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Characteristics of the Flesh


Last time we discussed that, as Christians, we have a choice every moment to walk according to the Holy Spirit or walk according to the flesh. We experience life when we walk according to the Spirit; and conversely, we experience death (absence of life) when we choose to walk according to the flesh. (Rom. 8:6)



“Flesh” in the Bible is used in Several Different Ways


Consider the following examples -​​ 

1.​​ the humanity of Jesus Christ –​​ Rom 1:3​​ 

2.​​ the physical body –​​ Rom 2:28Mat 26:41John 1:14Rom 7:18Gal 2:20

3.​​ mankind, i.e., any living person –​​ Luke 3:6;​​ Acts 2:17;​​ Rom3:20

4.​​ man’s selfish attitude or mindset and the resulting​​ behavior –​​ Gal 5:16-17Gal​​ 5:19-21Phil 3:3


It is this last example (#4) that we refer to as being opposed to the Holy Spirit.​​ 


For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.​​ Galatians 5.17​​ 


Description of the Flesh


Previously we defined walking according to the flesh as any activity done independent of God. Now let’s consider a more comprehensive description of the flesh as follows –​​ 


The flesh​​ may be described​​ as one’s​​ mindset of selfish thinking and the resulting​​ *patterns of behavior. These patterns of behavior are activated when I choose to believe Satan’s lies and act out of my own resources in order to cope with life, solve my problems, or meet my needs. The flesh is always focused primarily on self. ​​ My resources include things such as my – heritage, education, IQ, personality, sense of humor, looks, talents, abilities, money, self-discipline, strength, associations, etc. In other words, ​ it is me living my life​​ and attempting to get my needs met​​ independently of Christ.


*patterns of behavior, ​​ aka flesh patterns, ​​ can be described​​ simply​​ as​​ habitual patterns of thinking/behaving that are used to​​ meet a God-given inner need. We are often unaware of these destructive patterns of behavior, thus, they become one’s “default” mode of functioning. ​​ 


Recognize Your Flesh Patterns


I don’t believe it’s ever a good thing to focus on our sins, but it can be helpful to be aware of our sinful patterns of living that prevent us from experiencing Christ as our life.​​ 

Let me say this before we go much further into this discussion – “The flesh cannot reform the flesh”. Often the first thing we do when we become aware of our flesh patterns is to “commit” to making some changes in our life. This usually involves setting up “rules” to live by. For example, “I will get up at 4:30 a.m. and pray every day”; I will not watch television anymore”; I will memorize three verses of scripture every week”; “I will never eat sugar again”; etc. This is called law living! This was Paul’s struggle in Romans chapter seven when he tried living under the Law.​​ 

Have you ever done that?​​ How’d that work for you?

Any attempt to keep the law (either the Mosaic Law or a self-imposed law (rules) is always done in our own strength, i.e., according to our flesh. Furthermore, it can never produce life!


There is only one way​​ to overcome living according to your flesh and that is to live according to the Holy Spirit, i.e., under the control of the Holy Spirit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.​​ Galatians 5.16​​ 



Remember –​​ Satan loves to get you to believe you are missing something you need and the way to get it is by your doing (in your own strength).​​ 


Basic Truths about Our Flesh


1.​​ The flesh is always focused on self.​​ 

2.​​ It is not our old sinful nature. Christians no longer have a sinful nature as a result of our old man being crucified with Christ – Rom. 6:1-7.​​ 

3.​​ It is driven by our neediness, i.e., the need to get our God-given needs/desires met.​​ 

4.​​ The flesh is the by-product of being born spiritually​​ separated from the life of God.​​ 

5.​​ It cannot produce life, only death.

6.​​ The flesh can look good, e.g., religious flesh or it can look bad, e.g., immorality.

7.​​ Everyone’s flesh is a little different because we all have a unique personality.

8.​​ Flesh does not get better, or become rehabilitated.

9.​​ Our flesh will be with us until our physical body dies.


Characteristics of the Flesh


All flesh is – Controlling,​​ Deceptive,​​ Legalistic, Proud, Addictive, Self-Absorbed (self-centered), Self-Protective, Sin.​​ For more information, please read​​ Understanding the Flesh​​ on this website.​​ 

You cannot function as God intended when walking according to your flesh. Your unique personality becomes distorted when your flesh is in control.​​ 


Ask yourself (and God) –​​ You may be able to recognize some of your flesh patterns (yes, we can have more than one), however, if you ask your Heavenly Father to reveal them to you, he will.​​ Caution:​​ You may not like what he reveals to you, but until you own it (agree with God), you will never walk in the victory Christ has given you.​​ 


My Struggle –​​ I recall a time many years ago when I was praying and told God I would not become defensive when my wife said something I didn’t like. I was very sincere when I said it. It wasn’t 15 minutes until my wife said something I didn’t like and I got very defensive and said some unkind things. I felt so defeated. I told the Lord, “I give up, I can’t do this!”. Now that was music to his ears. That is exactly where he wanted me.​​ 

Well shortly after that, the same scenario presented itself again. But this time it was like time stood still. I heard the voice of the enemy in my mind loud and clear – “Are you going to let her get away with that? If you do, she’ll just walk all over you. You’d better set her straight right now!”. All this happened in just a few seconds, but it seemed to be happening in slow motion.​​ 

Then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “How’s that been working for you?” – Ouch! This time I decided to keep my mouth closed (almost always a good choice) and walk away. When I did, the peace of God flooded over me. All of a sudden, trying to defend myself became unimportant. I experienced Christ’s life at that moment!​​ 


Scripture References –​​ Rom. 6 - 8;​​ Gal. 5; Eph. 2.


Back​​ Next​​ –​​ So, How Do We Walk According to The Holy Spirit?