"For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code."
- Romans 7:5-6 (ESV)
The early Church was viewed as very strange by the surrounding culture for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was the radical idea of "resisting the flesh." Near the end of Rome, carnal indulgence of all kinds had become the central focus of their culture. We often forget this context in our reading of Scripture. As such, abusive teachings which border on self-mutilation are often found in Christian communities as people feel shame just for... well... feeling. To "battle the flesh" is not supposed to a sign of evil, but rather of maturity.
The Flesh is NOT Evil, It is Weak and Untamed
"The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
- Matthew 26:41b
When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, they were not "being bad," they were sleeping. What better understanding of "the flesh is weak" than its need for sleep, rest, and fuel. Do you think Jesus was asking us to no longer be tired? Of course not, but the weakness of our flesh is something we struggle against always. If we did not, we would never grow.
A wild horse can be tamed if by a skilled hand. A feral dog can be housebroken under great care. These creatures are not evil, but they are dangerous. Likewise, our flesh is conditioned by the pain, fear, and desperation of the world around it. The impulses of the flesh are often violent and destructive, only creating more pain and fear. Therefore, we do not "give into it" but seek to tame it.
The "Struggle Against the Flesh" is NOT a Switch
Often the way the flesh is viewed in the Church is as a "light switch." We are either doing good or doing bad, being perfect or "living in sin." These two views are as absurd as thinking a bodybuilder will be ripped and strong every day he goes to the gym, and skinny and weak every day he misses it (kinda a funny picture though). When a person goes to the gym it is to submit their body to their will a little bit at a time, bit by bit, step by step. So is our journey.
Live With Determination But NOT Shame
If you think about a healthy lifestyle, the battle with the flesh is easy to put into perspective. In our immaturity, we feel compelled to eat junk food, rest often, and never push ourselves. There is nothing very appealing to the flesh when we first go to the gym, start a workout routine, or change our diet. However, as we fight to bring our bodies under our own will, we are greatly rewarded. Such is the same with all things.
We should not feel shame or guilt at the weaknesses, desires, or pulls of our flesh. Our flesh is not who we are, but who we are grows in our struggle to submit our flesh to our will. We also must acknowledge our weakness. No matter how fit you are, you must rest. No matter how disciplined you are, you must eat. To struggle against the flesh means we grow in our own usefulness, but ultimately it is a matter of degree. Those who preach denial of the flesh are crossing the line into self-mutilation and imprisoning people into shame.
Being hungry, tired, or horny are not "sins" and we need to stop seeing ourselves as "evil" for such things.
It is just common sense that those who "give into the flesh" are their own worst enemies. Without resistance, our impulses are self-destructive. It is just as common sense that our flesh part of who we are. To sleep is not to sin, but to never resist sleep will lead one into poverty, to never sleep will kill you. To eat without any restriction will kill you, but so will not eating. No person can tell another what their balance is. One person can lift five pounds and work to lift ten. Another person can lift fifty and works to lift a hundred. Our goal is not to judge, but to encourage and "spot" one another.
No More Shame
If you are struggling against your flesh, do not feel shame. You are on the right path. One who does not feel their arms burning is not building anything. One who does not feel their legs shake and grow weak is not going anywhere. To struggle with sexuality is the point, not necessarily to win. (Unless, of course, you are a eunuch) Of course, we all fail so often at controlling and disciplining that small part of the body which makes more impact on our life than any other… our tongue.