Appendix A: The flesh

In this section we will explore the meaning of, and difference between ‘need,’ ‘desire,’ ‘lust,’ ‘flesh’ and ‘temptation’ in great detail. Great detail is needed for this topic because it is a fundamental topic. If we have a wrong understanding of what these terms mean then we will go astray in many other important doctrines. Great detail is also needed because there are many wrong definitions for these terms floating around – definitions that lead to serious error.


Man is a created being. God did not create man as a self-sufficient being. Consequently, man has needs. A need is something that enables man to live or enables man to live well.

There are two kinds of needs: essential needs, and non-essential needs. Essential needs are those without which man will die. Air, food, water and sleep are examples of essential needs. Non-essential needs are those that are not needed for staying alive but enhance the quality of life. They may also have other functions. For example, sex, approval, affection and honor are non-essential needs. Sex also serves to propagate the human race. Both these types of needs are not involuntary (like the need for the heart to beat) – they must be satisfied by action on our part.


When our body senses that we need something it causes us to experience a desire. For example, when our body senses that it needs food it causes us to experience hunger - which is nothing but a desire for food. Desires are our body’s way of communicating our needs to us.

A desire in itself is neither good nor bad. There are two ways for us to satisfy that desire - a legitimate way, and an illegitimate way. The legitimate way is to satisfy the desire at the God-appointed time and by the God-appointed method. The illegitimate way is to satisfy it at the wrong time or by the wrong method, or both. God’s laws define the God-appointed time and the God-appointed method for man to satisfy his needs.

In the case of hunger, the wrong time would be when the Spirit of God is urging you to fast and pray, and the wrong way would be to steal someone else’s food.

Lust and temptation

Lust (noun) is the urge (or thought) that suggests to you that you should satisfy the desire in an illegitimate way. If there is no law then there cannot be an illegitimate way and hence there cannot be a lust. For a lust to be present there has to be a desire for something, and a law that prohibits satisfying the desire under certain circumstances, and there has to be the occurrence of those circumstances.

This process whereby the lust comes to the mind via a thought is called temptation. In the words of James, temptation is the enticement and carrying away of our thoughts by our lust (Jas 1:14,15).

Jas 1:14-15 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

If you are not capable of being aware of a particular law of God then you cannot experience the lust to violate that law. Therefore, you cannot experience temptation in that area. Therefore, you cannot sin in that area because you cannot sin unless you are tempted. That is an implication of what Jas 1:14,15 says – only when lust has conceived you have sinned.

Lust (verb) is when you decide to satisfy the desire in the illegitimate way. This is the conception of the lust (noun), at which point you have sinned (Jas 1: 14,15).

Let us explore Jas 1:14,15 a bit more.

"By his own lust" implies that each of us have lusts. Lusts are within us. They are not external to us. An external event or our perception of an external event may trigger our lust, but the lust is within us.

"Carried away and enticed by his own lust" tells us what a lust is, or more specifically, what it can do – it can carry us away (or take focus of our thoughts) and entice us (i.e. draw us to seeking pleasure).

"Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" tells us that temptation comes through our lusts. Since the Bible describes no other mechanism for temptation this must be the only way that we are tempted – through our lusts. Without lusts there can be no temptation. Having lusts is a requirement for temptation. One who does not have lusts cannot be tempted – at least not in the way that we are tempted.

Since Adam and Eve were tempted (Gen 3:6) we can conclude that they must have had lusts through which the temptation came. Also, since Jesus was tempted like we are (Heb 4:15) He too must have had lusts.

"When lust has conceived it gives birth to sin" clearly implies that the mere presence of the lust does not mean sin. It has to conceive before the action is considered as sin. Conception happens when we decide to go ahead and satisfy our desire in an illegitimate way.

Being enticed and carried away but our lusts is temptation – not sin. Those who say that lusts are only evil desires and therefore sinful when they pop up in our mind are contradicting Jas 1:14 which tells us that the purpose of lusts is to tempt us to do evil.

"Once sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" means that once we have sinned we suffer the consequences of sin, which is death. Note that the death is immediate, not delayed. The implication is that the wages of sin is spiritual death (a separation of our spirit from the Spirit of God), not physical death because we know from experience that we don’t die physically when we sin.

We are tempted when we are carried away and enticed by a lust (Jas 1:14). It happens in this way: a thought enters our mind, demanding that we derive pleasure in a certain way, even though deriving such the pleasure in that way is against God’s law. The thought may be stimulated by what we see, hear, smell, touch or taste, or it may just come out of nowhere (for example, a thought may enter demanding that we wish evil for a person who has hurt us). We may either ignore the thought or consider the thought. If we ignore it, it may not come again, or it may come again, and again, and again, until we are forced to consider it consciously. What it does depends on how we have reacted to it in the past. If we have consistently ignored it in the past it may not come again at all, or may come, but with less intensity. If we have given in to the pleasure demanded by it, it demands for satisfaction more strongly. If we consider it consciously, we have two choices, do what it demands and experience the pleasure that results in the action, or refuse to do what it demands and suffer through the discomfort that results. The choice we make at this point determines whether we have sinned or not.

If we do what the lust demands (in the example above, we actually wish that evil may happen to the person who hurt us) then we have allowed the lust to conceive, and the result of that conception is that we have sinned (Jas 1:15).

If we refuse to do what the lust demands (in the example above, we refuse to wish that any evil happen to the person who hurt us) then we do not sin but have overcome the temptation. The discomfort we experience because we have refused to satisfy the lust is called suffering in the flesh (1 Pet 4:1,2) or dying to the flesh (Rom 6:7) or walking in the newness of life (Rom 6:4) or being crucified in the flesh (Rom 6:6).

The word ‘lust’ (verb) has also been used in the Bible as a synonym for ‘desire’. The sense of its use as a ‘desire’ is that of ‘wanting’ or ‘willing’, and not in the sense of ‘an urge to satisfy a need in an illegitimate way’. In the Bible, the word ‘lust’ (verb) has been used to indicate a desire for something good (for example, Jesus earnestly desired (lusted) to have the Last Supper with the disciples) and a desire for something bad. Most of the time it has a bad connotation. In that sense it is an evil desire, or more accurately, a desire (or urge) to do evil.

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