Image for Understanding why we need to crucify our flesh

Understanding why we need to crucify our flesh

Renew / Know Biblical Truths
As believers, we are called to turn away from “living according to the flesh” and be led by the Spirit of God. It is by His divine power that we are able to “share God’s divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”


Note: This is the last in a four-part series on our spirit, our soul, the connection between our spirit and soul, and our flesh

Romans 8:12-14 ESV  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

The works of the flesh that lead to spiritual death

The flesh can refer to one’s physical body but it can also refer to a person’s human nature, as opposed God’s divine nature. The original Greek word for flesh here is sarx, which refers to our “body, human nature, materiality; kindred” (Strong’s Concordance, 4561 σάρξ, σαρκός, ἡ sarx). 

It is human nature to constantly think about ourselves, indulge in the sensual urges of our flesh, do what is in our own best interests, desire to elevate ourselves, and so forth. In short, our flesh is prone to sin. When we live a life that indulges the desires of our flesh, the results include “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” The Bible states that anyone who lives such a life will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Corruption of the flesh began with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

At the very beginning, God created our bodies and the desires of our flesh to be good and pure. 

Genesis 1:31 ESV  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

It was only after Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that our flesh began to develop a taste for evil things.

Genesis 2:15-17 ESV  The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

This happened because Satan succeeded in arousing the passions of Adam’s and Eve’s flesh. He lured them into desiring greater knowledge, power, and self-glory. This same tempter continues to work amongst Adam’s and Eve’s descendants today. 

Satan and his fallen angels set up all sorts of schemes to corrupt God’s people, targeting the “passions of our flesh, so as to tempt us to carry out the desires of the body and the mind”. This is a battle that every believer needs to fight well, through the power and counsel of the Holy Spirit, because losing it has dire eternal consequences.

Ephesians 6:11 ESV  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV  But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Jesus went so far as to say that “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” It is not the physical eye that is bad. Rather, it is our fleshly nature that leads us to sin that is.

Mark 9:46-48 ESV  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

1 John 2:16 NLT  For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

We need to recognise the true manipulator of our flesh

Jesus has said that “it is necessary that temptations come.” When we learn to resist the devil’s temptations, we also mature in character, endurance, and spiritual wisdom. Temptations also test our love for and dedication to God. Also, see Temptations serve a purpose

Matthew 18:7 ESV  “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

James 4:7 ESV  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Jesus also said, “…but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” The same tempter who misled Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden even tried to corrupt Jesus in the desert and failed.

Matthew 4:2-3 ESV  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

The devil and all his agents will one day be thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, to be tormented day and night forever. Satan and evil spirits know their time on earth is fast coming to an end. They are now doing whatever they can to corrupt as many people as possible.

Revelation 20:10 ESV  And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 12:12 NLT  Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”

A real-life example

Our enemy works overtime to try to manipulate how we think about what we see, hear, and feel. Some of these ways of thinking can even seem relatively innocuous and harmless.

For instance, we may think that “drinking a glass of wine is a good way to relax.”

Knowing this, the enemy will come tempt us to drink every time we see a bottle of wine. When we encounter stressful situations, the enemy will tempt us to drink. When we are happy, the enemy will tempt us to drink. When we are sad, the enemy will tempt us to drink. When we listen to relaxing music, the enemy will tempt us to drink. Slowly, we find that we can’t seem to pass a day without drinking some alcohol. 

It is human nature to desire to relax when stressed, but by following the wiles of our flesh (in this case, a taste for alcohol), our subconscious minds can develop the wrong associations and our physical bodies a dependency on the wrong substances. This is how many addictions and sinful strongholds form in our flesh.

Once we become enslaved to alcohol, evil spirits will change tactics and accuse us of being bad Christians. 

So we try our very best to develop some self-discipline and abstain from alcohol. We don’t realise that we are merely relying on our flesh to control our flesh! The next time a stressful event comes along, we find ourselves slipping back into our old ways. We reach for a glass of wine, or perhaps some other substance, to soothe our anxieties. The Bible warns us that human self-regulation has “no real value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Colossians 2:22-23 ESV If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

When we can’t seem to break the habit, the enemy will tell us that we don’t deserve God’s love, that God won’t love us anymore, and that He has left us. We begin to feel anxious, hopeless, stuck, and abandoned, even though that is not true at all!

Isaiah 41:10-13 ESV  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”

Colossians 2 puts it this way, “the elemental spirits of the world will try to take us captive by philosophy (i.e. ways of thinking) and empty deceit (i.e. empty promises to fulfil our desires).” Thankfully, Jesus has already “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” We simply need to know how to stand in the victory that Jesus has purchased for us by obeying His Word and following the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 2:8,13-15 ESV  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The real issue

First, we need to see that the issue here is not alcohol.

The real issue is that we have not made Jesus Lord and Master of every area of our lives. We behave just like the rest of the world and use the things of this world to soothe ourselves, rather than seek God for comfort, counsel, wisdom, peace, and rest. 

How do we live as new creations, no longer enslaved to the passions of our flesh?

2 Corinthians 5:16-17 ESV  From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

1. Renew the mind

For one, we all need to renew our minds. 

We conform to this world if we continue to think that “drinking a glass of wine is a good way to relax.” That is from our old self which we need to put off, because it is based on the flesh.

Romans 12:2-3 ESV  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Ephesians 4:22-23 ESV  … to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,

The new self will choose to seek God’s will first and ask the Holy Spirit, “Why am I stressed in the first place, when Your presence in me should bring joy and peace? Please show me the things I need to repent of and seek Your renewal and guidance for.”

This is how we “take every thought captive to obey Christ” — even the ones that seem innocuous and harmless — because our flesh can be blindsided and corrupted by our own human reasoning and opinions. Only the Holy Spirit has divine power to destroy strongholds by showing us the lies inside our hearts and minds and set us free. Also, see The Holy Spirit as our perfect Counsellor

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

2. Submit all areas of our lives to God

We find victory over any type of stress by being joined to Jesus, learning how to overcome the world by remaining in Him, and finding rest through Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

John 16:33 ESV  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The Bible calls us to present our entire bodies as living sacrifices, submitted to God’s Lordship, to do as He wills. This means we no longer own our thoughts, our desires, our emotions, and our will, but give them to the Holy Spirit to rule over. When we do that, our carnal minds and fleshly nature can no longer rule us. We cease to live as “natural persons” and are transformed into “spiritual persons.” Please see Understanding the interaction between our spirit and soul for an explanation of natural and spiritual persons.

Romans 12:1 ESV  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The Spirit of God has immense wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. We cannot walk in error when we follow Him.

Isaiah 11:2 ESV  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3. Seek the Holy Spirit for God’s will

Thirdly, we need to learn to discern “what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” for us.

Our flesh will want to escape from stress, but God can allow His children to undergo stress to help mature us. 

For example, the stress we feel can reveal the fears that we have not entrusted to God. It can reveal some bitterness we have towards certain people, whom we have yet to forgive. It can help increase our faith when we learn that with God, it is indeed possible to overcome all sorts of difficulties. It can prepare us to step up into the next stage of ministry that God has prepared for us. It can help deepen our compassion for those who suffer, so we can love others like Jesus does. 

Our flesh will never understand all this. Its desires will resist the desires of God’s Spirit. This is why we need to crucify our flesh with all its passions and desires and follow the Holy Spirit. We simply need to ask the Holy Spirit, “What is Your will for me? Help me follow You.”

Galatians 5:16-17 ESV  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 

4. Understand that our bodies are tabernacles

Last but not least, we need to understand that our physical bodies were created for much higher purposes, other than to just gratify our own fleshly desires. 

The apostle Paul referred to the human body as our “tent.” The original Greek word for tent here is skénos, which means “tabernacle; figuratively of the human body,” according to Strong’s Concordance (4636. σκῆνος, skénos)

2 Corinthians 5:1,4 ESV  For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 

This tent is meant for holiness, set apart for worship, just like the tabernacle that Moses built in the desert. In Exodus, God gave Moses extremely detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle with the finest materials. It was to be a place that God came to dwell amongst His people. The plans were so intricate that they took six chapters to describe (Exodus 25-31).

Exodus 25:8-9 ESV  And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. 

This is how God sees our human bodies; intricate, precious, valuable, and a place for Him to dwell in. Jesus came to purchase our bodies with His own blood and cleanse us of sin so that we can be God’s tabernacle of worship. In other words, our body is meant to be a temple of the Holy Spirit within us. (We can see how Satan and evil spirits work hard at desecrating God’s temple. They will tempt every person to defile their bodies with sin.)

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Joseph understood that his body was a tabernacle for God’s presence, reserved for worship. Therefore, when his master’s wife kept urging him to engage in immoral sex, he responded with “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Genesis 39:6-10 ESV  … Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

Joseph had crucified his flesh to follow God, and remained faithful to His Lord and Master, even through some of the greatest temptations and the most stressful circumstances (e.g. sold into slavery, wrong accusations, imprisonment). Because he humbled his flesh, God later exalted Joseph to great prominence in Egypt and give him great wisdom and favour in the eyes of men.

Luke 14:11 ESV  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Truly, God reserves His greatest treasures to those who humble their flesh to follow His Spirit.  May we all crucify our flesh and follow the Holy Spirit, regardless of what the enemy throws at us. The Bible assures us that we have finished with sin if we have learnt to not give in — even if our flesh suffers physically. That is when our greatest victories and breakthroughs will come through. 

1 Peter 4:1-2 ESV  Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.


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