Billy Graham* takes the word flesh and plays with it. He says we need to drop off the h and reverse the rest of the word. What you have in his new arrangement is the word self. Some would say that this is a neat trick but is this more than a trick?
I think it is. Selfish behavior is the root cause of so much sin. Most see the selfishness exhibited in the Garden of Eden as the root cause of man’s sin nature. Eve had a desire to know more but in the act of acquiring knowledge, her healthy desire became unhealthy: she and Adam disobeyed God.
We think of flesh as a term that refers to man’s physical body. The Greek word for “flesh” is sarx** and in early Christian literature, the word actually refers to a functioning entity, not just the epidermis, the outer layer of cells covering the body. In the thoughts of the Apostle Paul, the body is a thing, in and of itself, but the flesh is dominated by sin. Pay attention to his words “Wherever flesh is, all forms of sin are likewise present, and no good thing can live” [Galatians 5].
The Bible makes it clear that man did not start out with sin. Man was made in God’s image. But when Adam and Eve sinned, they did not just sin and suffer the consequences only themselves, their sin was passed on to their offspring…
You and me.
The Bible says that the nature of man is such that we are physical and spiritual and both are affected by sin. We are of course capable of doing great good. We can be moral, we can exhibit high ethical standards, but eventually the flesh will appear. We are bound to be selfish.
Graham tells of a conversation he had with a friend who had been converted to Christianity. This friend recounted a conversation that he had with another friend who had not been converted. The conversation was much in line with conversations I have had with people who have been “too much with the world” aka heavily involved with a sinful life. The man’s friend said “I feel sorry for you. You now go to church, pray and read the Bible all the time. You no longer go to nightclubs, get drunk, or enjoy your beautiful women” [Graham, 102]. This raises the question, how does the flesh manifest itself in human beings? Galatians 5: 19-21 says “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” [Galatians 5].
Wow, that’s quite a list.
Graham writes “we try to educate self, to train and discipline it. We pass law to compel it to behave. But Paul said that the flesh has a mind of its own and that the ‘natural mind’ is not subject to the law of God.” .
This puts all of us in a quandary. What are we to do? Is it a hopeless cause to try to fight this battle with the self? Are we condemned to fail because of our sin nature, our selfish nature?
I have spent the biggest part of my life trying to learn things. Here is a major lesson that all Christians must learn. We can’t win this war. It belongs to The Lord. He has already won it for us; He won it on the cross. What we have to help us is the Holy Spirit. It is hard, but if we can yield to the dictates of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can have some victory, we can grow beyond some of the sins that manifest themselves in our lives, we can have greater love, joy, peace and other fruits of the Spirit.
The man above who likes going to nightclubs, drinking and women does not see anything wrong with his behavior. A man who has those habits and wants to change may work hard at it, but he can’t do it alone. He has to have help. He has to have the Holy Spirit.
After being confronted by the man who thinks his joy comes from nightclubs, drinking and women, Graham writes that there was a response from the church-going, praying and Bible-reading “friend”. He said “I do get drunk every time I want to. I do go to nightclubs every time I want to. I do go with the girls when I want to…you see the Lord took the want out me when I was converted and He made me a new person in Christ Jesus” [Graham, 102].
The Psalmist says in Psalm 37, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
In a single sentence, here is what we can learn…
Over time, delighting in God will alter your desires.
*From his book The Holy Spirit
**From the God Questions Website “What is the Flesh?”