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    Q: #508. Why does the Bible call "the flesh" sinful?

By: Steve Shirley

    A: The Bible says a LOT to say about "the flesh." The word "flesh" is used 423 times in the Bible (278 OT, 145 NT)! The primary Hebrew word used for "flesh" in the Old Testament is "basar," and the primary Greek word used in the New Testament is "sarx. With basar, Strong's Concordance gives 9 different definitions, and with "sarx it gives 13 definitions. In addition, there are "sub-definitions" under these. I was originally going to list and explain each of these definitions, but instead, in order to limit the size of this study, we are going to focus on "the flesh" from a "spiritual" standpoint.

     All living creatures are called "flesh" in the Bible (Gen 6:13,17,19)(Gen 7:15-16,21)(1 Cor 15:39), but in relation to this study, we are talking about humans or mankind (Gal 2:16,20)(Mt 24:22)(Isa 40:5)(Rom 3:20)(Deut 5:26). Flesh can refer to our actual bodies (Ps 16:9)(Heb 2:14)(2 Cor 7:5)(Phil 1:24), and skin (Gen 2:21)(Lev 13:10-11)(Ezek 37:6)(Job 33:21), but it can also refer to what is inside of us; to our very nature. As humans, we all sin (1 Jn 1:8,10)(Rom 3:10,23)(Ecc 7:20)(1 Kin 8:46), however, there is a big controversy as to whether we are born as sinners ("original sin"), and have no choice but to sin, or whether we have a "sin nature," with a free will choice to sin or not. We are not going to into that here (I do not believe that we are born sinners!). However, whichever view one holds, the Bible is clear that as "flesh" (humans), we are all considered sinful (Rom 8:3)(Rom 7:18), and as a result, we are all condemned for our sins (1 Cor 15:50). This is why we need the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.

     Because all humans sin, this is why "the flesh" is tied to sin over and over in the Bible. Let's look at some of what the Bible says about our "flesh" in regards to sin. Our flesh is weak (Mt 26:41)(Mk 14:38)(Ps 78:39)(Rom 6:19). Our flesh has "passions and desires" (Gal 5:24)(Eph 2:3), and "sinful passions" (Rom 7:5). Our flesh will "reap corruption" (Gal 6:8). Our flesh has "lusts" (Rom 13:14)(Eph 2:3)(2 Pet 2:10,18)(1 Jn 2:16). Our flesh is "hostile toward God (Rom 8:7), and those "in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:8).

     We are also told not to "make provision for the flesh" (Rom 13:14), to "crucify the flesh" (Gal 5:24), and to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Cor 7:1).

     The Bible contrasts "the flesh" with "the Spirit" in a number of places (i.e. 1 Pet 4:6, Gal 3:3, Jn 6:63, 1 Pet 3:18). Perhaps the best place is found in Galatians chapter 5, which contrasts the "works of the flesh" with the "fruit of the spirit."

     The works of the flesh are: "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings" (Gal 5:19-22). In contrast, the "fruit of the spirit" is: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal 5:22-23). (***Note: I discuss the "fruit of the spirit" more here.)

     We are able to win the war with sin in our "flesh" through the Spirit (Gal 5:16-18)(Gal 6:8)(Rom 8:4-7,9,12-13)(Rom 7:5-6)(Jn 6:63)(2 Cor 10:2-3).

     Of course, we receive the Holy Spirit at salvation: (Eph 1:13-14)(Titus 3:5-6)(Rom 8:9)(Acts 2:38). Once we do, we have the power of the Spirit to help us overcome.

***Note: Paul discusses his personal war with sin in (Rom 7:14-24).

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