Hindrances to Discipleship: The Flesh - Part I - page 2

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From the Winter 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  


Hindrances to Discipleship: The Flesh

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
Director of Ministry, C.S. Lewis Institute


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  How, you may wonder, do we get from sarx as the fleshy material from which we are constructed to sarx as sinful fallen human nature? And what does this tell us about ourselves? The story begins in the Garden of Eden. God created Adam not as a spirit like the angels but as a finite being with a body of flesh and blood. Even in his original innocence, Adam was a weak and frail creature in comparison to the eternal God, who is self-sustaining and all-powerful. Adam was a creature composed of flesh in the material sense. But when he rebelled against God, Adam, in his weak and frail flesh, transferred his “allegiance to another.” Thus, in addition to being weak and frail by virtue of his creatureliness, he also became twisted and distorted by virtue of his fallenness. The supremacy of God was displaced by the supremacy of self, a self vulnerable to the influences of the devil and the world. In the famous expression of Augustine, before the fall Adam was able not to sin, but afterward he was unable not to sin. A powerful force had captured Adam’s thoughts and desires, corrupting his nature and rendering him unwilling and unable to freely and gladly focus on the love of God and the good of others. And he could not escape the gravitational pull of his now-fallen nature or sinful flesh.
  Richard Lovelace gives keen insight into the roots of the flesh, and we do well to reflect on his words:

Augustine divided the trunk of the flesh into two main branches, pride (self-aggrandizement) and sensuality (self-indulgence), which in their interaction together might be held to generate most other forms of sin. Luther, however, perceived that the main root of the flesh behind pride and sensuality was unbelief; and his analysis takes in some forms of the flesh which are apparently “selfless” and altruistic. In any case, the characteristic bent of the flesh is toward independence from God, his truth and his will, as if man himself were God.3

  This reciprocal interaction of pride, sensuality, and unbelief creates within human beings an attitude and disposition of rebellion against God and enthrones the autonomous self as the center of man’s nature. And, like a petri dish, it is a warm, moist breeding ground hospitable to all manner of sins. This is the essence of the flesh. Lovelace goes on to say that “by means of the flesh sin subjugates the whole person.”4
  J.I. Packer elaborates on the flesh and the sin it nurtures when he says the essence of sin is:

Playing God; and, as a means to this, refusing to allow the Creator to be God as far as you are concerned. Living, not for him, but for yourself; loving and serving and pleasing yourself without reference to the Creator; trying to be as far as possible independent of Him, taking yourself out of His hands, holding Him at arm’s length, keeping the reins of life in your own hands; acting as if you and your pleasure, were the end to which all things else, God included, must be made to function as a means—that is the attitude in which sin essentially consists. Sin is exalting oneself against the Creator, withholding the homage due to Him, and putting yourself in His place as the ultimate standard of reference in all life’s decisions. Augustine analyzed sin as pride (superbia), the mad passion to be superior even to God, and as a state of being bent away from God into a state of self-absorption (homo incurvatus in se).5

  Like an incurable disease that passes from generation to generation, sin entered into and entrenched itself in Adam through the gateway of his “flesh” and has reigned in Adam and all his descendants to this very day. Thus we find within our hearts “a complex web of thoughts, desires, values and actions that are in opposition to God’s intended pattern for us.”6 And so, George Eldon Ladd says, the flesh (sarx) “ethically conceived is human nature, man viewed in his entirety apart from God and in contrast with the righteousness and holiness of God. As such, man is not only weak and impotent, he is also sinful and rebellious against God.”7 A simple way to sum up the flesh is “human nature apart from God and at enmity with him.”

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