Overcome the Flesh by Following the Spirit, Not the Other Way Around

March 1, 2009

Galatians 5:16 really struck me in my personal Bible reading this week.

Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul did not say, “If you don’t gratify the desires of the flesh, you will walk by the Spirit.” Rather, he says, “If you walk by the Spirit, you won’t gratify the lusts of the flesh.” Do you see the difference?

The first says if we quit doing fleshly things, we’ll start walking according to the Spirit. The second says if we walk according to the Spirit, we’ll stop doing fleshly things. The difference is subtle but powerful.

Sadly, I followed that first path for years. I wanted to walk by the Spirit so I tried everything I could to stop doing fleshly things. I had accountability partners. I talked to people. I came up with plans. I established tricks. I made commitments. I signed pledges with myself. Anything I could think of to motivate me to stop following fleshly desire, I did. But I kept coming up short, just like Paul in Romans 7:15-20. It was just like banging my head against a brick wall over and over again.

God’s promise is not if we stop desiring or doing fleshly things then we’ll have the Spirit and walk in the Spirit. Rather, His promise is if we start walking in the Spirit then we’ll overcome the fleshly desires.

Therefore, Galatians 5:19-21 is not provided to show us what we must not do if we want to walk in the Spirit. Rather, the list is provided to show us the kind of things we’ve been fighting against that God will overcome in us if we simply start walking according to the Spirit. We want to overcome these because if we continue in them, we’ll not inherit the kingdom of God.

Throughout Galatians, walking by the Spirit is connected with faith. Galatians 3:2 says, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Galatians 3:11 says, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Galatians 3:14 says, “…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Herein is the struggle. It is possible to establish a set of rules but not really have faith. In that case, we try and try to live up to a checklist set of rules, but we find we never actually measure up to it. From this perspective, though we know God’s rules, we are actually relying on ourselves. Our faith isn’t in God, it’s in us. However, if instead we work on our faith in God’s word, God’s love, and God’s power, our faith will guide us to rely on Him, living according to the Spirit and the Spirit’s revelation. In turn, that will cause us to overcome the flesh and its desires.

So, don’t try to get to the Spirit by overcoming the flesh; overcome the flesh by following the Spirit.


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