Summary: The Galatians have made a wrong turn and were on a road that leads back to an eternal life of hopelessness. Paul has used rhetoric, satire, allegory and even abusive language to get their attention.
Paul has used rhetoric, satire, allegory and even abusive language to get their attention. He now turns, feeling confident that the last four chapters were sufficient to prove his point, to encouragement of these lost Christians coupled with a warning not to repeat these mistakes again.
Paul begins by stating that every individual is a battle ground. The body, mind and spirit are a cage in which an ultimate fight will be fought. Human desires and spiritual desires converge in the hope of winning the favor of the soul. Needless to say, this is a universal human problem. People in all cultures and other faith backgrounds struggle with the devil inside. We even have those cute little pictures in our media of the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The debate before the decision and the moment of choice are all recognizable to us. We even laugh with the sound track as the angel is ignored. We nervously laugh because we know it’s hard. Paul knew it was virtually impossible without spiritual help. He retorts from Romans 8: 7-8, “For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Therein lays the real difference. Today, if you call yourself a Christian you have a choice and a power in which to resist the evil one from within. Those who don’t know Christ do not have that choice. They only have the power of their own ability, knowledge and strength to get them the through a world filled with struggle, heartache and ultimately death. A world full of ideas of what might satisfy the soul only to realize after the fact that the people, places and things one uses to fill the hole in the soul only provide fleeting moments of gratification. The truth is the world cannot give a long term solution. Let’s face it, we all are seekers and sinners. It’s the reason we resonate with sayings from popular hit songs, like “If it feels nice, don’t think twice.” We as humans want what we want when we want it and we are driven to get it. Period.
It’s not until we have accepted that God has made a way out of our selfish and self centered cage by offering us Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that real freedom can begin. As we admit our deficiencies, a new longing to have them removed becomes obvious. As we surrender to this truth, His Spirit swoops in to meet with ours and real freedom from sin begins. I think this is where the Church, the Big C, has stumbled because we fail to inform, remind and instruct people on how to overcome the persistent Ultimate Fighter flesh. However, the good news is that through Jesus we have a four step process by which we can tame the beast within. Please note: I said tame.
First, we must admit that our selfish and self centered human nature has brought us to this place. That we are incapable and the world is incapable of providing us lasting peace.
Second, we submit or surrender our selfishness tendencies to Christ. In other words, repent! We must be willing to give them up and not take them back when the going gets rough.
Third, we must commit all our actions, thoughts, passions and capabilities to Christ. We do this by continually asking the Holy Spirit to help us deny our desires. Please note, I did not say keep us from doing the actions which bring us down. It is our desires we want the Holy Spirit to change, not our responses to those desires. If we change the deeper desire, our actions will follow.
Finally, we begin serving others without regard for some form of a payback. We act in remembrance of Christ’s greater sacrifice. We act in unconditional love knowing that by following this pattern God is served and our deeper purpose will be realized. Remember, Jesus loves you and has your best interests at heart.
Now, taming the Ultimate Fighter Flesh is not a one and done deal. We cannot just say, “Okay, I’ve admitted, submitted, committed and served so I’m good.” This is a lifelong process. The truth is, the best we will ever be on this planet is human. We can be better humans through our relationship with Christ but we are still just human. The difference though between us and those who don’t know Christ is obvious because we only need look to their actions. Paul said you can tell an unbeliever by the four types of sin: sexual, religious, interpersonal and ritual.
He warns that these sins (V.21), and others like them, are disqualification for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This is a very striking statement. It probably bothers us as much as it bothered the Galatians. On many an occasion, I’ve had a solid Christian express doubts about their relationship with Christ and/or with the security of their salvation. After further discussion, it always comes down to the fact that the person is dealing with a defect of character, a sin that has continued to flare up even though they felt it should already have been removed. They felt since they declared themselves to be a Christian that they shouldn’t have these desires anymore. After all, they were saved! I’ve actually heard one very solid Christian claim maybe he never was a Christian since sin still existed in his life. Paul was not telling us, who are convicted of sin, that we are not saved. He was only reminding us to continue to admit, submit, commit and serve to continue to live by the Spirit in everything we do. The phrase “live by the Spirit” in v. 16 conveys the literal meaning, “by the Spirit keep on walking.” Paul was warning the Galatians and us, to continue to keep walking with the Spirit but to watch out for those who might lead us astray. Remember, even the devil knows scripture and Jesus warned there will be many false prophets. I believe Paul’s warning was directed at just such individuals. He was trying to better describe the person whose lifestyle still habitually exhibited the sins he listed in the hope of steering the Galatians, and us as their heirs, away from people and leaders who are still enslaved to the flesh and who cannot be trusted.