Philosophies and worldviews of every flavor teach man to resist the flesh and live a life of simplicity. Every major philosophy and worldview, when speaking on the human condition, has discovered that there is a part of the human being which is bad and must be resisted. This part of us is selfish, greedy, careless, never satisfied but always lusting for more. The Bible and other worldviews call this part ‘the flesh.’
The foundational tenant of Buddhism says that it is this part of the human being which is responsible for all suffering. The pursuit of pleasure can only continue on as an unquenchable thirst and longing for more, and so must ultimately end in suffering. And because old age and death are certain and inescapable events, to search for temporal happiness is folly. And so, all desire ends in suffering. They identify very similarly with the Greek Stoics and Christian monks who seek with great pains to eradicate the passions of the flesh through self-abasement and live a life of quietness and tranquility. As Marcus Aurelius said:
You see how few the things are which a man needs to lay hold of in order to live a life which flows in quiet.
Henry David Thoreau noted this:
Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward.
Most of the worldviews and philosophies of the world have accurately discovered that through simplicity and solitude, this thing called the flesh can be resisted. This is why you see monasteries and monks of nearly every major worldview, because all have rightly divided that the flesh only brings misery and ought to be opposed. The Bible has a similar view about the flesh:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
Many of the major worldviews in operation on our planet are true. Buddhism is absolutely accurate when it says that fleshly desires must always end in suffering. Marcus Aurelius and the Greek Stoics were fully correct when they advocated that the passions of the flesh must be overcome in order to live a life worth living. However, just as in a court of law, just having truth isn’t enough. One must have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Many of the major philosophies and worldviews have analyzed the problem correctly.
Through simplicity and solitude, a person can control their flesh with reasonable success, subjecting it to the will of the mind and reason. This is the goal of many philosophies and worldviews. But to battle the weakness of the flesh with the strength of the flesh is not a winning proposition. The flesh is meant to be overcome by a stronger force, the Spirit of God.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
Philosophies and worldviews of every flavor have all very accurately discovered the problem of man, which is the human condition, this thing called the flesh. The thing which makes each worldview and philosophy different from one another is their prescription for a solution to the overarching problem of mankind. The Bible claims that the flesh can be overpowered by God’s own Spirit.
On a side note, through reasoning, many philosophies and worldviews have discovered incredible truths. The ancient poet, whom I have quoted often in these essays, is a celebrated Islamic poet, one of the most famous in the Islamic tradition. But look at what he discovered in one of his religious discourses:
With God, there is no room for two egos. You say “I,” and He says “I.” In order for this duality to disappear, either you must die for Him or He for you. It is not possible, however, for Him to die – either phenomenally or conceptually – because “He is the Ever-living who dieth not.” He is so gracious, however, that if it were possible He would die for you.
How amazing to conceptually perceive the person of Jesus Christ, the God who found a way to die for us, that we might then come and have fellowship with Him. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Stoic Philosopher often quoted in this book had equally surprising revelations:
There is one universe made up of everything, and one God who pervades everything, and one substance, one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth.
Does this not sound strikingly similar to the Apostle Paul’s statement:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Truth is truth. And when you dig deep enough, most philosophies and worldviews subtly point to the God of the Bible without knowing it.
But let’s get back to the point at hand. The Bible says not to simply battle the flesh through a lifestyle of monastic stoicism as many worldviews advocate, but instead to live by the Spirit of God and the flesh will give way to a new set of desires.
What does it mean then to walk by the Spirit? Let us look at the life of Jesus. Jesus did very little by His own power. Instead, almost everything came through the power of the Spirit. When people were hungry, he fed them through the power of the Spirit. When they were sick, He healed them through the Spirit. The Spirit gave insights to the struggles and secret things of people’s hearts for Him to use to help them. And even when He needed money to pay the temple tax He told His disciple to cast a line into the water and that he would reel in a fish with a gold coin in its mouth. The Bible says He went about doing good to all.
This kind of life sounds impossible to live. But God has given us a very important helping hand. Within each of His people, He has placed a gift, a unique way to powerfully interact with the Holy Spirit to bless those around us:
It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides.
1 Peter 4:10-11
The Holy Spirit imparts to each of His children a gift with which to build up and empower others. This is no small matter. God wishes to pour out His grace continually on all mankind. Each of His people have a piece of that grace, a special gift from the Holy Spirit, with which to administer the grace of God in an agape love kind of way. Some will administer the generosity of God, others the compassion of God; still others the wisdom and peace of God. The ancient poet says:
The one who knows God
is God’s mercy to His creatures.
Through using this gift, we can awaken to the new life of the Spirit and stir up the Spirit of God within us to fight against the flesh. This is why Paul says to Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
2 Timothy 1:6
The Spirit of God is stronger than the flesh. When we live according to the Spirit, the passions of the Spirit quite literally crowd out the passions of the flesh. The passions of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Can selfishness and love exist simultaneously in the same heart? Can joy and anger dwell at once together? No. And when we live according to the Spirit, the passions of the Spirit of God rise up and crowd out the passions of the flesh.
There is a simple choice before us. If we live as society admonishes, working hard to build up our own small ends, all we will ever know is the mundane musings of the flesh. But if we stop and take a step back, realize that within lays a gift from the Holy Spirit of God, one which I can use for the building up of others, one which will empower my human spirit and diminish the desires of the flesh. And slowly, passion and new resolve will rise up within me, a resolve to live life to the full, to fight for greater things, and to leave off the trifles of the world in hopes to better serve the Lord and build up those persons He has placed roundabout me. And slowly at first, we will find ourselves more content and needing less, having more to give, and a deep sense of well-being will rise, one which says not to worry about tomorrow, not to be busy about so many things, but just to bask in the joy of being a child of God.
The apostle Paul says quite literally the exact same thing. He begins by admonishing the listeners to stop living according to the dictates of society, but to turn from them and be transformed by a new way of living, a lifestyle of humility, of setting one’s goals not toward selfish gain, but toward using the gift the Spirit provides, administering the grace of God:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Some of us are miracle workers and we don’t know it. Some are healers, others are great teachers. But many of us never take the time to fan into flame the gift of God or know how amazing it is to live by this new way of the Spirit. Instead, we busy ourselves and fill our lives to the brim with superfluous matters, and wallow in the dead passions of the flesh. But if we would find our destiny, we must stop conforming to the pattern of this world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We must begin to live according to the Spirit, and know what God’s will is for our lives. Here is my prayer for life:
Lord, God, help me to wait on you in courage and in spirit. I want to be strong in You and in Your mighty power. I want to walk according to Your Spirit and live a life of love, just as Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me. Teach me how to love truly. Help me to let go of the things of this world; turn my eyes away from worthless things. Give me my daily bread, and help it to be enough. Give me the courage it takes to truly live by faith. Take away from me the fear of man, and the fear that drives me to want more for my life than what I need. Holy Spirit, overcome my flesh by your power. Lead me in Your ways and stir up the spiritual gifts that You have placed inside of me, so that I can share you lavish love with those about me. Help me be a wrestler who tears down the works of evil.