When used in its moral or spiritual sense, ‘the flesh’ does not mean the human body. It is the world within, rather than the world without, the internal rather than the external environment. In the New Testament, ‘flesh’, or the ‘sinful nature’, as the NIV puts it, is the sum of all the desires, appetites, needs and drives that make for self-gratification. Through the fall it has become the principle of sin in human beings.When used in its moral or spiritual sense, ‘the flesh’ does not mean the human body. It is the world within, rather than the world without, the internal rather than the external environment. In the New Testament, ‘flesh’, or the ‘sinful nature’, as the NIV puts it, is the sum of all the desires, appetites, needs and drives that make for self-gratification. Through the fall it has become the principle of sin in human beings.
In the classic analysis of temptation in James chapter 1, the flesh figures prominently. Verses 14 and 15 state:
But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
The flesh is revealed as quite incorrigible in its enmity towards God.
The sinful nature is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:7–8)
For the flesh to be gratified, it has first to capture the mind. Every sin, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, is first of all a sin in the mind.
The devil has access to the mind of human beings. Whether we like it or not, it is part of the situation into which we have been born. Paul recognised clearly that the minds of Christians are also exposed to attack from this source.
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)
The devil uses this access to plant temptations in our minds. Sometimes Christians are terribly upset by the ghastly, horrible thoughts that come into their minds. They wonder, ‘How can I be a child of God when I think such terrible things?’ Yet many times such thoughts do not come from within us at all, evil though the flesh is. In fact, they come from the devil. We are not responsible for the thoughts, because they did not originate with us – but we are responsible if we harbour them, for that is within our power.
The mind is also open to a stream of messages and impres- sions that come from our human spirit. It is important to understand that, although human beings are described in Ephesians as ‘ . . . dead in your transgressions and sins’, the spirit of unregenerate people has not ceased to exist. Human beings still have a spirit. However, in the Bible, life and death are always a matter of relationship. Life means to be related through Christ to God, who is the source of uncreated life. Death means being cut off from God because of sin.
Thus, the human spirit, although in a state of death, still exists and still functions. It is still capable of contacting the realm of the spirit world. But because a person is in a state of death, he can reach only those spirit beings which are also in a state of death, that is, evil spirits. For this reason the Bible totally prohibits spiritualism and divination in all their forms, because people are so vulnerable to occult enslavement.