Are We Too Easy on Our Flesh?

Are We Too Easy on Our Flesh?

It’s not a message we hear too often from Christian pulpits today: You have to be harder on yourself! But, here’s what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Now, I’m not loving this translation! It’s TOO soft! I think the problem is that the translators aren’t sure what to do with it. The language is really strong! The ESV translators admit as much in the margin of the verse. They say, the Greek actually says, “I pummel my body and make it a slave.”

The Greek word translated “discipline” in the ESV (ὑπωπιάζω) literally means to give someone a black eye by striking him in the face![1] Figuratively, it means to “put under strict discipline, to punish, to treat roughly, to torment.”

So, the various translations really struggle to communicate the fulness of Paul’s idea here:

NIV: “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave …”

Berean Literal Translation: “I batter my body and bring it into servitude …”

GNT: “I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control …”

New Heart Bible: “I beat my body and bring it into submission …”

NAS77: “I buffet my body and make it my slave …”

King James 2000: “I roughly treat my body, and bring it into subjection …”

Weymouth NT: “I hit hard and straight at my own body and lead it off into slavery …”

These renderings range from paraphrases to dynamic translations to literal translations, but WOW! ‘I strike a blow, I batter, I harden with blows, I beat, I buffet, I roughly treat, I hit hard and straight’ – it’s all pretty rugged stuff, right?

Elicott says the phrase should be translated, “I bruise my body” and goes on to say, “The word is very strong, and implies to beat the flesh until it becomes black and blue. The body is spoken of as [Paul’s] adversary, or the seat of those lusts and appetites which “war against the mind” … [2]

Now, Paul’s obviously not talking about beating up his physical body; he’s talking about his flesh, his ‘old man,’ that part of him that wars against God’s Spirit.

So, what is he saying here? He’s saying, ‘I don’t cut my flesh ANY slack! I beat it up! I give my flesh no quarter!’

He goes on to say, I “make it my slave.” Paul argues that the flesh must not only be subdued, it must be taken captive! Do you know why? Here’s why, and please NEVER forget this: If we don’t make the flesh our slave, it will make us his!

The believer should never be led by our ungodly appetites; they should be led by us! Why? Because we already have a Master, Jesus Christ our Lord.

And, in the passage the apostle goes on to tell us why he’s so rough with his flesh. It’s really an amazing thing to consider!

Look at it in Kenneth Wuest’s Literal Translation: “But I beat my body black and blue and make it my abject slave lest somehow, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified [from further Christian service].”

Or, as The Amplified Bible renders it: “[I] subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit, not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit.”

Yeah. There are a lot of counterfeit Christians out there, Church.

Ever hear this from a ‘Christian’ discussing his or her sin: ‘Oh well, God knows my heart!’ Or how about this, ‘Oh well, that’s my flesh.’ Or this, ‘Nobody’s perfect!’ Or this, ‘Oh well, I can just confess it to God.’

Of course, you have, we hear people say things like this all the time so as to lighten the seriousness of their sin. But those are NOT the words of a mature Christian!

When Paul thought about his sins, he didn’t think ‘justify them,’

he thought ‘crucify them!’

He said, ‘I am crucified with Christ!’ He spoke of baptism as dying together with Christ (Romans 6:8). He said, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ” (Galatians 2:20).’ He said that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” And then he said, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25).

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save [try to preserve] his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

Mark this down: Every time we give our flesh a pass, we’re strengthening it and dishonoring the God who wants to crucify it.

“I don’t really have to obey God in this,” are the words of a follower of Balaam.

“I can always sin and then confess it,” are the words of a follower of the Nicolaitans.

“I am crucified,” are the words of follower of Jesus (see Revelation 2:14-15).

As long as we live in this house, it’s going to give us trouble. But, the Word of God stands firm: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

Let’s not go easy on our flesh, Christian! If we don’t make it our slave, it will make us his!


To consider …

  • Think of Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-35: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

According to these criteria, are you ‘coming after’ Jesus?

Which parts of your life are you trying to preserve, to keep back from God?

Are there areas of sin in your life that you’re more apt to justify than crucify?

  • Are you too easy on your flesh? Or do you treat it roughly, as Paul suggests?

Have you, with the Spirit’s help, taken it captive for Christ, made it your slave?

  • The fighting we’re talking about here is spiritual, for “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17).

It’s important to understand that we can’t fight spiritual battles in our own strength, but only in the Spirit’s power.

Paul wrote that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).

If you’re struggling in this area, ask the Lord to give you His strength for the battle. And remember, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you!” (Romans 8:11)

And “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57)


[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W., A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press., 2000) p. 1043.

[2] Ellicott’s Commentary, on 1 Corinthians 9:27.



  1. These are fightin’ words, and I love it. I love it, because left to my own without accountability they’ll be excuse, after excuse. But the fact of the matter is truth ,sometimes painful, I believe is the purest form of love. My mother shared these same words with me throughout her life; “If we don’t make the flesh our slave, it will make us his!” So when reading this blog, it brought back many memories of my mom and how she would direct me when she saw that I was going down a wrong path and reign me in. Another one of her favorite reminders was ; “it’s easy to do the wrong thing, but it takes courage to do the right thing”. Paul always has a way of using athlete analogies that describe a strict discipline and focus on the prize. My heart’s desire is to be more like Jesus, so I don’t want to take the easier soft way but will hold fast to the Word of God ask others to hold be accountable.

    • Amen, sister! I stand with you in a courageous expectation of God’s deliverance as we need it.

    • Karen Martel : April 25, 2018 at 5:32 pm

      What a great testimony to your mom, Amelia! Her godly words continue to ring in your ears and heart. That’s awesome! I pray that when others look at us (or remember our words) they will always see and heart Jesus, through us.

  2. Anne Brassard : April 25, 2018 at 9:35 am

    I have been doing battle with two things in my flesh this week. One is a people pleasing mentality that has led to resentment in an almost lifelong relationship. But I suspect the other person has no clue that this is the case. Rather than speak the truth in love, I have, and this is an excuse to not inflict confrontation, “let things go” over and over again. Now I am at the boiling point and the poor unsuspecting victim has no clue as to why. I am asking Jesus to reign in this relationship, not my own “I don’t want to hurt your feelings so instead I will build walls and destroy the relationship in time” flesh.
    The other thing is also linked to resentment in a way but is a situation that arises just when I think I have surrendered it. Yesterday I had 45 minutes in the car alone with God to examine this and he pointed out some pretty disappointing things in my thinking. In both of these situations I find myself gratifying my flesh because, let’s be honest, in the moment it feels good and self-righteous. This is what I need to remember as I work on these things…. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

    • You are not alone in the temptation to please others to the extent that we are at war within ourselves. God has taken me through a gradual journey of releasing others’ expectations to Him. If any relationship is going to thrive, Jesus must be the glue that binds our hearts as one. I will lift us both up to walk forward in His submission.

  3. Amen to all of the comments!

  4. Sanctification is a work of God. He is purifying me through the various trials he puts me through. My job is to endure the trial and praise God for being glorified in my life. I have been sober almost 29 years depending daily on the grace of God. I truly love these challenging messages that help me to see areas of my life that i may be serving my flesh and not the Lord

    • The phrase “keep short accounts with God” also means to keep short accounts with others, and more and more I am being challenged regarding my own thoughts, words, behaviors. God’s plan is for my good and growth, and he’s made the way by his spirit for me to deal with Sin, MY sin. He says “kill it”, address it until it is dead. Help me, Jesus.

  5. Amen what a blog and what challenging comments. Thank you all I am blessed to share this walk with you

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