Lesson 12: My Enemy, "the Flesh"
In our last lesson we learned about our enemy “the world.” This enemy is an external enemy. But we have another enemy which is an internal enemy. It is called “the flesh.”
A general was explaining his strategy for capturing a strong enemy city. He said, “I have four columns approaching the city. I have a column approaching from the north, a column from the south, a column from the east, and one from the west. But my most valuable column is my fifth column.”
When asked where the fifth column was, the general replied, “My fifth column is inside the city.” The general had people inside the city who were loyal to him. He counted on them to open the gates and deliver the city to him.
Satan’s “fifth column.”
Our enemy, Satan, has a “fifth column” inside of us that cooperates with him in his battle against us. What is Satan’s “fifth column”? It is our sinful nature which the Bible calls “the flesh.”
“The flesh” is not my body, but my sinful nature that dwells in my body. One form of the flesh is SELF. If you leave off the “h” and spell the word “flesh” backwards, what do you have? You have S-E-L-F.
Before I was saved, I lived for myself. I did what I wanted to do. SELF was on the throne of my heart. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6).
The moment I received Christ as my Savior, Christ came to live in me. I was so happy! I thought I would always want to please the Lord and obey Him. But before long I made a shocking discovery: when Christ came to live in me, SELF did not move out! Not only is SELF still there, but SELF wanted to continue ruling in my heart.
What is SELF like?
The Bible tells us three things about the flesh or SELF:
SELF will never obey God.
SELF hates God and hates His Son. The Bible says, “The carnal mind [SELF] is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
SELF is a sin-factory.
It is wonderful to know that God has forgiven me of all my sins, but I have a deeper problem. I am a sinner. I am the one who does the sinning. I am a “sin factory”!
Where do my sins come from? They come from my sinful nature—the flesh. Jesus said,
“From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, “Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).
SELF is controlled by Satan.
The flesh is Satan’s “fifth column” inside of us. Here are some of the ways SELF expresses itself:
SELF says, “I am Number One! I want people to look up to me and honor me.”
The person I love more than anyone else is myself!
SELF says, “Poor me! Nobody treats me right.” SELF is always grumbling and complaining, never satisfied.
SELF is quite satisfied with its own goodness and morality.
SELF always wants to have its own way. SELF says, “I will do what I want to do! I do not care what the Bible says.”
Where does this spirit of rebellion come from? It comes from Satan! The Bible speaks of “the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). That spirit is the spirit of Satan! We carry about in our body that which hates God, hates Christ, and will never be subject to the law of God. (See Romans 8:5-8).
What did God do?
How could I as a sinner come into the presence of a holy God? There is only one way: my old life must be ended, I must become a new person.
Because God loves me and wants only what is best for me, He did three wonderful things for me.
God ended my old SELF-life.
God has His own way of doing things. One of His ways is that He does not try to change or improve something that sin has ruined. Instead, God creates something entirely new—something that sin cannot touch.
When I trusted Christ as my Savior, God put me in Christ on the cross. When Christ was crucified, I was crucified with Him.
Why did God crucify me with Christ? He crucified me with Christ to bring my old self-life to an end, so that I might no longer be ruled by SELF. The Bible says, “Knowing this, that our old man [my old SELF] was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed [put out of business], that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6).
God made me a new person in Christ.
When Christ rose from the dead, I rose with Him as a new person in God’s new creation. The Bible says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new”
(2 Corinthians 5:17).
In my old life, I was “in the flesh,” in the old creation which was under the rule of sin and Satan. When I died with Christ, I passed out of the old creation.
When I rose with Christ, I rose as a new person in God’s new creation. I am no longer “in the flesh.” I am “in the Spirit” and I have the Spirit of God dwelling in me. The Bible says, “You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9).
God gave Christ to me as my new Master.
In Christ I see a Person who lived to do the will of His Father in Heaven. Jesus said, “…I seek not My own will, but the will of the Father who has sent Me” (John 5:30).
Satan had no “fifth column” in the man Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “…the prince of this world comes, and has nothing in Me” (John 14:30). When Satan tried to tempt Jesus, he was utterly defeated. Twice God spoke from Heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
At the end of His life, Jesus prayed to His Father,
“I have glorified You on the earth: I have finished the work which You gave Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me…with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:4,5).
How can I stop SELF from ruling?
As long as I am in my body, I can never be rid of SELF, but I do not have to be ruled by SELF. Let us see three steps that we can take.
• I choose to keep SELF on the cross.
SELF must not be allowed to reign in my life. SELF is so hateful to God that He says the only place for SELF is on the cross. God wants me to agree with Him. The Bible says, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh [SELF] with the affections and lusts”
• I choose to make Christ King.
Now that I have chosen that SELF shall be on the cross, I choose that Christ shall be on the throne of my life. This is His rightful place. In the past I have been occupied with myself, living to please myself. But SELF is a hard master. SELF is never satisfied!
Now I see a Person I love more than myself. I have fallen in love with what I see in Jesus. He is the true lover of my soul. Nobody knows me better than Jesus, and nobody loves me more. I gladly make Him King in my life. I want to live for Him, not for myself. The Bible says,
“For the love of Christ constrains us, because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then all were dead [spiritually dead]: “And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14,15).
• I choose the Christ-life.
When Christ is on the throne of my heart and SELF is on the cross, I am living the Christ-life. The Holy Spirit can then produce beautiful fruit in my life. The Bible says,
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith [faithfulness], meekness, temperance [SELF-control]…”
Once I have chosen that Christ shall be King in my heart and that SELF shall be on the cross, I must daily say “no” to SELF. Day by day I must learn to say “no” to SELF and “yes” to the Lord Jesus. Jesus said,
“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself [say no to SELF], and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
How does this work out in my life? Let us say that I am doing something that I want to do, but my mother asks me to do something for her. What would SELF do? SELF would grumble and complain. What do I do? I say “no” to SELF and “yes” to the Lord Jesus. I obey my mother without grumbling and complaining.
Somebody says something mean to me. What would SELF do? SELF would get angry and say something mean back to that person. But I am to say “no” to SELF and let Christ be King in my heart. What do I do? I smile at them and say a kind word to them.
God is for me.
Throughout my life I will have to deal with this enemy, SELF, that lives within me. There are some things I must know if I am to win this battle.
• God does not count my sinful nature against me. God says, “I count that as belonging to your old life. In My sight your old life ended with your death with Christ. I always see you as a new person in Christ.”
• Temptation is not sin. The Lord Jesus was tempted with terrible temptations by Satan, but Jesus never sinned. I sin only when I give in to temptation. You say, “But sometimes I have really bad thoughts!” Every child of God has terrible thoughts at times, but they do not come from our new life.
Satan has the power to put terrible thoughts into our minds. He tries to make us think that these are our thoughts, but they are not. We can say to him, “Satan, you are a liar! These are your thoughts, not mine, and I refuse them!”
• God is for me! God knows the battle I have with SELF and with the devil, but God is for me! David said, “When I cry unto You, then shall my enemies turn back: this I know, for God is for me” (Psalm 56:9). Claim this verse for yourself. Say, “I know this—God is for me!”
David - the shepherd-boy
After the people of Israel were established in the land which God had promised to Abraham, they begged God to give them a king. Israel’s first king was a man named Saul. But Saul did not have a heart for God, and He disobeyed God.
God told the prophet Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king. The eldest son, Eliab, was tall and handsome. Samuel was impressed with his appearance. He said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed one,” but the Lord refused him.
The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his countenance, on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as man sees: for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but God did not choose any of them. Samuel asked, “Are these all your children?” Jesse said, “The youngest is keeping the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him.”
When David came in, the Lord said to Samuel, “Arise, anoint him: for this is he.” In the presence of David’s father and his brothers, Samuel took oil and poured it upon David’s head. Thus David was anointed by God to be the next king of Israel after Saul died. The Spirit of the Lord came on David from that day onward. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul because he disobeyed God.
David returned to care for his sheep. It would be seven years before Saul’s death. Meanwhile, David was faithful in caring for his sheep. When a lion came and took a lamb out of his flock, David went after him and saved the lamb out of his mouth. When the lion attacked David, he killed the lion. The same thing happened when a bear tried to steal one of his lambs.
Even as a young boy, David loved God with all his heart, and God took notice of this. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, David composed 73 of the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms. The best known of these is the twenty-third psalm. This is actually David’s testimony:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters.
“He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”