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Understanding the fleshly nature


The word flesh is often used in the Bible in reference to an unregenerated person. At the fall of man, the soul rejected the authority of the spirit and became enslaved to the body and its lustful desires. This is how man became fleshly. Since the spirit has lost its noble position and became a captive, and the soul is subjected to the power of the body, man is regarded in the Bible as having become flesh.

The Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). Whatever a man has derived from nature, when he was born of his parents is flesh. However good he is, virtuous he may be, whatever talents he may have, or however kind and intelligent he may be, he is fleshly. Regardless of how bad, how unholy, how foolish, how useless, or how cruel he may be, he is of the flesh. That man is flesh means that all that a man inherits by birth, whatever it may be (good or bad) is of the flesh. Man does not become fleshly by learning or practising to be bad.


Man becomes flesh because he is begotten of the will of man. It is not his behaviour that determines the kind of person he is. He who is born of the flesh is flesh. Educate him, reform him, cultivate him, regulate him with morality and religion; all these will not make him non-flesh. The question of whether man is fleshly lies not in the man himself, but in of whom he is born. If he is born of the flesh, then he needs regeneration because his current nature is rooted in the sinful flesh that manifested on earth with a sentence of death.

During the time of unregeneration, men live in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts, and are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) for “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God” (Rom. 9:8). The soul is subjected to the allurements of the lusts of the body and in pursuit thereof commits many unspeakable sins. But since at this time, man is dead unto God (Eph. 2:1), being dead in his offences and in the uncircumcision of his flesh (Col. 2:13), he is not in the least conscious of his being in sin and is perhaps still proud of himself, thinking that he is still better than others.


Indeed, when man is in the flesh, the passions for sins, which act through the law, operate in his members to bear fruit to death (Rom. 7:5). So, he serves “with the flesh, the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Because the strength of the flesh is exceedingly weak, it cannot satisfy God in fulfilling any of His requirements. (Rom. 8:3). Not only is the flesh unable to fulfil the law of God, but it cannot even be subject to it, “because the mind set on the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be” (Rom. 8:7).

However, this is not to say the flesh will altogether ignore the things of God, but the Bible rather affirms that “out of the works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gal. 2:16). What God has ordained is that a man is not justified by the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:28). Therefore, even if a fleshly person tries to keep the law, this only serves to demonstrate that he submits himself not unto God, but unto his own will, going about to establish another righteousness apart from the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3). “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
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