What About The Flesh

#027: What About The Flesh? [Podcast]

I frequently debunk the myth of the sinful nature and speak about how we are no longer in bondage to sin.

But many people really struggle with this because we have such a dualistic world-view today.

We see physical, fleshy stuff as bad and spiritual, heavenly stuff as good. Especially in the Church!

But is that Biblical. Is it historically the way the Jewish people saw things or even the early Church?

You see to see the physical flesh as sinful is actually a Gnostic belief. But that presents a lot of issues with how we then translate the numerous references to the flesh in the scripture…

So join me in the podcast and we’ll thrash this issues out.

How to listen

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I’m taking the rest of this month off from travelling so I can focus on a few projects but will be in Liverpool, England in July.

If you want to find out more about this trip and other trips I have scheduled for later in the year you head over to my itinerary

If you are in one of the areas I’ll be visiting this year and would like to host a meeting please do send me an email and we can discuss the possibilities of this. I’ve also got a couple spots open towards the end of 2014 for completely separate trips if you would like to host me.


I mentioned a few resources that might help with this topic here they are:

8 Ways You May Have Accidentally Become A Gnostic
Romans 7 – Did Paul Struggle With A Sinful Nature
Why Do I Still Sin?

#002: The 3 Biggest Reasons Christians Still Sin & How You Can Be Set Free From Them
#017: If I’m Not A Sinner Why Do I Still Sin?

Free eBook:
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I’d love to hear your thoughts, insights and any questions you may have about today’s podcast in the comments section below – thanks for sharing!

Intro/Extro Music used with permission from St. Theodore

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  1. I really enjoyed this podcast. It was most illuminating. I confess I haven’t thought about it in quite that way, consciously anyway. I have believed that the flesh, while not necessarily bad or evil, is corrupted as a result of the fall and that this is where the “power of sin,” Paul talks about, resides. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems to me there is a distinction. And while Jesus has given us a new spirit now, when we die we will receive the new body, glorified and uncorrupted by decay and the power of sin. You have given me a lot to chew on but where would you place the power of sin? And what about the obvious corruption of the flesh?

    • Hi Alan – great question. I have a few thoughts:

      1) I think for me is that while its very easy to interpret a few select scriptures to point to the physical flesh being corrupt and evil it requires us to throw out far too much of the NT to do so with good conscious.

      To me that suggests that we would probably be better off revisiting those one or two passages and considering other interpretations in light of the the whole counsel of scripture.

      2) It requires us to belittle Christ’s work on the cross… it results in death – not Christ – being the one that saves us from our sin.

      3) It doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day the physical flesh has no ability to be evil or good, nor does it have the ability to be “corrupted” by evil… aside from physical sickness.

      To answer the question “where would I place the power of sin?” – I would say it is placed firmly where our beleifs place it:

      Either in the past, dead and buried in the ground where Christ has put it.
      Present in our lives, resurrected to life by our choosing not to believe in what He has done for us.

      This is why it’s SO important that we understand the gift of righteousness and the sanctification that has taken place in us once and for all… for ultimately the power of sin is absolutely 100% dependant on our choice to empower it.

      So I would say that battle ground is in the mind… not the body. I believe (through my interpretation) Paul says this again and again as well.

      Hope that clarifies where I’m coming from. It’s always a confusing topic though and I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in the field with all the answers so I’d encourage you to go through those scriptures and consider alternate interpretations – worst case you come away thinking – “nope I’m going to stick to my original beliefs”

      Next week’s podcast will be on this topic as well so you might want to keep an eye out for that next Wednesday :)

      Thanks so much for the question!

      • Hi, Phil. I really enjoy your spirit and theology. I am in the process of writing a book detailing the reality of our union with Christ and what that means for us in the day to day. I also intend that it will have sections that are scholarly enough to enlighten and challenge my reformed brethren!

        But I wanted to take a minute to ask you what you think about some of the verses in Romans where Paul seems to equate the flesh with our “members”. I believe, he is referring to the members of our body. As I have studied these passages for the last 30 years, I can’t get away from these references to the body. Even Romans 6:6 says our old man was crucified with him that the “body of sin” might be done away with. In Romans 7 he says “who will deliver me from this body of death”, and then also Romans 7 he also says “I see a different law in the members of my body”, or literally “in my members” . If you study in detail about the Greek behind the use of the word “members,” it seems pretty convincing that this is a word that refers to the members of the physical body.

        Then, of course, we get into the discussion of how we reconcile this with the fact that the body is not intrinsically evil? The way I have always explained it is that while the body is not evil, Paul does make some specific statements about the body. In Romans 7 he says that there is a law of sin in my members, and in Romans 8 he says the body is dead. What does that mean? I understand it as a fact that my body did not get saved when my spirit got saved. And somehow the power of sin or the law of sin holds its place of domain in my body and perhaps in my soul as well, though Paul doesn’t mention it in relationship to the soul.
        If you look closely at Pauls discussion in Romans 6, 7 and the first part of 8, I think you will see that this explanation bears out. And it is why later in Romans 8 Paul says that as we groan, we are waiting for our adoption as sons, that is, the redemption of our…. what? Our bodies! (I’m not making this up :-)
        I believe that is because our bodies are the only part of us that still need to be saved. And again, it is not that the body or matter is evil, but rather the rule of the law of sin is taking place there in the body.

        It is also interesting that a guy that you may not be fond of, but who is one of the best Bible teachers on the planet, in my humble opinion, John MacArthur, get this right. He stated in his teaching on Colossians, that when he is asked how we can still sin if we truly are brand new creatures in Christ without a sinful nature, that the reason is that we are new creatures living in unsaved bodies. Bingo!

        Your thoughts? Please examine those critical chapters in Romans carefully before answering.

        • Hi Scott,

          Thanks for your input.

          Like you I have read extensively on this topic as well (conservatively at least 500hrs of study on the book of Romans alone). Coming from a reformed (brethren) background myself I know the importance of doing my homework before even trying to go there. I frequently teach a 30hr school on Romans so I can only beg forgiveness for not being able to condense the full extent of a bulk of the message of Romans (as I interpret it) in just one message.

          I will be releasing another podcast next week on this topic and walk through Romans 6-8 in 45mins as well. So hopefully that will add to the conversation too.

          I can definitely see the merits of coming to the conclusions you and countless other Christians do. Outside of the early church there is a burden of proof on those who would lean the way that I do. However I do think there is plenty of scope for interpreting the passages you mention in the light of which I talked. That the body/self/person/members is an identity outside of Christ or and identity which houses Him and allows Him to work in and through it. From my study of the culture at the time, quite a few early church fathers I don’t see it as something that cannot be backed up quite substantially – especially in the light that viewing the body as “unsaved” appears (if not in whole at least on the surface) to be extremely gnostic to a 1t century believer.

          As with many many topics in the scriptures the verses for both sides are numerous and I won’t claim to have finished my journey but until I come to another conclusion I will share the one that I have come to. Especially seeing the extraordinary fruit that this view of our “flesh” bears.

          I do however not mean to demean anyone such as yourself or MacArthur or the thousands of other theologians that land on the other side of the fence. As I said there is a lot of great scriptures that can be interpreted to support that view very strongly and I would not want to say that you guys haven’t done your homework or come to a prayerful and logical conclusion.

          Just not one that I deem from my perspective to be logical, nor one that I have come to in my prayers.

          This may be part of the beauty of walking with Christ, that it’s a lot less about the rights and wrongs and much more about the journey of working out our faith with God as we go. And as such we can walk in good relationship with people having different perspectives as we learn from one another and grow together.

          As I said – keep an eye out for next Wednesday’s episode and let me know what you think :)

          • Phil, thanks for responding! I think that you and I are actually very, very close in our understanding of what it means to be in Christ. The issue here that we are discussing about the nature of the flesh is important, but compared to the issue of whether or not the believer has a sin nature and what it means to be in actual union with Christ, the definitions we are describing are not nearly as critical. When you stop and realize the sublimity of the subject and the fact that we are talking about the spiritual, invisible world and the nature of man……!!!!! We are all groping a bit!

            I’m pasting what I believe to be the critical verses on the point I raised. And though Paul may not say literally that “the body is unsaved,” he may as well say it in Rom 8:10 when he says, “the body is dead.” (NASB) Because of course he says that we WERE dead, and that certainly meant unsaved. And in 8:23, when he says we are awaiting “the redemption of our body” (at Christ’s return), he is saying our body is currently unredeemed. Good stuff to discuss!

            So here are the key verses for you to deal with as I see it in my limited view (verses that seem to describe the flesh):

            (All verses NASB) (Just using caps because the site won’t italicize)

            6.6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our BODY OF SIN might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

            7:22-25 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in THE MEMBERS OF MY BODY, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my MEMBERS. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from THIS BODY OF DEATH? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with MY FLESH I serve the law of sin.

            Rom 8:9,10 However, you are not IN THE FLESH but in the SPIRIT, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though THE BODY IS DEAD because of sin, yet THE SPIRIT is alive because of righteousness.
            Phil, notice above how Paul parallels “flesh” and “Spirit” with “body” and “spirit” in the two verses above. This is interesting!

            8:23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our BODY.

            God Bless!

          • Thanks for sharing Scott – as you said we are probably very similiar on 90% of things but do seem to be a little different on this one topic.

            I do appreciate those verse – I just don’t personally have a particularly big problem with them. I can see very easily how you can interpret them to point to an unsaved body, but I can also see very easily how they fit within the framework that I’ve outlined in this podcast and the one that is to come next Wednesday. The problem I have is that to interpret them to lead to an unsaved body seems to then nullify a lot of the surrounding passages which I really struggle to reconcile with the concept of a saved spirit and unsaved body.

            I think on this one we are doomed to agree to disagree until the Lord specifically highlights something to one of us in one way or another :)

            Thanks so much for sharing my friend! You’ve added some great food for thought to those who will be reading the comments on here :)

            (I merged the two posts you made into one to make things easier for others to follow)

  2. I believe our ability to grasp or rightly discern the truth concerning this, is dependent on our renewed ‘thinking’. “Faith comes by ‘hearing’, and hearing by the word of God.” What we ‘hear’ or take in and accept as truth will determine how we act.
    The pivital area of our being, our soul, -(mind, will and emotions) is where the issue gets decided. “As a man thinks, in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23: 7) the term ‘flesh’ I believe, encompasses the 5 senses. It is our connection mechanism to the world around us. No, it is not evil, but it’s function needs to be reversed from being influenced by the world around us, to being a tool to influence the world around us. We “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” – Which I believe simply means we now function from the inside out, being ruled by our new God alive spirits, making a Kingdom difference in the world even if it means sacrificing “self comfort” in the process.
    The more this is refined in us, the less we ‘miss the mark’ or sin. We are transitioning from a “sense walk” to a “faith walk”, from a ‘works’ mentality to a ‘rest’ mentality. Our focus must not be on our limited ability in the flesh, but on His limitless ability via His Spirit to work through us in spite of our fleshly limitations. Halleluia!
    Eph. 3: 20

    • Great thoughts Norma – I love that – that it’s about us ceasing from our labours and resting long enough to let Christ start labouring in and through us!

  3. Scott it is i think both. What Phil says in the mind is correct but it’s also in the body. Why are all sex offenses by men, where is the drive situated? Is it the drive n the mind or in the body. Is a drug addict have the problem in the mind or in the body that drives him? There are many examples like this but the bottom line is to get our thinking right & sufficiently empowered by Gods Grace (Heb4:11 come to the throne of grace to find help intime of need) to overcome the sin factor which is obviously somewhere in my being. Where it is, to me, is not the issue. the issue is how do I stop sinning. the rest is just semantics, words for preachers.

    • Thanks for sharing Ian.

      I think that is overall the key.

      At the end of the day whatever our theology we need to be able to hang up our pride and come to God and say “I’m struggling, I don’t necessarily know why but HELP!” He’s always faithful to do so.

  4. And one more thing….Remember that I am in no way saying that there is anything intrinsically evil about the body or matter, but that Paul is saying the the “law of sin” has it’s domain, its hangout, in the body. My friend, Bill Gillham, used to like to say the body is “snakebit”. Good Okie expression!

    By the way, are you familiar with The Rest of the Gospel, by Dan Stone, as well as the writings of John Best?

    • I totally agree with that Scott – I just don’t think that the law being able to awaken sin in our “bodies” means that our bodies are unsaved. Again I see this simply meaning that our “selves” (the identity we cling to outside of union with Christ) are always going to tend to sin. Because when we rely on self we work under the law as our master, not the Spirit. And the strength of sin is the law. Whereas the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… etc.

      I am not familiar with Dan Stone or John Best I’m afraid.

  5. Ian, one thing to consider is that the brain and the mind are two different things. The brain is a mass of tissue in the skull that has all the images, memories, and actions (including habitual actions) stored, as well as the chemicals that reward various thoughts and experiences. But the mind seems to be different. Notice that in this passage in Romans 7, Paul seems to equate the mind with our inner man:

    “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the INNER MAN, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of myMIND and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the BODY of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my MIND am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

  6. Hey Phil, thanks for the podcast! I’ve understood the whole sarx and NIV issue – however you really opened up a whole new understanding about what it means to walk in the flesh and what it means to walk in the Spirit. The simple explanation of I VS We – what a revelation! Thanks a lot!

    • So glad you liked it Willem.

      Yup the NIV is a great translation – has been very helpful for millions of believers but I can’t overstate just how much horrendous damage it has done to the church translating sarx as sinful nature.

      Once we understand that is not the case it allows us to revisit these passages and actually consider what sarx actually means both on a hermeneutical/exegetical level but also on a historical level.

      For too long because of our doctrine of a sinful nature we have read the Bible with an eisegesis (That is we read our theology into the Bible rather than out of it!)

      Thanks so much for the encouragement – glad it helped :)

  7. I’ve known the flesh wasn’t inherently “bad” for awhile, but I’ve never had a really good understanding of it. This explains things so well and it makes so much more sense now.

    Also I love that line towards the end, “if we believe we are sinners, we will sin by faith.” Wow! That is strong stuff.

    • Glad you liked it Carly – that quote was by Kris Vallotton (I can’t remember if I said that in the podcast or not) I love Kris – he’s a great guy!

  8. Thanks agin, Phil. Looking forward to tomorrow. I think the two key things I’m looking forward to hearing about is your understanding of what Paul means when he says in Romans eight “the body is dead,” and also what the significance is of his various uses of the word “body” and “body of sin” “members”, as in when he says, “I see a different law in the members of my body” (NASB. Greek is simply, “members”).

    Have fun, and God bless!

    By the way, if you are looking for a partner in the ministry, let me know. Here’s the link to my Facebook page to give you an idea of who I am. https://m.facebook.com/scott.leonard.520?v=info

  9. We are 100% sinner…and 100% non-sinner…simultaneously (simul eustes et peculator).

    We still sin…or course. But there are NO consequences…where God is concerned. So, as St. Paul says, “We are to consider ourselves dead to sin.” (because of our Baptism into Chrtist)


    • Thanks for sharing your view Steve.

      I totally agree, we still sin (or at least I do, I can’t judge others on that one) but that doesn’t make us a sinner.

      Just as doing good deads doesn’t make us righteous, sinning doesn’t make us a sinner.

      In Christ we are righteous, good or bad deeds.

      A sinner saved by grace is by very definition no longer a sinner. That person is now a saint.

      I know plenty of people disagree on this but as far as I see it I think it’s very harmful for us to continue to call ourselves and others “sinners” when we have accepted His gift of righteousness.

      If we are going to overrule what Christ says about us because we still sin then we might as well just go back to the law and assume that we are saved by doing good.

      Just my opinion.

  10. Such a helpful explanation, Phil. And consistent with the whole theme of scripture, that our problem is about broken relationship, a separation and futility in our very being, cured only by being redeemed and reunited with the One we were made to know and be known by.

    No longer alone = Death of sinful desire.

    • Thanks Ethan – Glad you liked it! The sinful nature is beautifully summed up that way – as an existence apart from God… which ultimately has become a figment of our imaginations.

  11. This podcast changed my life along with your teaching on Romans 7. Seriously. Thank you. Please do more podcasts. I keep listening to them.

    p.s. Buying your book today!

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