THE NECESSITY OF DEATH
The more a believer is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the more will he see the pitiful state of the flesh, and the fiercer will his battles against the flesh be, but all the more frequent and evident will his failures become. Whenever he suffers a defeat, the Holy Spirit will further reveal to him the sin and weakness of his flesh and generate in him a deeper sense of self-reproach and a determination to battle against the sin of the flesh. This chain reaction of misery may last a fairly long time, and one will ultimately be delivered only when he comes to understand the deeper works of the cross.
That the Holy Spirit leads a believer in this way through defeats and reproaches is deeply meaningful. Before the cross can perform any deeper work, man must first go through a process of preparation, to the end that he may accept the work of the cross without hindrance of any kind. The purpose of the Holy Spirit in leading the believer in this way is to prepare him.
From the experience of the believer, it can be seen that although God condemns the flesh as being corrupt beyond remedy, the believer himself thinks otherwise. He may in his mind be conscious that such is the evaluation of God, but he lacks the kind of spiritual insight to recognize that the flesh is truly defiled and corrupt. He may have supposed that what God says is true, but he still does not know that God’s perception is never wrong. For this reason, the believer frequently attempts to mend the flesh. Such is the fact, although he does not openly say so.
Since many believers do not understand God’s way of salvation, they try to overcome the flesh by making war against it. They think that victory or defeat is decided by the measure of strength available. Therefore, they hope with all their heart that God would grant them greater spiritual power to enable them to overcome their flesh. This kind of warfare may last a long time. However, there are always more defeats than victories without any prospect of a total conquest of the flesh in sight.
At this juncture, the believer proceeds, on the one hand, to fight his war and, on the other hand, tries to mend and improve the flesh, or to train and tame it. He prays; he reads the Bible; he institutes a number of rules and regulations in the hope that he will be able to subdue, change, and control the flesh. He lays down many ordinances, such as touch not, taste not, handle not, and the like, unconsciously thinking that corruption of the flesh is due to the lack of set rules, culture, and education, and that since he has put it through such spiritual training, it will give no trouble in the end. Little does he know that as to the subduing of the lusts of the flesh, these rules and regulations are absolutely ineffective (Col. 2:21-23).
While the believer is, on the one hand, seemingly trying to eradicate the flesh, he appears by his conduct, on the other hand, to wish to improve it instead. So under these circumstances, the Holy Spirit can only allow him to carry on with his war, to suffer defeat, to feel remorseful, and to engage in self-reproach, leading him through such situations a few times, even a score of times, until he realizes that the flesh is beyond remedy, that his own method is of no avail, and that there must be another saving way. What he knew in his mind of the corruption of the flesh, he has only now come to realize in his experience.
If the believer faithfully and sincerely believes the words of God and in all sincerity beseeches the Holy Spirit to reveal to him God’s holiness so that he may, in the light of God’s holiness, be able to see the true condition of the flesh, the Holy Spirit will certainly do so. In this way, he may be spared some of the agonies of the war he has gone through. However, such believers are few indeed! Man always desires to use his own methods and simply cannot bring himself to believe that he is really so corrupt. However, the lesson must be learned, so the Holy Spirit patiently allows him to learn of his self little by little through experience.
We have now seen that we cannot obey the flesh, nor can we mend or educate the flesh. No matter what spiritual method is employed, it simply cannot change the nature of the flesh one bit. Then what is to be done? The flesh must die. This is the way appointed by God. It must be through death and not in any other way. We want to wage war, to change, to make resolutions, and to use innumerable other methods to overcome the flesh, but God says that the flesh must die. If the flesh is dead, everything will be in order. It is not a matter of victory, but a matter of death.
This is very reasonable. The reason that we are fleshly is that we were born of the flesh. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." From where it comes in, to there it will go out. The way of gain is the way of loss. Since we are born of the flesh, we are of the flesh. If we die, we are delivered from the flesh. Death is the one and only way. "For he who has died is justified from sin" (Rom. 6:7). Anything short of death will not do. Death is the only way of salvation.
Since the flesh is so defiled (2 Pet. 2:10), even God cannot change it. Apart from putting it to death, there is no other way. Even the precious blood of the Lord Jesus cannot cleanse the "flesh" of man. Thus in the Scriptures we find that the blood of the Lord Jesus only cleanses us from our sins, trespasses, and iniquities, and no mention is made of the cleansing of the flesh by the precious blood. The flesh has to be crucified (Gal. 5:24). Even the Holy Spirit cannot improve the flesh. That is why He does not dwell in the sinner, who is of the flesh (Gen. 6:3). Even when He dwells in the believers, His intention is not to help in the improvement of the flesh but to war against it (Gal. 5:17). "Upon man’s flesh shall it [that is, the holy anointing oil as a type of the Holy Spirit] not be poured" (Exo. 30:32). With this in view, is it not a fact that many of our prayers are meaningless, those beseeching the Lord to enable us to change for the better, to progress, to be loving, and to better serve Him? And is it not a fact that so much of our hope is vain, the hope that we may subsequently attain sanctification, experience the Lord every day, and glorify His name in all things? Truly we should not try to mend the flesh so as to make it cooperate with the Spirit of God. The predestined end of the flesh is death. Only by committing the flesh to death can we have salvation. Otherwise, we shall forever remain as its bondservants.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 7, by Watchman Nee)