Summary: We are spiritual beings having a physical experience
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit….For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Rm 8:5-11, 14
There are a lot of Church goers who struggle with understanding the dichotomy between living according to the Spirit and living according to the flesh. Many of them live with a profound sense of guilt and shame because of the fleshly desires they experience. The fact that fleshly desires are often associated with sin only exacerbates their shame and makes them feel un-spiritual.
What does it means to according to the Spirit? Living according to the Spirit does not mean that a person will not have natural desires. Just because a man is living according to the Spirit does not mean he will not have sexual desires, battle food addiction, or be tempted to steal. The Spirit led man is able to control his desires and only express them in a way that is approved by the Spirit.
To be led by the Spirit of God does not mean a negation of the physicality of the person. We need to understand that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. God created us to enjoy our physical experience to its fullness. We should not feel guilty about having physical needs and desires, providing those needs and desires have been filtered by the Spirit of God.
God created us male and female with sexual desires, need for food and drink, etc. In order for us to truly enjoy our physical experience on earth we have to be subjected to the needs of the flesh. That is not sinful per se. Sin only comes when the needs have not been filtered by the Spirit and are satisfied outside of that which is acceptable to God.
When Jesus was on earth, He had fleshly needs. He was hungry and thirsty. He longed for companionship with His Father. He was tired and would often rest with a selected group of disciples. Jesus was fully God and fully man. He was a spiritual being who did not allow his physical needs to influence his spiritual response to the people and things around him.
Living according to the Spirit means living a balanced life where the Spirit-self renews the mind which processes God-ordained directives to allow the body to be healthy and whole. I guess the best analogy I can use is that of a computer. The Spirit is the Central Processing Unit (CPU), the mind is the mother board and the body is the shell which contains the many components that make up the computer including the monitor.
When a person needs comes out of greed, lust, envy, jealousy etc. he/she is not being led by the Spirit. That person is being controlled by the desires of the flesh. But when love, unity, peace, holistic living are evident, then the person is Spirit led. That’s why I don’t lust after my wife, but I make love to her. I don’t get greedy, but I set goals approved my God to become successfully fruitful. I don’t envy anyone, but I rejoice and use other people’s accomplishments as fuel to get me going. I can’t be jealous of anyone because jealousy is counterproductive to my spirit self. It is toxic to my true nature. Instead I celebrate with those who celebrate, rejoice with those who succeed and position myself around fruitful people so that I can learn and grow as a spiritual being trying to discern how to be most productive in this physical reality.
The next time you struggle with a desire, ask yourself, is that desire godly. Could that desire be Holy Spirit approved? For example, the next time you feel the desire for sexual intercourse, you need to think about your marital status. If you are married then you need to satisfy that desire within the context of your marriage. If you are single then you need to resist that desire because the Spirit does not sanction fornication.
The next time you feel the desire for accumulating wealth, you need to think about what you would do with that mean and how you plan to acquire it. If you have a Spirit-led plan based on hard work to become financially wealthy, then it is fine. Else, are you motivated by greed and a lust for material possessions? Desiring a glass of wine is not a sin. It is when imbibe ourselves and act drunkenly that we sin. Indeed, Jesus drunk wine and so did all the disciples.
The point that I want to make is that desire alone is a not a sin. It is when we are determined to satisfy our desires in ways that are not Spirit approved that lead to sin. Then and only then are we living according to the flesh.