Sometimes the Bible speaks about ‘flesh’ in a neutral way. ‘All flesh’ may mean all mankind. Man is created by God, and he is created with a body. All that God has created is good. So our flesh, meaning our bodies, are a gift from God.
But man did not stay true to God. He disobeyed God and became a sinner. Because of that, ‘flesh’ got a second meaning. It may also mean man in his rebellion against God. Romans 8:8, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God”, and Galatians 5:13, “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” are examples of that.
Behavior in de flesh
How do we behave ‘in the flesh’? In Colossians 3:5-8 Paul tells us how it looks: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
When we understand ‘flesh’ in this way, it becomes immediately clear that we have to overcome the flesh. How do we do that? The flesh is not something that we have. It is who we are without God. We cannot just try to be better. We need a complete make-over. Paul calls it we have to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”, Colossians 3:10.
Faith in Christ
How do we do that? First of all, we have to put our faith in Christ. When we believe that He died for our sins on the cross and was resurrected for our justification, we receive new life in Christ. We are not just ‘flesh’ anymore, but we have become a new man. Because the Spirit of God dwells in us, we do not need to obey the flesh anymore, but can live according to God’s will.
However, all God’s children can confirm that even after we come to know Christ, we still struggle with sin. So the second step is to recognize that. We just saw that the new self ‘is being renewed’. In other words, it is a process. We are not a finished product just yet. As long as we are on this earth, we are in this process of overcoming the flesh and living to honor God, so that we display the image of Christ more and more in our lives.
Overcoming the flesh
In this same chapter, Colossians 3, Paul teaches us how to overcome the flesh. The third step in overcoming the flesh is to apply the advice of Paul. Some points from his teaching are the following:
- “Set your minds on things that are above”, Colossians 3:2. When we see the beauty and the worth of the Lord Jesus, when we realize how great a salvation He has brought us, we will honor him more and sin less.
- “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you”, Colossians 3:5. Paul is realistic: our sinful desires do not just disappear. We have to put them to death. We have to be actively resisting them on a daily basis.
- “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”, Colossians 3:13. When we are wronged, we want to get revenge. But it makes us bitter and it ruins relationships. One of the main things to help us grow in holiness is to be able to forgive others.
- “put on love”, Colossians 3:14. When we love other people, we become lovely ourselves. We will be ready to help others in every possible way, and in doing so we will display Christ’s love.
- “be thankful”, Colossians 3:15. When we have a heart that is overflowing in thankfulness for all God’s graces that we have received, we have the right attitude towards God and we will be generous to other people.
- “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”, Colossians 3:16. When we read, study, and meditate upon the Word of God, our aspirations and our values remain anchored in God’s will, not in our own thoughts. It will help us to be obedient to God and not find excuses to live according to the flesh.