Summary: Because we're filled with the Holy Spirit, we struggle with sin and know the consequences of sin, so we must live by the Spirit and love our neighbours as ourselves.
Back in the 1980s, a classic TV ad showed a skillfull basketball player dribbling a ball round a young lad who was holding a stick of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles. After a few minutes of very impressive dribbling, the basketball player finishes by spinning the ball on one finger. “Not bad” says the young lad, “but I bet you couldn’t put one of these Fruit Pastilles in your mouth without chewing it.” “Sure I can” says the basketball player, and then we see him fighting and struggling, face contorted, trying to resist the urge to chew. When he succumbs to the temptation, the young lad says, “bit of a tall order was it?”
As Christians, we’re fighting and struggling too. But we’re not fighting and struggling with a fruit pastille, we're fighting and struggling with sin. And it's a bit of a tall order.
The moment we put our faith in Jesus – when we recognise that Jesus is the ruler of the world, that Jesus took the punishment we deserve, and that Jesus rising from the dead means that we can too. The moment we put our faith in Jesus, we're filled with God’s Holy Spirit. And that Spirit makes us realise, big time, that the “desires of the flesh” (as Paul puts it) are so, so wrong.
This morning we're looking at part of a letter Paul wrote to the people in Galatia.
Look at what he wrote in verse 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 that you want to do.”
It’s a constant battle – desires of the flesh versus desires of the Spirit, desires of the Spirit versus desires of the flesh.
Everything around us is a temptation, a challenge. We get angry, jealous and envious, and things take our focus away from Jesus.
If we were completely and utterly focused on Jesus, we wouldn’t have such a battle with desires of the flesh. But we're not, and we do.
Paul wrote in verse 16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re probably not walking by the Spirit every minute of every hour of every day.
When we get up in the morning, is God the first thing we think about? When we walk into a salary review meeting at work, are we thinking about God? When we're cruising the aisles at Waitrose looking for those 'reduced to clear' items, are we thinking about God? Unlikely.
When we walk by the Spirit, when our lives are God-centric, life does feels good, and the desires of the flesh disappear from our minds.
First sold in 1967, and invented to address consumer complaints about broken, greasy, and stale crisps, Pringles have been made in over 100 flavours (including ‘peppermint white chocolate’ – seriously!). Their creator’s slogan, ‘once you pop, you can’t stop’, sums up the tastiness and ‘moreishness’ of the perfectly shaped crisp. And really, once you’ve crunched your way through the first crisp in a tube, it’s very difficult not to carry on down to the bottom – ‘once you pop, you really can’t stop’.
And we can’t stop either. We can’t stop sinning.
Let’s look a bit closer at the list of things Paul describes as desires of the flesh. It’s a long list. Look at verse 19, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality”. That’s probably what we all think of when we talk about desires of the flesh. But Paul goes on. Look at verse 20 – “idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies”. We might have been thinking that we’re okay with fighting the desires of the flesh, but that list contains things that challenge us every day – jealousy, fits of anger, envy. Have you been unhappy because someone else was picked and you weren’t? Have you lost your temper because something didn’t go as you planned? Have you wished that you had a car or an object like your neighbour’s? Well, if you did, you succumbed to the desires of the flesh.
It's a bit of a tall order – a constant battle.
And Paul’s list is not just a long list. It’s a never ending list. He adds a catchall in verse 21, “and things like these”. So, even if you’ve gone through the entire list and ticked off all the desires of the flesh (and I’m impressed if you have), there’s still a desire out there that you will succumb to.
With such a comprehensive list, especially with the “and things like these” catchall, it’s going to be impossible for us to fight the desires of the flesh by ourselves and win. It’s a real reminder that we can’t earn our way into Heaven. We can’t get into Heaven by just being good. We can only get into Heaven by putting our trust in Jesus, and accepting God’s grace – his free gift of forgiveness.