“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13 NET).
Virtually everyone is familiar with the word “flesh” as it relates to our physical bodies. But much like the idea of leaven mentioned earlier in Galatians 5:8-9, “the flesh” carries a different connotation when used as a Biblical metaphor.
In a spiritual sense, “the flesh” refers to the weaknesses that are common to human nature. The flesh represents the best or worst anyone can do in their own strength as well as the natural tendency to think and act in ways that are misaligned with God’s intent for His creation. A person who lives “in the flesh” is someone who depends entirely upon his or her natural ability with no guidance, direction, or help from God.
The Scriptures use another term that is closely related to this concept. That word is carnality. When used in this manner, “carnality” involves a preoccupation with the body and the satisfaction of whatever it may desire. Carnality might best be described by the phrase, “If it feels good, do it.” In general, a carnal person is more concerned with looking or feeling good and less concerned with being good.
The seventh chapter of the Biblical book of Romans offers a good illustration of these related ideas in action…
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25 NIV).
A person who walks according to the flesh is someone who does not anticipate the reality of eternal life- and that mindset serves to influence the choices and decisions of daily life. But as one scholar cautions us, “The natural man who has never taken God seriously falls into the delusion that this world is all there is.” (1)
(1) Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties [pg. 255]