In the version of the Bible I read, the New Testament talks a lot about the “flesh”—that is, my sinful nature, the part of me that is hell-bent and always wanting to do the wrong thing. The flesh is synonymous with my old nature, the way I used to be before I became a Christian (in Greek it’s even referred to as the “old man” in Ephesians 4:21). And of course I know that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” and because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, my new Spirit nature has permanently supplanted the flesh as my true nature (Romans 8:9). Not only that, but according to the verse above, my flesh has already in some sense been executed: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh.
But what so often trips me up is the fact that the flesh, although it is a defeated enemy, never stops WANTING to take control of my life. In fact, I can say without exaggeration that the flesh constantly LUSTS to take me down a path of destructive behavior that could shatter my life, my family, and my career. The flesh may be spiritually executed, but its desires are alive and well in my heart, and every single day of my life they rage and thrash within me, goading me toward annihilation. And that’s a scary thought! How can I possibly feel the “peace of Christ” when all the while there is this unrelenting, persistent part of my heart that wants to draw me away from Him and into temptation?
The answer for me, in part at least, came this morning in these words: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). In other words, not only has the flesh been crucified and made impotent, but so have its passions and desires. The lusts of my flesh, its burning passion to drag me down to hell—all of these things have been crucified. They are impotent, useless, utterly defeated. My flesh continues to rage, but its striving is vain (see Psalm 2). Jesus is not about to lose the victory He has won for all eternity. He has conquered, and that’s final!
So what does this ultimately mean for my daily life? Well, for one thing, I guess the point (for me, anyway), is that I don’t have to fear the passions and desires of my sinful nature. Sure, they’ll continue to try to pull me away, but now I know that they will NEVER succeed. Secondly, remembering this verse will help me to resist temptation because I now see its true impotence. The flesh tells me, “If you don’t give in now, you’ll just wear yourself out.” But Scripture tells me, “The desires and passions of the flesh are crucified—they can’t harm you or rule over you any more.” Sin is crouching at my door and desires to rule over me (Genesis 4:7), but it has been mastered by the cross of Christ.
In thinking through this verse, a mental image came to me: three crosses on a hill. One is for the flesh, one for its passions, and one for its desires. Each one is a criminal, deserving death, and none of them can escape its fate. I imagine myself standing on that hill with the sun setting, and the three criminals calling out to me, trying to convince me to help them down. They promise me incredible things, and I feel my heart moved by what they’re saying. But I can’t help them down or do anything for them, because they’re crucified. They’re already dead; they just don’t know it yet. Even if I could somehow climb up there and release them (which I don’t want to do), they would end up dying anyway, and all their promises would still go unfulfilled. So I imagine myself walking away as they revile me and curse at me, threatening me with relentless torment until I give in. But I continue to walk away, toward the life God has planned for me. Their shadow still hangs over me, and will always follow me as the sun sets, but no matter how long it grows its just a shadow. The true reality of everlasting day is coming soon, and in that day I will be free!
Thank you Jesus, for submitting yourself to that lowliest, dirtiest, most abhorrent of places, the cross that my own flesh and its desires and passions deserve! Thank you that there is grace and new life for a criminal like me. Glorify Yourself in these thoughts!