But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Galatians 5:16-18, NASB).
Many great empires have risen and fallen. Many great Kings, emperors, and
presidents have come and gone. One of the greatest and apparently impregnable empires that rose up in history was the Roman Empire. What caused the decline and ultimate fall of the Roman Empire? The following is a selected list of what brought about the demise of the Roman Empire.
- The Rapid increase of Divorce: The undermining of the dignity and
sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society.
- Higher and Higher Taxes and the Spending of Public Monies for free
bread and circuses for the populace.
- The mad craze for pleasure: sports becoming more exciting every year and
- The Building of Gigantic Armaments when the real enemy was within, the
decadence of the people.
- The Decay of Religion—faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life
and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.
Now I want to speak to my brothers and sisters of African descent. Many of us when we were in Africa thought that the United States was a Christian country. I used to think that everyone in America was a Christian. However, the truth is that the United States is not a Christian country. Dr. Billy Graham of blessed memory said that the United States is not a Christian nation. Yes, the United States has some strong Christians and dynamic churches. Yes, America has some of the finest Christians and churches, but the United States is not a Christian country. The truth is that no nation in the world today is a Christian nation. Why? The answer is simple. You cannot legislate Christianity. The Christian life is a Kingdom living not engineered by man or woman, but by the Holy Spirit. God has given us His manual for living the Christian life—the Bible. It is only through the help and illumination of the Holy Spirit that we can live the Christian life as God intends. Therefore, let us examine, explain, and apply the Word of God.
- AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO WALK BY THE SPIRIT (VV. 16-18)
The apostle Paul wrote the letter of Galatians to address theological and
practical matters, which seemed to destroy the church. The overall thesis of the letter is “Christian Liberty” or “Christian Freedom.” The church was predominantly Gentile, but some Judaizers had infiltrated its ranks in an effort to enslave them with the Jewish law, especially, the law of circumcision. There were two fronts which appeared to undermine the Gospel and the spiritual growth of this church. These were the proponents of libertinism or license, that is a life without moral restraint. Some of the Greek philosophers espoused hedonism. Hedonism is the doctrine which teaches that pleasure is the chief goal in life. The next was the Judaizers who taught that the Gentile Christians must observe the Jewish law in order to be saved. In other words, what they were proposing to the Galatian believers was that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was not enough. In effect, they were teaching salvation by works, or faith plus the works of the law. They taught that faith in Jesus Christ alone was not complete. Today, there are others who are teaching similar things.
There are some who believe that unless you speak in tongues, your salvation is not enough. There are others who say that unless you pray in a certain way, your faith in Christ is not complete. The problem is that whatever human-centered teaching adds to justification by faith alone nullifies salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, in order for us to understand what God is teaching us through His servant Paul, let us establish the context of the biblical text. The context of the passage is found in verses 13-15. What Paul is teaching us here is that it is only the Holy Spirit who gives true freedom. Paul’s concern is to put forth the Holy Spirit as God’s response to both the flesh and the law because the law could not counteract the desire of the flesh, but the Spirit can and does.
According to verses 13-15, the Judaizers have offered the law as an antidote to the bickering and divisiveness in this Christian fellowship. But the observance of the law has rather served as fuel to the fire., Therefore, in verses 16-18, Paul steps in to teach them the antidote or the solution to the life of the flesh. In verse 16, Paul exhorts us “to walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh.” Verse 16 carries an imperative (command)—“and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” is the promise. Walk in the Spirit, the verb “walk” is a present continuous tense. It means “go on walking in the Spirit.” In other words, you must continue to live your life as a Christian under the control of the Holy Spirit—live a life empowered by the Spirit. The sad thing is that some who claim to be Christians have no clue of who the Holy Spirit. You become nervous uneasy when someone talks about the Holy Spirit. However, without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, you cannot live the Christian life. Some people become Christians and then live in passivity. Life in the Holy Spirit is not a passive submission to the Spirit to do the supernatural work in your life. Rather, the Christian life requires conscious effort so that the indwelling Spirit, the third person of the Trinity (the Triune God) may accomplish His purpose in your life. Amen! The Christian life is a supernatural life. What the Word of God is teaching here is that you must actively submit to the Holy Spirit so that He can carry on His supernatural work in your life. You do this by deliberately conforming your life to the Holy Spirit who lives in you. When the believer does that the promise is that you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. What is “flesh?” In the Bible, the word “flesh” is used in several ways. It is used both in a positive and a negative sense. For example, when the Bible says, “flesh and blood” it means human. It is also, used in the sense of the body. These usages are positive. The only way you can distinguish the positive from the negative usage is the context in which the word is used.
Therefore, in the context of our present biblical text, the word “flesh” means our humanity in its essential fallenness. It includes all the tendencies and impulses which lead to wrong conduct, the lower nature, the old nature. It also means the inner propensity or inclination to do evil. It means a life lived outside the realm of the Holy Spirit. The life you used to live before Christ saved you. So the Word of God is saying that the Holy Spirit is sufficient and adequate to accomplish God’s purposes in you and among Christians. You live a life of defeat because you refuse to walk in the Spirit. You refuse to surrender (yield) the control of your life to the Holy Spirit. If you live according to the flesh, you are in servitude to the flesh. It simply means you are a servant to the flesh (you serve the flesh) The flesh becomes your master and you become its slave. The point Paul is putting across is that Christians are people who have no obligation of any kind to the flesh. The flesh is a cruel task-master and the pay it will give to you is death (Rom. 6:23).
In verse 17, God’s Word states that the flesh is in opposition to the Holy Spirit who has taken His residence in your heart. There is a war going on between the flesh and the Spirit of God. The flesh opposes the Spirit with the desire that you would not do what God wants you to do. Now let me make some clarification here. This does not mean that the flesh and the Spirit have equal power. The flesh is no match for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is more powerful than the flesh. Therefore, when you yield your life to the Holy Spirit, the flesh becomes useless and powerless. Paul is teaching us that in spite of the ongoing war, anytime you are controlled by the Holy Spirit, you are going to prevail over the flesh. That is why we are to be careful about what we say and what we do. Sometimes you need to pray about something before you do or say it. There are other things that a Christian does not need to pray about them. For instance, if a person wants you to steal you don’t say let me pray about it. You tell it to his face that you cannot steal because you are a Christian and stealing is not right. Stealing is a sin.
Verse 18 says that if your life is directed by the Holy Spirit you are not under the law. When the Bible says “Led by the Spirit” that does not mean passivity. You do not say, Holy Spirit do what you want to do as I take the back seat and do nothing. When the Holy Spirit tells you to go and witness to your neighbor about Christ and you refuse then you are not yielded to the Spirit. When you are led by the Holy Spirit, you consciously cooperate with the Holy Spirit to do what He asks you to do. To walk by the Spirit is to be led by the Spirit. It means that you walk daily in obedience to the Spirit’s desire. Spirit-controlled persons march to a different drummer, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to, live in such a way that our lives evidence that fact. Our behavior is of a decidedly different character from that of our former way of life if we are led by the Spirit. Amen!
The Holy Spirit and the flesh are diametrically opposed to each other. In these verses, Paul deals a crushing blow to both license and the law. In this verse, Paul is saying that the solution to license in the Christian life is not laws as the Judaizers argued, but openness to the Spirit and being guided by the Spirit. Paul does not say that the law is useless. What he is saying is that the law does not have any intrinsic power to help you win the war over the flesh. It is even true in our own social life. It is good to have laws to govern any society or nation. The difficulty is that the law can scare you from acting contrary, but they cannot offer help to you to do what is right. The law serves as a deterrent to sin but it cannot provide you the power to overcome sin in your life. The law makes you conscious of sin but the law cannot deliver you from sin. The Holy Spirit is the One who has the power to help you to overcome the dictates of the flesh. That is why Paul says elsewhere that the “law kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). The Holy Spirit is infinitely stronger but you and I are weak. Left to our sin, you and I would make wrong choices, Your freedom from your natural evil desires is through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives you an intrinsic standard of values. The Holy Spirit enables you to do what is good, with the expression of that goodness being for the benefit of others. The Spirit alone is able to overcome the flesh by imparting the new life opened up by the work of Christ. And when the new life in Christ is present no law is required to command it. It is the Spirit Himself who fills your life with rich content. To walk by the Spirit is to let Jesus Christ live His life through you. Jesus calls it “the abundant life” (John 10:10). When you are in Christ, your relationship with God and your life as a Christian are begun, sustained, directed, and completed entirely by the Spirit.
The Christian life is not hard, it is impossible to live it without the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you hear some Christians say, “I am trying to live the Christian life." Stop trying and yield to the control of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not save you to try to live the Christian life. He saved you so that He could live His life through you. And that is what the Holy Spirit does in your life if you cooperate with Him.
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