The Bible makes the point that once we have believed in Jesus, the old man is crucified, we receive a new life, and what was true of us is no longer true, what we did we never did, what happened to us never happened to us, for “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” [II Cor. 5:17, NIV]. The old man is gone but the flesh—the condition of being under the influence of something other than Jesus—has not changed and will never change; we just abide longer with it under His influence, so it may appear that it has changed. The flesh is not improving, nor does God intend for it to, for it is His stronghold to drive us back to Him. In fact, once we have Christ within us, the flesh will make us more miserable than it did when we had Adam’s life in us, for now it does not fit what we are.
This brings me to an important point: The flesh can continue to develop after we believe in Jesus. All we have to do is walk after the flesh, and the flesh will find new idols, new ways of coping. It will continue to grow. In Fiji I got a fungus, a very tricky thing that started out very small, but when it would itch, it felt so good to scratch it, and though the pain in the center was intense, it always felt good to scratch around it. Through the scratching it spread; soon it covered both feet. The flesh is the same: Scratch that itch and it will grow.
A perfect example of the flesh’s continuing to expand is its increase in those (men and women) who struggle with internet pornography. This was something unheard of not so many years ago, but now there are few families not affected. It actually is worse among believers than unbelievers, for if unbelievers want sex, they will generally just go for it. But the believer draws an invisible line in the sand and tells the flesh, “You can go this far and no further.” To them, porn is not the same as adultery and is therefore allowable. There are many in ministry struggling with this new development in fleshly expression.
We stand in our why. Are we saying that we can stop doing something because our flesh got stronger, or are we saying we can stop doing something because we have moved up a gear in faith and believe what He says He has done for us? We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Action is to be based on His previous action. We are to walk sinless because His action makes such a walk possible. We live a very high life based on a work He has done. We need to take up our mats. The man in the Bible had to take up his mat, but his action was based on something Jesus had already spoken. Some can only say they will not look at porn if the why is based on the fact that Jesus has set them free. And if Jesus has set them free from one thing, then how many things are included after the one? One will lead to many. We should never vow that we will not do something if it is because we think we are strong enough to keep the vow, but if we have had the revelation of Him keeping the vow in us, then that is the proper order.
This awareness of the weakness of the flesh and its propensity to grow should not discourage us, but rather encourage us to remain near to Him, for we know the moment the Lord is not our focus, we will move into the flesh, which has not improved. God has orchestrated the whole of the Christian life to center on abiding in Him.