Terms noticeably used in tandem in the NT to contrast diametrically opposed lifestyle. The term “flesh” is often ascribed the connotation of an ungodly lifestyle of selfishness and sensual self-gratification. The term “spirit” signifies the opposite characteristics. One who walks by the Spirit lives with a conspicuous God consciousness that directs his or her dispositions, attitudes, and actions.
This use of these terms is evident especially in Paul’s writing. In Rom 7 Paul spoke frankly about his constant struggle between the continuing power of his flesh and the sincere intentions of his will to live obediently to God. “For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do” (Rom 7:19 HCSB). This battle is because the “flesh” the believer battles even after salvation. Paul poses the question then, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24 HCSB). He answers with confidence, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin” (Rom 7:25 HCSB). Even though believers wrestle with the flesh, those who are in Jesus Christ are no longer under compulsion to live in a fleshly manner.
In Gal 5 Paul provides the most extensive treatment of this subject. He encourages Christians who indeed “live by the Spirit” also to “walk by the Spirit” so that they may avoid carrying “out the desire of the flesh.” The admonition here as well as in other Pauline passages is for Christians not to live carnally.
A carnal Christian is a believer who, although regenerate, persists in living a life ruled by fleshly desires (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 3:1).
Other texts in the NT use the term “flesh” and “spirit” to underscore this same struggled. John instructed believers not to behave in such a way as to fulfill the “lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16 HCSB). The contrast should not be pushed to mean that human, physical existence is evil. Literal human flesh was created “good.” Some early Christian Gnostic groups perverted this concept and taught be considered evil in and of itself.
This false dichotomy led some sects to become ascetic, depriving their physical bodies of proper food, sleep, and care in an attempt to purify them. Other groups came to the conclusion that what one did with the body was of no consequence spiritually, even acts of moral license.
Through the power and freedom of Christ, one must determine to live a godly life and not turn this freedom into “an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal 5:13 HCSB). The goal is to demonstrate a life ruled by the constant presence of the Holy Spirit characterized by the traits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self control” (Gal 5:22-23 HCSB).