Spiritual Living: Foundational Truths – Galatians 5:16-188 min read
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Those who have read Galatians will know that Paul had devoted this entire epistle to proving, upholding, and defending the doctrine of salvation, specifically in regards to the Law, that is, the Old Covenant which Israel was under. He has now come to the practical aspect of liberty in Christ – liberty to truly love and serve, not simply because of ordinance and fear, but by the power of God’s Spirit to fulfil the ultimate Law (“love thy neighbour as thyself”) in ways that Old Testament saints never could. And so we have preliminary, foundational thoughts to lead us in the direction of Christ-likeness as we seek to apply what is laid out in the latter part of chapter 5.
#1 – The Great Battle (v. 17a)
There are really two aspects in war: positional warfare and practical warfare. Positional warfare can be likened to a “state of war” issued by a country’s government. Though fighting may not have taken place yet, the two countries are still “at war,” because they directly oppose one another. Practical warfare, on the other hand, is that battling which takes place in physical combat – this of course is the result of the personal enmity that already existed between the two parties.
Similarly, we are presented with these aspects in regards to our spirit and our flesh. Positionally “these are contrary (anti [against] keimai [to lie] – to lie against) one to another.” There is no middle ground between them: there is no commonality. They are at war, and both of their demands cannot be met simultaneously. Practically, this results in fierce opposition: “for the flesh sets its heart upon that which opposes the spirit, and the spirit that which opposes the flesh.” These are both very powerful in nature and in focus: therefore a great struggle is ours to deal with on a daily basis – this is inevitable until one force is obliterated from existence. We know that eventually our flesh (old nature) will disappear fully in the resurrection, and in regards to positional warfare we will inevitably and ultimately win. However, while dwelling on earth we must still face this struggle, and despite that the ultimate victory is ours in Christ, we still must face many battles day by day in which we may either win or lose. The question of victory lies in whether the spirit or the flesh prevails. Which one will prevail? The one whose needs we cater to. And if we lose sight of this, we will find ourselves frequently harbouring a means to provide for the flesh. So then, step number one in gaining the victory is understanding the war. We must constantly be on guard for our old nature to manifest itself in the places we least expect; otherwise we give it free range in our lives. “He that trusts in his own heart [which is desperately wicked] is a fool: but whoso walks wisely, he shall be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26).
#2 – The Great Danger (v. 17b)
With such a war on our hands, we cannot but have tremendous difficulty and danger to face day to day. Bound up in our simple, weak bodies are two completely opposed forces – powerful ones at that; and when we battle with the flesh in our Christian lives it is a genuinely pain-staking struggle. There is no easy way around it. As a result, so often we grow weary of fighting, and we have the tendency at that point to simply let go, saying “I’ve had enough,” thus falling into sin. That is why Paul warns us of the great danger associated with such a problem, which is “that you cannot do the things that you desire.” You see, as believers we have been changed into new creatures with Heavenward desires, and with all that has accompanied salvation (a renewed mind, a quickened spirit, etc.) our ultimate desire is to serve. There is no such thing as a Christian without spiritual tendencies. That is why “the things that we would” are assumed to be spiritual. Sadly, though, the flesh hinders that. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (Romans 7:18-20).
So then, notice two dangers seen in this concept. Firstly and obviously, one sins when he neglects to curb the influence of the flesh. That is the result of doing the opposite of our conscience. Secondly, though, the text seems to imply a certain loss of sensitivity toward and power over sin. You see, this text deals with lifestyle, not simply individual actions, which puts this danger in the context of our walk in general. When we give place to our old nature, we then must take time to repair convictions, sensitivity, and desires, because it will show no mercy in trying to destroy fruitfulness at every opportunity it has. This truly is a great danger. Let us not only remember the sadness of a single sin, but let us beware of long-term consequences which the flesh brings when we cease to battle it with the same fervour as we once did.
#3 – The Great Solution (v. 16)
Though the struggle may be hard, with God’s strength, even the greatest battle is possible to overcome. If we are to be competent in warfare, we must understand the solution to our danger: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh [which as we know is to retard spiritual progress].”
This verse can be seen as the thesis for verse 17, with that verse being the proof for the claim of verse 16. The point Paul was trying to make is this: if the spirit and flesh are diametrically opposed, then the lifestyles that follow then must also be totally contrary. Therefore, when one walks in the spirit (and are led by God’s Spirit), he cannot simultaneously cater to the desires of the flesh. It is impossible.
Our solution, then, is this: walk in the Spirit. This implies an atmosphere in which the flesh cannot abundantly thrive. It implies that our focus is so greatly on things of God’s leading that the corruptible, fleshy things are no longer of value to us. It implies a continual feeding of our spiritual nature so that the flesh withers and progressively loses power over us. It implies a certain dependency and communion with God’s Spirit which is so close and precious that the flesh has no opportunity to draw us into its schemes. Constant, faithful spiritual living is the key. It is not easy, and it will take tremendous effort. But there is no substitute, and it certainly is effective.
#4 – The Great Implication (v. 18)
Now we come to verse 18 and see a vital point to precede our study in Christian character: “If ye be led by the Spirit, you are not under Law.” To understand this, we must (as every good Bible interpreter does) look at the context. Notice verses 13-15. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit…” The point Paul was trying to make is this: liberty from the Law does not only mean freedom from ceremonial and civil ordinances, but it provides a newer and greater way to fulfil the ultimate Law, which is to love one’s own neighbour as himself. The Law was simply a schoolmaster (until Christ came – Gal. 3:24) to show the difference between right and wrong and to deal with the wrong, but never did it provide a solution to the problem of the flesh. Why? Because only the Spirit of God can deal with such a thing, and now He is our Guide, not the Law. (Also, under Law, the ordinances were essentially flesh-oriented, not spiritual in nature. Thus, one cannot have consistency if he tries to live in the Spirit if he is also claiming to be under law). Under grace we are given the One Who counsels to our quickened spirit as He indwells us. But this relation to the Spirit of God was never an Old Testament truth. Some men were endowed with His power, but never did He indwell a man. Rather saints under the Old Covenant had to remain looking to the letter of the Law and its strict orders. Now, in the New Testament, guided by God’s Spirit, we are to conservatively discern principles for living, rather than simply living by ordinances. Thus we can go above and beyond the Law and fulfil it by living to love in God’s power. So then, when Paul says we are not under Law if we are led by God’s Spirit, it does not mean we are free from commands, obedience, or the strict adherence to Scripture. But it certainly does provide for us to live for Him in the way He demands – to subdue, not only our actions, but our flesh, that is, our old nature. It is a great privilege to be led of the great Almighty, for then do we have true liberty to serve. We cannot do it of our own effort.