Summary: Defeat the flesh by depending on the Spirit: live by the Spirit and so conquer the desires of the flesh; be led by the Spirit and so conquer the deeds of the flesh; and walk with the Spirit and so enjoy the death of the flesh.
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 you 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 you win the battle against our compulsion to sin? How do you conquer this sinful nature that resides in each one of us? How do you overcome the perversions of your own flesh? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Galatians 5, Galatians 5, where the Bible gives us a surprising answer.
Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (ESV)
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. You overcome our desire to sin NOT through your own will-power and self-effort. No. You overcome your desire to sin only through a moment-by-moment dependence upon the Spirit of God. You cannot live by our own human spirit. Instead, you must…
LIVE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
You must depend on the Holy Spirit’s power. You must rely on the Spirit of God, and then (and only then) will you conquer the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 For 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. (ESV)
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.Preaching Today.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.
Dr. Loran Nordgren, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, ran a series of experiments that placed college students in “tempting situations” to smoke, eat junk food, or forgo studying. The research found that we often display what's called a “restraint bias.” In other words, we tend to overestimate how much self-control we will have against temptation when we're not in the “heat of the moment.” Our “restraint bias” causes us to think that we can handle more temptation than we actually can. In fact, Dr. Nordgren warned that “Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give in to temptation.” (Jeanna Bryner, “Temptation Harder to Resist Than You Think, Study Suggests,” Live Science, 8-3-09; www.PreachingToday.com)
Did you hear that? “Those who are most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give in to temptation”.
So don’t put your confidence in yourself. Don’t depend on the strength of your own will-power. Instead, depend on the Holy Spirit’s power.
Then, and only then, will you conquer the desires of the flesh. Or as verse 16 puts it, you will 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.