I am a father and I spend a lot of time talking to my children about the choices they face each day. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the consequences of those choices, sometimes good and sometimes bad. But the thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is ‘self’. When they put themselves first the consequences are usually bad and when they put themselves last the opposite is usually true. Sound familiar?
Most of what we experience in life comes to us through one of our five senses – touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. God created flesh that we might experience His creation with and through these senses. But our physical senses are not the primary purpose of our flesh; our flesh is simply the vehicle through which our spirit acts and interacts whilst restricted to this planet.
The Bible talks about flesh as an impersonal thing that gets in the way almost. In Psalm 38 we find David lamenting the fact that ‘there is no soundness in his flesh’. When you unpack this you find that the soundness he mentions refers to being complete and whole, full of integrity and reflecting truth.
Search Genesis for each instance of the word and you’ll soon see that if not mastered, flesh is definitely not good. For most of Western history, the primary and most valued characteristic of manhood was self-mastery. Late antique and Roman writers lauded men for their ability to resist temptation and control bodily desire through force of will and intellect. Today the world defines masculinity in opposite terms – power, sexuality, aggression etc. – the less restraint, the more manly.
We know we are spirit, soul and body. We know that when God called us from our slumber he caused our spirits to awaken. As such our flesh is a living entity in its own right and is at war with our spirit. My kids are a very visual reminder of the struggle that is going on all the time. We tend not to think in terms of sin when we think of the things children do and the ways they sometimes behave. But there is a very real battle going on in them (and us) and the flesh wants to dominate.
As we make choices we either invite the enemy in or deny access – we either move towards or away from God. Satan entered Judas freely because he made a habit of making bad choices. Satan had to ask before attacking Peter. Judas was selfish. Peter was selfless.
We experience pain and pleasure though our flesh. But does the pain of denial really hurt or are we becoming more like Christ as we ‘suffer’? If we are to deny ourselves we need support and encouragement. Jesus knew Peter would turn away but also that he would turn back and told him to strengthen his brothers once he had.
Who are you walking with, strengthening and being strengthened by?
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