The Flesh (Sin-Nature)


Until we believers recognize our flesh for what it truly is, we can’t begin to appreciate our need for a moment-by-moment dependence on God.

Our Human Makeup

The first description of our human makeup is in Genesis chapter two where Adam admiringly said of his mate, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”

Bone alludes to our human structure. It’s made from non-living earthly elements –the dust to which it will someday return.

Flesh pertains to our living being. It consists of a body for interacting with our environment, a soul for controlling that body, and a spirit for communicating with God. Further, our soul is made up of a mind for thinking, a will for deciding and emotions for evaluating experiences.

The flesh is neither good nor bad. Rather, God designed it so that we can operate autonomously (independently) without His constant intervention. It’s often called the sin-nature because it has no need for God.

It heeds a process for navigating through life. That process starts when our body senses that something changes. (Maybe it’s a sweet odor, or a painful touch, or the sight of a loved one, or the sound of approaching danger.) Next, our emotions surface –they’re based on real or potential experiences. Then those emotions bias our thoughts –which affect our decisions –which direct our actions. And those actions contribute to future experiences. That’s the natural cycle of the flesh.

We spontaneously categorize those experiences. The ones that are pleasing, we call “good” and the ones we don’t like, we call “bad.” Making decisions is normal –it’s how we were designed.

Through that natural cycle, we shape our environments by deciding who to associate with, where to live, what to eat, when to sleep, what career to take up –and what, where, who to avoid. By evaluating the results of those decisions we establish a set of behavioral rules –making minor adjustments as we go. It becomes a law that describes how we work as individuals –there’s the law of my flesh and there’s the law of your flesh. We even find some common ground with other people –selectively adopting moral and civil codes and what’s in the Bible.

Our intention is to make this life the best it can be –according to our own determination of what’s “best.”

Judging Good and Evil

In Genesis chapter three, Satan said to Eve “…when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eating the fruit wasn’t the tipping point –eating it was simply proof that she wanted to be the ultimate decider of what’s “best.” She wanted to be in control of her life and whatever affected it.

Let’s look closer at Satan’s seemingly innocuous statement –focusing on some of the key words within their context. Knowing means “to competently discern, to fully comprehend, to be thoroughly familiar with.” Good means “valuable” –it’s what God cherishes and keeps with Him forever. And evil means “worthless” –it’s what He is going to discard into the furnace.

Eve was a small part of the creation, not the Creator. So she didn’t have the capacity to know (to competently discern, to fully comprehend, to be thoroughly familiar with) what was best for His entire creation. Trying to “be like God” is why He put a separation between them and Himself –but it wasn’t without first providing a way to be reconciled.

When speaking about the two trees in the middle of the garden, God first told them about the tree of life –and then the tree of death. Those trees represent the only two laws for which He holds everyone accountable. There’s the law of the Spirit of life which describes the way to reconciliation –and there’s the law of sin and death which describes why we need to be reconciled.

He said “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” There’s no “if you eat from it” –it was just a matter of time until they realized their need for Him to undo what had been done. It was then that He gave up His precious Lamb’s life to cover their guilt for impersonating Him.

The tree of life isn’t something that we can walk up to and pick its fruit –it was taken out of human reach. Angels stand guard at the tree –the cross– with a blazing sword. They serve as a welcoming beacon for those who seek its fruit –Jesus’ blood and flesh– and they are foreboding warriors against those who are still trying to be God.

Meanwhile, our flesh –that autonomous, independent being– attempts to fulfill God’s role. It’s been fooled into thinking that its law, its decision-making process, its ability to judge, is perfect. So when it’s confronted with another law that is elevated above its own (the Ten Commandments or principles for Godly living or doing the right thing) our flesh rebels against it –and more importantly, against the authority that elevated it.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; (1 Corinthians 15:56)

But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me. (Romans 7:8-10)

Failures of the Flesh

Our flesh uses its physical senses, emotions, thoughts and will to proudly prove itself to be the best. Some of what we do could appear to be grand –even magnificent. However, when we recognize the failures of the flesh –when we realize that we can’t really make things turn out the way we want, when emotional peace can’t be found, when our own resources are exhausted– then we might seek God to fix what we can’t.

The cycle of the spirit begins when our mind listens to our spirit. That’s our conduit through which the Holy Spirit appeals to us with the offer of salvation –an escape from death (separation from God) into a new life (union with Him). Next, our will accepts that offer and whatever else it might entail. From that time onwards, we are confronted with opportunities to trust our flesh or to trust Him.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)

Most of the day we operate independently –trusting our flesh to do accomplish what we need. But the Spirit infrequently interrupts our routines to point out the flesh’s failures –each time a little more clearly.

Then He lets us know that we can trust Him to work them out for our good –even providing an amazing inner peace in the middle of horrific chaos. That peace is the first-recognized form of the fruit of the Spirit. Over time He shows us that only He is trustworthy. That’s how He builds the perfect bond with us –proving His compassion.

We might naturally live out our days content with just our flesh in control. But God doesn’t leave us that way. He intentionally frustrates us so that our own rules for navigation fail to meet our expectations. Romans 8:19-21 (through the end of that chapter) explains that all of the creation is experiencing sickness, decay, death –as a witness that is revealing our need for Him. It’s also a witness about the resurrection from the dead through new plant life after a cold winter or a forest fire, a new creation from caterpillar to a butterfly via a chrysalis, the birth of a baby to a hopeful father and mother.