When Paul Said “Our Flesh,” Could He Have Literally Meant Our Flesh?

“Ted, you do not have a spiritual problem. You are spiritually strong,” said the lead therapist of a team of counselors who met with me in 2006. My goal in being there was to determine why I struggled with an incongruent issue in my life.

“You test in normal ranges on all of our tests. You are mentally and emotionally healthy,” he continued, “your ability to reason is substantial. If your struggle was spiritual or rational, you would have settled this long ago. But it is neither of those – it’s physiological.”

The doctor continued, “You experienced a traumatic incident when you were a child that you have never addressed. That trauma conflicts so much with who you are, your faith, culture, commitments, and relationships, that you have ignored it until now. But now it’s demanding expression. That’s why you thought it was spiritual. It was so contrary to everything you stand for, you couldn’t imagine it being part of who you are. But it is. It’s physical, and we know how to work with it. You’ll go through trauma resolution therapy while here. It will force your brain to deal with an incident in your life that you’ve resented for over 40 years. Once this is integrated, it will effectively give you relief, and as time passes, that relief will be progressive. This will be an answer to your prayers.”

This conversation changed my life. It gave me the explanation I needed to go forward because it explained so many things Paul said about himself, and it clarified my own growth process in Christ.

I had been confused in 2006 about the events that transpired because I was sincere in my beliefs and commitments, and at that time I thought my sincere devotion was enough to help me overcome anything. I was not a hypocrite or a manipulator. I sincerely loved God, the Scriptures, and the Church. But I struggled with unwanted, intrusive thoughts and compulsions that kept me from fully being the man I wanted to be. When my sins became public in 2006, I readily resigned, confessed, repented, and submitted to church authority. My goal was to grow in sanctification.

Since that time, I’ve become even more convinced that we can do everything Christ wants in our lives if we’ll take responsibility to pursue him at any cost. In my case, it’s been costly, but my prayers have been and are being answered.

So why do we do the things we do? As committed Christians, we hope that all of our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and words are a reflection of Christ’s lordship in our lives. But we human beings are growing and developing, knowing that we’ll only be perfected one the day when we see Jesus face-to-face. But in the meantime, as Paul said, we have opportunity to renew our minds.

Renewing our minds involves neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to structurally change. I think this is the dynamic Paul addressed when he told us to think on certain things (Philippians 4:8), to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), and to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). In other words, we must overcome the natural tendency in our minds that motivates behaviors that are not congruent with our Christian call (Romans 7:14-25, Galatians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 12:7).

For over 2,000 years, Bible scholars have struggled with Paul’s use of the Greek word “sarx” in his writings. This Greek word has been traditionally translated into English as “flesh,” and in some newer translations the “old sin nature.” Both of these translations are, of course, accurate and helpful. But now, with our developing understanding of how brain physiology impacts our lives, the word “sarx” takes on a new depth of meaning.

In Romans 8, Paul exhorts us to be dominated by the Holy Spirit as opposed to our “flesh” or “old sin nature.” Due to advances in neural science, we now understand how biblical references to our minds can improve our brains, and thus transform our lives. Our brains are repositories of natural thinking, survival instincts, unforgiveness, trauma, and fear. They physically store the portion of our lives that we Christians want to crucify in order to live a stronger Christian life. Our minds, our brains, can be rewired so our lives can be transformed. When Christ fills us with his life by his Word and Spirit, our old sin nature and our new nature in Christ conflict. But the potential for transformation is the reality that the Bible encourages, and now we are beginning to understand how that works.

Could it be that Paul meant EXACTLY what he wrote, and that we can, in fact, be transformed in every area of our lives by the renewing of our minds? I’ll write more about this in the future and explain the renewal Christ has given me.

 

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31 thoughts on “When Paul Said “Our Flesh,” Could He Have Literally Meant Our Flesh?

  1. Bob Spurgin says:

    Thank you for sharingTed. I give a big Amen!

    From: The Pastor’s Pen To: bob_spurgin@yahoo.com Sent: Saturday, October 24, 2015 10:30 AM Subject: [New post] When Paul Said “Our Flesh,” Could He Have Literally Meant Our Flesh? #yiv4363666855 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv4363666855 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv4363666855 a.yiv4363666855primaryactionlink:link, #yiv4363666855 a.yiv4363666855primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv4363666855 a.yiv4363666855primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv4363666855 a.yiv4363666855primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv4363666855 WordPress.com | tedhaggardblog posted: ” “Ted, you do not have a spiritual problem. You are spiritually strong,” said the lead therapist of a team of counselors who met with me in 2006. My goal in being there was to determine why I struggled with incongruence in my life. “You te” | |

  2. Michelle Stahl says:

    This is AWESOME!!!! Not what you have had to go through as a child or as an adult but I am so thankful and happy you are the brave man that has always loved Jesus and are talking about this. Thank you for being so brave and loving and following Jesus as always which I can’t imagine hasn’t been easy. You and Gayle inspire me every single day and I hope to learn more of what you have learned through these trials in your lives.

  3. Steve says:

    I’ve heard it called the memory center–that part of our ‘soul’–mind will and emotions–through which EVERYTHING passes before we make any conscious thought, sound or action. Too often it’s in that ‘memory center’ where the enemy has a hook that can be used to precipitate thoughts and actions that certainly confuse us and often cause guilt and anxiety. The Holy Spirit desires to clean that memory center through forgiveness and the renewal of our mind. It’s an ongoing discovery in our own life but also in the ‘Church’. Thanks Ted for sharing. How many people could be free of the burdens they carry if they could grasp this and run with it?

  4. Jenn Banas says:

    Very interested! Looking forward to hearing more. Have you read any of Dr. Aiko Hormann’s teaching/research on neuroplasticity and inviting the supernatural into the brain? She is a brain scientist who teaches on this very topic; very compelling!

    • Yes, I am reading Dr. Hormann’s work and the work of many others. There is so much coming out right now, so we have a class every Sunday night at St. James integrating all these ideas and delighting as we see them in the Scriptures. It’s exciting and liberating.

      • Jenn Banas says:

        Would you mind please listing some other recommended reads for me on this topic besides Dr.Hormann?

  5. Udechi says:

    Thank you so much, Pastor Ted. I can’t wait to read more of all your writings. And, may the good Lord continue to bless and use you for the Body of Christ. We all need you and whatever you have to say!
    Remain blessed,
    Udechi Chukwu, Full-Life Christian Assembly, NYC, USA

  6. When I wrote CrossRoads: A Journey of Purpose and, Journeys:The Adventure Begins, I wanted to teach the science behind changing our thinking, which for most of us is a major roadblock in how why don’t experience a high quality of life.

    I agree that we become so focused with the spiritual aspect of our life that we ignore the laws of nature which actually work to help us become transformed. Many people are in the dark ages in terms of how we can be transformed, because they think that if they can’t spiritualize everything, it must be carnal or evil. God created these laws, so how can they be bad?

    When I start off with CrossRoads, I always ask the question: What is the most important thing? Most people say love, family, faith etc. The answer is actually, What I learn. If we don’t learn HOW to correct unhelpful thinking (the science of how our bodies and mind work), then we may spend an entire lifetime trying to pray away sin, bad habits and behaviours when really what we need is a few easy techniques (provided by science), to resolve these problems.

    Love the article and your class. I can guarantee that people will be liberated from lifelong “sin” and experience healing allowing them to finally move onto the WHY God has created them, PURPOSE!

    #Day2#CrossRoads#Purpose

  7. Mary says:

    I was disappointed when the writing stopped! Looking forward to hearing you expound further on this topic. This is “the” issue for way more than the church would ever want to believe. Keep allowing the Lord to use you Pastor Haggard.

  8. Steve Yahn says:

    Thank you, Pastor Ted, for your willingness to share your life experience with us, and for being so transparent and courageous about it. If anyone follows the teachings of the Word they will be blessed and experience transformation, but it’s always been helpful to me to have a deeper insight into why things happen and work the way that they do. This is good information for anyone seeking a closer walk with God. Thanks, and many blessings!

  9. Justin Smith says:

    I believe that the devil knows this about our minds. He uses certain cues and experiences to trigger unwanted thoughts. I constantly ask the Lord to get the devil out of my head right when I realize it is happening. My hope is that if the pathways to those thoughts would grow weak and eventually die out.

    • Prayer is always helpful, but God has shown us how to do this. It’s really not mystical, but practical. There are lots of book available on the subject, or you can watch my blogs and I’ll show you how to get these prayers answered.

      • Udechi says:

        Pastor Ted, I think everyone is eagerly waiting for more from you on this issues. Can’t wait to be equipped the more. Thanks

  10. Mark says:

    Thanks Pastor Ted for sharing about what you learned and have applied from those days nine years ago. You have first hand experience of what God can do in renewing and transforming minds, thoughts, attitudes and actions. You have always known what your calling is and to be where you are today show’s the incredible love, mercy and grace that our God gives to each of us. What a testimony you are!!!

  11. Amanda says:

    I have found this concept fascinating as I am studying Clinical Psychology in graduate school and have seen the science behind this to be true. And I really have enjoyed the incorporation of Glasser’s Reality and Choice Therory. And your integration of the Word is the best part – it ties it all together. I have suffered many physical and emotional traumas in addition to more traumatic brain injuries than can even be counted. So I’m excited to see where this class takes me! Ready to sour to new heights! 🙂

  12. Tiko says:

    Thanks Pastor Ted…I believe that this type of teaching is WELL overdue in the Body of Christ…I am extremely grateful that you are offering a class, that combines scriptures with science, psychology, physiology, etc…I look forward to Part II of this blog; so I guess this conversation is “to be continued”.

  13. Rhonda Walter says:

    I so appreciate you using your experiences and being so transparent to help others. These classes on renewing your mind are really helping me figure many things out about myself. It isn’t about digging into the past but about realizing events in our lives do shape so many aspects in our life both good and bad.

  14. Galen Burson says:

    Thought inspiring for sure. Amazing how our bodies work and I’m reminded how athletes use practice and repitition to grow and develop muscle memory to keep them going, and when you develop bad habits you have to work harder to overcome and replace that bad habit with a good one. Similar concept that I’m looking forward to using!

  15. Collin Scheer says:

    This was a great read, thanks Pastor Ted! I love the correlation between scripture and science. I’m currently writing an empirical report on the power of thought in athletics. I was inspired to write on this topic as it is something I deal with everyday as college athlete. A quote that stuck out to me was from sports psychologist Kieth Henschen, who said, “performance is 95% physical and 5% mental; but the 5% mental rules the 95% physical.” Not only do I find this statement fascinating, but something that can be further attributed beyond the realm of athletics and to life. The mind is so powerful, and it is often where we fight our biggest battles. It’s reassuring to know that Christ offeres renewal of our minds. As Pastor Stephen Furtick wrote, “. . .overpower the lies of the enemy with the promises of God;” it is evident that God does not indent for us to remain trapped by the lies the devil wants us to believe about ourselves. There’s so much to be learned about the brain, and I’m excited to see how science and faith will continue to come together. Again, thanks for post Pastor Ted.
    -Collin

  16. Randy W says:

    Excellent insights Ted and also from many of the ones replying. My take is that this is not just theory. I have been your friend through the troubles of 2006. Your life has changed deeply. It is a remarkable testimony to the simplicity and transforming power of what you say. Those who over-spiritualize the process of sanctification sometimes do so to rationalize their own lack of victory.

  17. Sean says:

    The insights you shared met me where I am today, and the journey God has set me on in recent weeks, or dare I say recent years. As a “high-functioning” person according to my therapists at the VA, they suggested that no one knew, and I didn’t know there was a problem. Of course, I kept it deep inside. Hating my sin, fearful of what others would think if I had such an ugly side, and fearful of being identified by that alone, I suffered. Oh, how I suffered. My thinking was so stuck on the sin. The renewing of my mind and begging to really believe that “He causes ALL things to work together for good for them that love the Lord” gave me enough hope to step away from the fear that crippled me, destroyed relationships, and kept me from achieving a fraction of what God had given me the talent to do. Joseph Prince sermons I’ve recently listened to had me saying “Ya! That’s me!” when he said “Did you ever wonder why some of the most talented, successful, brilliant people go and do something completely out of character…..?” I was driving from Dallas to Austin with an additional 2 hour weather delay and kept listening to the same teaching because one time was not enough. This was the key. This is the answer to the question I’ve been asking for years! And at 42, the guilt and condemnation had deep roots and were readily keeping me from really pursuing the answer. I’d man up, repent, go forward with more determination than ever….then falter, doing the same thing, thinking the same thing of myself after, and be worse off than before really. As I’ve allowed light to shine and others to know about the dark side of me I swore would go to the grave with me, fear has had less control. As He has gently, steadily, and faithfully woo’d me to let Him renew my mind(which is where every problem I’ve lived with sank all my boldest determination….OH the enemy within!) there has been such a change! Hallelujah! He has kept His word again and again! He’s kept His word that I am a new creature in Christ, that the flesh cannot last out against the Spirit, and that He can do more than I ever could ask or imagine. My determination and devotion to Him were not enough. His word was. The older I got, the more I feared the concrete was setting harder and the less I would be able to change. The plasticity of the minds He created in us, and the power of the Holy Spirit have indeed (miraculously to me) proven that He doesn’t tell us to do anything that cannot be done. When Paul said we were to renew our minds, for years I fell into depression seemingly hopeless, certainly despairing with each new effort, that my mind and life were losing the battle to something in me I could not eradicate. When I first ventured into the VA years ago, believing my issues were born of my service, the wonderful young doctor doing her residency said “You have complex PTSD, because your mind was deeply affected by repeated trauma as a child.” She let me know that as all of that came to light and had one last “expression”, it would hurt, but it wouldn’t be able to hurt me anymore like it had while it was repressed and still living a life wreaking havoc inside of me. I speak of the profound changes and for so long wished that the months in the VA, reading, writing, talking about what all had happened had made me 100% better. For certain, I am so much better. Still, my mind was stuck in old ways. While better, still not renewed. Crying out to God this year “Why am I still failing in career success?!? Why?? Why, when I am constantly told by my peers, who enjoy great success, that I should be far ahead of them if talent were the yardstick Lord?” And He heard my cry. Make no mistake about it, I sought answers on my own, dug deep, read and read and read, journaled and sought to find the problems in me. And the demolition was not without merit. Yet, renewing the mind is different than just hunting down the bad and removing it as your blog, and several other believers have more-than-coincidentally pointed a light on recently. Because our God is faithful, He has shown up, stayed close, and used science(the Nature He created) to reveal to me, not unlike you, that physiologically is where a trauma(numerous for me) during the developmental years had wired me such that I struggled. Though never conscious of it, I was internally refusing to hear that there was anything wrong with me. I heard that message thousands of times growing up, and as an adult would have none of it, joining the Navy, moving thousands of miles away, and becoming a perfectionist of perfectionists just to be free of that forever. I was determined and I was furious for being called “bad” for the things that happened TO me growing up. It is easy to imagine how my own sins gave me even less escape. Though of a mindset to live a life of honor and integrity I had never seen, my mind, aiming for the highest, was also the place that harbored wiring so convoluted I would never allow anyone to know what was up there. Come to find out I wasn’t so diabolical. I sincerely thought I was because it opposed what I believed and sincerely loved, and strove to be. As simple as it may sound, one of the things I hid was depression. So many people looked to me for hope and inspiration, that I thought I could never let anyone know I was being beaten into the ground by depression. For years, no one knew I wasn’t a happy, in-charge, go-getting motivational speaker. In fact, more than a few encouraged me to become one. Or even to become a life-coach. Each time I laughed it off on the outside, hearing the voice on the inside “if they only knew.”
    Now I rejoice. What has seen the light of day no longer has me in bondage. And day by day, He really is faithful and has shown me that His Word is true that as I renew my mind, life-giving relationships, life-giving employment, and life-giving thoughts can abound in me, resulting in life-giving choice and life-giving habits.
    I thank God for the journey He has accompanied you and Gayle on these years. He really does cause all things to work together for good for them that love Him.

  18. Les says:

    Thank you Pastor Ted for your willingness to share from your struggle, with purpose to bring healing and hope to all who will listen.
    Your ability to communicate truths I have not found elsewhere. I have both a deeper and broader understanding of scripture and life because of you. You are a man after God’s own heart. You constant smile helps keep us going the extra mile 🙂

  19. rtegtmeier says:

    Ted. Your blog is right on! Childhood trauma produces actual physiological brain changes including a recalibration of the brain’s alarm system. Three new branches of science have confirmed this truth. These new disciplines are neuroscience, developmental psychopathology, and interpersonal neurobiology. The good news is that the brain can be rewired back to the way God created it in the first place and many of us are experiencing this renewal. Good preaching! Richard

  20. lonnacapaci says:

    Begging… half in jest, half in sincerity… you to NOT hold this valuable information from us. Reading this entry from you was like Hansel and Gretel finding the bread on the path indicating they were indeed going in the right direction. I’ve pondered the renewing of my mind, taking every thought captive and what things to think on for a long time. All of those lovely words of advice and promise, shining in bright contrast to the dark, discouraging, insulting and may I add UNINVITED thoughts I struggle with. Like both yourself and Sean, I struggle mightily against these thoughts, desperately hoping for that break through, you know, the one that puts an end to the thoughts.

    I believe (and I may be wrong… it’s just my belief) that part of the renewing of the mind is the work that Christ must do in us to undo all that we’ve learned in the flesh as human. Or change how we think. We learn as infants and children that we must ask for things and say please and thank you with the right tone at the right time, He invites us to come and accept all that He as to offer us no matter how we look, smell or how we ask. We are taught that if we make messes… we get to clean them up. He says if we make a mess, He won’t abandon us, but will come into the mess and help us not only clean it up, but if we’re willing, learn how not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Interesting to me is the fact that he allows us to be influenced and shaped by imperfections before we learn of His perfection, Something that eludes my understanding but yet I find fascinating, is that through the process a very deep interactive relationship is developed, nurtured and grown. He allows me repeatedly to get to a place where I am absolutely stymied spiritually and then He (usually within 24 hours of me feeling as though I could lose the mind He’s given me) provides the next clue, or hint as to where I need to go, the step I need to take. And this can be after a week or 2 of complete spiritual angst. I don’t know whether He’s testing to see if I’m sincere in my desire or if He knows that it’s just not the right time for me to learn what He needs to teach me.. that my heart isn’t quite there. That I’ve exhausted it all… and really exhausted it all. That I’ve learned (as Sean said) my determination and devotion to Him are not enough. His Word was and is. And He’s right in that. I have to keep learning …. it’s not me, it’s Him. It’s not my love for Him, it’s His love for me, it’s not my devotion to Him, it’s His to me, it’s not my efforts and attempts, it’s what He’s completed in me and for me. I’m very excited about this journey, this insight He has led me to, the deeper walk He’s drawing me to, leading me to.

    I also believe the constant self loathing I struggle with is probably attached to a lie that was planted very young. Being the daughter of a missionary there were many unspoken and spoken expectations put upon me. Be, do and act how they want you to, not how you really feel, think or want to act. After all,that sweet moola that supported us every month, came from “them”. When molested by visiting missionaries, it was all very “hush-hush” lest we lose face, and monetary support. I understand the need for that was based on fear of losing money, or risking embarrassment, but sadly enough also evidence their faith wasn’t in God, it was only in who was supporting them. Also evidence of minds not renewed.

    I want that to stop with me. In my family. I want to be the formable, shapeable clay on the Potter’s wheel. The moldable plasticity in His hands.

    Why, oh, why isn’t it enough to just want it!!???

    Hurry, Ted, hurry. Share, teach, let us in the classroom. Save me a front row seat.

  21. A very useful article, and I look forward to reading more. I can most certainly relate to the conversations with your doctor. A lot of physical illness of late, yet I remain spiritually well – so how much worse could my physical life be without my ‘spirituality’ and my ‘faith’ ? And yes, I have to give both over to God – as a rarely used expression these days has it, ‘take it all to the foot of the cross.’ God, s/he will do it!

  22. Evelyn Alba says:

    Ted, you are “spot on” with what you have just shared and are sharing in the “Retrain the Brain” sessions! We are created with spiritual, emotional, behavioral and thought needs. Becoming a Christian at 35 meant I had a lot of world under my belt. Often, when hanging with folks who grew up in a Christian home, I realized how shielded their minds were from many things I encountered (and sought out). My prayer had been, “Holy Spirit, please renew my mind and fill it with pure thoughts.” Right now I ask for help with the Three T’s in my life: Temper, Tongue and Thoughts – getting better but guess what, God (my Daddy) loves me just as I am! I AM FREE!!! How and Why? Short version: God loves me (it is a given), I love God (my choice to accept His love and love Him back), I love me (because I am beloved by my Abba), and I love others (can love everyone because I love me). Check it out
    Mark 12:29-31. Jesus Himself tells us to love God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Goes on to say love your neighbor as yourself. Do you?

  23. Evelyn Alba says:

    Clarification. “Do you?” was meant for the readers of the Blog; because, Ted, I know you get how God loves us as we are.

  24. Lisa says:

    We are fearfully, incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully, complexly made. Like my sister said, I am fascinated with this part of psychology and love to see how these “new findings” in science have already been written about long ago. The Bible and science go hand-in-hand; its nice to see some hard evidence to go along with our walk of faith.
    Your life is proof and a witness to the creative power of God. Even through the struggles and heartache, the gifts of God are called without repentance. Some people need to hear that when they’re feeling defeated–and others need to hear it when they’re feeling judgmental!

    I tell people “I actually look forward to going to church now”! I haven’t experienced a church like this or a pastor like you. I think you’re kinda cool. 😉

  25. Tolu Fakolade says:

    I ve always belive that the big elephant in the room in today’s xtian ministry is the huge gap between theology and psychology. Thank you for bringing more clarity to the subject.

  26. Juanita Johnson says:

    Interesting! Complicated! We are wonderfully and fearfully made! We will never truly understand the depth of the law of sin and death -flesh-sin -the law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:1-2 – it is a lifetime of the pursuit of understanding! The older I get I stand in awe and ask God -“what is man that you are so mindful.” God knows something we can never perceive here on this planet Pastor Ted. -the Lord bless you!
    Love
    Pastor Juanita

  27. David Bowser says:

    Thank you Ted for sharing your journey and helping so many Christ followers come to awareness of recent understanding on healing from trauma. I have had a somewhat similar journey and am SO relieved to come to understand how many small traumas over time impacted my brain and my life. I am also SO thankful to have found a therapist who doesn’t waste time with the talk therapy that I tried to find help from for so many years but applies modern approaches that bring dramatic results.
    One resource that has been especially helpful is https://www.impactministries.com/bible-based-eft/
    Keep sharing and lifting the veil and confusion that locks so many into their frustration and harmful behaviors. So grateful that Jesus is in the work of ‘Setting the captives free’.

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