Our journey through Galatians continues today in 5:16-23.
In Vs 16 we are instructed to walk by the Spirit (for then your desires will not be ruled by your flesh!) Walk by the Spirit and you can freely fight the flesh, crucify the flesh and its lusts. We know from what James teaches-that sin is crouching at your door, it seizes upon your lusts and overtakes you. But if you walk in the Spirit, He strengthens you to face this formidable enemy. This is our battle, and we will fight! Let your battle cry be “Walk in the Spirit!” (and also “Pray at all times in the Spirit!!!” Ephesians 6:18)
This is not a call to, or promise of, perfectionism. Though true believers will grow in their experience of walking in the Spirit, we will ever be putting to death the deeds of our old man, the lusts of our old man, the ways of thinking from our old man’s conscience, etc. There have been some in every generation that have wrongly preached that walking in the Spirit will bring perfection and sinlessness, as though we could be glorified here in a fallen world, without the newness of heaven. We are being fitted for heaven, we are not there yet. We press on as Paul does.
And so, Vs 17, the desires of the Spirit and flesh are against one another–your own desires keep you from doing the things you deep down, in your heart that is new, want to do. These are opposed to one another, and will never be in step. Neither circumcision, nor law-keeping on any level, is of the Spirit, and attempting either as a spiritual practice will keep you back from living the abundant life He has called you to–which is what you want deeper down. We are called something far greater than outward duties, and a fragmented life.
Vs 18 if you are led by the Spirit…so are you? (Sometime this week, read through Romans 8 with this in mind). To be led by the Spirit is not mysterious, but completely out of our control. Not natural, since all of nature is impacted by the fall; yet the most natural thing considering it is the right relation of creation to Creator that we all long for. He illumines our understanding, giving us Light to see Truth, but never apart from His sword, that is the Word of God.
To be led by the Spirit is His work in our inner man, renewing our desires to match His, granting wisdom and knowledge as we look to Christ for His words of eternal life (see John 5:39-40). Apart from Abiding in Him, we can do nothing (John 15:15). But His promised Spirit comes, empowers us, fills us, leads us into truth, guides us, gives us understanding and wisdom, applying Christ’s work to us, and praying for us. Oh, let us enjoy this life, led on by the Spirit, rather than walking in opposition.
Not under law, its tutorage or dominion or condemnation! The law tells us what is right but gives no power to act on that knowledge. The Spirit leads so as to give truth and clarity of what God requires, and the passion and power to do it. This is not a mere knowledge of good and evil, available to all since Adam and Eve at that precious fruit. The leading of the Spirit will not be mere instruction; it will be part of His work making us more like Christ. We read soon of His fruit. This is, by the way, not an exhaustive list.
What exactly were the Galatians struggling with? To read through the list of ‘flesh’ they ought to leave behind, know this is not exhaustive either. We will easily resonate with some sins, and perhaps have not actually struggled against some. Unless you recognize your utter inability to please God apart from the work of Christ, this list of fleshly don’ts might become a stumbling block.
Walking by the Spirit means we humbly submit to the idea that the seed of all these sins is residing in us, and we must war against it. Crucify it. Mortify it, as the puritans preached. Put it all to death, do not keep them around for any reason. They ruin the fellowship of believers, they ruin your fellowship with God. They lead us to war with one another, eventually devouring one another, challenging one another (I’m more spiritual! Look here, I’ve never struggled with that sin?), or to envy one another (ugh, she’s so perfect, if only… I wish he had as many troubles as I do, then he wouldn’t be so…). Ugh. We are created for unity–and His love will unite us. Our flesh will always be at war with His work of reconciliation and unity.
But we rejoice, for His Spirit living in us, His promised Spirit, will be fruitful. And this fruit, that we cannot contrive or fake, will unify true believers in fellowship, and will become greater in our lives as we cling to Him in faith. There is no law against the fruit of the Spirit, Paul reminds the Galatians, because this work of God’s is free, good, righteous. His holiness at work in us, as He works it in us, no force could ever oppose it or deny its goodness. This does not negate the fact that the world will hate us, as we are told by Jesus in John 15-16; the darkness cannot love the light.