Chapter 12b reveals man’s worst enemy. The first two fronts were the rulers and principalities directly attacking the truth and the indirect attack through the world’s ideology. This final front is an attack from within man himself. It is his own heart. But we also discover that the other fronts attack this same channel, i.e. the inner man. Now we should see where the real spiritual battle is taking place.
The battle front of the “Flesh” is the attack on how we respond to the things that influence us in our daily lives. The flesh selfishly demands to be satisfied.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21 NIV)
THE FLESH–THE BATTLE IN MAN’S OWN HEART
In this final front that all Believers must face, we have come to the main focus of the battle. It is battle front of the flesh. I don’t want to take away from the other two fronts, because it is important that we do not overlook the deceitfulness of demons and the temptations of the world. But notice that those two fronts attack from outside of Believers to arouse the impulses of the flesh. “The flesh” attacks from inside.
The flesh is what actually gives Satan and the world the ability to influence our lives by working through the “impulses of the flesh.” This flesh is also known as “the sinful nature” and Paul describes it as a law that works from within the body.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;3 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Rom 7:22-23 NIV)
The sinful nature is not the nature that mankind was created with. It was passed on to us through Adam and Eve who took on this new nature when they sinned against God. The sinful nature is an inclination, a desire, or a craving that demands to establish its own authority.
Contrary to popular belief, this inner battle is the true focus of spiritual warfare. This is a battle over who will rule the heart of man. God created us to be like Him, i.e. spiritual beings, and if we are going to truly reflect God’s character, the new spirit within man has to become the strongest influence. The soul of man will respond to whatever or whoever is the strongest influence. So it has to continuously be smothered in truth and trained in righteousness in order to learn how to “master” sin and grow strong (mature). But the flesh, i.e. the sinful nature in man demands to be satisfied! It fiercely desires to establish itself as the strongest and most powerful influence. That means Believers have to “resist” the impulses of the flesh; and that is why Scripture commands us to take a stand and continuously resist the inclinations of the flesh by faithfully obeying God’s Word.
The Enemy Within
The first place we learn about the power and influence the flesh has is found in Genesis 4 where God accepts Abel’s offering and not Cain’s offering:
3 At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock – even the fattest of them. And the LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast. 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? 7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” (Gen 4:3-7 NET)
The story is the classic illustration of the battle between the sinful nature and the spirit. Abel, offers his sacrifice willingly because his heart, influenced by the spirit, wanted to honor and worship God for His provision; and his offering is accepted as the greater or better sacrifice (higher quality). It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did… (Heb 11:4 NLT). On the other hand, Cain reluctantly offers his sacrifice because his heart, influenced by the sinful nature, demanded its own honor and self-worship; and his offering is unacceptable to God. Why?
In the story of the poor woman who gave all she had compared to the wealthy people who gave out of their wealth Jesus didn’t condemn the offering of the wealthy.
3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luk 21:3-4 NIV)
Both offerings were acceptable because they both gave willingly. Paul explains,
“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” (2Co 8:12 NIV)
For if motivated to give, whatever one has is acceptable—not what he does not have.”a (2Co 8:12 MIT)
The result of Cain’s way was that he became discouraged because his offering wasn’t accepted. God sees Cain’s attitude and reminds him that he had no reason to be upset because he knew the right thing to do. If he did what is right he would be accepted and he would be more self-assured. But he warns him that if he doesn’t do anything to change, his attitude opens his heart to sin; and sin will dominate him. God tells Cain, “You must master it.”
As we continue reading through Genesis we discover that Cain couldn’t master sin; and neither could the rest of mankind. Their desire to satisfy the sinful nature and live life their own way, without God, resulted in sin spreading, mastering mankind and ending in death. They became slaves to sin; so God brought the flood to judge mankind. The good news is that when Jesus sacrificed himself for the sake of man, He was also setting man up so that he could master sin. We saw this earlier in the book.
Man’s Number One ENEMY IS His “Sinful Nature”
Spiritual truth is a hard thing to get across to Believers. That is why we are dependent on the Holy Spirit. Teachers, Pastors and Professors can do an excellent job of defining and “breaking down” spiritual truth; but the “reality” of that truth is often blocked by our human limitations. The Holy Spirit has to light our path in order for us to see it clearly, i.e. in order for us to gain “insight” to God’s truth. This is called “illumination,” Which is the part of “inspiration,” where the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the same “meaning” that the original authors wanted us to understand when they wrote the Scriptures.
Defining the “sinful nature” is one of those difficult truths for Believers to grasp. Teachers can explain that the sinful nature is “an inclination, a desire, or a craving to establish its own authority,” and that some Bibles refer to the sinful nature as “the flesh.” But because our words and minds are limited it is difficult to imagine the reality of the amazingly, deep seated evil of the sinful nature. Scripture considers it the number one enemy of all Believers because it impacts every part of their thinking.
We are unspiritual and slaves to sin (Rom 7:14 NIV)…Good cannot be found in the sinful nature (Rom 7:18 NIV)….The law was weakened by the sinful nature….sin dwells in the sinful nature… The mind governed by the sinful nature is death… The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so… the sinful nature cannot please God ….the sinful nature produces sin and sin produces death in the body….if we live according to the flesh we will surely die….the sinful nature makes us slaves to sin (Rom 8:1-17 NIV) ….the sinful nature can be good (moral and religious, Gal 3:3 NIV)….the sinful nature can lead to destruction…the sinful nature and the Spirit are in conflict with one another…living by the flesh will forfeit the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:13-21 NIV)…everyone at one time, lived according to the sinful nature and deserved death (Eph 2:3 NIV)
In addition, Christians forget that they were all born in sin, that is, Satan’s domain. All of their lives up until the time they received Christ as savior, they have been influenced by his lies, “…They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them”(1Jo 2:11 NIV). Their overall knowledge and understanding of reality was distorted because they were deprived of truth and had no genuine view of reality. Since they cannot see reality clearly, man will seek his own reality and may get a few things right but his overall view of reality will be distorted. There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (Pro 14:12 NAU)
It is important to notice that the sinful nature can do good things. The enemy uses this quality for his own purpose. He often gets people to do things that seem right to them on their own but are unacceptable to God. Like influencing the person to seek righteousness his own way; or when he is influenced by the world to live without God’s guidance. Paul says that even though the flesh can seek righteousness, we cannot depend on it to do so. That’s what Adam did in the Garden. He didn’t depend on God or His Word; he depended on his own ability to handle the situation rather than trust in God, “…and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23 NIV) This passage is telling us that if we do anything that isn’t produced by a trust in God, then it is sin. That is the heart of idolatry and self-worship.
The type of Believer who does good things his own way is not a genuine Christian, I call them superficial Christians. They do all the right things outwardly; but their hearts are far from God. It is one of Satan’s best tricks, i.e. to get Believers to think they are serving God when the reality is they are only serving themselves.
Believers should beware! They have to remember that during their time in Satan’s kingdom their very own hearts have learned the art of deception. The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9 NIV) Paul says that we should test ourselves to see if we are in the faith because “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” Anyone who doesn’t belong to Christ is still living according to his sinful nature, which means he is living in rebellion against God. Conforming to the patterns of the world means you are an enemy with God. “No matter how moral, ethical, or religious a person might be, if they are walking according to the sinful nature, believer or unbeliever, they are at enmity with God.”
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Rom 8:7 NIV).
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (Jam 4:4 NIV)
Scripture also warns us that the believer who is not living by the principles of God’s word is not only an enemy of God but also living according to principles that are demonic.
Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. (Jam 3:15 NIV)
The Sinful Nature Wants To Be Satisfied
On the battlefront of ‘the Devil’ the enemy is going to try to deceive us into following our own way by telling us lies and twisting the truth. In the battlefront of ‘the World’ the enemy is going to try to deceive us into doing our own thing by getting us to think that we can live life without God. We should be aware that the Devil, demons and the world influence us through the flesh, which is another reason why the flesh is considered our number one enemy. The battlefront of ‘the Flesh’ is where the enemy is going to try deceiving us into ruling our hearts by getting us to satisfy our own sinful nature.
The deception that the enemy uses on this front is to get us to believe we are still, helplessly, under the authority of sin so that we often find ourselves trying to live a righteous life on our own which leads to living superficial lives, i.e. looking good on the outside but being far from God on the inside.
THE REALITY OF “NEW CREATION”
God redeems us from the power of sin by introducing us to the reality of the “new creation” that we are a part of. In other words He reveals the reality of the Kingdom of God or the Rule of God in our lives. We live in a new realm, the realm of the Spirit, and God shows us daily, through our obedience to the Spirit that we live in a new reality where we are free from the power of sin. Sin no longer has power over us, in fact, now we can master the desires of our sinful nature!
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.(Rom 8:9 NIV)
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16 NIV)
Earlier in the book, when I was discussing clues from Satan’s name that reveal his strategy for warfare, I noted that sin is no longer an issue for Christians. In the spiritual realm of God’s kingdom, “new creation” is taking place progressively; and God is restoring Christians back to their original glory step by step. So, even though they are still inclined to sin, they are learning to master it, so that they sin less and less. Therefore, Satan’s goal is to stop this growth from taking place, so he attacks the mind of the Believer. He tries to convince them that he is still in control and that it is impossible for them to stop sinning by tricking them into giving in to the desires of their own sinful nature. It is important that Believers keep in mind that the issue on the battlefront of the flesh is learning to master sin by standing firm on Truth and resisting the enemy through trials and tribulations; and not beating ourselves up over past failures.
Throughout this study, we have seen that God, in His infinite wisdom, has set us up to win this battle. When we put our trust in Jesus He forgives our sin, declares us to be righteous, justifies us, removes our guilt and causes our spirits to be reborn so we can commune with Him. Then He puts His Word in our hearts so we can recognize the truth; and sets us free from the authority of sin and the” curse of the law” so that we can actually do what God requires. Finally, He tops it all off by giving us His very Presence to live inside us and set us free from sin’s power over us by revealing and empowering us to live this new life. Through the process of listening and obeying we grow to become more and more “like” Jesus, the spitting “image of God.” This is what I call the realm of “new creation.”
Every Believer soon discovers that although they have been set free from the “authority” of sin, the “power” of sin steal lingers. The inclination to do evil and to rebel against God hasn’t gone away. It is just as much present in the new position as it was in the old position. Why? They should remember where they came from. They spent the first part of their lives engulfed in Satan’s kingdom, listening and submitting to a sinful nature that was influenced by him and the world. The reality was they were slaves to sin.
After salvation they have been set free and are capable of really and truly making a free choice! They now truly have the capacity to choose who they will obey. So in order for them to overcome the power of sin they have to begin by changing the way they think about sin. Paul says they will do this by not living like they use to and changing the way they look at the world. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom 12:2 NIV) This is how God has set them up for the spiritual battle they will face for the rest of their lives. That is, battling the mindset that was once controlled by their own sinful nature and heavily influenced by Satan, the world and the choices they made in that old kingdom.
For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Gal 5:17 NIV)
Peter tells us that this battle takes place in the soul, the heart of man. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. (1Pe 2:11 NIV). Even though the battle takes place within the Believer, Peter doesn’t call for exorcism or deliverance; he simply says choose to avoid satisfying the sinful nature. Paul backs him up by giving Believers that same choice; either put on the character of Christ or make provisions for the flesh. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Rom 13:14 NAU).
“New Creation” Is A Whole New Realm
After they have been saved positionally, Christians begin mastering sin by first changing the way they think about sin. They have to understand that sin no longer has authority over them because they are in a new position, a new realm. They are what the Bible calls “in Christ,” and a part of “the Kingdom of God,” and part of “God’s family.”
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11 NIV)
Once they get a hold of that truth, the next step is to dedicate themselves to mastering the power of sin by disciplining themselves to live like that fact “is” true.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:12-14 NIV)
Because they have been set free from the bondage of sin and moved to a new position Christians, and only Christians, have the ability to overcome the flesh by faithfully obeying the Spirit.
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–
7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom 6:6-7 NIV)
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey– whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Rom 6:15-18 NIV)
The Presence of God
God has made it possible for Christians to live in an ongoing relationship with Him. This is a supernatural life, i.e. it is the ability to live a life that is being produced in them through the Holy Spirit, when they look to the Holy Spirit to help them live out that life. In other words, they are able to live their lives in obedience to God because God is working in them. Paul has this supernatural life in mind when he says,
12 Therefore…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phi 2:12-13 NIV)
This is the only kind of life that will produce spiritual growth.
Too many Christians try to live this life by their own will power and not by the power of God. They should remember that a good moral person can fool others because the flesh is capable of imitating “good behavior” that can pass for spiritually mature behavior. But a good moral life cannot produce righteousness in a person because the reality is that a good moral person is still living life dependent on their own sinful nature. Isaiah tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isa 64:6 NIV)
The church in Galatia had started out living life by depending on the power of the Holy Spirit. But some people joined the church and convinced them that they had to depend on their own will power to be righteous. That is why Paul rebuked them saying, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Gal 3:3 NIV)
God did not intend for Christians to master the power of sin on their own strength.
When God had become angry with the people of Israel for worshiping the calf idol, He wanted to wipe them all out and start all over with Moses. Moses interceded and pleaded with God to spare them. God listened to Moses and did not wipe them out; instead, He promised Moses that He would send “His Presence” to go with Israel. Moses said,
“How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exo 33:16 NIV).
No other people in the entire world could claim that God lived among them. Even today the Presence of God is the one thing that distinguishes the People of God from all the rest of the world.
This presence of God is the Holy Spirit and anyone who puts their trust in Jesus today has the Holy Spirit living in them. This is part of God’s fail proof plan to restore all things. Knowing that mankind’s greatest enemy would be his own heart, God puts His Spirit, the very Presence of God, within man to strengthen him with His strength, and teach him how to master sin.
Jesus explains further that the Holy Spirit would also guide them into all truth. He would give the Believer the ability to understand God’s Word. This is called “Illumination,” i.e. when the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to understand God’s Word in the way the original authors intended it.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (Joh 16:13 NIV)
God’s plan is dependent on a very powerful relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the one who works in us and guides us AND the Word of God is the tool He uses to accomplish it. Believers cannot lose if they just follow God’s plan. It’s a simple but absolutely unbeatable plan that guarantees our victory over sin.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16 NIV)
How? The plan is simple because all Christians have to do is faithfully obey the Holy Spirit; and they can be “eternally secure” in the fact that they can take God at His Word. God never lies, so when He says do it this way and you will not sin, then for all eternity they can be absolutely certain that as long as they live in obedience to the Spirit, they will not sin.
Paul goes on to say that genuine Christians are truly children of God because they are led by the Spirit,
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV)
They were placed in a new realm, “in Christ,” when they first got saved.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Joh 1:12-13 NIV)
So, since genuine Believers are children of God who are led by the Spirit the question, when it comes to learning how to master sin, isn’t about whether they are being led by the Spirit, it is, are they faithfully obeying the Spirit?
Paul says that a person has the Spirit but is not obedient to Him is “of the flesh.” He has chosen to live life by his own will power. I call this kind of person a superficial Christian, that is, a person who is not genuine. They are not the same as the unsaved people who are unregenerate and only live according to their own will power.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:17-21 NIV).
It is sad to see Christians who would rather try to master sin by their own will power. They may have access to the Spirit’s guidance but they choose to live their lives on their own strength. They live moral lives, but they are not living a spiritual life, where they are depending on the Holy Spirit. These are the brothers and sisters we see on the Sunday morning praying at the alter call, crying out to God for forgiveness for the same sin time and time again.
Living on their own will power is the “works of the flesh,” i.e. it is choosing to overcome sin their own way. If they continue living that way they will “stunt” or “hold back” their spiritual growth because they won’t let go of the selfish, impulses of the flesh. Some Believers in the Corinthian church lived this way and Paul said they were living like “infants in Christ.” Their fleshly acts revealed their true character.
So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people?5 (1Co 3:1-3 NET)
What is interesting to notice in this passage is that the behavior is not produced by the Devil. This behavior comes from a mind and lifestyle that is controlled by a sinful nature and produced in Believers trying to live by will power. Sadly, more and more Christians want to put the responsibility for these acts on demons and the devil. Have you ever heard someone call out to the demons of lust, or envy, or gossip etc.? When a person does this they are actually doing what is “detestable” to the Lord.
But you will not find that idea anywhere in Scripture. In fact you will find that God commands his people to get rid of anyone who talks to spirits/demons. The truth is this idea denies the person’s responsibility for their own personal sin. No one will ever be able to stand before God and say, “The Devil made me do it!” Everyone will be held responsible for their own sin and must repent and confess their sin to God in order to be forgiven. “Binding the demon” or “casting it out” won’t solve the problem because sin is a condition of the heart.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9 NIV)
Passing the buck like that goes as far back as the garden in Genesis chapter 3. What every Believer has to realize is that if they are going to master sin, then who or what made them sin is not the issue. God’s plan calls for Believers to be dependent on the Holy Spirit. The issue is whether or not they are going to listen and obey God or give in to temptation. Who will they surrender their hearts to? Who will control their hearts? That’s what the spiritual battle is all about!
God Raises A New Standard
The old standard for mastering sin was powerless because it was dependent on man’s will power. It turns out that man’s own heart, influenced by the sinful nature, is his worst enemy. God’s plan for mastering sin is to depend on the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God to change the heart as the Believer applies the Word to his life. Why? Because when a man listens to God’s way of doing things and puts it into practice, he discovers that God isn’t lying, and his thinking begins to change. He realizes that he is truly a new creation capable of fulfilling the will of God. Every time he applies God’s Word to his life he learns how to master that sin. In this way, although he will never be completely sinless, he will begin to sin less and less.
That is how Christians overcome the sinful nature. It is done when the Believer learns to “walk in the Spirit.” Think about it, the Holy Spirit is the one who sustains life, so it makes sense to live in obedience to Him; and as you continue to obey Him you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:25 NIV)
But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16 NET)
The proof that you are walking in the Spirit is the manifestation of the new character traits from the Holy Spirit, also known as, the “fruit of the Spirit.” (Note what it is not: power, miracles, tongues, or signs and wonders etc…)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23 NIV)
Bottom Line: In this new realm, Believers have the very Presence of God within them to strengthen them and show them the way to overcome the power of sin. The worst battle front we face is our own sinful nature. It is a direct attack from our own weak hearts that have been strongly influenced by the world and Satan. Since neither Satan nor the world can cause us to sin, the secret of deliverance is learning to walk, moment-by-moment, step-by-step depending on the Holy Spirit. That means we discipline our lives to listen and obey the Spirit as He guides us through the truth in God’s Word.