Crucifying the flesh, that which is more commonly known as dying to self, is a phrase often spoken by Christians with great enthusiasm.
It is a powerful Christian doctrine. It offers inner peace in exchange for the frustration we experience when we have yielded to the desires of our flesh.
Lack of peace is often proof of this truth. Lack of peace is a warning signal. Is the flesh in control?
It is not unusual for Christians to think that crucifying the flesh, or dying to self, means making decisions about such things as: Choosing between a new car or settling for a used car; or owning a house with a bedroom for each family member or owning one where you would have to “double up.” Another example might be the difference between going on a vacation that is prodigal or staying within a debt-free budget. Others might think it is deciding between going to the mission field, or staying home; or buying a set of Bible-study books instead of going to the church library.
However, I think we will be misled if we focus our thinking on what the “right answers” to all of those decisions are. The secret of a more consistent sense of victory over the flesh is found in refocusing our attention on something more important than the “proper” decision. The correct thinking and the real need is for us to examine the attitudes of our heart in everything we do or say.
For example, how many times can someone ask me the question, “What?” before I get impatient? How many times can someone in front of me, drive slower than I want to go, before I get upset? Is someone able to step in front of the TV more than once, when I am watching a program, without me reacting in a negative way? My inner reaction to these types of circumstances reveals if my flesh or the Spirit of God in my spirit, is in control of me.
Here is an essential life principle: All of the circumstances in a person’s life, on a “physical” level, are meant to serve the purpose of teaching that person “spiritual” truths (see Romans 8:28).
In the three preceding illustrations, each of my responses, if they are negative, teach me this spiritual truth: There are unChrist-like attitudes within my heart (or spirit). These unChrist-like attitudes within me are there because of “me-like” attitudes. They reveal areas wherein I have the need to die to me or crucify self.
Let me emphasize the need to focus our attention on attitudes within the heart (or spirit) rather than on physical circumstances, by examining the language of the Bible.
The words, “crucify the flesh,” are much more graphic in the Greek language. Crucify = staurόό: literally, to impale on a pole. Flesh = sarx: the meat (not including the spirit) of the body…excluding the skin. Literally applied this is a ghastly scene: Human meat, minus skin, impaled on a stick or pole.
God wants Christians to take on the nature of Christ, not to keep our own human nature. He wants us to learn how to examine life in light of the things that have eternal importance…to God. This is quite unlike modern culture, which encourages me to focus on the now and the what of what is important to me.
I think the language in Galatians 5:24 points out how unimportant and without eternal value the “physical flesh” of the human being is, to God. Our spiritual being is important to God. Anything which attempts to enhance or further our physical being is of little importance compared to that which crucifies the flesh and emphasizes the “spiritual, Christ-like being!”