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

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The Lord Jesus has said that every unregenerated man, born but once of man, is flesh and is in the realm of the flesh.

During the time of unregeneration, men live in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts, and are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) for "it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God" (Rom. 9:8). The soul is subjected to the allurements of the lusts of the body and in pursuit thereof commits many unspeakable sins. But since at this time man is dead unto God (Eph. 2:1), being dead in his offenses and in the uncircumcision of his flesh (Col. 2:13), he is not in the least conscious of his being in sin and is perhaps still proud of himself, thinking that he is still better than others. Indeed, when man is in the flesh, the passions for sins, which act through the law, operate in his members to bear fruit to death (Rom. 7:5). So, it is because he is "fleshy, sold under sin" (v. 14) that he serves "with the flesh, the law of sin" (v. 25).

Because the strength of the flesh is exceedingly weak (although it is extremely strong in committing sins and fulfilling the desires of the mind), it cannot satisfy God in fulfilling any of His requirements. This is because the flesh is weak and cannot keep the law (Rom. 8:3). Not only is the flesh unable to fulfill the law of God, but it cannot even be subject to it, "because the mind set on the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be" (v. 7). However, this is not to say that the flesh will indulge itself in any way it pleases and altogether ignore the things of God. As a matter of fact, there are fleshly men who have tried their best to keep the law. The Bible does not say that those who are in the flesh do not walk after the law, but rather it affirms that "out of the works of law no flesh will be justified" (Gal. 2:16). That those who are of the flesh do not keep the law is, of course, not unusual; it shows that they are of the flesh. However, what God has ordained is that a man is not justified by the law but by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:28). Therefore, even if a fleshly person tries to keep the law, this only serves to demonstrate that he submits himself not unto God but unto his own will, going about to establish another righteousness apart from the righteousness of God (10:3). It shows even more that he is fleshy. Anyway, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (8:8). The three cannots (that is, the flesh cannot keep the law, cannot subject itself to the law, and cannot please God) judge all fleshly men as to their sins.

In God’s view the "flesh" is absolutely corrupt. Since the flesh is closely linked with lusts, the Bible often speaks of the "lusts of the flesh" (2 Pet. 2:18). Although the power of God is great, God is not able to change the nature of "the flesh" into something pleasing to Him. God Himself says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Gen. 6:3). The corruption of the flesh is beyond the power of God; it is something which God is unable to change. Neither is the Holy Spirit by striving against the flesh able to make it no more the flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. Yet men do not understand God’s Word and intend to reform and improve the flesh. However, God’s Word holds true forever. Because the flesh is in such a deplorable state before God, He warns His saints to hate "even the inner garment spotted from the flesh" (Jude 23).

God knows the actual condition of the flesh. He therefore knows that the flesh cannot be changed. He who intends to improve his own flesh, working through the process of self-denial so as to help the flesh to change for the better, is bound to fail. God knows that the flesh is incapable of change, improvement, or reform. So, although He wants to save the world, He does not set out with the task of changing the flesh, for even if He had undertaken this task, He would not have achieved it. God does not change the flesh of man but, instead, gives man a new life so that it may cooperate with Him to bring the flesh into death. The flesh must die—this is the way of salvation.

(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)