3: How to Overcome the Flesh

Judges 3:12‑30  •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 7
What Is the Flesh?
OUR talk on “the flesh” is not about what is physical, the body, but about that evil principle within us which makes SELF the center of our thoughts and ways instead of God. The flesh is opposed to God’s will and cannot please Him (Rom. 8:88So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8)). It is not subject to the law of God, and, if allowed to act, will always serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:2525I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:25)). It first appeared in this character when Eve put forth her hand to take the fruit of the forbidden tree, believing that by so doing she would become greater than God had made her. Self was her object in that act instead of God, and since that day all men by nature have been born into this world in the flesh, that is, they are controlled always by love of self instead of by the love of God. This is the nature of every unrenewed man.
But a great change has taken place in those who have believed the gospel of God’s grace; they have been born again by God’s Spirit, and have received the Holy Ghost. He dwells in them, so that of them it can be said: “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:99But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)). They have received a new life and nature which, instead of making self the center and circumference of all their thoughts, goes out in its desires and hopes to God Himself.
This is the new nature and life which every one of us who is saved has received. But the flesh remains in us, and it is only as we walk in the Spirit that we shall be free from the bondage of its lusts (Gal. 5: 16).
The Moabites Are a Striking Figure of the Flesh
“For Himself Alone.”
But in the story before us we find other indications confirming the thought that in Eglon and the Moabites we have a type of the flesh. Eglon had his summer palace, a place of ease and pleasure, and he had it for himself alone (ch. 3:20).
Here, in one brief sentence, the whole character of the flesh is disclosed. It is utterly selfish; it has nothing to render to God; every thought, hope and ambition finds self as the pivot; all that it has it has for “self alone.” Oh, have you not often found this detestable thing forcing its way to the front when you least expected it? You did a kind act. Love and sympathy formed the motive, but scarcely was the deed performed when there crept in that base thought― “What will they think of ME, now?” You may have been greatly helped in some service to the Lord, but, instead of being humbled by the grace that used you, and giving all the glory to Him who is the source of it, there was the inward vaunting and exulting, as though by your own strength you had accomplished the work. Or, perhaps, the service was a failure, and you became cast down and depressed, not because the Lord had been dishonored, but because you had not shone as you had hoped to do. Someone else did something better than you, or outstripped you in devotion, knowledge, or ability, and thoughts of rivalry and jealousy took possession of you at once. It was the flesh, base and incorrigible, seeking all for “self alone.” Oh, that we might get a true glimpse of its utter hatefulness, and turn away from it with loathing.
The Flesh Has No Claim Upon the Christian
The Moabites had no, true claim upon Israel, and yet we find that Eglon had set up his throne in the city of the palm trees (which was the very gate of the land, the city which God had taken with a mighty hand for His people), and, from that place of power he ruled Israel and laid tribute upon them, so that what God alone had a right to claim from them was being rendered up to the king of Moab. How true a picture is this of the state of thousands of Christians. The flesh has no right to rule us, for, “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Rom. 8:1212Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Romans 8:12)). We owe no debt to that evil principle within us which would make self everything to the exclusion of Christ; we have a perfect right to ignore its clamors and to walk in the Spirit; and yet, as Eglon of Moab received from Israel that which God alone could claim; so, alas! do Christians often yield time and thought and strength to the flesh, forgetting all the while that “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live,” (Rom. 8:1313For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:13)).
Let it be again stated and emphasized that, if you are a Christian, the flesh is a usurper if it dominates you, for, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8: 9). When we believed the gospel of our salvation, the Spirit of God took up His abode in us; and the sealing of the Spirit means that the Lord has claimed that which He has purchased with His own blood. Now the work of the Spirit within us is to displace self and to overthrow forever the dominion of the flesh by making Christ supreme in our affections.
You may be sure that the flesh will not readily yield up the scepter, and will ever be on the alert to assert itself. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal. 5:1717For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Galatians 5:17)).
All Our Efforts to Subdue the Flesh Are Futile
Let us not suppose that the flesh can be improved or made fit for God. It was said of Moab: “His taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed” (Jer. 48:1111Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed. (Jeremiah 48:11)). It is also true that, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:66That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)). It may be religionized, but it will remain in independence of, and rebellion against, God. It often intrudes itself in divine things, but even there it will still seek all for “self alone.” It cannot be educated, coaxed, or whipped into subjection to the law of God, for its nature is absolutely contrary to that law.
This is a lesson that must be learned, though the learning of it is always a bitter process. The progress of the lesson is given in Romans 7.
1.  You long to do that which is good and are sadly disappointed when you find that you can only do that which is bad.
2.  You search for the reason and are disgusted when you find that from you, that is your flesh, no good thing can come, for the simple reason that no good thing exists in it.
3.  You make great efforts to throw off the terrible incubus, and despair fills your heart as you prove them all to be in vain. Then, when you come to your wits’ end and give up the struggle, the load is lifted by another hand. The morning breaks and the way of deliverance from the terrible morass in which you had struggled is made plain. But this deliverance can only be reached in God’s way.
How the Victory Is Gained
God found a prince in Israel who not only escaped from the yoke of Moab himself, but was able to deliver others also; and in contemplating the ways of Ehud we shall learn the way of deliverance. He was commissioned to carry the tribute of the Israelites to the monarch of Moab, and from what follows we may conclude that this was not pleasant work; he must have felt how degrading a thing it was for God’s people to be thus enslaved. There is no victory apart from exercise of soul. If we are content to walk after the things of the flesh, and with the ordinary kind of Christian living that we see all round us, we shall never know the joy and liberty of power over the flesh.
Ehud’s name means, “him that praises,” and he was a true son of his father Gera, whose name means, “combat or disputings.” You may be sure if you are to become “him that praises” in the full gladness of victory, there must be first exercise and conflict of soul; for victory, joy and praise are always the offspring of true soul exercise.
At the Stones of Gilgal
Having delivered himself of his mission to Eglon, Ehud went to the quarries or stones of Gilgal. That was the right place for the man who felt the bondage under which Israel was groaning, and it was the place where such a feeling would be greatly intensified; for it was there that the reproach of Egypt had been rolled away. (Joshua 5:99And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. (Joshua 5:9)). The people of God had been bondmen in a strange land; but, when they reached Gilgal, they were not only free, but were brought to the land of liberty; circumcision took place there, and circumcision was the sign of their freedom.
It was from Gilgal, as God’s freedmen, that they had gone to victory after victory; and, if they had not forgotten that place and its lessons—, they would never have known defeat and slavery, and the shoutings of victory would never have given place to the lamentations of Bochim.
Ehud, in going to Gilgal, had reached the point of departure; the point, in fact, where the true life began; the life which God intended that the people, whom He had so wonderfully redeemed, should live.
Gilgal was the most interesting spot in the land:
1.  There stood the twelve stones taken out of the bed of Jordan.
2.  There circumcision took place.
3.  The passover was celebrated.
4.  They ate of the old corn of the land.
5.  The Captain of the Lord’s host took his place at their head as leader and guide.
We will deal only with the first two of these important events, as they have a more particular bearing on our present subject and, if they are understood, we shall have little difficulty in comprehending what followed them.
The Twelve Stones
These had been taken from the bed of the river, where the feet of the priests that bore the ark stood firm: (Joshua 3-4). They were to be a reminder, to generations yet unborn, that the ark had stood still in the midst of the place of death, that the people might pass clean over into the place of life.
The type speaks eloquently to us of the condition in which we were and of what God hath wrought for us.
“We in death were lying.”
“By sin came death; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:1212Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)); but Jesus, the true Ark of the Covenant, stood in our place in death, so that we might be clear of it forever and stand with Him in resurrection life. Can we think of the way God has taken to deliver us without being profoundly moved? Love was the source of it all, and love has carried it out; love that many waters could not quench and which could not be extinguished by all the billows of death; and, if the waters of death could not put out the fervent flame of this love, neither can the ages of time dim its brightness. It is eternal and omnipotent. As we see this love shining out in such direct contrast to the hateful selfishness of the flesh, are we not delighted to know that God’s gracious and all-wise plan was that we should be cut off from the flesh and be linked up with the love forever?
But the twelve stones were placed clear out of Jordan’s swelling waves; they were set up in the land of promise where Jehovah’s rich blessing was the people’s portion, and they are typical of the Christian’s place today. We no longer stand in condemnation and death but in Christ, in the full light of God’s favor, in the land of promise which flows with milk and honey. This place of blessing before God has not been obtained by any work or merit of ours. It is God who has established us in Christ, and hath anointed us, and also sealed us, and given us the earnest of His Spirit in our hearts (2 Cor. 1:21, 2221Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; 22Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:21‑22)). We have been accepted in the Beloved and blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3, 63Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Ephesians 1:3)
6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)
).
Now we may not understand what all this means, but it is evidently something great and good, and it is what God has done for us, so that the very sound of it makes our hearts beat more quickly, and fills us with longing to enter into the joy of it all. And the more clearly we see that it is by grace that we are thus saved and not of ourselves, the greater will be our desire to understand and enjoy this place of acceptance and favor.
Circumcision
Intimately linked with the twelve stones on the banks of Jordan was the circumcision of the people; and, if the former sets forth in figure God’s grace to us, the latter makes known His unsparing judgment of the flesh―“it must be cut off―” and the people who were the subjects of His gracious acts in ancient days had to bear on their bodies the mark of the condemnation of the flesh.
Now God’s judgment of the flesh has no such thought as a man being punished for a crime and being restored to society after that punishment had been borne. The meaning is totally different. It is the setting aside of the flesh entirely as a means of glory to God or blessing to man. Full of meaning are the words of Jesus: “The flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:6363It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)). It is absolutely and utterly void of good. You may be sure that this is the case or God would not have cleared the ground of it. But, let us keep in mind that He has done this that all blessing might be of Himself, and so established on an immovable and eternal foundation.
If we are still in doubt as to its unprofitable character, and its utter inability to appreciate what is of God, so as to render to Him what is His due, we have but to look at Calvary.
God’s blessed Son had lived before the eyes of men; they had seen His ways and heard His words; He displayed in the midst of them the tenderness and grace of the Father; and at the end of it they spat in His face. He was buffeted, betrayed, and crucified as being utterly hateful and abhorrent to them. There and then the flesh disclosed its bitter enmity against God and proved conclusively and forever that there was no profit in it for God or for us. It proved itself, indeed, to be a wild vine, bringing forth no fruit. And having rejected God’s Son, the great and final test, it has been rejected by God, and it can never be reinstated.
But how good it is for us to learn that the death of Christ, which manifested the character of the flesh, also displayed the heart of God in all its love. It proved that He would not be thwarted in His intentions to bless men, and it also proved that this blessing must be alone on the ground of what He is and can do, and not at all on the ground of what we are.
“By grace are ye saved... and that not of yourselves” (Eph. 2:88For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8)). Here, in two sentences, is the summing up of the whole matter. “By grace are ye saved” is the setting up of the stones in the land; “that not of yourselves” is the circumcision of the flesh.
For four thousand years the flesh had its day, but all its wisdom, power, self-sufficiency, culture, and religion only proved useless and unprofitable. It cannot lift its head, and glory in the presence of the Lord. Condemnation and death are its true and proper doom.
Even Christ Himself was cut off from the life of the flesh, though death had no claim upon Him. He might have lived forever in the condition which He assumed, for His flesh was holy; every fiber of His blessed constitution was devoted to God; He fulfilled every responsibility perfectly, and no taint of sin ever marred His perfect humanity. Had He lived on in that condition He would have lived alone: but He died, and in His death sin in the flesh was condemned.
In the death of Christ we see the complete setting aside of the flesh, for death is the end of it―it has met its judgment. Though we have not actually died, in God’s reckoning we have passed off the ground of the flesh; and this is also true of faith. We do not now stand before God on the ground of what we are, for on that ground we could only be condemned, but we stand before Him in Christ and there is nothing but favor. We are buried with Him... quickened together with Him... risen with Him (Col. 2:12, 1312Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 13And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; (Colossians 2:12‑13)). “Buried with Him in baptism.” The mark of death is upon us, and we henceforth take the place of death to that life of flesh and sin.
Now death to the unconverted man would mean the cutting off from all that made up life to him. But I am persuaded that if we view it in the light in which God presents it to us, we shall find in it the door of liberty: for this true circumcision of Christ, “not made with hands,” is the sign of the Christian’s freedom.
The flesh will always serve the law of sin, and sin is a cruel taskmaster, like unto the Egyptians who made Israel to serve with rigor; and the only way of freedom from this great slave owner is by death. A man owns a slave and holds him in hard bondage, but there comes a day when that slave no longer answers the master’s call. He is dead, and there ends the domination of the master. “But,” you may say, “I am not dead; I have not received the wages that sin pays.” That is true; but it is also true that Jesus, in perfect love, received them for you, that you might take your place in death with Him, and be freed from the old taskmaster so as to serve God; for it is your privilege to reckon the death of your Substitute as yours.
The well-known Napoleonic story will illustrate this. A citizen had been called to fight, but another had gone under his name and number, and was killed in the battle. Shortly afterward, other men were wanted for Napoleon’s wars, and again this citizen was called upon, but he claimed freedom from service on the ground that, at such and such a. battle, he had died in the person of his substitute. The case was referred to the Emperor, who upheld his claim. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive, unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11)). Thus will you be free to yield yourself to God, and to walk in the blessed liberty of the Spirit, and enjoy the fatness of the land into which He has brought you.
But we are anticipating that which our story unfolds. Let us again link these two things together―
1. The stones on the banks of Jordan set forth our place of association with Christ in the favor of God which place is all of His grace.
2. Circumcision means that the flesh has no place there: it could not obtain that place: nor could it stand in it, for it is utterly without merit, and most evil and offensive in God’s sight. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
The Death of Eglon
From his musings at Gilgal Ehud returned to King Eglon, but his mission on this occasion was very different to the former one. He now carried no present from an enslaved people, but a message from a delivering God. “I have a message from God unto thee.” And that message was one of judgment; for the two-edged dagger, plunged into the very heart of the king, was the judgment of God upon the one who had held Israel in bondage.
We have already seen that God has condemned the flesh once and for all, and that He will never go back upon this; for He has proved it to be without profit, and we must come to the same conclusion in our experience. We have to learn that there is no profit in the flesh for us, and so shall we be prepared to accept God’s condemnation of it, and thus, truly plunge the two-edged dagger into the heart of it.
The man who had been to Gilgal could not tolerate the presence and domination of Eglon in the land and lives of the people of God; nor shall we tolerate the flesh and its workings in our lives if we have truly learned the lessons which Gilgal teaches; instead, we shall be most unsparing in our judgment of its slightest movements.
There is much confusion in the minds of many Christians as to what judging the flesh really means. Some are always bemoaning their badness and failure, and are very miserable in consequence, and they imagine that this is self-judgment. It is the very opposite.
Self-Occupation Is Not Self-Judgment
It is often and truly said that the devil does not care whether you are occupied in praising or scolding yourself so long as you are taken up with self. For you must know that you can never be greater or rise higher than that with which you are occupied; and as long as self fills your eyes Christ is eclipsed.
If you have said there is no good in the flesh you have said all that needs to be said, and it is now your right and privilege to turn from it to Him who is altogether and forever good, and be occupied with Him. Paul had plunged the knife into the flesh when he wrote: “We are the circumcision which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:33For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)).
When a vote of no confidence is moved and carried in the British House of Commons the Government falls and a new ministry takes its place. This is what you must do: move a vote of no confidence in the flesh. How can it be done? Cease to support it upon the government benches; turn away to the Lord, and let God’s Holy Spirit have the reins and guide you henceforward. You do not trust a person in whom you have no confidence; you would not commit to such a one your secrets, much less allow him to direct and control your life; and yet, is not this the way you have treated the flesh? Thence the failure and bondage. Oh, take the two-edged sword of God’s truth, as to its worthlessness, and plunge it to the hilt into the heart of it; have done with it―cast it aside―no longer be on speaking terms with it―and henceforward walk in the happy liberty of the Spirit and occupation with Christ.
Then it will be evident that you have reached God’s conclusion as to the matter, and you will be true to your circumcision.
The Happy Results
Then Ehud went to Mount Ephraim. Ephraim means “the fruitful place,” and we are able to bring forth fruit for God just in that measure in which the flesh is judged. We have been joined to Christ by the Spirit in resurrection life that we might bring forth fruit unto God, and the Spirit of God is within us in order to reproduce in us that which has come out in Jesus, so that God may be glorified through us.
It was in Ephraim that Ehud was able to blow the trumpet and rally the people to share with him the victory that he had gained, and this is the result of deliverance. If the channels are free the new life, which we have in the Spirit, will flow out for the blessing of others. Unlike the flesh, the new man has nothing for “itself alone;” it delights in sharing its joys, and proves the truth of the words, “There is that which scattereth and yet increaseth.” Along this line you will become like the man whom Christian saw in the house of the Interpreter―
“Whom some did count as mad―
The more he gave away the more he had.”
You may tell me that you have tried to judge the flesh, and failed over and over―that it is too strong for you; but, surely, you have forgotten that God has sent His Spirit into your heart, that He is there to displace the flesh and make room for Christ, and the whole matter now hangs on your desire. Has Christ become indispensable to you? Have you found such a portion in Him and His love that your soul cries out “He alone can satisfy!”? Ah, then in dependence on the Spirit your path shall be bright indeed.
But never lose sight of the death of Christ; let the cross of Christ be your glory, for that cross is the way of victory, even as Ehud, at the fords of Jordan, typical of the truth of our death with Christ, slew ten thousand Moabites.
And the Land Had Rest Fourscore Years
There is a sweet sound about that! It is the harbor after the tossing sea; it is home after the weary conflict; it is the experience of the soul that can say: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:2525I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:25)); and henceforth find its delight and food in Him alone.
Let Us Now Finally Weigh the Issues
Is there any advantage in living after the flesh? What saith the Scriptures?
“He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:88For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Galatians 6:8)). This is the present result and is unalterably the experience of all who sow to the flesh. The moment of sowing may have ministered self-gratification, but the reaping has been bondage and sorrow, regret and spiritual death.
But what is the advantage of living and walking in the Spirit?
It might further help us if we put side by side “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit.”
WORKS OF THE FLESH
FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
Adultery
Fornication
Uncleanness
Lasciviousness
Idolatry
Witchcraft
Hatred
Variance
Emulations
Wrath
Strife
Sedition
Heresies
Envyings
Murders
Drunkenness
Revelings
and such like.
Love
Joy
Peace
Longsuffering
Gentleness
Goodness
Faith
Meekness
Temperance
Gal. 5:19-23.
 
“And the fruit of
the Spirit is in all
goodness and righteousness and truth,”
Eph. 5: 9.
 
 
The Final Victory
But the time is coming when the flesh shall no more hold sway, for “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corner [or pillars] of Moab” (Num. 24: 17). In prophetic vision even the false Balaam beheld the ascendency of the coming Christ over Moab. He was to rise as the star of hope for His enslaved people. He was to take the scepter, and, ruling them in righteousness, deliver them forever from their oppressors. What is not yet true for Israel must now be true for you. Christ Jesus must be our pole star, our light, our hope, our guide, and He must sway the scepter in your life. Oh, let it be so! Enthrone Him in your hearts: crown Him with your undivided affection: let Him be supreme.
“Crown Him Lord of all!”