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Old Self vs. Flesh

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Mark Maulding | IOM Staff Writer

The Old Self and the Flesh Are Not the Same

Another way Christians get confused is by incorrectly assuming the “old self” and a term called “the flesh” are the same. I will discuss “the flesh” in chapter 10, but let me define it briefly for now and distinguish between the two terms.

First, the term flesh in Scripture does not mean the human body in the majority of verses. Instead, the “flesh” is a spiritual term which means all the ways people use their bodies and personalities in sinful ways as a result of not depending on God. The term flesh represents all the ways people have learned to cope with life’s challenges apart from dependence on Christ. The flesh also means living as if we are separated from God though as Christians we united with him. In other words, living as if we aren’t Christians though we are Christians.

When people don’t have Christ in them, they live according to the flesh all the time. The reason is because the old self is 100 percent sinful and motivates them to develop patterns of the flesh.

As we’ve seen, Christians do not have the old self as their core identity. They have only the new self. Christians do have the flesh, but it can’t be the old self. As Christians, however, we can still live independently without relying on God. When we do, we live according to the “flesh.”

As a result of this confusion, we can misunderstand Scripture like Romans 7:17–18, thinking it is referring to the old self fighting against the new self, when it says, “So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (NASB).

If you believe the “old self” and the “flesh” are the same, you will immediately think these verses mean the old self is fighting against the new self. But that’s impossible since the old self is long gone. We still deal with the flesh, but it’s not the old self in us.

For an overview of the believer's identity in Christ. HERE