Can flesh be sinful?
A sin is something that a person does based on his/her own choices. Also Jesus had flesh just like us, and he was obviously no sinner so this means that flesh cannot be sinful in and of itself or else Jesus too would be sinful.
The term ”sinful nature” cannot be found in the Bible (KJV), but ”sinful flesh” is found once in Rom. 8:3. Since flesh cannot really be sinful in itself (without a person living in it), why can we find this phrase in this verse?
It is a reference to what Jesus did for us when he was born into this world – ”in the likeness” of sinful flesh.
Rom. 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh
According to Blueletterbible, ”flesh” is a translation from the Greek noun σάρξ (sarx, Strong’s 4561) and apart from flesh/meat from man or animal it could also signify the human body as opposed to the soul or spirit. It could also signify the human nature with its frailties (physically or morally) and passions, or simply a human being as such. So the translation could be flesh, body, human nature, carnality or materiality; kindred.
But why does it then say ”sinful flesh”? Likely to convey that flesh is what human beings use to sin with, as Paul explains below when he is using the words ”mortal body” and ”members” as instruments to perform unrighteousness. If we have no body (or members) we have nothing to sin with. Granted that our minds are involved when we make plans to sin, but with no heart or brain we cannot even have any thoughts.
Rom. 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
Angels are living in another realm but they too can appear as physical beings and they can disobey God (as obviously Satan did) which is sinning. When it comes to ”flesh”, it is something that is tied to human beings and animals (created on the sixth day) rather than angels who live in another habitat – even if angels temporarily can take the shape of human beings. The description of Jesus coming in the likeness of sinful flesh is therefore a good description when it comes to what Jesus did for us. He became flesh for our sake, and while ”flesh” is usually used in a negative way we naturally also need our physical bodies/flesh to do the good works which we are called to do.
Jesus suffered for us in the flesh, and the reason for this is because man has sinned, which he did in flesh. The description of Jesus becoming flesh:
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Phil 2: 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Heb. 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil
1 John 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
1 Pet. 4:1 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.3 For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries
Paul describes his choice between living on in the flesh (in his physical body) or to depart from this world into a permanent life with Christ:
Phil. 1:22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Jesus had no advantage over us when it comes to sin (he was tempted like we are) and this means that it is a false idea that human beings are born with a sinful nature and Jesus is not. None of us have a sinful nature, and we certainly cannot blame our bodies if we choose to sin. We have been promised that we will not be tempted beyond our ability to say no.
Heb. 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points TEMPTED LIKE AS WE ARE, yet without sin.
1 Cor. 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Paul explains further what it is to live in the flesh vs walking in the Spirit. He makes it clear, that if we choose to live in the flesh (which is the same as living in darkness or living ”in the world”) then we simply cannot please God. That would be impossible, for living in the flesh is the opposite of living after the Spirit. To be carnally minded (to live after the flesh) is death, but to live after the Spirit is LIFE. The choice is ours, and we have no excuse. Paul also provides examples of what it is to live after the flesh:
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, WHO WALK NOT AFTER THE FLESH, but after the Spirit.
Rom. 8:4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 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, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Gal. 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.17 For 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.18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
1 Cor. 6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
Rom. 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Since the flesh is weak we can make it easier for ourselves if we pray and become stronger spiritually.
Mat. 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:38)
In a way we must continue to live in our bodies and ”walk in the flesh” in this particular sense (continue to live in the world). In another sense we must avoid ”walking in the flesh” in the sense of giving in for temptations and sin (living in darkness).
2 Cor.2 But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ
1 Cor. 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
2 Pet. 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
The order based on James 1 is 1) lust, 2) temptation, 3) sin and 4) death. Not the other way around as many Calvinists would have you believe; where we start off being dead, and due to this predicament we sin due to our weak nature which is easily tempted.
Ja. 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The Bible does not say that having flesh is a sin, but rather breaking the commandments of God. Sin is transgression of the law, and God is naturally disappointed when we break his commandments which is all about disobeying him.
1 John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
What kind of transgression could it possibly be to have flesh? Why would this hurt or harm God? Would God be upset and disappointed each time someone is conceived and starts to develop flesh? No, the doctrine of the sinful nature is not Biblical. Read more about Romans 5 here.