It is called, “The Fight of the Century,” or “The Fight.” I remember it well. On March 8, 1971, the title boxing match between champion Joe Frazier (26-0, 23 KO’s) and challenger Muhammed Ali (31-0, 25 KO’s) took place at Madison Square Garden, New York City. At the end of Round 15, Frazier was announced World Heavyweight Champion by unanimous decision.
You might be wondering why boxing writers and historians call this “The Fight of the Century.” Well, Ali had already won the boxing title in 1964 when he defeated Sonny Listen. But he was stripped of the title by boxing authorities for refusing to enter the armed forces in 1967. In the late 60’s there was increasing unrest with the Vietnam War, racial tension, and political division. The fight between Frazier and Ali became symbolic of the unstable conditions of those days.
As Wikipedia describes it,
The fight held broader meaning for many Americans, as Ali had become a symbol of the left-wing anti-establishment movement during his government-imposed exile from the ring, while Frazier had been adopted by the conservative, pro-war movement. According to the 2009 documentary Thriller in Manila, the match, which had been dubbed “The Fight”, “gripped the nation, but also split it down the middle. If you were rooting for Ali you were black, liberal or young, against the Vietnam War and for the Civil Rights movement. If you backed Joe Frazier you were a representative of white, conservative America.” “Just listen to the roar of this crowd!” thundered Burt Lancaster, the play-by-play man. “The tension, and the excitement here, is monumental!”
Christians are involved in their own fight but it’s not “The Fight of the Century.” Rather, we could call it, “The Fight of a Lifetime.” It’s a bigger fight than the one between Frazier and Ali. Why? Because “The Fight of a Lifetime” is our struggle against the sins of the flesh. And if the sins of flesh win, we lose our chance to receive eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
Romans 8:6 says, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” (New American Standard Bible, NASB). Verse 13 says, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die…” This is not the death all of us must face in this mortal life (Hebrews 9:27). Rather, it is the second death at the time of Judgement that will come to those who are not saved in Christ, (Rev. 20:11-15).
Revelation 21:8 describes those who are of the flesh. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians also provides a long list of deeds that are of the flesh:
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God, (Galatians 5:19-21, New Living Translation, NLT).
The flesh is the enemy because it is hostile to God and his law (v. 7). Those who are of the flesh cannot please God (v. 8). The flesh is said to be the natural or carnal mind for it is the fallen nature of humans under the power of sin.
In his book, So Great Salvation, Charles Ryrie wrote,
What is carnality? According to the Greek dictionary, it means to have the nature and characteristics of the flesh (or more simply, it means “fleshly”). What, then , is the flesh? Sometimes it refers to the whole material part of man (1 Corinthians 15:39; Hebrews 5:7), and based on this meaning, carnal sometimes relates to material things like money (Romans 15:27) or to the opposite of our weapons of spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4). But the word “flesh” also has a metaphorical sense when it refers to our disposition to sin and to oppose or omit God in our lives. The flesh is characterized by works that include lusts and passions (Galatians 5:19-24; I John 2:16); it can enslave (Romans 7:25); and in it is nothing good (Romans 7:18). Based on this meaning of the word flesh, to be carnal means to be characterized by things that belong to the unsaved life (Ephesians 2:3).
As Romans 8:6 points out, the opposite of the flesh is the Spirit. The Spirit is life and peace—that is, it leads to everlasting life and peace when Christ comes to reward all those who are converted to him. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1). When we put on Christ through faith, repentance, and baptism, we begin a new life filled with the Spirit or Power of God. “And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of rightness. But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who indwells in you,” (Rom. 8:10-11; cp. 6:4; Rev. 21:6).
Every day, from the moment we take our first breath until the moment we take our last breath, that fight is going on between the flesh and the Spirit. Which one wins depends upon you and me. Some days the flesh might win one round and other days the Spirit may win another round. Our aim as believers is to grow in Spirit and, therefore, win more and more rounds against the flesh. Growing in the Spirit includes God’s grace and our knowledge of Christ.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen,” (2 Peter 3:18). God is gracious to forgive us of our sins and to help us put away those sins of the flesh by walking in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul said, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh,” Gal. 5:16; also, vss. 24-25). As we walk in the Spirit, “fruit of the Spirit” will be produced. This includes, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” (Gal. 5:22-23).
We’re all in “The Fight of a Lifetime.” But if we sow to the Spirit then from the Spirit we shall reap eternal life. But if we give in to the flesh, we shall also from the flesh reap corruption (Gal. 6:10). What a wonderful opportunity we have to strive for the goal of eternal life.
Here is a rap song that describes the struggle between the flesh vs. the Spirit with music by Casting Crowns, “Praise You in the Storm” based on passages from Psalms (click on the link):
Good News to YOU!