top of page

What is the conflict of flesh vs. spirit?

The New Testament talks a lot about how the flesh and the spirit are at odds with each other. Sometimes the problem is hard to solve because it's not clear whether the Holy Spirit of God or the spirit of a person is being talked about. Sometimes the contrast is between the body and the immaterial part of a person, but most of the time it is between the body's connection to the temporal world and the immaterial human spirit that God's Spirit has brought to life.

Before He was crucified, Jesus asked His disciples to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. But they kept falling asleep. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," Jesus told them as a warning (Matthew 26:41). People are usually ruled by their bodies and the world of time and matter.

"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit," Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:6). A person can be physically alive (in the flesh) but spiritually dead. Spiritually, a person who has been reborn by God's Spirit is made alive (see Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13).

Paul compares people who live by the flesh to people who live by the Spirit in Romans 8. From the context, it is clear that he is not talking about Christians who are fleshly and Christians who are spiritual. Instead, he is talking about Christians who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and Christians who have not. Paul says this directly in verse 9: "But you are not in the realm of the flesh; you are in the realm of the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you." And if someone doesn't have the Spirit of Christ, it means they don't belong to Christ." "Those who don't live according to the flesh but according to the spirit" is how Christians are described (verse 4). Those who are in the flesh hate God, can't obey God, and can't make God happy (verses 7–8). This is only true of people who don't believe.

Paul says more about the struggle between the flesh and the spirit than anyone else in the New Testament. In Paul's writings, the flesh means a person's natural desires when they are not following God. People who have not been spiritually raised to life are still "in the flesh." Paul thought that a spiritual person was born of the Spirit, even if that person sometimes didn't live up to that reality. "Are you so stupid?" he asks the Galatians. Are you now trying to finish with the flesh, after starting with the Spirit?" (Galatians 3:3).

When the Spirit of God brings a person's spirit back to life, the old desires of the flesh don't go away right away. A battle is still going on. "So, I tell you, walk by the Spirit, and you won't give in to the desires of your flesh. Because the flesh wants what goes against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what goes against the flesh. They go against each other, so you can't just do whatever you want (Galatians 5:16–17).

What a Christian chooses to focus on has a direct effect on how well his or her spirit aligns with God's Spirit. Focusing on God's Word will help someone see things from God's point of view and act in ways that please God. When you focus on popular culture, worldly philosophy, and common sense, you can't help but look at things from "the flesh's" point of view, which will change your judgement in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. We are constantly reminded of the values and wants of the flesh when we live in the world. We will be out of step with the Spirit of God that lives inside us if we don't do something to fight against these messages.


Spread God's Words

bottom of page