In the context of the New Testament, I think of ‘the flesh’ as ‘that which is passing away or under the authority of that which is passing away.’ That’s general vibe I get from Paul’s usage of the word ‘flesh’ in his letters to the various churches. Because our flesh, the physical body, ages and dies it is passing away. It is fair to note that this dying happens because of the system of sin functioning in mankind. Thus, ‘flesh’ becomes an appropriate catchall term for things, ways, and systems that are not eternal or, even more, under the governance of the sin system.
The usage of the word ‘flesh’, therefore, is not an indictment of that substance but a distinction about authority. Is (fill in the blank with any particular thought, feeling, idea, ect.) under the authority of things that are passing away, or under the authority of the Spirit?
One reason that I make the distinction about substance versus authority is that it would be easy to condemn particular components of a human being rather than seeking their redemption. How many an overweight Christian says, “This ol’ body’s just gonna pass away anyhow”? It’s good to have perspective about what’s eternal and what’s not, but when you remove the hollow shell of doctrinal statements, what you find is a day-to-day life crippled by that sort of compartmentalized thinking. In my own personal experience in Christian circles, one thing I hear about is how we shouldn’t put much trust in feelings. The concerns are valid, but instead of amputating the afflicted part of the soul, we should be reclaiming what was stolen from us. The vision should be focused on victory not reactive, defensive survival. We who are in Christ are not reactive, we are proactive. The identity always was, always is, and always will be, and the victory is already set. With reaction, there isn’t so much a pure identity as there is a relative identity: instead of being something, you’re just not-this-other-thing. In my mind, many christian denominations are a fine example of this phenomenon. The thing about many of these theologies is that they don’t exist because of some absolute truth, but because they are the product of a response or reaction to another theology. The theology doesn’t stand by itself, it only exists because of, and is defined by, what preceded it. It is thus, by nature, retrospective, stuck looking back, and is therefore blind to what’s ahead and bound to crash. If you’re in that reaction mode, then you’re probably stuck looking back, at past hurts, past failures, and therefore blind to what’s ahead. How can you make decisions about the future if your mindset is defined by what is past and what is passing away?