In 1936, when the Spanish Civil War was drawing to a close, General Emilo Mola was making his final plans to attack Madrid. Someone asked him which of his four columns would be the first to enter the city. He answered the “fifth.” His answer became world famous. General Mola’s most important column was a band of rebel sympathizers already inside the city, busy working behind Loyalist lines to aid his cause.* Since that time, the term “fifth column” has been used worldwide to describe traitors who assist the enemy from within. All believers have a rebel spirit within them, a fifth column so to speak, which is in active rebellion against God.
Besides understanding this fact it would be proper for believers to investigate what their old nature, the flesh, wants. What does it glory in? What are its goals? If the flesh motivates our behavior, the outcome will not please God. Thus, it is prudent to understand our own depraved nature in order to better recognize our need for God’s help in overcoming its ungodly tendencies. Our flesh yearns for many things, but the majority of these can be characterized by the following five activities.
The Flesh Opposes God
It should be obvious that the flesh opposes God’s character, yet many Christians are crippled in their spiritual walks because they rely on their own wisdom, strength, and emotions to govern their daily lives. The flesh is completely incapable of guiding a believer into holy living; this is why the Lord Jesus said that “the flesh profits nothing” (Jn. 6:63 NKJV). It is quite evident from
Scripture that the deeds of the flesh are morally opposite from the fruit of the Spirit; what the flesh naturally controls and what the Spirit of God supernaturally does in a believer’s life are completely contradictory. The flesh enjoys sins such as “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21). On the other hand, those who are controlled by the Spirit of God will demonstrate “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23); they are not self-serving, but rather they give of themselves to others.
The flesh longs to be served by others and craves more than is needed or lawful to gratify its wanton nature; but the spiritual man is selfless and behaves in the same way God does. The flesh nature not only opposes the things of God, but is an affront to the character of God. Consequently, Paul warns that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), and that they live in spiritual separation from God. He cannot have fellowship with those who actively oppose Him (Rom. 8:13). The believer should be mindful of this reality the next time he or she is contemplating sin. The believer cannot do anything pleasing to God unless he or she abides with Christ (Jn. 15:4-5); the Light of the World cannot abide with anyone in darkness.
The Flesh Exalts Itself
The flesh nature enjoys comparing its abilities, successes, physical features, etc. with those who especially fall short of its own perceived superiorities. Whether it be the size of a fish caught, the number of deer shot, the accomplishments of children, fame, income, or awards, the flesh loves to compare. Why? Because such comparisons stir up either pride or envy and the flesh enjoys stimulating both emotions. God hates pride; in fact, according to Proverbs 6:16-17, it tops the list of things which God hates. God also proclaims, “Pride and arrogance
and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Prov. 8:13). Solomon provides a somber warning concerning the sin of envy: “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (Prov. 14:30). Comparisons among believers usually result in sinful thinking.
The Christians at Corinth were comparing the abilities of different preachers and then began following particular men instead of Christ. The end result of this proud behavior was division within the Church (1 Cor. 1:12). Paul openly rebuked their desire to compare God’s servants with each other because this sin was destroying the unity of the assembly; Christ did not have His proper position in their hearts (1 Cor. 4:6-7).
It is God who makes us different from one another; and whatever features, assets or abilities we have were given to us by Him. We do not have anything that did not come from Him, so there is no reason to compare ourselves with others or to compare people with each other. In humanity there are no superior beings, except Christ. If believers truly understood that they are merely stewards of all that they have, there would be no glory in the flesh, but only in God alone. The essence of sin is rejecting God’s sovereignty and claiming the right to rule one’s self. Yet, believers are instructed not to have any confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3-4), and to glory only in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).
The Flesh Wants Showmanship
Throughout the Bible, God’s people have been called out of two God-opposing ideologies. The first is the world’s pleasure – a system of secular thinking which values the passing moment over the eternal purposes of God. The second is the world’s religion – a system of humanized doings which devalue Christ’s death and exalt self-improvement and selfworth. Wherever God’s people gather to form a local church, there will be some in that group who tend to rely on legalism as the means for touting greater spirituality (these are pursuing the world’s religion). Others feign spirituality by abusing their liberty in Christ; these individuals tend to settle in, indulge their flesh, and ultimately become spiritually lethargic (these fall prey to the world’s pleasure).
For example, the church at Corinth pursued the world’s pleasure while the churches in Galatia were adversely affected by the world’s religion. The flesh motivates both ideologies and both have the goal of proving to others that real spirituality has been obtained. Yet, this is not true spirituality, but a humanized form of it. Consequently, it requires divine wisdom and grace to live out Christ-honoring liberty which seeks the good of others and the glory of God.
Yet another means by which the flesh erects a spiritual facade is through invoking the ideology of the world’s religion. World religions have always utilized self-contrived works to affirm human spirituality. Consequently, humanized Christianity has replaced the clear teachings of Scripture by promoting religious rituals and Church traditions as a means to measure one’s religious status. We are creatures that want visible and audible confirmations of unseen spiritual realities, so we try to manufacture these to create a sense of security. However, true spirituality cannot be achieved through selfeffort, but rather by the lack of it. A spiritual person, guided by the Holy Spirit, lives out truth, not religious ritual. Paul rebuked the legalists of his day for pushing their religious agenda on the young Christians in Galatia in order to make a fair show of the flesh (Gal. 6:12-15).
The Flesh Values The Visible
That which is seen is more apparent to us than that which is not seen; consequently the flesh puts a premium on such things as natural abilities and physical features. This explains why TV programming and commercials typically target the appetites of the flesh rather than the reasoning of the mind. The carnal man will be more motivated by lust than common sense. Many products have been sold because a beautiful bikini-clad woman promoted it. In this case, men associate the advertised product with the woman advertising it and are motivated to buy it for a different reason than the product’s value.
We learn from Proverbs 7 that the sexual sin of the woman is to lure and the sexual sin of the man is to follow. It is for this reason that Peter warns women against flirtatious appearance and actions (1 Pet. 3:3-4). The Greek word in 1 Peter 3:3 translated as “arranging” (“adorning” KJV) is kosmos. It means “orderly arrangement” or “decoration.” Interestingly, it is usually translated as “world” in the New Testament, a meaning that is illustrated for us in Genesis 1 when God created the orderly arrangement in which we live. The English word “cosmetics” is derived from the Greek word kosmetikos, meaning “skilled in arranging.” Its root origin is from kosmos.
Our western culture has been strongly influenced by the world’s valuation of beauty and the apparent need to augment one’s outward appearance to comply with its carnal standards. Consequently, fortunes are spent on implants, tucks, lifts, tanning, coloring, highlighting, cosmetics, etc. We should take good care of our bodies because they are God’s temples, but most of what the world touts as necessary goes way beyond physical fitness or caring for one’s skin and hair. This is to be expected, as the world’s standard for beauty is quite different than the Lord’s.
The simple fact is that all of us have frail bodies which are ever-progressing towards the grave. We don’t need to hide or deny this fact; rather, we should remind ourselves of it. God values the internal over the external: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). It is spiritual character, not one’s physical features, which is profitable in the furtherance of the kingdom of God.
The Flesh Lusts For More
God programmed natural safeguards into our bodies to govern its fitness: we thirst when the body needs fluids, we hunger when it requires nutrients, and we sleep when it needs rest. These natural mechanisms to sustain life existed prior to the fall of man. However, after man sinned against God, a new spirit of lawlessness began to govern the operations of our bodies. God refers to this problem with control, inherited from Adam, as lust (1 Jn. 2:16). The flesh lusts for more than is needed, allowable, and pertinent. Moderation is not within the flesh’s framework, unless there is something to be gained from self-restraint.
There are many things for which our flesh may lust: social status, fame, food, vices, sexual pleasures, money, beauty, etc. It is impossible to allow our flesh to lust for what it wants without adverse effects on behavior. Peter tells us that a believer cannot simultaneously live according to the flesh and be in the will of God (1 Pet. 4:2). The world is a moral wasteland; there is nothing within its borders that can enrich or strengthen the spiritual man. For what reason, then, would a Christian lust after what can only diminish his or her spiritual vitality?
A Concluding Charge
There is a better way to live; the believer is not to live as he or she naturally did before knowing Christ; the old man is positionally dead and now the believer is to live out Christ’s life (Eph. 2:1-7). Peter summarized the objective of every believer during his or her sojourn on earth: “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men but to the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:2). Paul lived his life according to this truth (2 Cor. 1:12), because he knew that not to do so would result in a shipwrecked life (1 Cor. 9:27). He knew that, if he did not keep one step ahead of his flesh and keep it under control, he would lose his testimony among the Gentiles and his ministry for Christ would be over. As believers live according to this truth, the life of the Lord Jesus is made manifest in their mortal flesh; it is a sweet fragrance that will compel the lost to ponder the goodness of Christ and the validity of His message (2 Cor. 4:11).
* George Sweeting, Betrayal in the Church (Moody Press, Chicago, ’92), p. 74.
By Warren Henderson
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org