“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16–18 ESV)
How do we overcome the sinful desires of our flesh? There is only one answer: walk in the Spirit. Sinful desires of the flesh are not only the external, easily measurable sins, but are also everything in our natural man that is sinful – our behaviors, motivations, feelings and thoughts. In verses 13 & 14, Paul encouraged the Galatians not to view their freedom in Christ as an opportunity for the flesh, but rather as an opportunity to love. He now juxtaposes walking by the Spirit with gratifying the flesh. Walking by the Spirit is firmly rooted in our adoption as sons and the freedom that is associated with being His children. The word that Paul uses for “gratify” here is interesting – He could have used the word for satisfy. Gratify is different than satisfy, it literally means “to carry out a command” or “to do as commanded.” It communicates the inevitability that we will follow our sinful desires because we are not walking in the Spirit. If we are not walking in step with the Spirit, we will gratify our sinful desires. There is no third option. This sounds like Romans 6:12-14 where Paul tells us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies and Romans 8:6: “for to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
We are commanded to walk by the Spirit. Walking by the Spirit means that we are directed by the Spirit’s leading (and certainly the revealed word of God is part of that) and that we depend fully upon His power to walk in obedience. This does not mean that we goto the bible to find things to do and then try to obey them on our own with an occasional prayer for help. This looks like seeking to be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) – which means that we are actively influenced and directed by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. We not only seek His influence and direction, we are completely dependent upon Him to walk in obedience to His direction. We tend to think of filling in terms of filling a glass to the brim with something. A better, and more accurate, picture of being filled by the Spirit is when the sails of a ship are filled by the wind which carries it along the water. The Spirit becomes the controlling influence in your life, like alcohol is when you are drunk. He fills you and carries you along.
Far too often, we survey our lives and see that they are free from the sins that we deem to be really bad or destructive so we think that we are ok and we begin to coast spiritually. There is no middle ground, we are either actively killing sin or sin is actively killing us (John Owen). For the Christian, life is a spiritual war – the Spirit and the flesh are diametrically opposed. You have to choose one or the other – there is no middle ground or “balance” to be found. To be personally & actively led by the Spirit is to not be under the onerousness of obeying the Law; we now obey from our acceptance, not for our acceptance. The Spirit doesn’t lead by sending us out, He goes with us – He accompanies us along the way. Being led by the Spirit is personal and relational. The Creator of the universe accompanies you. Let that sink in.
Lord, teach us to surrender and walk by your Holy Spirit so that we will not gratify the desires of our flesh; help us to understand what this looks like, create in us a desire for it and empower us to surrender to you.