One of the constant sources of conflict in living the supernatural Christian life is our flesh. Not in the biology sense of our physical skin, but in the biblical sense of our flesh being the source of our sinward inclinations. Remember, sin was not eradicated at the new birth. It only had a change in status (it no longer reigns) and our relationship to it (we are no longer slaves). Sin’s presence and nature still exist in the believer and its summary term, the flesh, is the source of many a conflict.
Our role in the conflict with the flesh is two-fold. First, we are to choose the way of the Spirit over the way of the flesh. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Gal 5:17-18). Believers have a choice. We can choose the way of the Spirit in keeping with who we are or we can choose the way of the flesh. The Spirit and the flesh are opposing entities each vying for our allegiance.
The same choice is set before us in Romans 6:12-13, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Do not let sin reign. Do not let sin back on the throne. Do not go back into sin’s employ. Remember, sin is still present in the believer; it just lost its employee, its slave. Don’t go back to work for your former master. Choose to obey your new master.
Secondly, we are to crucify the flesh. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires” (Gal 5:24). This “death to the flesh” includes both the one-time choice to follow Christ and our continual habit of crucifying the flesh. The flesh was dealt a death blow at our conversion, but, like the bad guy in a horror movie, keeps coming back (albeit with less power) and must be repulsed again and again. We seek to destroy that about the flesh that gives it its strength and power.
Crucifying the flesh also has two aspects. On the positive side, we run to practice God’s commands. By the implantation and practice of the Spirit’s fruits; “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23), we weaken the influence of the flesh.
At the same time we avoid situations and habits that strengthen the flesh. We consider what occasions sin uses to its advantage and act carefully. John Owen wrote in 1656 in The Mortification of Sin, “Consider what ways, what kinds of company, what opportunities, what studies, what occupations, what conditions have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to your sins, and set yourself against them all. Men will do this with their bodily infirmities. The season, the diet, and the air that have proved offensive are avoided. Are things of the soul of less importance?”