The Spirit Versus the Flesh
Open Your Bible
Galatians 5:16-26, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ephesians 2:1-10, Revelation 21:1-8
I’m a list maker. I need them to clarify my thoughts, and my brain works best when I put pen to paper. There are the staples—Christmas lists, to-do lists, and grocery lists—but I also keep lists of the national parks we’ve visited (Glacier really is the crown of the continent), my favorite things about my good dog (that nuzzly pink nose), and foods I never, ever want to eat again. (I’m looking at you, Hot Pockets.)
Lists are a helpful way to show us all the angles of an idea. One word says a lot, but seven pointing to the same big idea really leave no room for confusion. In this passage, Paul gives us two lists: a list of death and a list of life—the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19–23). And boy, do I love the look of that “fruit of the spirit” list. I want that list to be the accounting of my days—not the nonsense in other list.
But life is busy and complicated, and we often find ourselves shifting back and forth between these two lists. How do we find victory over sin that ultimately only leads to death? Paul very succinctly declares that the only means by which we may find victory over sin is to “walk by the Spirit and [we] will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh” (v.16). Notice Paul doesn’t say we might not succumb to our flesh; he says we will certainly not—what a declaration!
Our flesh wars with the Spirit (James 1:14–15), but Paul encourages us in this manner: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). This is a powerful image! We’re not expected to walk out our faith journey alone; instead, we must learn to yield to the Holy Spirit. In daily life, our heart’s proclivities lead us away from the Word and drown out the voice of the Spirit; it’s easier to listen to our senses, our circumstances, and our vain desires. Our inattention to the Spirit causes us to fall out of step with Him. Theologian John Owen put it this way: “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”
Daily, hourly, we are to fix our attention on the Word, hide it in our hearts, and yield our desires to Christ— not by our own strength, but by yielding to the Spirit within us. We must bring our bone-dry souls to the Fountain of Life. As God promised to Ezekiel: “You will know that I am the LORD, my people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live” (Ezekiel 37:13–14).
Here’s the good news: this is all God’s work; a life in step with the Spirit grows out of the Spirit of adoption that we have already received by grace. God calls us to live in the Spirit that He has already given, “for [we] are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from [ourselves]; it is God’s gift” (Ephesians 2:8). Though the world, the flesh, and the devil continually vie for our attention, God has extended to our very lips “the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6). Drink freely. Drink deeply. Drink continually. Walk in step with His Spirit.