Is Man Totally Depraved or is Man's Flesh Totally Depraved? There's a Difference

"We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." (Is. 64.6)

The Boastings of the Flesh
The Spiritual Man, CFP, Vol. 1, Part 2 THE FLESH, Ch. 4, by Watchman Nee

The Other Side of the Flesh

DO THE WORKS of the flesh include only what we hitherto mentioned? Or are there other fleshly works? Is the flesh now inactivated under the power of the cross?

Up to this point what we have stressed has been the sins of the flesh which are the lusts of the human body. But our attention now needs to be drawn to another side of the flesh. You will recall we stated earlier that the flesh comprises the works of the soul as well as the lusts of the body. Thus far we have touched upon the body side only, leaving the soul side nearly unscathed. The believer, it is quite true, must rid himself of the defiling sins of the body, but he also needs to resist the works of his soul; for these are no less corrupt in the eyes of God than the sins of the body.

According to the Bible the works of the "flesh" are of two kinds (though both are of the flesh) : the unrighteous and the self-righteous. The flesh can produce not only defiling sins but also commendable morals: not only the base and the ignoble but the high and noble as well: not only sinful lust but good intention too. It is this latter side to which we must address ourselves now.

The Scriptures employ the word "flesh" to describe man’s corrupt nature or life which embraces soul and body. In the creative act of God soul is placed between spirit and body, that is, between what is heavenly or spiritual and what is earthly or physical. Its duty is to mingle these two, according each its proper place yet making them intercommunicative, that through such perfect harmony man ultimately may attain full spirituality. Unfortunately the soul yielded to temptation which arose from the physical organs, thus releasing itself from the authority of the spirit and embracing instead the control of the body. Soul and body accordingly were joined together to be flesh. Not only is the flesh "devoid of the spirit"; it also is directly opposed to the spirit. The Bible consequently asserts that the "flesh lusts against the spirit" (Gal. 5.17 literal).

The opposition manifested by the flesh against the spirit and against the Holy Spirit is two-fold: (1) by way of committing sin—rebelling against God and breaking the law of God; and (2) by way of performing good—obeying God and following the will of God. The body element of the flesh, full of sin and lust, naturally cannot but express itself in many sins, much to the grief of the Holy Spirit. The soul part of the flesh, however, is not as defiled as the body. Soul is the life principle of man; it is his very self, comprising the faculties of will, mind and emotion. From the human viewpoint the works of the soul may not be all defiled. They merely center upon one’s thought, idea, feeling, and like or dislike. Though these all are focused upon self, they are not necessarily defiling sins. The basic characteristic of the works of the soul is independence or self-dependence. Even though the soul side is therefore not as defiled as the body side, it nonetheless is hostile to the Holy Spirit. The flesh makes self the center and elevates self-will above God’s will. It may serve God, but always according to its idea, not according to God’s. It will do what is good in its own eyes. Self is the principle behind every action. It may not commit what man considers sin: it may even try to keep God’s commandments with all its power: yet "self" never fails to be at the heart of every activity. Who can fathom the deceitfulness and vitality of this self? The flesh opposes the spirit not just in sinning against God, but now even in the matter of serving Him and pleasing Him. It opposes and quenches the Holy Spirit by leaning upon its own strength without wholly relying upon God’s grace and simply being led by the Spirit.