The Spirit and the Flesh
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Gal 5:16-26 (English Standard Version)
Sanctified by the Spirit of God
In the above Scripture we are presented with a dichotomy of action and behaviour. On one side of the equation is the “flesh” and on the other the Spirit. So how do we understand this relationship, and how does it apply to the Christian life? This passage is very similar to others in the New Testament, and especially to text in Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapters 6, 7 and 8). Now let’s dig a little deeper and see what can be uncovered from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Paul explains that we have the desires of the “flesh” on one hand, and the desires of the Spirit on the other. Next he presents us with a list of the works or fruit of each. From this we can see that desires produce actions. In other words, desires manifest themselves with particular patterns of behaviour – on one side there is “good” behaviour and on the other “bad”. Paul outlines the two opposing “forces” at work in a Christian’s life. So how should a Christian understand this situation where these two “forces” are battling each other in their quest for control and dominance?
One thing for sure, because these two “forces” are actively working within us to control us we are not free to choose our own destiny or lifestyle (Gal 5: 17 ESV). We Christians have either the flesh or the Spirit influencing us and motivating our thoughts and behaviour. (Please note that I am not saying the Spirit is a force. He is God.)
The solution to this dilemma of having two “forces” vying for the control of us, we are told, is make the right decisions and choices. Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5: 16) and also to crucify, or put to death, the “flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). And in verse 18 Paul tells us that if we are led by the Spirit we are not under the Law (Gal 5:18). How is this? The writer to the Hebrews shows us that in the new covenant the Holy Spirit directs our lives and we no longer need the written law to instruct us in the ways to live a godly life (Hebrews 8:10).
From the New Living Translation we read in verse 25 “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Gal 5:25). Paul also shares both a warning and some encouraging words, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal 6: 8).
Therefore, as Paul states, be led by the Spirit – listen to Him, be guided by His instructions and promptings. Let His desires fill our hearts and minds, motivating righteous behaviour. Stop following the flesh with its evil desires. We can do that now because the Spirit gives us an alternative to follow, and He is stronger. This is the way we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Other Reflections on the Bible
1 John 3:3-10
Habits are hard to break. Try replacing a bad habit with a good one. It takes a lot of determination, persistence and grit to make a success of it. We all know the struggle we have conquoring sin in our lives. God has set the standard but we can . . .
Ephesians 4: 11-16
Many years ago I wrote in a church magazine that churches should be run like businesses. I was wrong, and this caused outrage among the church members and pastors. Today, we see many churches run like businesses. In fact many churches are run . . .
2 Peter 3: 3-13
The Bible has numerous passages showing how God is going to end human history and create new heavens and a new earth. Here Peter makes reference to Noah’s flood which destroyed the inhabitants of earth because of their wickedness. Other . . .
Galatians 5: 13-25
The leading of the Holy Spirit is one of the least understood concepts in the New Testament. In fact it is blatantly misunderstood by many Christians – and in particular cessationists. Because of this misunderstanding God’s power is badly . . .
1 Corinthians 12: 12-29
According to Paul a body consists of many parts all working together so that if one part suffers all parts share the pain and concern. No one part is more important than the others and no part can claim another part is redundant and no longer . . .
Romans 8: 18 – 27
Charismatics and Pentecostals make a big deal out of praying in the Spirit. They will take verse 26 out of context to excuse a practice which is often suspect or false (Romans 8:26).
There was a televangelist recently who broke into praying in . . .