Let’s start with the basics here. What are we talking about when we say ‘the flesh’? An understanding of flesh can be found in Romans 8:7-8, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Another helpful reference: Galatians 5:16, “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” “Flesh” in this passage is often understood as a reference to a sin nature that remains in the believer, doing battle with his new spiritual nature (Bible.org). Okay, so I’m seeing that flesh is something we lived in prior to being saved. However, it is something we still battle as believers and will battle until Jesus comes back to make us perfect/whole.
Back to the verse. “Abstain from passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” What are passions of the flesh? Hmm… can we be honest here? If you grew up in church, like me, you’re probably used to hearing about how alcoholism, drugs, or premarital sex are sins of the flesh. Of course this is true. But I think that many Christians hide behind the ‘I’m not that bad’, so they assume they aren’t participating in passions of the flesh. But I’m here to say that literally every single human being who walked the planet has failed at abstaining from passions of the flesh. Except One. And that was Jesus, of course.
But back to the rest of us.
Your particular weakness may not be as obvious as that of a heroine addict or an alcoholic. But you’re likely still attached to something that is hard to give up. You likely use and abuse something in your own way. Because we all have addictive personalities, and our sin nature makes us prone to habits and being dependent on anything other than Christ. We are looking for happiness in areas that we will never find happiness. Because joy is found only through Jesus.
Can I mention a few possibilities that might be your particular brand of addiction? I assume I’ll hit a few nerves.
- Taking medication for an issue that could be fixed in the long term by changes in lifestyle
- Pornography/most rated R movies with sexual content and/or romance novels
- Drugs/Medication for numbing emotional pain or other reasons
- Compulsive sexual behavior (including hidden things like ‘sexting’ or lust)
- Not being able to control your diet, emotional/stress eating
- Shopping/spending money, living outside your means
- Gambling, hours of games online
- Unhealthy relationships where God is not honored
- Codependence (excessive emotional or psychological reliance on another)
- Inability to give up a food, snack, or beverage even if you know it’s not good for you
- Sluggish tendencies/not exercising
For me, it’s not being able to control how I eat. In the past, I have had people tell me how impressed they are about my healthy eating choices. But eating gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free doesn’t mean I’m a vision of health (can you hear this dripping with sarcasm? ;)). Inwardly I’m aggravated by this, because I know I have a lot of problems with food and I don’t deserve any positive comments at all. Because healthy eating isn’t just about what you’re eating. It’s about how you eat it too. For instance, I would definitely agree that my current snack of choice (brownie bites made of dried fruit and nuts, with stevia and a little cocoa) is better than candy bars, soft drink, or a bag of fried potato chips. However, if I mindlessly eat 8 servings of it in one sitting, that’s a big issue. It’s hundreds of calories too. So it can leave me feeling sluggish, foggy in the head, and over time can leave me very overweight. And can I be honest? Overeating leaves me agitated and grumpy. Because it’s not what my body needed. I wasn’t treating food as fuel in that instance, I was eating purely for pleasure. (Yes, I believe God chose to give us food as a way to get our nutrients because He wanted us to enjoy it, but this is something else entirely). If I eat only because I want to eat, against what is best for my body, the temple of God, that is a sin! So does that mean I need to stop enjoying my brownie bites? No. But it does mean that I need to stop and think about what I’m doing (and pray!) before taking a 2nd helping. Do I need that 2nd helping? Or am I eating it because I’m feeling sad, tired, or sorry for myself?
And what about the last part of the verse? “…which wages war against your soul.” Speaking for my own brand of addiction, I experience this war. When I am overeating, especially compulsively, I do NOT have God’s glory in mind. I have my immediate pleasure in mind. And if I am going to continue to be honest here, I usually am doing this because of some emotional trigger. Like I’m annoyed at someone. Or I’m mentally exhausted. Or want to disconnect from my circumstances. All things that take me away from God. And that is a soul issue. So they are very closely connected. Taking other addictions, like an unhealthy relationship, is also very closely connected with your soul. How can you become more like Christ when you give your heart (mind, time, energy, etc) to a person who is not honoring God in their life? I’ve been there. And by the grace of God I got out. But it can be an easy trap to fall into.
So this has been a somewhat ‘negative’ reflection. But I’ve come to realize it’s only in the tough evaluations of self that we come to see where the root of our sin lies. And it’s usually in a place that can seem innocent. Like a snack, or a movie. But guard your hearts! God is a jealous God and wants what’s best for you. So don’t sell yourself short on things of this world, that will soon pass away or be taken from you.
I’m guessing no one wants to share their particular brand of addiction, but I’m all ears if you do (with no judgements)! Can you offer any other ideas to add to the list above that you’ve seen in lives around you? What types of practical advice can you provide to someone struggling with addiction?
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11