In examining our greatest divine promise, that is, a successful journey to heaven, we also looked at some of the barriers that must be overcome to complete that pilgrimage; e.g. a rebellious will that opposes God (see part. 1). Let’s look at another very similar barrier, which is ‘living by the flesh.’ And again, we’ll use some of St. Augustine’s scriptural insights from his book The City of God, to elucidate its meaning.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal. 5:19 – 21. ESV
For among the works of the flesh which he (Paul) said were manifest, and which he cited for condemnation, we find not only those which concern the pleasures of the flesh as fornication…drunkenness, but also those which, though they may be remote from fleshly pleasure, reveal the vices of the soul…idolatries, witchcraft…hatreds…envying…For it is quite possible for a man to abstain from fleshly pleasures for the sake of idolatry or some heretical error; and yet, even when he does so…he is living after the flesh – St. Augustine
What our venerable theologian is driving at, is that we do have a corruptible body due to the propagation of Adam’s original sin, but, that that is not the true nature of the body, which was created in perfection. So, the deduction is that sin in not caused by the flesh but is from the free-will of the soul – choosing to give into the desires of the flesh and of soul’s other God-Contrarian desires.
Furthermore, owing to the source of the corruption of the flesh, that corruption must consist as a punishment for (Adam’s) sin, but not the originator of our sin. Many sins, as pointed out, are not attributed to the flesh, yet all of them are instigated from the adversary, who, by the way, has no flesh. Thus, it is when man lives by his own dictates, rather than God’s, that he takes on the devil’s sinful nature.
…all sin is a lie. For no sin is committed save by that desire or will by which we desire that it be well with us, and shrink from it being ill with us…but makes us more miserable than we were…because the source of man’s happiness lies only in God, whom he abandons when he sins… St. Augustine
When one lives carnally, they cannot connect with God, or understand Him, because in their disobedience, they have abandoned HIs truth:
But the natural [unbelieving] man does not accept the things [the teachings and the revelations] of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness [absurd and illogical] to him; and he is incapable of understanding them, because they are spiritually discerned and appreciated, [and he is unqualified to judge spiritual matters]. 1 Cor. 2:11 – 14. AMP
So, ‘acting carnally’ can be applied to living by the desires of the flesh and / or of the soul. And the soul is directed by the will. It derives joy from fulfilling its desires and expresses fear and or sadness as a response to any experience it does not desire.
In dealing with carnal people, Christians are commanded to apply agape love:
…since no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice, he who lives according to God out to cherish toward evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice, nor love the vice because of the man, but hate the vice and love the man. – St. Augustine
We’ve all been there. And God is well aware of what we suffer through, having suffered the same temptations in the visage of His Son:
…He became a man when it pleased Him, so, in the grace of His definite purpose, when it pleased Him He experienced those emotions in His human soul. – St. Augustine
For we do not have High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without [committing any] sin. Heb. 4:15 AMP
Praise God for His salvation through Christ, because we all need it:
…he who thinks he lives without sin puts aside not sin, but pardon. – St. Augustine
The only pure goodness in this universe exists within the Godhead, where there is no evil to be found. Conversely, because the nature of ourselves is innately good (disregarding Adam’s corruption), evil cannot exist without that good nature with which it inhabits.
…evil is removed, not by removing any nature, or part of a nature, which had been introduced by the evil, but by healing and correcting that which had been vitiated and depraved. The will, therefore, is then truly free, when it is not the slave of vices and sins. Such was it given us by God; and this being lost by its own fault, can only be restored by Him who was first able to give it. – St. Augustine
If we consider Adam and Eve, we find that our ‘humanness’ directly mirrors their behavior with regards to our relationship with God. Just as we first consider our desire to sin in our will before we commit it, Adam and Eve could not have been different.
Just like them, most if not all of our sins begins with pride, with the desire to satisfy the lust of oneself.
A man’s pride and sense of self-importance will bring him down… Pr. 29:23 AMP
Adam and Eve could not have been provoked to try to ‘be like gods,’ had they not first taken in that suggestion and weighed it in their wills, before succumbing to their desire. And so, their sin proceeded their ingestion of the fruit.
We are no different:
By craving to be more, man becomes less; and by aspiring to be self-sufficing, he fell away from Him who truly suffices – St. Augustine
For Adam and Eve, the sin didn’t end there. Remember that God came to them after the committed the ‘act’ of sin:
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” Gn. 3:9 NASB
As if God didn’t know. St. Augustine suggests that it was at that point that He was letting Adam know He was separated from them – spiritually. God then questioned them, and they multiplied their sin by trying to lay the blame on someone else: Eve on the serpent, and Adam on Eve and then on God Himself. I believe that God was giving them a chance to confess and repent, but their pride defeated them.
And thus, all our troubles began. Thankfully, our God is gracious and full of lovingkindness. He always has an outstretched arm, to pull the willing back onto that heavenward path.
Goodnight and God bless.