Do you find yourself doing things you don’t want to do? Do you find it hard to do the things you want to do? Does it seem like there is something holding you back in some instances and something pushing you forward in others? And does it seem like, in order for you to succeed, you have to first overcome you? In other words, do you find yourself battling against yourself?
The things that move us to act and feel were built into our lives very early. In fact, most of us cannot remember the particular events that taught us certain ways of reacting to the world around us. Words that were spoken to us, things that were done to us, failures, successes, and fears—these things came to us a long time ago and we began to build our lives around them. Now, as adults, these things continue to affect our thinking and we find it difficult to understand why.
For the most part, this is what I call the flesh. It is how we learned to cope with life apart from God. So let me try to explain what’s going on. Some people will find this too simple, but I think it fits with Scripture and makes sense.
Someone has determined that there are three primary influences in our lives, apart from the Lord: the world, the flesh, and the devil. That’s okay, as long as we understand what is meant by each one of those. When you were born, you were brought into a world filled with sin. Your parents, and all the others who touched your life, struggled with sin. The world system you grew up in was stained by sin. People hurt each other and used each other and the world was built around and upon this sinful structure. That’s the world.
As you grew up, you learned about life and about others through the sin system of your world. You learned how to manipulate life and how to react when life hurt you. You learned that certain things were desirable and others were painful. As you learned this, you put together a way of thinking that became a default method of coping with life. Certain things caused you to be afraid and you acted on your fear in order to be safe. Other things attracted you because they gave you something you wanted, something that made you feel good. That’s your flesh.
But there is also an active force working against all people. It’s called sin. I believe that sin appears in our lives as a force to pull us more and more away from the Lord. There is also a person the Scripture calls the evil one who works to deceive us and bring us into sin. The force I call sin is not the same as the evil one, but they will seem much the same. The evil one is a real person who speaks words of condemnation and temptation into our minds and hearts and sin stands ready to welcome us into its traps.
So, all of these things are at work. I use the present tense because I see nothing in the Scripture to indicate that any of these have stopped in the life of the Christian. The world system is still around us. The flesh is still active in us. The devil still hates us and wants to deceive us.
However, you and I are different. We are not what we were. We are new creations. We no longer have to look at the world and believe that it is our world. We no longer have to think that our flesh is who we are. And we no longer have to be afraid of the enemy or unaware of his lies. Because Christ is in us and we are in Him, we have a whole new existence. Now, instead of being apart from the Lord, we are apart from sin.
Careful. I didn’t say that we no longer sin or that sin is no longer a part of our lives. Paul spoke of sin as an active force at work in him. But it no longer rules over us and no longer defines us. Today, because of Jesus, we can look at sin as something different from who we are.
So the power of the Christian life comes into play when we begin to see these three primary influences as separate from ourselves. They are not us.