The Holy Spirit: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn
Winning the War Within
February 19, 2017
We are in a series called, The Holy Spirit: Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn. My desire is that we gain a better understanding of life in the Spirit and our need for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So far we have seen that the Spirit is the source of all spiritual life in John 7; the Spirit gives us new birth in John 3; the Spirit adopts us as children of God in Romans 8:14-17; the Spirit making a definitive break with sin our salvation in Romans 8:1-11; and this week we look at the work of the Spirit in overcoming the daily struggle with sin in Galatians 5:16-18.
The passage starts out with the command to walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desire of the flesh (see also Rom 8:4). It is in the form of a command because walking in the Spirit is not automatic, competing desires. That is natural and should encourage us. You do not gratify the desire of the flesh by walking according to the Spirit. If we want victory over the desire of the flesh, then we need to understand what it means to walk in the Spirit; why it is important to walk in the Spirit; and how do we walk in the Spirit.
So first, let’s look at what it means to walk in the Spirit. There is an image here that helps us understand what walking in the Spirit means. It is the phrase, “led by the Spirit (Rom 8:12-14).” Walk shows my involvement in my struggle with sin and being led shows the Spirit’s involvement in my struggle with sin. What does it mean to be led by the Spirit? In Romans 8 we see that to be led by the Spirit means to yield or submit to the Spirit in putting sin to death in your life. It means to follow the leadership of the Spirit who is guiding and empowering you in your fight against sin. This fight is to the death. It is like a locomotive engine of a train providing the power to pull the train and taking the rest of the rail cars along the track. The rail cars do not move in their own strength but in the strength of the locomotive. So being led by the Spirit is yielding to the Spirit’s strength and leadership in our fight against sin. The result is walking in the Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit (5:22) which is the work of the Spirit in us. Fruit is the result of the plant providing life and substance to the branches that flower and produce fruit. If the branch is not connected to the plant it has no resources to produce fruit. Fruit is the Spirit’s work in us. Jesus used similar language in John 15:4-5. Abiding in Christ bears much fruit in us, apart from him we can do nothing. It is by abiding in Christ the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9-10) in us bears fruit. The Spirit points us to Christ’s work on our behalf to strengthen us. As we are in living union with Christ, looking to be satisfied in him who saved us, freed us, loves us, and is working for our good not matter how difficult our circumstances, we bear fruit, becoming like Christ. So we fight against sin on one side (led by Spirit) and bear fruit on other (walk by the Spirit).
This week as I was meditating and reading what others have said about the passage, I gained an insight I never put together before. I have always understood the flesh as our propensity to sin and rebel against God. But more specifically in this passage, the flesh is that aspect within us, even as disciples, that is still resistant to the desire of the Spirit. The Spirit points us to Christ, to trust him, which transforms our desires so that we lose the desire for sin and we bear fruit. And the flesh does not work alone but in conjunction (Eph 2:1-3) with the world (Mark 4:15-17) and the devil (1 Pet 5:8; Eph 6:12). The flesh is that immaterial part of us which desires to rebel against God by resisting the desire of the Spirit to trust and obey God. The world is everything within our culture which opposes God, like peer pressure, values, traditions, what is cool and what is not, fashion, and social media. It is all that draws us away from God, the influence of the Spirit, and Christ like character. The devil is the evil spirit being who is directly involved in advancing the cause of evil in the lives of people and in the structures of society. The flesh, the world, and the devil overlap each other and the latter two influence the flesh, the desires within us to distract us, tempt us to sin, and resist the work of the Spirit in bearing fruit in our lives.
Why we need to walk in the Spirit is because the Spirit and the flesh oppose each other, are in constant conflict (5:17). Walk in the Spirit so that you do not gratify the desire of the flesh, resistance to the Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit we overcome the desire of the flesh. The flesh resists the Spirit’s desire for you to trust Jesus and so fulfill it’s desire to meet your own need, in your own way, and in your own power. When you come to faith in Christ, the flesh is displaced as the reigning ruler of your heart but it still has pockets of rebel forces relentlessly seeking to take you out. Before you came to faith in Christ there was no war because the flesh was the reigning king in your heart. When you are led by the Spirit - yield to the Spirit, are submissive to the promptings of the Spirit in your fight against sin, you do not give in to the flesh. That is, you nip temptation in the bud, cut off the desire, and are gradually transformed, your desires change, and you produce fruit, becoming Christ like. When we are consistently led by the Spirit, the desires of the flesh weaken and desires of the Spirit grow. New desires grow and flourish, becoming stronger so that the war against the Spirit weakens.
So we have seen what walking by the Spirit is, why it is important to walk by the Spirit, and now I want us to look at how do we walk in the Spirit. We walk by the Spirit when we live by faith in God, resting in his promises, that all his promises for you are yes. Let’s look to some other passages in Galatians to see how this works in life. Let’s first look at 2:11-14. Peter was eating freely with Gentiles as accepted in Christ by faith. But when some Jewish Christians came along, he gave into peer pressure, so he pulled away from the table. He feared their disapproval, thinking he is wrong, and look down upon him. The approval of Christ was not enough for him in that moment and he felt he needed the approval of others. Now let’s look at Galatians 3:2. The Galatians came to faith in the work of Christ and experienced the indwelling of the Spirit but as a result of heretical teaching, they were trying to perfect their faith by human effort. Their faith started off as a work of the Spirit but now it was becoming a work of the flesh, as the attempted to be saved and remain saved by their own effort. Let’s look at one last example, Galatians 5:6. In Christ obedience to the Jewish law justify us but only faith which produces the fruit of love. That is faith in Christ pushes out our fear, guilt, greed, and everything that opposes love. So if love comes from faith and love is a fruit of the Spirit then the way we walk by the Spirit is to have faith, resting in the promises of God.