What is the significance of the word “flesh” in the Bible? The Bible’s use of the word is complicated, and has a range of different meanings.
For starters, “flesh” is often used to refer to the physical bodies of human beings. In Genesis 6:3, for instance, God said that the flesh of mankind would only endure for 120 years. This use of the word is fairly straightforward: it is simply a reference to physical bodies.
However, the word can also refer to sin and sinful desires. In the New Testament, for example, Paul writes that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh” (Romans 8:5). Here, the apostle is saying that when people concentrate on lust and other sinful desires, this is living “in the flesh.” Using the same line of thought, Jesus said that “out of the heart of man come all the evil desires of his flesh” (Mark 7:21).
It’s important to note that, while “flesh” can represent any kind of physical body, it often carries a negative connotation in the Bible. The word is often used to refer to weak and selfish humans, as opposed to spiritual beings. In Romans 8:3, for instance, Paul writes that “the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law.” This idea is echoed in John 3:6, which states that “flesh gives birth to flesh.”
Furthermore, “flesh” can be used to refer to the sinful nature of humanity. In Galatians 5:19-21, for instance, Paul warns against “acts of the flesh” such as sexual immorality, drunkenness, and idolatry. In this passage, the apostle is condemning these sinful acts and emphasizing the need to turn away from them.
The Attitude of Christians
As Christians, there are many attitudes and habits that we need to adopt in order to properly serve God. One of these is a hatred for our own “flesh” or sinful desires. In Galatians 5:24, Paul urges us to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.” The idea here is that we need to die to our own sinful desires and instead choose to pursue those things which are pleasing to God.
We must also recognize that “flesh” does not always mean something sinful. For instance, in Ephesians 3:16, Paul writes that “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Here, the apostle is saying that Christ can dwell in us, not merely through our physical bodies, but also through our spiritual lives.
At the same time, however, we must also remember that our physical bodies are still subject to the temptations of sin. In 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul writes that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This suggests that, while the spiritual lives of believers may gain entrance into the kingdom of God, their physical bodies will still be vulnerable to the desires of the flesh.
The Struggle of Christians
For Christians, the struggle against the “flesh” is an ongoing battle. As Paul writes in Romans 8:13, “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.” Here the apostle is saying that, while we may be able to put to death the desires of the flesh through the power of the Spirit, it is only through a consistent effort that we can overcome our sinful desires. When we fail in this struggle, we may well find ourselves in “the flesh” again.
In addition, Christians must also be aware that there are many temptations in the world which may lead them back into “the flesh.” Paul writes that “the world is flesh and blood and those who are in it are ruled by the sinful desires of their minds” (Colossians 2:20). This suggests that, while we can separate ourselves from worldly temptations, we must always be mindful that the temptation will always be there.
The Christian church is called to be a haven from the temptations of “the flesh.” In Galatians 6:1-2, Paul tells us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Here the apostle is saying that the church should be a place of refuge and solace for those who struggle against “the flesh.”
The church should also be a place of spiritual sustenance. In John 6:53-56, Jesus tells us that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Here, the Son of Man is referring to his death on the cross, and to our need to accept his sacrifice in order to gain eternal life.
Finally, the church should be a place of fellowship. Paul writes in Romans 12:5 that “[e]ach of us should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Here, the apostle is highlighting the importance of the church as a place where people can come together and share their spiritual gifts with each other.
The Kingdom of God
For believers, the ultimate goal of our journey is to enter into the Kingdom of God. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20-21 that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” This passage suggests that, while our physical bodies are prone to the temptations of the “flesh,” we will eventually be given new bodies in the Kingdom of God which will be free from sin and its consequences.
As Christians, it is our hope that, one day, we will be free from the temptations of the “flesh” and will reside with God in His Kingdom. Paul tells us that this hope comes from the power of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. In Ephesians 1:18-20, he writes that “[w]e have the incomparably great power he exercised when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Here, the apostle is saying that, through the power of Christ, we can have hope that one day we will be free from sin and will dwell in the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit
Finally, the Word of God tells us that we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in the struggle against “the flesh.” In Romans 8:11, Paul writes that “[t]he Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Here, the apostle is saying that, though we are still subject to the temptations of the “flesh,” we can rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us away from sin and into the Kingdom of God.