It's an ongoing battle for the believer - the flesh vs. the Spirit. In fact it is a sure sign that you are in fact born of the Spirit that you have this battle going on. Anyone who denies that it is there is simply lying to themselves. There is a new nature in the believer that pulls us toward God's will, works in us the mind and heart of God, convicts us when we go against that, works in our hearts to "will and to do of His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13) An unbeliever does not have that. The believer has a sense of fellowship with God when he is abiding in Him, and a sense of loss and separation from God when he is walking in the flesh.
(16) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
(17) For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
(15) For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
(16) Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
(17) So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
1 John 1:8
(8) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Note that John included himself in this statement - "if we say WE have no sin." Sin refers to the sin nature… the principal of sin that still abides in us as new creations in Christ. So we are to recognize this sin nature as well as learn to see it as God sees it, and agree with Him, taking His side against it. We are to walk "in the Spirit" or as abiding in, trusting in, filled with, and controlled by the Spirit. It is only in doing this that the desires of the flesh are not gratified. We can never, even for a moment, please God in our flesh, being controlled by and motivated by and relying on our flesh, or human nature. In order, then to grow in our walk with Him, we must learn to recognize the tactics of, not only the devil, but our own flesh. It is a process of sanctification or growth, and it is not automatic in a believer's life. And we don't automatically possess this ability no matter how close to God we are.
(13) for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
(14) But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
We must learn that our flesh is our own worst enemy. As long as we hold onto it, in any way, we fall under its deception and we cannot please God.
Some of the influences of our flesh are very subtle and we are blind to them. If we are not asking God to reveal our flesh to us, we are unable to "put it off," and "put on Christ." This is why a believer who is not spending time in the presence of God, in the Word, letting his flesh be exposed openly there, and receiving His fresh manna day by day, is never able to grow in Him or please Him, regardless of what "Christian service" he seeks to do.
(5) For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
(6) For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
(7) For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.
(8) Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
If we would please God we must learn to recognize the flesh in ourselves and subdue it, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when we have been Christians for a long time, we develop a "religious flesh" that we think to be God's direction in our lives. It's hard to see it, unless God reveals it. It comes through God's training and chastising as we learn to apply His Word to our walk.
Some of the most subtle flesh I have seen in myself and others is trust in one's intellect, or their own understanding, even their own thinking on things because they "studied." I've had many times in my past in my walk that I "studied" very diligently, God's Word, and thought I knew and I very zealously defended what I thought was a particular teaching there. I trusted in my studying, my conclusions, and how I saw it. I was sure I was right. But because I was not yet at a place of spiritual maturity in the working of God's Spirit in my heart in certain areas, I was unable to see more clearly the truths I was overlooking or misunderstanding. Sometimes it is only through that growth process that we are able to understand certain concepts in God's Word, and we need to allow room for the Holy Spirit also to work in others' lives to bring them to that place, rather than argue "Biblical facts" with them when they can't see them. Some things are not learned intellectually, but only through God's working them into our hearts. We may think we understand the "letter" but have no experience with the truth behind it.
(5) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
(6) In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
(7) Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
I silenced in argument all who came against what I saw at one time. I was out to straighten everyone out and correct them. But God humbled me in such a way that I had to bring my own understanding before Him (thought I did that, but yet I was wrong), and He showed me. God has ways of showing us when are heart finally gives up its own defenses and purely wants God Himself to reveal light to the heart and mind. I thought I was seeking His truth. Of course I was, and wanted to defend truth, but yet I was wrong. If we fail to see that no matter how learned and studied we are that we can be wrong that we can study wrong, that we are depending on our own reasoning because of preconceived ideas, or that we have been more heavily influenced by a theology or teaching or study method so that we are more relying on that than on the Lord, we can't get out of the way of thinking our flesh or another's intellect has led us to. It is only God Who reveals light. Our intellect can never do that. Our reasoning can never bring us to God's conclusions. We can even come to a place where we only trust our own reasoning and disregard sound Bible teachers and become a church unto ourselves, withdrawing from the church.
I've learned also, that the flesh is easily manipulated by others. I've learned not to let others manipulate me regarding what to think, to believe, to act on, or not to let them control who I associate with, who I listen to, who I respond or don't respond to. Well meaning people who have a controlling personality, though thinking they are doing the Lord's service, can control and manipulate you so that you seek to please them instead of God Himself. You almost come to the point where they take over the place of the Word itself and the Holy Spirit in your life. You don't dare disagree with them because you won't hear the end of it if you do, so you go along with, cater to, agree with, and abide by their unspoken "rules" of "fellowship" in the relationship. You don't act without asking yourself how they will respond or think of you. You are unable to trust yourself to seek God yourself for His approval or asking yourself what pleases God, instead you are concerned with whether or not you are following along with this persons approval. You are unable to trust God to lead you in discernment but you have to go along with whatever their "discernment" is.
In such cases, by God's Spirit, you have to come away from that relationship and dependency on it and let God renew your mind and heart in His Word and stand against this manipulation, even if this person has led you into some great truths in the Word. It is the power of the flesh on both sides - the manipulator and the manipulated. If you are in the place of the manipulator, you need to see what you are doing is your flesh, and that you are not trusting God to work in others' lives, but you are trying to be in the place of the Holy Spirit and controlling them. If you are the manipulated, you have to see what is happening and turn away from it.
The flesh is more subtle than any other enemy we have. Satan is certainly subtle and knows how to trap us in his snares. Yet what does he use to trap us? He uses our own flesh. He uses our own desires of the flesh and temptations, our pride and our religious flesh. He knows our weaknesses and what we have not gotten control of through the Holy Spirit in our lives. If you are an intellectual person, he uses that, and the pride and dependence on that intellect. He uses your religious flesh of thinking you are more mature in the faith than you truly are, to convince you of what a great Christian you are and leads you into self-righteousness. He even uses a false humility, which is the flip side of pride to make you think you are a very humble Christian. How can we ever escape the pitfalls?? How can we possibly discern our own hearts? We can't. Only by abiding in Christ daily, putting no confidence at all in our flesh, being on our guard and asking God to reveal our flesh to us, can we be enabled to see, and walk in His light. When He does we are to confess (agree with God), taking His side against it, acknowledging it, not thinking that the flesh will ever improve, but instead putting our confidence in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and relying on the Holy Spirit to work in us to conform us to that righteousness outwardly, yielding to His working by faith day by day. There is no short cut in our Christian maturity. We will make mistakes. We must acknowledge that. We will deceive ourselves or be deceived by others. We must acknowledge that. We must trust in God alone to keep us, to teach us, to train us and to correct us. We must not let our flesh or the flesh of other people take the place of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I Peter 5:5b… "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" We're all learning. If we come to the place where we are unteachable and think we can't learn yet from another, we're not in a safe place to be. We're under the influence of the flesh.
May the Lord grant us that grace of true humility before Him, and love and grace toward others as well, as we are all being conformed to the image of Christ. May we "bear with one another" in love as Christ bears with us, in longsuffering patience and kindness. Until that day when we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is, may our hearts be always trusting in Him.