Flesh vs. Spirit


Galatians 5:16-26
16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, 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. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

All of us are painfully aware of the internal struggle that is the Christian life. We daily face the temptations of the flesh and hope that a bit of the Spirit is shining through instead. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that internal battle is deluded or lying. Even Paul faced that messy part of being human (see Romans 7). After four and half chapters of telling us the dangers of allowing our works to play into our salvation, Paul gets practical and sets up the stark difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit.

When Paul writes of the “flesh” and the “spirit” in 5:16–26, he is not referring to the different parts of a human being. For Paul, the “flesh” does not refer to a sinful human nature as such but rather to an existence apart from Christ and his Spirit within “the present evil age”. Thus the flesh is a sphere of influence, an active quasi-personified force that challenges God and his people. Likewise, Paul cannot be referring to an individual’s own spirit. The human spirit does not have the power to overcome the flesh. In 5:16 Paul refers in the second person plural (“you”) to the Galatians as a community walking by the single Spirit. The “Spirit” is a powerful otherworldly Agent who counteracts the flesh with its evil thoughts and actions. Thanks to the Spirit, the Christian battles the flesh from the point of view of the decisive victory that took place in Christ. The Christian is an eschatological (end-times) person! As Paul will write in 2 Cor 10:2–3: we may yet be “in the flesh,” but we do not wage our battle “according to the flesh.” The Christian battles with the power of the Spirit!
Das, A. A. (2014). Galatians. (pp. 558–559). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

In these few verses, we find two lists that stand in opposition to each other. Paul provides a rather lengthy list of sinful behaviors, although it is in no way exhaustive. Humans are particularly adept at coming up with ways to sin. But we are a people of duel nature as long as we reside on this side of the veil. The question becomes, which side is given say and sway. For the Christian, it must be the power of the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit grants us fruit – the proof of His presence. There are nine “fruits” listed and they are the evidence of a Spirit-filled existence. We are not the ones who create or conjure up these attributes. We are responsible only to display them. That is a blessing. If we are the ones who have to create peace in our lives, we’re in trouble. If all I have to do is carry God’s peace around, letting is be on display in my life, then there can be success for He enables that work. There isn’t one of these characteristics that isn’t desirable. All of us know people who are typified by a peaceful existence, or know how to show patience with others, or who seem to be joyful even during the painful times. These are not wonderful people but instead Spirit-led people who give voice and action to the Spirit’s fruit. That is most definitely who I want to be.

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