There is a war within each of us. The warring parties want victory and complete subjection of the enemy. The combatants are the flesh and the spirit. Paul wrote: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish,” (Galatians 5:17).
Paul details this struggle in Romans 7. Our flesh desires to satisfy its lusts, 1 John 2:16. Although our desires are strong, the spirit can bring the flesh under control. When our spirit is weak, flesh can fulfill its lust resulting in sin, James 1:13-15. This is the source of the struggle, the desire of the flesh to fulfill lusts and the necessity of the spirit’s control of fleshly desires.
Although I desire to serve God in my mind (spirit), the flesh cannot understand the gospel so it is forever under the law of carnality—the passions aroused by base physical lusts. The flesh has no conscience to guide or an intellect to which one can appeal. So my mind, accepting the gospel of Christ, must restrain the flesh from pursuing inordinate desires, 1 Corinthians 9:27.
A comparison might be helpful. A man training an animal must impose will on the animal’s fleshly desire. The dog may wish to eat the uneaten dinner in the garbage can (fleshly desire) but the owner must train the dog to leave the food alone. This is unnatural for the animal but his will must subject to the master. As listed in the table below, the animal only has fleshly desires (impulses and response to stimuli). The master imposes his will (spirit) on the dog so that the animal learns not to pursue the fleshly desire, lest he suffer pain or discomfort for disobedience.
|FLESH DESIRES||SPIRIT CONTROL|
|Eat/Drink, Sleep, Reproduce, Preservation, Pain/Pleasure||Serve God, Serve Man|
|The higher nature that acts by code and authority. The “inward man.”||The Base is guided only instinct and biological drive|
Consider the sin of covetousness. When an object of desire is presented, the flesh will take the object of desire if the sacrifice or pain required to gain the object is not greater than the perceived value of the object. The spirit perceives the desire of the flesh for the object of desire. The spirit then must choose to either satisfy the lust of the flesh or, if guided by God’s law, resist the covetous desire. The spirit can obey God; it can make a decision and, in fact, is the only part that can make the decision for the body.
The flesh cannot obey God, Romans 8:7-8. Those who live according to the flesh (living carnally) cannot please God. So the spirit must be brought under Christ’s will and then bring the flesh under control. This struggle will be present until Christ frees us from our bodies of flesh, Romans 7:24-25; 8:20-23. We must live according to the Spirit of God and put to death the deeds of the flesh, and God will give us strength to mortify our fleshy lusts Romans 8:10-13.