Summary: We win our battles against our compulsion to sin when we depend on the Holy Spirit. We must live by the Spirit to conquer fleshly desires, be led by the Spirit to conquer fleshly deeds, and walk with the Spirit to enjoy the death of the flesh.
Freedom’s Fruit (Galatians 5:16-26)
Jo Guerrero’s five-year-old daughter, Barbara, had disobeyed her mother and had been sent to her room. After a few minutes, Jo (the mom) went in to talk with her about what she had done. Teary-eyed, the little girl asked, “Why do we do wrong things, Mommy?”
Jo replied, “Sometimes the devil tells us to do something wrong, and we listen to him. We need to listen to God instead.”
To which she sobbed, “But God doesn’t talk loud enough!” (Jo M. Guerrero, Christian Reader, Sep/Oct 1996)
Can you relate? Sometimes we feel like the compulsion to sin is louder and stronger than God’s gentle prodding to do what’s right. There is a real battle raging within our own hearts, and more often than we care to admit, the wrong side wins.
The question is: How do we win the battle against our compulsion to sin? How do we conquer this sinful nature that resides in each and every one of us? How do we overcome the perversions of our own flesh?
Galatians 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (NIV)
Literally, “Walk by means of the Spirit” – i.e., step-by-step, moment-by-moment, depend on the Spirit of God. For if you do, “you will BY NO MEANS and IN NO WAY gratify the desires of the flesh” – It’s a double negative in the Greek. The Spirit and the flesh are absolutely incompatible!
Here’s the surprise. We overcome our desire to sin NOT through our own will-power and self-effort. No. We overcome our desire to sin only through a moment-by-moment dependence upon the Spirit of God. We cannot live by our own human spirit.
Instead, we must LIVE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. WE MUST DEPEND ON THE HOLY SPIRIT’S POWER. WE MUST RELY ON THE SPIRIT OF GOD, and then (and only then) will we conquer the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (NIV)
You see, there is an internal conflict going on within every believer. The sinful nature and the Holy Spirit are at war in our hearts.
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) once put it this way: “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.” (Richard Hansen, “A Good Mystery, Preaching Today Audio, Issue 253; www.PreachingToday.com)
That “hippopotamus” is our own flesh, which is sinful by nature. So if we depend on our own flesh, i.e., if we depend on our own self effort, we end up sinning every time, because that’s its nature.
In the 1990s, a group of Washington children participated in an eight year anti-smoking-campaign program. The results were not impressive. Of the group that went through the program, 25.4 percent now smoke regularly. And of the control group—those who did not participate in the study—25.7 percent now smoke regularly. The education campaign hardly made any difference at all. (Mark Galli, managing editor, Christianity Today; source: Harper’s Index, Harper’s, March 2001; www.PreacningToday.com)
A lot of people believe that education is the answer to our culture’s problems, but that’s not the case at all. We don’t need new ideas or new techniques or new laws. We need a new power within to change the bad behavior without. And that power is the Holy Spirit.
If we depend on God’s Holy Spirit as we live our lives, we conquir the desires of the flesh. Or as verse 16 puts it, we BY NO MEANS and IN NO WAY, gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
It’s like holding a book flat on your open hand (demonstrate). As long as your hand is under the book, gravity cannot make the book fall. Now, that is not to say that gravity is no longer present. It certainly is. It’s just that the muscular force in the arm and hand is stronger than the force of gravity.
In the same way, The Holy Spirit is stronger than our sinful nature, which is always present and wants to pull us down. But as long as we depend on the Holy Spirit to hold us up, then our sinful nature cannot pull us down.
It’s only when we try to live independent of the power of the Holy Spirit (pull hand away and let book fall), that we sin. In other words, when we in our own self effort try not to sin, we end up doing exactly the thing we don’t want to do.