SINS OF THE FLESH
The apostle’s struggle in Romans 7 was a struggle against the sin that dwells within the body. He said, "For sin, seizing the opportunity...deceived me...killed me...I am..sold under sin...It is no longer I that work it out, but sin that dwells in me" (vv. 11, 14, 17, 20). When believers are still fleshly, they are usually overcome by the sin dwelling within, so that they have many battles and they commit sins.
The requirements of our body may generally be classified under three categories: nourishment, procreation, and defense. Before man’s fall, these three matters were legitimate and without the contamination of sins. But after man fell and inherited the sinful nature, these matters became the media for the committing of sins. Since we need nourishment, the world makes use of eating and drinking to entice us. The first temptation that ever confronted mankind was in this very matter of food. Just as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ensnared Eve then, so the pleasures of eating and drinking have become sins of the flesh today. We should not take the matter of food lightly, for too often many carnal believers have stumbled in this point. It was also because of the matter of eating and drinking that the Corinthian believers caused many of the brothers to stumble (1 Cor. 8). Hence, deacons and elders of the church at that time had to overcome in the matter of food (1 Tim. 3:3, 8). Only a spiritual man knows how unprofitable it is for one to be given to eating and drinking. So, whether one eats or drinks or whatever he does, he should do it all to the glory of God.
Second, after man’s fall, procreation became the lust of man. In the Scriptures, lust and the flesh are particularly linked together. Even in the garden of Eden the sin of greediness gave rise to lust and shame. Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians also linked these two together (6:13, 15). He also considered drunkenness as being related to uncleanness (vv. 9-10).
Finally, there is the matter of self-defense. When sin is in control, the body begins to show forth its strength in an attempt to preserve itself. Anything that threatens to destroy our peace, happiness, and comfort is to be opposed. Such fruits are anger and strife borne of man’s so-called temper which have their origin in the flesh and are therefore sins of the flesh. Many sins have been produced directly and indirectly out of self-defense because sin is the motivating power within. It is for the preservation of one’s personal interest, his personal existence, his personal reputation, his personal opinion, and a hundred and one things personal to himself, that many of the darkest sins of the world are produced.
If we analyze the numerous sins of the world one by one, we shall see that they are generally related to the three categories mentioned above. A fleshly Christian is one who is controlled by any or all of these three categories. Invariably, men of the world are all subject to the control of the sins of the body, but this is not surprising for they are not yet regenerated, but are still of the flesh. However, if a regenerated Christian incessantly vacillates between victory and defeat, is unable to deliver himself from the power of sin, and remains too long in the flesh, then he is abnormal. A believer should allow the Holy Spirit to search his heart so that he may be enlightened by God to know what things are forbidden by the law of the Holy Spirit and the law of nature, what things are obstructing him from the exercise of temperance and self-control, and what things are restricting him from serving God freely in the spirit. Unless these sins are removed, there is no possibility for him to enter into spiritual life.
THINGS OF THE FLESH
The flesh has many outlets. On God’s side, we have seen how it is at enmity with God and how it cannot possibly please Him. Nevertheless, unless it is revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, neither the believer nor the sinner can know that the flesh is so worthless, so hateful, and so defiled in the eyes of God. It is only when God, by His Spirit, reveals the true condition of the flesh to man that man can deal with the flesh according to God’s view.
On man’s side, the manifestations of the flesh are known by all. If one is not self-justifying and does not fulfill "the lusts of our flesh" (Eph. 2:3), he will surely see how defiled the manifestations of the flesh are on man’s side. In Galatians 5:19-21 the sins of the flesh are compiled in a list so that there is no possibility for anyone to misunderstand. "And the works of the flesh are manifest, which are such things as fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, divisions, sects, envyings, bouts of drunkenness, carousings, and things like these."
By such a list of sins, the apostle says that "the works of the flesh are manifest." These works are clearly evident to those who care to see. Anyone who would like to know whether or not he is of the flesh needs only to ask himself if he has done any work of the flesh. One who is of the flesh need not commit all the works enumerated in this list before he is reckoned as being of the flesh. If he does only one of them, it is more than enough to determine that he is of the flesh, for if the flesh were no longer in authority, from whence could this one have come? The presence of any work of the flesh is evidence of the existence of the flesh.
The sins listed here may be roughly divided into five categories: (1) sins of the body that are extremely defiling, such as fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness; (2) sins of association with Satan and supernatural communications with him, such as idolatry and sorcery; (3) sins of temper and the temperament, such as enmities, strife, jealousy, and outbursts of anger; (4) sins of religious schisms or divisions, such as factions, divisions, sects, and envyings; and (5) sins of indulgence or intemperance, such as drunkenness and carousings. All these sins can easily be seen, and anyone who does any of these is of the flesh.
After we have divided these sins into five categories, we can see that some of the sins appear to be more respectable than others, and some more defiling. However, no matter how man may look at them, in God’s view these sins all stem from the same root —the flesh —whether it be the defiled flesh or the civilized flesh. Believers who have constantly committed the most defiling sins will naturally realize that they are of the flesh. It is much more difficult with those who can overcome the comparatively more defiling sins. Most of them think they are better than others, and hence do not readily admit that they are still fleshly. They think that since they do not have the more defiling sins, they are no longer walking according to the flesh. Little do they realize that "the flesh is the flesh," no matter how civilized it may appear to be. Although "enmities...factions, divisions, sects" may appear to be cleaner in comparison with "fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,...carousings," they all are, nonetheless, fruits borne of the same tree. May we pray over these three verses one by one before God at this time, so that our eyes may be opened by the Lord to know ourselves. May we humble ourselves through such a prayer. May we pray until we weep and mourn for our sins, until we realize that we have merely assumed the name of a Christian, even the name of a spiritual Christian, when in reality our life is still filled with works of the flesh. May we pray until we are rekindled in our hearts and willing to cast off everything that is of the flesh so that His grace may be bestowed upon us.
The first step in the work of the Holy Spirit is to move one to convict himself concerning sin (John 16:8). Unless an awareness of sin is instilled in him by the Holy Spirit, a sinner will not be able to see the wickedness of his sins and flee from the future wrath unto obedience of Christ. But such a person must have an awareness of sin a second time; as a Christian, he must also convict himself concerning sin. If we do not realize the hatefulness and wickedness of the specific condition of our flesh, resulting in a sense of self-conviction, we shall never become a spiritual man. The sins committed by us may differ from person to person, but we are all of the flesh just the same. Oh, now is the time that we should humble ourselves in prostration before God and willingly allow the Holy Spirit to again cause us to convict ourselves of our sins.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 7, by Watchman Nee)