In this article, I am going to give you some solid biblical strategies about defeating the flesh. Before we look at those, please allow me a moment to set the stage for our discussion. I wish to use some examples from the history of the United States of America. Two hundred forty four years ago on July 4th 1776 heroes of the American Revolution signed the declaration of Independence. And the United States of America became a nation. I want you to see that first they declared themselves free, then they fought the battle. The same thing happens in Christianity. God declares you to be free. You believe it. And then you fight the battle for freedom.
As a young man I read a number of books that spoke of the heroes of the revolution. One of my favorite heroes is that Scottish Born Captain whose name was John Paul Jones. He was the most able commander in the America fleet. He became my hero because he fought against impossible odds and he won. Even when his ship the Bonhomme Richard was badly damaged and he was surrounded by two British warships. He did not give up. Things were going so bad for him that they expected him to surrender. His ship was on fire. His ship was sinking.
In those days there were courtesies extended between people of rank – and so the Captain of the English ship offered John Paul Jones, as Captain, residence – really safe harbor on the British ship if he would just surrender. Understand, he could have saved himself. He literally was in danger of losing his life. His ship was sinking. His men were dying. He was under attack by two ships. Yet he cried out those words that have become very famous. He said, “I have not yet begun to fight.” And with renewed vigor from a sinking ship he sunk one of the enemies ships and managed both to board and to overpower the other English ship capturing it for a great victory. As I boy John Paul Jones was my hero for the battle that he won.
But as I look at that battle, I realize that it was really being fought on more than one front. It was being fought on the seas in the physical sense. But it was also being fought inside of John Paul Jones.
In fact, as evidenced by his actions, he must have been willing to die in order to win the Victory, Inside of his heart that day, no doubt, there was a part of John Paul Jones that we could call “his flesh” that wanted to surrender.
- His “flesh” didn’t want to die.
- His “flesh” wanted to live.
- His “flesh” wanted to accept the easy terms offered by the English.
His courage defeated the flesh. Whether the motivation came from glory, or from anger, or from pride, we don’t know. But there were two battlefronts that day. One battle was taking place inside of John Paul Jones. And another battle was the physical battle taking place.
It is the same in any battle in the natural. I think of the men at Valley Forge who shivered in the snow with our proper provisions or food or even shoes fought that internal battle as well. Daily the question arose in their minds. Should I go? Should I defect? Will we win or will I die? There “flesh” cried out to be saved. But they pressed on to win the victory.
I know you are thinking, what does all that American flag waving stuff have to do with me today? Defeating the flesh is a battle that all believers are involved in. We are in a battle. Even if you have been a Christian a long time, or have an important position in the church. You must defeat the flesh.
There are many Christians who are involved in a battle for holiness and they struggle against sin. Many feel that battle is all external. As they walk through this world, or scroll across those TV channels, or walk those halls at your high school, or sit in a business meeting, they sense the temptations and pull of wickedness. You might feel like the battle – the struggle with sin – the battle for holiness is outside – it is all out in the world.
But I assure that the biggest battle and I even believe the first battle you have to win is one of self mastery. It is a struggle against what the Bible calls “the flesh”. That is why Jesus when he gave the call to discipleship he said in Matthew 16:24 “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” It is that denying of your flesh that is hard. There is a struggle inside of you. None of us want to deny ourselves. That is why there is a struggle. You see, our flesh wants to sin. Even after you are born again, your flesh will desire sin.
Your spirit that has been born again struggles with the flesh. The Spirit of God wars against the flesh. It struggles against that part of you that has a propensity to do evil. Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
We must recognize the battle front. The battle is between the flesh and the Holy Spirit. This is what I believe: That through the power of the Holy Spirit in your life that you can have victory on the inside. Without God, you don’t have a chance in this fight. With God, you can master your flesh. In other words, when your flesh is submitting to your spirit man, and your spirit is submitting to the Holy Spirit. You will know what it is to have freedom on the inside.
The biggest struggle of your life is against sin. I want to remind you this morning that Satan plays for keeps. Sin has consequences. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. If you allow your flesh to rule you, you will reap corruption. Galatians 6:8 NKJV “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Sowing to the flesh is giving the flesh what it wants. Sowing to the Spirit is giving the Spirit what it wants. Where are you sowing? To the flesh? Or to the Spirit?
Sin brings death. It kills marriages, relationships, homes and families. Sin could cause you to lose your job. Sin can even have a physical effect on the human body. I know people who literally drink themselves to death. Let alone the eternal consequences of separation from God.
This is the good news: Jesus came and he promised us not only forgiveness for sin, but he promised us freedom from sin. What I want to do in this article is give you some practical help.
Strategies for defeating the flesh.
- Accept Who You Are In Jesus By Identifying With Him.
In a sense by Faith the heroes of the American Revolution accepted a new identity when they declared themselves free from the British. The Bible tells us we also have a new identity. We are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. There is power in what you believe about yourself. God knows this. This is a very important concept for you to grasp. What you believe about yourself will affect the way you think, the way you act, the character that you have.
Let me put this in terms we can all understand. The Civil War was fought and God helped the right side to win. I honestly believe that. Now understand that the South was filled with slaves. Some of these slaves were third and fourth generation slaves. All they knew was slavery. All they knew was being beaten and being under oppression. They were not only physically abused, but verbally, in a sense brain washed. They understood that the whites had guns and whips, and because of that horrible oppression, they had learned how to live and survive as a slave.
Now let’s look at this a bit deeper. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The Civil War ended. And at least some of the slaves heard the news. You are Free. Now, in one sense, they were free. The idea should have been that every slave in the South, could have packed their meager belongings, moved to Colorado or California and started over. Did they do it? No. Why? It is because they did not understand how to accept and to apply their new identity.
Were they free? YES Did they act free? SOME DID- the great majority did not. They needed to be taught how to live as free men.
What does that have to do with me? The Bible tells us that sin enslaves us. If you don’t believe it enslaves you, just try by your own will power to change a habit. Sin does enslave. Romans 6:16 says. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Before you gave your life to Jesus. You were a slave to sin. Satan had his chains around you. He was dragging you around, abusing you, you were sins slave. But Jesus comes along and he takes you out of one kingdom – the kingdom of slavery and he says to you that you are a citizen now of a heavenly kingdom. You are free. You now have the power to choose to live in holiness and in righteousness before God. The thing that God wants you to do most of all is identify with Jesus. We are to be united with him. Why? He was the only man who ever lived completely free.
I want you to put this back in the context of slavery for our thinking today. Suppose we had taken a slave just after the civil war, and we could have put him right alongside someone who could have shown him how to be free. He would have said:
- You are free to educate yourself.
- You are free to open up a bank account.
- You are free to purchase property.
- You are free to organize unions so that you get your proper pay.
- You are free to walk down the center of the road.
- You are free to sit at the front of the bus.
- You are absolutely the same as any man who walked on the face of the earth.
How many of you think that in a very short time that man would have been a completely different person? That is exactly what God wants you to do in your spiritual life. He wants you to understand that theologically you have been united with Christ in His death burial and resurrection. The first thing God asks you to do after salvation is get baptized in water. Why? Because you are identifying with Jesus. You are united with him in those waters of Baptism. Romans 6:4-6 the writer to the Romans shows us that we spiritually are united with Jesus. I have underlined the parts that speak of our unity with him. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—“
You have been set free. You should no longer be a slave to sin. You will only accept that freedom as you recognize your unity with Christ. Baptism in water is a symbolic identification of your unity with Jesus. The more you immerse your life in unity with Christ –the more He can show you how to walk it out. God wants you to unite and identify yourself with him. In fact, you are more than free. The bible uses the strongest language possible in declaring your freedom. It says that you are dead to sin. In the strongest language possible, even going beyond the metaphor of freedom and bondage to the strongest metaphor available – death and life. By faith, you are dead to sin, and alive to God.
Romans 6:11 NIV “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” You may be saying…I don’t get how this works. You, like those slaves who were freed, have to accept your new identity. Your new identity is that you are dead to sin and alive to God. That is who you are. You may say, “I am still struggling.” Okay, just like the former slaves struggled to really understand their new freedom and their new identity, you are going to struggle. But the more you unite with Christ and the more you will accept your new identity.
The scripture says to “count” yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. The old KJV says, “reckon.” It means that you tell yourself that. You count on it. You understand it. You believe it. Satan will do everything he can to try to convince you that this is not who you are. He will tell you the exact opposite. You cannot be free. You cannot overcome. It comes down to this…whose report will you believe? Will you believe what God says that you have been united with Jesus, that you can live free or will you believe the enemy who wants to keep you enslaved?
What you believe about yourself determines who you become. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” That is why if a parent speaks curses over their kids and tells them: You are no good for nothing loser. They will believe it and it will become a self fulfilling prophecy in their life. However, if you tell your kids, I believe you can do it. You can make something of yourself. The image they adopt will be yes, I can do it!
God your heavenly Father wants you to know who you are! You are dead to sin, and alive to God. You see, God’s main point in all of this is to get you free. He is the great believer in people. God believes in you. It all starts with you think about your self.
I think every one of us understanding this, should hold our heads a bit higher, with more confidence in our souls. Accept who you are in Jesus.
- You are a new creation.
- You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus
- You are free from sin.
- You are dead to it.
- You are alive to God.
The first strategy for defeating the flesh is accept your new identity in Jesus.
2. Be Aware of Sinful Patterns
In this battle towards holiness, you will become aware just how deceitful your own flesh can be. The truth is that we provide what the flesh needs so that it can satisfy itself. We tell ourselves we are trying to do what is right, then we continue on in the same old sinful patterns that we have always lived in. We tell ourselves: I have this besetting sin, I have this pattern, I have this addiction, I have this weakness, I just can’t get out of it. But
the reason why we can’t get out of it is because we allow ourselves to provide everything the flesh needs stay in it. The writer of Romans says in Romans 13:14 NKJV “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” The flesh wants to sin, and so what we do is we put our flesh right smack in the place where sin is going to allure us. Instead of avoiding it.
If you are an alcoholic, I want to tell you that it is foolish to believe that you can associate with people who drinking, offering you drinks, going to bars and clubs. It is foolish to think that you can go into a liquor store. It is foolish to think that you can just have one beer and it isn’t going to hurt you. A recovered alcoholic will tell you that he or she had to change the patterns of their life in order to stay away from it. Why? The flesh wants it.
Here is the concept: Don’t provide for the flesh. Don’t go to the same places you used to go.
If you struggle with pornography, and you know there is a gas station that puts pornography right where everyone can see it. Don’t buy gas there. If you struggle on the internet, get accountability software.
It is not just the more vulgar sins we provide for. The flesh also provides for sins like bitterness, unforgiveness. God says you are supposed to forgive others. Yet what do we do. Our flesh seeks out people who we know that will agree with us. We talk about our situation with someone who is a “friend” and they respond to us and tell us, “Your right, You have a right to be angry. You have a right to be bitter.” They feed us our own anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness right back.
God says, if you are struggling with unforgiveness and bitterness. Don’t provide for your flesh by going to somebody who only will commiserate with you. Go to someone who will challenge you to forgive and move past it! Go to someone who loves you enough to tell you the truth! Defeating the flesh means that we don’t provide for the flesh. I want you to understand that temptation and sin follow a very predictable path and pattern in your life. It is true. God’s word tells us that we are to be aware of the sinful patterns of our life.
If watching the news makes you depressed, and when you get depressed you act out, and when you act out, you sin. You start way back at not watching the news. One of the greatest ways to become self-aware is to journal. Write down the steps and patterns that happen when you fall into sin. And you will see that it is very predictable.
Sometimes you stumble into sin. You can be going happily down life’s road and all of a sudden a temptation is there. But many times, we really just provide ourselves the opportunity. The more aware you become the more you will be able to stop the process from happening.
In fact sin begins with a thought. The NIV translates this verse in Romans like this in Romans 13:14 NIV “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” In other words, Don’t even think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. There is a little saying that I believe has a lot of truth.
Sow a thought, reap an act.
Sow an act, reap a habit,
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap an eternity.
Let me say that it you can stop sin at the thought. Don’t even think about it.
Let me give you another strategy.
3. Put Your Flesh to Work for God
When did King David sin and when did he fall with Bathsheba? I will tell you when that happened. When he should have been out working for God, he chose to stay in the palace. The rest of the troops were out on the front line of the battle. And David found himself on the root top of his house. He wasn’t working for God. I don’t think he intended to see Bathsheba. I don’t think it was deliberate.
But the bottom line was this. He was not on the front lines of the battle. Because of that he was tempted, he yielded, he committed adultery with this woman, and murder to cover it up, and lied about it. All because he stopped putting his flesh to work for God.
I am not saying today that there is no temptation on the front lines of the battle. You can not escape temptation. God’s goal for us is not asceticism. We can’t become like a monk in a monastery. We are to be in the world. But one of the strategies for success in defeating the flesh is to put your flesh to work for God. Romans 6:13 NIV “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” God’s strategy is not stop sinning and do nothing. God knows a bored mind in a devil’s workshop. God’s strategy is for you to serve him.
- It is hard to sin, when you are studying and preparing a Sunday school Lesson.
- It is hard to sin, when you are out witnessing to your neighbor.
- It is hard to sin, when you are at church on Wednesdays.
- It is hard to sin, when you are volunteering to help your neighbor with the kids.
- It is hard to sin, when you are pulling the weed s in the front of the church.
- It is hard to sin, when you are actively engaged in ministry.
- It is hard to sin, at a Celebrate Recovery meeting.
- It is hard to sin, when you are busy being a parent to your kids.
How many of you are getting what I am saying? If you hands and feet and mind and your flesh are busy for God in good proper wholesome activities, there is no time to sin. Romans 6:19-22 “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
God says to you, get busy for him. Do you know something. This church needs workers all over the world. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. The best thing that you can do for your own mental health is be involved in ministry to others.
You say, I am depressed. Get out there and lift someone else’s burden. It is wonderful therapy. You say, I am not physically able. Can you pick up the phone? Can you call someone? Can you pray? My grandmother taught Sunday School for 38 years. The day came she could no longer teach. The day came when she could hardly go to church.
Yet she had some ladies she called every week and prayed for and she continued in that. There are hurting people everywhere. Find a need and fill it. Find a hurt and heal it. Put your body to work serving God.
I challenge anybody without a ministry to count how many hours you spend time in doing what you want to do. And maybe it is time for you to make a commitment to put these verses into action.
Let me give you another strategy.
4. Live as Jesus Lived Practicing Spiritual Disciplines.
Jesus lived a perfect life. There is a lot to be said about how he lived his life. If we would emulate him, we would become like him. Jesus lived his life practicing spiritual disciplines.
The amazing thing is to read about the relationship that he had with the Father. He and the Father were one. He retreated to the Father when in need. He found that place of solitude. He found that place of prayer. He practiced fasting. He lived in community with others. That is where strength is found in the regular practice of spiritual disciplines.
I want to tell you this. Rules and Regulations will not keep you from sin. If that were the case then in the Old Testament under the law, every man would have completely free of sin. The law cannot keep you from sin. Knowing the rules won’t stop you! I am amazed at how many churches in a sense try to keep people from sinning by stating the law. The law can’t stop you from sinning. The law only shows you your error.
The writer to the Romans knew this. The author talks about the law. This is what it says. Romans 7:10-12 “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”
What I have come to learn is the entire Old Testament was written to show mankind that we are sinners in need of a Savior. But Romans says that the law is not bad. In fact, the law is good because it shows us sin. There are none of us here today, who would understand that they were sinners without the law. But the law can’t free you. Knowing right from wrong won’t free you. What does free you?
Here is what I think both from Gods word and my personal experience. Romans 8:2 NKJVsays, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Only the closeness of my relationship with God will keep me from sin. I am talking about the law of the Spirit of life.
If I am away from him, straying, and have not been with Christ, then I find the power of sin has a greater allure. It is in your personal relationship with God that freedom comes.So let’s get back to the classic spiritual disciplines
Fellowship with others
All of these things will help us in defeating the flesh
Notes if you are following the teaching on YouTube or Facebook:
Matthew 16:24 “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
Galatians 6:8 NKJV “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
BIBLICAL STRATEGIES TO DEFEAT THE FLESH
Romans 6:16 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Romans 6:4-6 NIV“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—“
Romans 6:11 NIV “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 13:14 NKJV “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
Romans 13:14 NIV “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Romans 6:13 NIV “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”
Romans 6:19-22 “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
Romans 7:10-12 “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”
Romans 8:2 NKJV “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
I found this article to be very helpful to me understanding what I must do to stop catering to my flesh just because it desires, craves or wants something that brings it comfort or pleasure but is sin and death in reality and separates me from God. Thank you for writing this.
Thank you Andy for your heart for God, may he bless you in everyway as you strive to be more like Jesus.