In Romans 13:11–14, the apostle Paul turned his attention to end times, encouraging Christians to “to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (verse 11). With the end of the age in view, Paul concluded the segment with this summary: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14, ESV). Instead of wasting precious time satisfying lustful and selfish cravings, Paul roused believers to clothe themselves in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 4:22–24, Paul gave a strikingly similar exhortation to make no provision for the flesh: “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (NLT).
The “flesh” in Romans 13:14 refers to the physical, bodily aspects of a person as opposed to the immaterial soul or spirit. In Scripture, the flesh is often understood as the seat of sin and rebellion toward God.
The word for “provision” in the original language carries the idea of “thinking about what you will do in the event of something happening.” If we think about pleasing our flesh, we furnish the fuel to make it happen. It’s as though our thoughts gather the necessary provisions to move forward and act upon our lustful desires. Thus, “make no provision for the flesh” could be translated “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (NIV), “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT), or “forget about satisfying the desires of your sinful nature” (GW).
To make provision for the flesh is to expect to fail. It’s like an alcoholic who’s trying to stay sober but who tucks away a little liquor in a secret stash, “just in case.” He’s making provision for the flesh and will likely fail to remain sober. In a similar way, those who seek to live godly lives must identify their stumbling blocks and remove them.
Believers are to live and behave like Jesus Christ did. To do this, we must put fleshly thoughts out of our minds. Scripture explains that the battle over sin is fought in the mind (Romans 7:21–25). The apostle Peter urged the early disciples “to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Sinful thinking influences our behavior to the point of gratifying the cravings of our flesh (Ephesians 2:3). When we dwell on sin, we follow its desires.
Scripture emphasizes the incredible power of the thought life. Making no provision for the flesh requires taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). How do we do this? By guarding our hearts and thinking about worthy things: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Colossians 3:1–2 suggests making no provision for the flesh as follows: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (NIV).
As new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), “we have the mind of Christ,” said Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14. In Philippians 2:5, he taught Christians to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” The mind of Christ is made known to believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:12–15; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11–13). As we yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading, we are transformed by the renewal of our minds and can better discern the will of God (Romans 12:1–2).
Paul told the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). We make no provision for the flesh when we live in obedience to God and His Word and “keep in step with the Spirit” by crucifying “the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24–25). The only way to experience real abundant life in the Spirit is to die to the flesh: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12–13).