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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

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Since flesh is an obvious feature of the human body, the word ‘flesh’ developed a figurative usage in relation to human life. This usage was not limited to the physical existence of human beings, for the life of human beings within the physical world is inseparable from their moral imperfection. Inevitably, ‘flesh’ developed new meanings in relation to certain spiritual characteristics that are shared by all people.

Physical life

Among the expressions that use ‘flesh’ in relation to the physical nature of human beings are ‘flesh and blood’, ‘flesh and bone’ and ‘flesh and heart’. These may mean no more than body, person, human life, the human race, or something similar (Genesis 6:12; Job 2:5; Psalms 73:26; Psalms 78:39; Luke 3:6; John 1:14; John 8:15; 2 Corinthians 5:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 1:16; Philippians 1:22-24; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Peter 1:24). A man and a woman united in marriage become one flesh, and people related to each other share the same flesh (Genesis 2:24; Genesis 29:14; Romans 1:3; Romans 4:1; Romans 9:3; see also BODY).

On account of the usage of ‘flesh’ in reference to the physical aspect of human life, the word is sometimes contrasted with ‘spirit’, that inner and higher aspect of human life (Matthew 26:41; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 3:18; see SPIRIT). This physical life, however, has been corrupted through sin, and this gives ‘flesh’ its particular meaning in the writings of Paul. There it refers to sinful human nature (Romans 8:5; Ephesians 2:3).

Sinful human nature

The nature of men and women everywhere is infected by sin from birth. Adam, as the father and head of the human race, rebelled against God and corrupted human nature from the beginning. All human beings, because of their union with Adam, are born with this sinful nature (Psalms 51:5; Romans 5:12; Romans 7:18; see SIN).

Human nature (the flesh) is directed and controlled by sin, and rebels against God’s law. It is incapable of being reformed and produces all the evil in the world. Like a deadly disease it cannot be cured, and leads only to moral decay and death (Romans 7:5; Romans 8:6-8; Galatians 6:8; Colossians 2:23). The evil results of the flesh affect every part of human life and activity (Galatians 5:19-21; cf. Matthew 7:18).

Although Jesus was born with a human nature, his nature was not affected by sin. By living in complete obedience to God’s law, dying for sin and rising victoriously from the dead, he condemned the flesh, so that people might no longer be enslaved by it (Romans 8:3-4; Hebrews 2:14-15; Hebrews 4:15).

When sinners repent and trust in the saving power of Christ, they receive new life and freedom through the Spirit of Christ who comes to dwell within them. But the flesh is not destroyed. Believers still lives in a world where everything, even their own nature, suffers from the effects of sin. The original sinful human nature remains with them till the end of their present earthly existence, but through Christ they are now free from its power (Romans 6:14; Romans 6:18; Romans 8:1-2; Romans 8:10-12; see JUSTIFICATION).

Therefore, there is a continual conflict in the lives of believers, the flesh fighting against the Spirit (Romans 8:5; Galatians 5:17). Before they trusted in Christ and became indwelt by the Spirit, the flesh had ruled them as a cruel master. If, now that they are believers, they readily give in to the flesh, it will soon bring them under its power again. In view of this, they must ensure that their behaviour is controlled and directed by the Spirit (Romans 6:12-18; Romans 8:4; Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Galatians 5:16). They have no obligation to the flesh; they owe it nothing. They must neither trust in it nor give it any opportunity to satisfy its evil desires (Romans 8:12; Romans 13:14; Philippians 3:3).

Christ has condemned the old nature by his crucifixion (Romans 6:6; Romans 8:3). Those who belong to Christ must accept this by faith and show it to be true by living according to the new nature (Romans 6:7-14; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 2:11; Colossians 3:5-10; see REGENERATION; SANCTIFICATION).

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Flesh'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​f/flesh.html. 2004.
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