Is it the flesh that is the main culprit in our “defeat”. The flesh seems to hold us to ransom because of our guilt? The “I” in Paul’s Romans 7 discourse seems to be a hostage of the accuser, of the tempter, of the proven track record of defeated living.
Paul says He is powerless to do what He wants to do. It is the flesh that does what it wants to do. Is then the flesh simply the identity given us (befallen us) because of “the fall”?
“It is not I, but sin that dwells in me”. The Paul who is the “I” is saying that He is not the one doing it, but the “sin that lives in me”. ‘The devil made me do it’ is the popular phrase.
Paul is guilty by association. After all, it is HIS flesh that this “evil” dwells in, doing its evil stuff. He appears to be the culprit here.
But he has denied culpability. The “I” that he is, is being controlled by the identity of the flesh, as something that is to be associated with Adam’s disaster in the garden.
The flesh and Paul are inseparable. He is under its control and is powerless to change his destiny. He said that once he was “alive apart from law”, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and “I” died.” So law killed him and now he is enslaved to this “body of death”, his FLESH. His body, his flesh, HE is under the control of DEATH and is acting out the works of death.
This Paul is the one who has become enlightened through law. Knowing now right from wrong, the awareness that it brings, condemns him. It kills him, he is killed by his conscience becoming aware of his guilt. He is now under the wrath that law has brought with it. Guilty. Expecting judgement, fearful.
So Paul is forced to become at one with the nature of sin that he finds within himself, as He becomes increasingly aware of the outworking nature of the flesh. This unwillingly becomes his identity. He is a slave to it, to this identity of evil.
“The works of the flesh” are one and the same with the “works of the devil”. The human heart, beguiled by sin, is the originator and disseminator of the evil that it conceives. “The deeds of the flesh are..immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings, and things like these”. And “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
“Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And Paul is rescued, because the death he lives in and the death which lives in him are borne and thereby taken away by another. The penalties which are attached to the accusations inherent in the nature of flesh and which lie upon his conscience, are borne by another. He is now liberated from his “body of death”, from his flesh, and from the identity that was forced upon him.
He is free to assume his new identity, that of a son of God, to gain a new spirit, the Spirit of life that is associated with the truth and the spirit of truth, that death “has been abolished” and the spirit and power of death with it. Paul’s “I” is now one which has been cleansed from the power of the flesh to anymore control him. The flesh has no leverage, no authority, no power, because a greater authority and power has overwhelmed it.
Paul’s new identity is free, it just cost the son of God his life. His new identity is again one of association, this time it is by association with the son of God, Jesus..
[To make a bold statement perhaps, I don’t think you will find a “list” of “the works of the devil” anywhere, because they are adequately covered by the works of the flesh and the heart][And unless corrected, would say that the cleansing of the heart amounts to the same thing as the cleansing of the flesh, and the easier meaning of this would be to say the cleansing of the conscience][even though Paul in his innermost self wanted to do right, it was the uncleansed components of himself that held him captive to sin][Faith in the cleansing provided by Jesus releases him from [the power, authority of] an identity of death, [the identity of Adam] into an identity of life; the identity of the Son of God.]
A FURTHER NOTE is required now regarding Paul’s flesh. The term flesh is actually “sarx” (or similar) greek, meaning flesh without skin or suchlike. It refers to the natural state of man as a created flesh and blood creature, with all the self preservation animal instincts and basic desires. So when Paul says in Romans 7 about his flesh, or “the” flesh, it refers to this natural state before any moral force is applied, EG either law or grace.
It is our natural ungoverned, poorly motivated, being or self that has an identity of “I” or me myself, and which is subject to the natural desires of bodily necessities and instincts, and to which we find (realise) ourselves enslaved once we become morally aware and develop a conscience, this happening through EG law. Recognising the good that is postulated by law condemns us, our behaviour and moral performance.
Paul becomes a “wretched man”, having no resources to change this situation (Jesus said “without me you can do nothing”). Paul here is without Jesus.
So flesh refers to ourselves in unregenerated form, which under law increases moral awareness (knowledge of good and evil) and gives us a bad conscience.
So rather than think of flesh as some indwelling component which will always present an overwhelming problem, we should see it as that which Jesus overcame and gave us the victory of, and because we have been freed from all things and given overwhelming motivation and purpose, can now overcome and turn “the land” of our being, our lives, into the promised land. This is our mission.