Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), by Watchman Nee

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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.

(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)