of God’s Spirit and Word. Through a lifetime of obedience to God he resisted the World’s attempt to conform him into its image. His ultimate act of submission was at the Cross when he surrendered even the strong desire for survival to the lordship of his Father.
In Indonesia the most popular fruit is called durian. Most Indonesians’ mouths will water at the mention of this local delicacy. On the other hand, one is hard pressed to find an American that can endure eating it without feeling nauseous, much less enjoy it. Durian is an acquired taste; and for an American, it is hard to acquire!
If God called an American on a fast for three days while residing in Indonesia, it is certain that Satan would not send his messengers to ruin that fast by tempting him with thoughts of durian. He would not send the foreigner’s neighbors to offer him a piece of freshly baked durian cake or a delicious scoop of durian flavored ice cream. Satan would know better than to tempt someone with something he doesn’t already desire. Instead the tempter would turn the American’s thoughts towards chicken fajitas, a pepperoni pizza or a good old fashioned cheese burger with fries.
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14). It is a simple fact that people can only be tempted by things that they desire. A person who doesn’t desire the comfort of wealth will not waste their money on a lottery ticket. The man that desires to live in obscurity will not wait in line to be a contestant on American Idol. And the woman who finds her greatest pleasure in nurturing and educating her children will not be enticed by the thought of a prosperous career and life in the fast lane. On the other hand, the person content with his financial situation could be tempted to despise the rich for their “greed;” the man who delights in obscurity could be tempted to isolate himself and fail to use his God given gifts to bless others; and the simple house wife could be tempted to judge and criticize the working mother.
In the wilderness the Israelites turned back to Egypt in their hearts (Acts 7:39). Longing for the religion of Egypt, they fashioned a calf out of gold and worshipped it as their god. Their appetite for the meat and seasonings of Egypt caused them to grumble and complain over and over again. And the fond, though inaccurate, memories of their “stable” life back in the land of bondage caused them to rebel against God and His prophet Moses when faced with the prospect of war. The sins they committed in the wilderness were a direct result of the desires they carried in their hearts. The Tempter knew how to trap them because he knew what they wanted.
On the night Jesus was betrayed he warned the disciples that they would all fall away when he was arrested and put to death. Ignorant of their own weakness they all followed Peter’s example by proclaiming, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you” (Matt. 26:35). As the time of demonic temptation drew closer, Jesus warned Peter, James and John of their vulnerability. In Matthew 26:41 he commanded them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” We know the rest of the story. They continued to sleep and when the time of Christ’s arrest came, all the disciples fled for safety. Jesus tried to warn them about their weakness, but they failed to recognize it until it was too late. This ignorance led to their downfall.
The Bible warns, “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 12). We must understand that the desires of the Flesh are still present with us. We are no longer enslaved to the desires of our Flesh, but it still tries to compel us to fulfill its appetites. We must not be ignorant of our own weaknesses as the disciples of Jesus were. We must recognize our corrupted desires so that we can be watchful and resist them. We must place our faith in God to deliver us from them by the power of His Holy Spirit. We must appeal for this power by praying for the Lord to deliver us from evil. And we must apply this power by avoiding temptations when possible and resisting temptations when they can’t be avoided.
We have been reconciled to God, delivered from our spiritual Egypt. We are no longer under the control of the Devil or enslaved to the influence of the World. But because we were once in bondage and alienated from God by wicked works the natural desires of our bodies and minds have been corrupted. God has begun the process of transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ by the renewal of our minds. But we must recognize that as long as we are on this earth that process is not completely finished. We are waiting in hope for the return of Jesus and the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). We await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:20-21). Until that day we live in hope and walk by faith. We must fight the good fight of faith by staying watchful over the desires that seek to tempt us to disobey God’s will. And we must pray without ceasing that God will empower us by His grace to submit to His will and deny the corrupt desires of the Flesh.