Training The Flesh

The Impossible Mission

Many people come to me for counsel wanting to train their flesh, trying to break various habits. They want to train their bodies not to overeat. They want to train their minds to think the right thoughts, their wills to make strong positive decisions, and their emotions to feel good at the right time. Almost everywhere we go, those in authority teach us some method of training the flesh. We are taught to train the flesh at home, school, work, and sometimes even at church. Some years ago when I surrendered to pastoral ministry, various ministers instructed me to build up my body and train my soul that I might become the minister that God wanted me to be. I tried it, but it did not work.

The problem is that we can not train the flesh to live the Christian life. Why? The Flesh can not please God. "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:5-8). God did not create us to live the spiritual life with physical strength or soul power. When we try to do so, the result is death, opposed to life and peace. The carnal mind stands against God. It is not under the authority of the law of God. It can never be trained to perform.

The flesh not only stands against the Spirit, it enters into conflict with the Spirit. The Flesh wars against the Spirit. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11). The flesh is in contention with and even is an enemy of the Spirit. Furthermore, it brings hurt to the soul. The world says, "Have a few drinks. It will do you good." However, in reality, it destroys our ability to think clearly. The world says, "Get even. Someone needs to put him in his place." The problem is that bitterness is like cancer destroying our emotions.

God did not mean for us to complete in spiritual battles in the flesh. Our flesh can not fight the spiritual war. "(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:4-5). Do you remember what happened to the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:15)? The went into a house to cast out a demon from a man. The demon said, "Jesus, I know and Paul, I know, but who are you?" The men ran out of the house naked! It does no good to try to counsel with a demon. I know. I have tried it. It doesn't work! Allow me to list twelve spiritual weapons that I have found. They are: (1) The Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), (2) mediation (Isaiah 26:3), (3) revelation knowledge (Daniel 11:32), (4) the prayer of faith (Ephesians 6:16), (5) praise (Psalm 149:6-9), (6) the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17-18), (7) the blood of Jesus (Revelation 12:11), (8) a submitted life to God (James 4:7), (9) obedience to God (Deuteronomy 28:1, 7), (10) a pure conscience (I Timothy 1:18), (11) unity of Believers (I Timothy 1:18), and (12) the fulness of the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). These are all spiritual in nature.

Consequences and Responses

There are always consequences for trying to live the spiritual life in the flesh. There will be both outward (social) and inward (within the soul) struggles that will often lead to fatigue and ultimate spiritual failure, followed by moral failures and addictions. Some people become spiritual dropouts, while others become floaters, moving from one church to another. Still other people get into a fringe spiritual group that emphasizes fanatical thinking with some opening the door for demonic control. Some people become anger, bitter, depressed, and even suicidal. These will often exhibit antisocial behavior. Other people move into deep self-deception. Some pick up drug, sex, or work addictions to cover their feelings of failure and rejection. Some people even withdraw from society because of the fear of failure. Many will wrestle with anxiety.

Overcoming The Flesh

Since we can not train the flesh, what are to do? First,we are to make no provision for the flesh."But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14). When we stop to think about it, we plan for most sin. We plan to buy the extra food that we should not eat. We plan to watch the movie that causes us to think lustful thoughts. We plan to say things to hurt others. We plan ways to hurt others who have hurt us. You may ask a friend to come to church. His response may be, "Well, I will have to see about it." What is he saying? He is trying, most likely, to plan a way that he does not have to be in church. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14 12). We set ourselves on one road or another. Then we start walking down that road. We may go farther down the road than we thought that we would, but we set ourselves on whichever road we are walking. Remember the words of Paul to Timothy, the young minister, "For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (I Timothy 4:8).

Second, we are to bring the flesh under subjection. This means that we are to make the flesh a slave to God. Paul wrote to the carnal church of Corinth, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27). We should see that we are either serving God or we are serving the flesh (self). Jesus therefore said, "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13). We can't walk down two roads at the same time. Furthermore, we, as Believers, don't have to be a slave to sin. "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (Romans 6:12-16). The question is, "To whom have I made myself a slave?" We are either a slave to self, the devil, or to God.

It is as if there is an executive board meeting. At that meeting is the flesh that says, "I desire such and such." The mind (intellect) says, "I think such and such." The will says, "I will do it, I can do it, I will not do it, or I just can't do it." The emotions say, "I feel such and such." The Spirit is also there. The Spirit says, "You should do such and such." Now the will is the chairman of the board and can take charge itself (I will) or it can yield to any other party that is there (the flesh, mind, emotions or the Spirit). The will should do this! It should yield to the Spirit. We should say, "Not my will, but Thy will be done." "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We should make our will the servant of the will of God and do His work by His power.

Third, we are to take off the old man and put on the new. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church,
"That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24). Have you ever tried to put two coats, the same size, on at the same time? It doesn't work very well. Jesus illustrated the point when he said, "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:28-30). We must take off the coat of the old man before we put on the coat of the new man in Christ. "A" must come before "B".

Fourth, we are to deny the flesh. Listen to the words of Jesus. "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26). We all know people that have lost control of their mind, will, and emotions. However, if we hold on to self, we lose self. The reason secular psychologists have such a booming business is that they try to help people find themselves. "And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:34-37). We are not to go about trying to find ourselves! First, we are to put self on the shelf. We are to lay it aside. We are to put self behind us. Then, second, we are to take up our cross. This is a picture of dying to self. Then, third, we are free to follow Jesus and should follow him. Steps one and two must come before step three. Otherwise, there will be World War III between self and following after Jesus.

Fifth, we are to mortify the members of the flesh. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:1-5). We are to focus our attention on what God would have us do, and we are to put to death those things that lead to death. We are not to allow fornication (sex outside of marriage) live in us. We are not to allow burning lust to live within us. We are not to allow our minds to be turned over to evil thoughts. We are not to allow covetousness to remain alive within us. Paul again says, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13). One way that we put to death the members of the flesh is to focus our attention on what God would have us to do.

Sixth, we are to reckon the flesh crucified. Paul wrote to the performance oriented, Corinthian church, "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:24-25). We are to consider it a past experience. When we, as Believers, committed our lives to Jesus, we were spiritually united with Jesus. Therefore, when Jesus died, we died. When Jesus was raised from the dead, we were also raised from the dead. Paul explains, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:6-11). We should know that we have been crucified! We should understand this, acknowledge this, believe this, and confess this truth. We can see a two sided coin. On one side is our death with Christ, but on the other side is a resurrection to a righteous new life in Him.

Seventh, we are to live an exchanged life. We are not to prop up the old man and try to fix the flesh, but we are to exchange our old life for the new life in Christ. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). The new life is to replace the old life. Paul further said, "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). Again, we can't be doing two things at the same time. You have see the picture of a little angel sitting on one shoulder and a little demon sitting on the other. When one obeys the one (either the angel or the devil), he will be disobey the other. We are to obey the Spirit so that we will not obey the flesh.

Finally, we need to understand that we must give up everything to follow Jesus. This is the condition for discipleship. Look at the words of Jesus, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). We should understand that one can be a born again Believer without being a disciple. The word "disciple" means a "disciplined one". Jesus makes his point clear when he said, "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33). Being a disciple is more than just being a Christian. There may be many Christians, but few disciples. There may be many carnal Believers, but few Believers walk in the Spirit. To be a disciple, we must lay down everything that pertains to our lives. Furthermore, we must be willing to do this every day. Are you willing to do that right now?

Prayer Of Commitment

Please pray the following prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I realize that I have been trying to live the Christian life in the flesh by my will and my power. I have tried to train my flesh, but have failed. I now realize that I can't train the flesh; therefore: I purpose... Today, I choose by the grace of God to forsake my life and to follow Jesus. Amen.

Returned to Menu or Return to Home Page