The lust of the flesh is the power behind the scenes that produces sin as it’s outward display. It is immediately obvious why this is such an important topic for every believer to fully understand. However, before we look at the entire phrase “lust of the flesh”, it is important to first understand the two key terms used in it, that is, “lust” and “the flesh”.
Lust of the flesh— lust
In very simple language, lust is desire gone wrong. It is a strong craving or evil desire, often but not limited to sexual desire. I should point out right here that our human desires in themselves are not evil. I found out that many believers make the mistake of thinking that our desires in themselves are evil. The fallen human nature is corrupted by sin, but aside from sin, God made us and gave us thoughts, desires, feeling, imagination and the power to make decisions. These things in themselves are not evil. It is not wrong to desire something. In fact the Lord Himself says
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart (Ps. 37:4 KJV).
He promises to give us the desires of our hearts if we delight ourselves in Him.
Lust is sin using our desires against us to meet its purposes in our lives. There are two key characteristics of lust that distinguishes it from the pure, natural desires the Lord gives us:
- It is an evil desire. Lust is used in the scriptures to describe evil desires just as hunger and thirst are used to describe a holy longing and desire for God.
- It comes with an overwhelming power and is almost irresistible. Lust comes with a passion that is unparalleled and almost impossible to defeat. It ensures you will do what it commands you to do. You probably know how it feels when our hearts are lusting after something. It almost feel as if we do not get what we desire, we will cease to exist. The sad part is that almost universally, after we get what we lusted after, we find that it fails to satisfy us completely and durably as we thought it would.
Lust of the flesh—the flesh
The second part of the lust of the flesh is the flesh. If you have ever wondered what the worst enemy of the believer in Christ is, here it is—the flesh. You might have thought that sin or Satan is our worst enemy. Well, you were close, but there is a closer enemy to our life of victory and spiritual prosperity than sin or Satan, because it is part of us. The worst enemies are not those from outside but from inside. So, what is the flesh?
It will certainly require volumes for us to completely discuss what the flesh really is so I will condense the salient features that are key to the understanding of our subject. I will present the flesh in two parts: natural and spiritual.
The flesh is the natural aspect of man, as man is created with both a spiritual and a natural part. This aspect has no direct relationship with sin. It is simply the natural part of man that is needed to allow us to function on the earth. Man is essentially a spirit and lives in the body through his soul. Since God made the earth for flesh and blood to inhabit, the human spirit can only live on the earth through the body. The real man, that is the spirit man, therefore interacts with the natural world through the flesh, that is through the body and its senses. You are able to read this post because you have eyes that are able to see physical light. That is the natural aspect of the flesh. By extension, it will mean natural human abilities, the five human senses and the body.
The arm of the flesh refers to human abilities as the Prophet Jeremiah spoke
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD (Jer. 17:5 KJV)
When we trust in our own strength or abilities or in others, we are trusting in the arm of the flesh.
Many believers do not yet see this potentially catastrophic aspect of the flesh because they are solely focused on the fact that the flesh is exclusively sinful. One of the greatest obstacles that we can put on God’s way is trying to do spiritual things by own strength, that is, by the flesh. That might include trying to live the Christian life or even run a ministry by our own strength.
Just as our desires mentioned above, the flesh is humanity gone wrong. It is first and foremost the natural part of man as mentioned above, but there is a spiritual power or nature that came alive within fallen man that is the power behind sin. The Apostle Paul says
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do (Rom. 7:18-19 KJV).
He was caught in a vicious cycle with something quite powerful that is part of him and compelled him to commit sin. This is the spiritual side of the flesh. It is certainly a spiritual nature but has its natural roots in the natural aspects of the flesh. The reason why the flesh is so subtle is because it is part of you. It is not some external thing but part of the earthly make up of the natural fallen humanity. The only time you will be totally free of the flesh will be when this fallen earthly body is completely replaced by a spiritual body in the resurrection.
What then is the lust of the flesh?
If you put together lust and flesh briefly discussed above, you will immediately see what the Lord is wanting to communicate to you. Lust is a strong evil desire, and the flesh is natural aspect of man that has been corrupted by the sinful nature. The lust of the flesh is sin in the flesh using strong desires for evil to make humans do evil and commit sin. A classic example is sexual lust. Once that desire is there, it takes the Holy Spirit to destroy it otherwise it will almost always get that person to do what it wants. The flesh, with its lusts, is the mother of all sin.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (Jas. 1:14-15 KJV)
Lust becomes pregnant and gives birth to sin as its mother! So what is the father? Well, lust in itself is not sin in most cases except in situations such as covetousness when the desire itself is the sin. It only becomes sin if it succeeds to get the person to do what it wants him or her to do. For example, if it is sexual lust, it might compel that person to seek to satisfy that lust by engaging in ungodly sexual encounters or watch pornography. Lust is always evil and will produce sin.
It is possible to overcome lusts as a believer. We have all struggled with lust of some kind at some point in time. In fact, you might even be struggling with it right now. We all understand the struggle of Apostle Paul with the flesh in Romans 7 below
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin (Rom. 7:24-25 KJV)
He called himself “wretched man” in the state of living in the flesh because of the inner struggles and battles with a power to do evil that he finds himself helplessly controlled by. But he did to end there, he continued to thank the Lord Jesus Christ because he found a new life, a higher life that is above the power of lust and the flesh. He says
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:1-2 KJV)
As a believer in Christ, he says the life of the Spirit is your ticket to freedom from lust and the flesh. The unsaved can struggle sometimes to refrain from doing the compulsions of their lustful feelings but eradicating that lust from the heart of a man is a completely different issue altogether. Lust can stay in a man’s heart for as long as it takes to get what it wants.
The Apostle continues to expound on this ticket to a life higher than lust and the flesh in the letter to the Galatians and said
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16 KJV)
So how do I get free from the power of lust and the flesh? I will break it down into three very easy to understand steps.
The destruction of the spiritual sinful nature
This is what is called the death of the old man, crucified with Christ. The “old man” is the sinful nature and is the spiritual power behind the flesh in our lives to produce sin while we were unsaved.
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 (Rom. 6:6 KJV)
When you received Christ, the old man in you was crucified. The flesh, that old man of sin, the corrupted human spirit, was crucified with Christ and a new you, the new man, was recreated by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Cor. 5:17 KJV)
Your way to freedom from lust is the new creation through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The human nature is so terribly gone wrong that the only thing God would do to remedy the situation is to recreate a new man.
So if the flesh was crucified when I received Christ and got saved, why am I still struggling with the flesh today as if I am not born again? If you understand the two aspects of the flesh discussed above, and their relationship to each other, then you will easily see why the flesh is still a problem after we are saved. The old man that was crucified is referring to the spirit man, the spiritual. However, the flesh has its seat in the body and its natural senses, including the desires and feelings, and therefore cannot be completely eradicated as long as you are still living in this natural, fallen human body. It can be compared to a train that has the power to the engine turned off but still in full motion forward as though nothing has happened. The spiritual power of the flesh was forever put to rest by the new birth. However, the wagons of the train of the flesh, that is this fallen human body with its senses and our soulish cravings, are still there and if given the opportunity, they will do what they are always looking forward to doing, that is,compelling the person with evil desires to commit sin. So what should we do as believers in the meantime while we are still living in the body? Well, God has a plan for this phase on the earth while we wait for the resurrection with our new bodies. It is called mortifying the flesh by the power of the Spirit.
Mortifying the flesh
The Apostle Paul continues to teach us that
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. (Rom. 8:13 KJV)
He says you should mortify the flesh. To mortify the deeds of the flesh means to put to dead the deeds of the flesh, by not giving in to their cravings. For the believer in Christ, this simply means using the power of the Holy Spirit to say no to the desires of the flesh and refusing to what it demands. It takes the Holy Spirit to say no to the flesh and succeed. Holiness and righteousness in our lifestyle is not just an issue of sincerity with God or making a decision to do so. It is much more an issue of power or ability to do so. A man may be sincere but lack the ability to do what they know is right to do. The Holy Spirit gives the believer in Christ the power to say no, a privilege which the unsaved do not have.
The Spirit does not end with “saying no” but continues to give you the power to completely eradicate lust from your heart.Saying “no” to lust is not enough. We must completely remove it from our hearts. Keeping lust in the heart while constantly refraining to do the evil it compels you to do can be compared to hiding a pile of burning coals in the basement of your house and going upstairs to relax in your recliner! Lust in the heart will find a way to express itself. It may take 25 years or more for it to do so. Yes, it is possible to keep sexual lust in the heart for that long and then when it finally finds an opportunity, it will surely take delight in expressing itself. Falling into sexual sin is hardly incidental or accidental. It is often a fulfillment of a long standard, nurtured lustful desire that might have taken months or years to develop. Lust in the heart is simply sin waiting to happen! The Spirit wants you to enjoy life by having not only an outward life free from sin but an inward life from lust.
The Word of God is heavenly soap and water to wash the human heart from impurities. While you wait for the heavenly body when Jesus returns, we must continually wash our hearts and cleanse it by the Spirit through the Word.If you are struggling with lust, put God’s soap into your heart and allow it do its thing. Stop fighting the lust. Rather, put God’s Word into your heart and watch the Spirit at work.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (Jn. 17:17 KJV)
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Eph. 5:26 KJV)
If you are silently dying inside with lust and have nowhere not turn to, I have just given you God’s secret to clean your heart. Lusts will not go away because you are a Christian. It will be washed and cleaned by the Spirit through the sanctifying power of His Word. It is possible to not only mortify the deeds of the flesh but to guard your heart diligently and protect it from lust.
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23 KJV)
If you give lust an opportunity, it will gladly come and make its home in your heart, waiting to become pregnant and deliver sin! We must always be on the guard as long as we are still here in this earthly body.
There is a price to pay for a clean heart. It is not a billion dollars. It is feeding on the Word of God constantly and fellowshipping with the Spirit in prayer. Do you remember what I wrote above, that it takes the Spirit to overcome lust and the flesh? Well, this is how you prepare your heart to do so, by His Word and prayer.
As we prepare and strengthen our hearts spiritual, it becomes easier and more natural to us to say no to the flesh and yes to the Spirit’s leadership. This is the dilemma of most believers. They have been taught to not give in to the desires of the flesh, but they are still screaming like Apostle Paul in Romans 7 who finds himself doing what he does not want to do but unable to do what he wants to do.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I (Rom. 7:15 KJV)
You need the Holy Spirit. Religion will not do it. Church will not do it. Being a “good Christian” will not do it. Avoid the temptation of loving the Lord but dying in silence inside with all sorts of evil desires and feelings. Some Christians have concluded that it is just not possible to have a life free of sin or of lustful thoughts and feelings. They read Romans chapter 6 that talks about our freedom from sin and their experience tells them that cannot be true. And they get support from many other Christians that gives credence to their experience and they recline silently within thinking that is how all other Christians are struggling. They feel those who say they are experiencing the life of the Spirit are probably faking it or some spiritual fraud. The Lord knows that as Lord as we continue to live in this natural body, the temptations to sin will continue and we will sometimes commit sin in what we do and say. He has made ample provisions for our ongoing forgiveness and cleansing when we do. But living a daily life of sin and the lust of the flesh is different issue altogether.
I always remember going through an inner struggle with immoral thoughts in my early years of the faith. I said to myself that it is truly not possible to live with a pure mind free of such impure thoughts. Boy, I was so wrong! Fast-forward 1 year after I said that, God had unveiled His Word to me and so washed my mind as I spend hours meditating on the Word that I had a hard time figuring out the last time I struggled with the same impure thoughts. I had also watched few pornographic scenes on TV that were plaguing my mind again and again and I did not know how to get rid of them. Thank God for heavenly soap water! My mind was so cleansed by the power of the Word that those things were stories of the past. Why am I saying this? To assure you that your faith in Christ is not fake. The Word of God works. You can be from the deeds of flesh as well as the inner battles within with lustful desires and feelings. The worst thing we can do is to try to ignore lust in the heart and continue as though it is not there. You can be sure it will continue to grow and look for an opportunity to express itself, even if that takes 50 years!!
Do the hard work and get God’s Word into your heart and watch the wonders of the operation of the Holy Spirit.
If you do not sow to your spirit in the Word and prayer, do not expect to muster any spiritual strength from the Spirit.
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Gal. 6:8 KJV)
The ultimate destruction of the flesh
The final straw that will forever eliminate the flesh is the redemption of our bodies at the resurrection. What a glorious day that will be, when this fallen body will be completely replaced by a spiritual and heavenly body. The flesh will never be remembered again, praise the Lord! But until that day, mortify the deeds of the flesh by walking in the Spirit!