The Struggle with the Flesh

“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:11-14).

In AD 386, a thirty-two-year-old man named Augustine, and his friend Alypius, were visiting a home in Milan. Augustine was intellectually very impressive. He was already the professor of rhetoric, holding a prestigious position in the great court of Milan. Born on November 13, AD 354, Augustine had achieved academic acclaim at a relatively young age. However, he was not happy because there was a spiritual hunger in Augustine’s heart that could not be satisfied by the teachings of philosophers or theologians.

The thoughts of the Manicheans had captured his attention for nine long years, but its teachers could not answer the questions Augustine had about life and the order of the universe. Moreover, Manicheanism maintained a low view of the human body by emphasizing the soul.  As a result, Augustine felt freedom to give himself to various forms of licentiousness and sensual pleasure. By his own testimony Augustine lived openly with a concubine who bore him a son, Adeodatus (lit. “the gift of God”). The boy died in AD 390 before reaching his eighteenth birthday.

Because he was in bondage to his sensual desires and sexual pleasures, Augustine longed to be free. Filled with shame and guilt, he cried out to the Lord in the words of Psalm 13: “How long, Lord?” Heaven answered, “Not long.”

While visiting a family in Milan, while walking in the garden of the estate, Augustine heard some children playing school. A little voice commanded, “Tolle lege, tolle lege,” (tol-la leg-ee; take up and read, take up and read). In the providence of the Lord there was a Bible nearby. Augustine opened the Bible. He eyes fell on these words. “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:11-14).

The Holy Spirit used this passage to illuminate the mind of Augustine and convert him Christ. His soul was pierced by the gospel.

At Easter, AD 387, Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, prepared for baptism together. The service was presided over by Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.

The conversion of Augustine was authentic. In time, he put away his sexual sins to pursue a life of moral purity. He became one of the greatest theologians to guide the Church.

Augustine was converted by reading one of the great passages in Scripture that speaks directly to the conflict between the soul, and the flesh.

Later, Augustine would write honestly about the struggles he had with the flesh in his classic work, The Confessions. Every Christian would be encouraged if they read this book in order to realize the struggle against the dark side of the soul is not unique to them. There is a constant struggle to be good prior to salvation, and after salvation as well.

The struggle is real, it is prolonged, and it can be exhausting. The temptation comes to give up resisting evil, and flow with the currents that surge in the body. The world encourages this surrender to the flesh with banal slogans.

“If it feels good, do it.” “Love means never have to say you are sorry.” “That is just who I am.” “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

What the world does not tell people is how to deal with their guilt and shame after following after worldly wisdom and realizing that sin feels good, but only for a little while. Love does mean having to say you are sorry. Some who realize who they are do not like what they are, a liar, a thief, a drunkard, a pervert, a fornicator. And the idea of dying tomorrow is what is terrifying for it has been said that after death come Divine judgment whereby individuals are allowed to go to heaven, or sent to a fiery separation from God and all that is good, decent, and holy.

For those who feel the weight of guilt and shame, the following is suggested.

First, if you have never called upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, do that now because where sin abounds, the grace of God does much more abound (Rom. 5:20). No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what you have done, there is mercy from the Lord based upon gospel repentance and faith in God.

“Come, ev’ry soul by sin oppressed-
There’s mercy with the Lord,
And He will surely give you rest
By trusting in His word.

Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now.
He will save you, He will save you,
He will save you now.

For Jesus shed His precious blood
Rich blessings to bestow;
Plunge now into the crimson flood
That washes white as snow.”

Second, if you are a Christian, honestly confess every sin the Holy Sprit brings to your mind as soon as the temptation appears in your heart. Martin Luther noted that we cannot keep the black birds of temptation from circling, but we can stop them from landing. Job said that he made a covenant with his eyes that he would not engage in lingering looks upon a woman in an improper way (Job 31:1). And when the passions come in like flood and something wrong is said or done, confess that immediately to God with the assurance that you will be forgiven. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Third, hide the Word of God in your heart. Study the Bible, verse by verse, and memorize as much as possible. The Psalmist said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalms 119:11).

Fourth, become accountable to someone. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Fifth, make no provision for the flesh. When we do wrong, we often prepare to do that which we know violates the known will of God. Plans are made for doing what is morally wrong, and additional plans are thought through on how to cover up inappropriate behavior. Individuals can become very sophisticated in the practice of evil. People can sin in a clever way, to be sure. They can become creative out of boredom with repetitive behavior. But the worst part is that a love for sin can be developed.

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

― Alexander Pope

Finally, do not despair. God has promised to sanctify His people. Though they will fall many times, the righteous will rise again to continue the fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil until the victory is won. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).

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