The greeting to Christ’s lambs.
Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today is God’s appointed day of rest. If we were in a different kind of church, I might ask for a show of hands, how many people need a rest? Let me hold my hand up. 😊 In God’s infinite kindness, goodness, and mercy He is our Jehovah Jireh – the Lord that provides. (Gen.22:14) The Lord is our resting place.
The Word of God.
And we find the rest for our souls in the Lord as He reveals Himself to us in His word. (Mt.11:28-30, Ps.23:1-6) Beloved, please open up your Bibles to Galatians chapter five, we are going to read verses 16 to 26. Hear the holy word of our Holy and loving Lord. Read.
Galatians 5:16. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
The help from the Lord.
Now as always, we need to go to the Lord in believing supplication and ask Him to bless His word to our hearts and minds and lives today. Let’s pray.
This morning I want to focus on the desires of the flesh and of the Spirit in verses 16-18. Next week we will consider what those desires produce, either the deeds of the flesh or the fruits of the Spirit, in verses 19-25. So, lusts or desires of the flesh represent fallen sinful thinking and feeling as opposed to new and holy thoughts and emotions.
The nature of the Christian life.
We have already said in numerous ways that the Christian life is one of a fight, a race, a struggle. (I Cor.10:13, Dt.31:6-8) That word “struggle” really resonates with me. The idea is that in our following after Jesus in this life we must put forth concerted effort to oppose sin and to live to holiness, to carry our cross in our pilgrimage to heaven. (Phil.3:1-14) A pilgrimage that I believe for the most part is “uphill”, meaning it requires us to move forward contrary to our own flesh or fallen desires. (Mt.16:24-26)
Yes, Satan opposes us. Yes, the worldling moved along by Satan opposes us. But it is our own indwelling flesh that is our most insidious opponent. Charles Spurgeon said that the worst enemy we have is our own flesh.
Thomas Brooks an English Puritan prayed this, Lord deliver me from that evil man – myself!
I have often said that our sinful nature represents so much combustible material within us. We do not need much of a spark of temptation from the devil or the world to burst forth into some sin.
Our flesh wants to return to Egypt, to bondage to sin. (Num.14:4) The Holy Spirit within us compels us onward and upward to Mount Zion, to the Celestial City. (Heb.12:22)
For this sermon on our website, I used a photo of a tug-of-war match in a highlander games in Scotland. The men have their kilts and bonnets on and they were giving it there all. That is the Christian life, an internal tug-of-war match between our flesh and our spirit.
The struggle to do good works.
What’s interesting in this is in relationship to what the Holy Spirit just instructed us to do in Galatians 5:13-15, that is to say to serve one another out of love and not to gratify our flesh and not to bite and devour one another.
Essentially this is Paul’s summary statement on the doctrine of good works. Much as we see James expound upon the necessity of good works to testify of the existence of true faith. (Jas.2:8-26)
Loving others beloved is part of that struggle. Not feeding our fallen flesh is part of that up-hill climb. Our flesh does not want to love and to serve others. Our flesh wants to love and to serve self. Our flesh does not want to produce good works, our flesh wants to satisfy sin.
And I will say this, selfishness and self-centeredness being a sin, it produces only misery. We think it will bring us happiness, but it doesn’t. Beloved, look at those that have thrown off the word of God and have embraced their sin with zeal. Are they happy? Does their sinful life bring them joy? No.
The assistance in the Christian life.
True joy is found only in holiness. Holiness is found only in union with God and increasingly close communion with God.
Well, now in God’s word we find God telling us the nature of our struggle. Paul opens with “walk by the Spirit”. By this God teaches us that our struggle is a spiritual struggle.
Not only do we learn that this is a spiritual struggle, but we also learn the assistance that belongs to us in Jesus. Or to put it another way, God tells us how we can be successful in our struggle to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to love God, and to hate and shun all sin. The answer is to be led by the Spirit.
The Christian person.
Let’s talk a little bit about the flesh and the Spirit because sometimes it can get a little confusing.
The human being.
First the word flesh, sarx in Greek, can refer to the physical material part of Man, namely our bodies. Paul is not writing against that. Sometimes people see these sections that criticize the flesh, and they conclude that the Bible teaches that the physical body is somehow inherently sinful or bad, even before the Fall. That is not correct. God made the physical part of man, his sarx or soma, and God made the immaterial part of man, his soul or spirit. In the beginning it was good and very good. (Gen.1:31)
The Bible says this about Jesus as the Perfect Man, the God-Man, and the Word became flesh, sarx. (Jn.1:14, I Jn.1:1) So, Paul is not writing against our flesh and blood bodies and the maintenance of them. As Believers, Christ has redeemed us, our whole persons, our physical body and our immaterial soul. Remember, we will get renewed glorified bodies like Christ in the eternal estate. (I Jn.3:2, Rom.8:11, I Cor.15:43-44)
The unbeliever – in the flesh, the fleshly person.
Sometimes the Bible will describe unbelievers are those “in” the flesh, or those that walk according to the flesh, or they serve or feed the flesh, or something like that. These are the people still dead in their sins and trespasses. They are the Natural Man, left unrenewed by God. They are fallen sinners doing what fallen sinners do, which is to say to live according to their nature. And thus, the habitual practice of their life is to serve their fallen nature. (Rom.3:9-18)
The Believer – in the Spirit, the spiritual person.
The opposite of this person is the person that has been born again by the Holy Spirit. This is the true Believer. They are no longer “in” the flesh, but they are “in” Christ or “in” the Spirit. (Rom.8:9) Calvin calls this new nature the grace of regeneration. This is the part of our nature that is being renewed in the image of God by the grace of God.
Or as Paul calls us in First Corinthians true Believers are no longer the natural man, but we are by God’s grace in Christ spiritual people. (I Cor.2:10-16)
Listen to how the apostle Paul puts these truths in Romans eight.
Romans 8:4. so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
Sometimes this idea of not being in the flesh but now being in the Spirit is depicted in the Bible as having put off the old man as one set of garments and having put on the new man as another set of garments. This is the justification part.
Colossians 3:6. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-.
Notice the idea is definitive and past tense, you have put off the old man, you have put on the new man. I will apply this to the flesh and the Spirit ideas. You are no longer in the flesh. You are in Christ by the Spirit – you are in the Spirit, past tense, definitive. You are a new creature in Christ. You are a new person, with a new heart, with new affections. (2 Cor.5:17-21)
Listen to how Jesus states this to the religious teacher Nicodemus.
John 3:6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
The spiritual person still has a sin nature.
Now here is the part that can be a bit confusing. True Believers are no longer in the flesh, but we still have the flesh. In other words, truly born-again people still have a sinful nature that has not been completely eradicated.
When we are born again God adds to us this new life or new spiritual nature, but we still retain the old nature. We inherit the corrupt nature from the First Adam. The nature of the Second Adam is effectively applied to us in our regeneration and increasingly so in our sanctification. (WCF 6.2-4, WCF 13.2, WLC 75, 78, WSC 35)
This is how our secondary standards states this.
WCF 6.5 This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated;(1) and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.(2)
(1) 1 John 1:8,10; Rom. 7:14,17,18,23; James 3:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20.
(2) Rom. 7:5,7,8,25; Gal. 5:17.
This is why the Bible then tells people to put off the old man and to put on the new man. This is present active and ongoing. This is the sanctification part. (Rom.6:6, I Pt.1:14, 2:1,24, I Jn.1:6-7, Heb.5:14, I Tim.4:7, Rom.8:12-13, Col.3:5-9)
Ephesians 4:20. But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
We know that Paul is not here speaking to unbelievers because they have no inward war of their flesh and the Holy Spirit gift of a new nature. No. Only the Believer battles the inward rebellion within himself.
As Believers we see that we are not free from the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life. These things wage war against our souls as the Bible says.
Paul, and Peter, and James speak about this indwelling war between our flesh and the Spirit within us. (Rom.7:13-25, I Pt.2:11-12) Listen to God through James.
James 4:1. What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
The spiritual person has mighty assistance.
So, Paul is writing to these Galatian Christians, after having called them away from the false gospel of works-righteousness and to the true gospel of Christ’s righteousness, he now seeks to help them in their progressive and practical holiness.
Galatians 5:16. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God tells Believer to walk by the Spirit and to be led by the Spirit. Now there are many interpretations to this. Some appear to me to border on the mystical, some direct experience of the Holy Spirit telling you what to do and what not to do.
There is a much easier explanation. The Holy Spirit has made us alive in Christ using the word of God, the word that He inspired. (Jas.1:18, I Pt.1:23, Rom.10:1-17)
That same inspired Bible tells us that the Bible is our sufficient guide for doctrine and practice. Walking according to the Spirit means living according to the Spirit wrought word of God. (2 Tim.3:14-17, Jn.17:17) I know that does not appeal to our flesh that really wants some super extra-ordinary way to be led by God. But that is just the point.
The Spirit leads us in a way that the flesh dislikes.
So as Believers we have both the indwelling Holy Spirit and we have the word inspired by the Spirit to help us put to death the deeds of the flesh.
We use spiritual weapons against spiritual problems. This is why physical material cures for sin problems do not work.
True Biblical Christianity is not a species of “behavioral psychology”, an ideology that says behavior is shaped by environment and by using a series of punishments or pleasures you can change behavior. Actually, beloved, in one sense I do not doubt this at all. If you tell a woman if you show too much skin, we will whip you in the city square. Well, I would imagine the woman would opt to dress modestly. But that does not mortify the flesh. It puts a dress on it. It is still there. That is legalism, which Paul has been refuting.
You cannot eradicate a sin nature by carnal means. And when you try to eradicate one expression of carnality by carnal means you only feed another aspect of carnality. Often times you feed the worst expression of the flesh – pride, which is idolatry of self.
How can we serve others in love? Come to the Spirit wrought word, see your duty, by the Spirit’s gift of saving faith, look to Christ. Ask God’s assistance to do your duty. How can you not satisfy your sinful fleshly desires? The same way. Go to God in prayer. Seek His help. Ask Him to keep you from temptations, to remove those temptations, to support you in it. Watch and pray that you not fall into temptation. Be on guard against the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. (I Jn.2:15-19)
Remember the Spirit’s job is to direct us to Christ. As we look to Christ, think on Christ, feed on Christ this is walking by the Spirit.
Or to speak in more general terms, the daily study of the Bible, meditating on God’s word, praying for the Holy Spirit to apply His truth to us is the best way to starve our sin nature and feed our new nature.
Another way to consider this is to think more on the good of our soul than of our body. Try that test in your own life. Are you all absorbed with physical and material things? What you will eat, what you will wear, your health and your wealth? Well, then this will tend to feed your flesh and starve your spirit. Think much on the welfare of your eternal souls and this will tend to lead you by the Spirit.
Here are some Scriptural ways we can help ourselves in this.
Stay away from bad company. They are “in” the flesh. They are sowing to the flesh. If you spend your free time with you they will tempt you also to sow to your flesh. The opposite of this is also true. Spend your free time with godly Believers. And I stress the word “godly” Believers. There are those Christians that are walking more closely with the Lord – seek them out.
I mentioned the use of our “free” time. I make this distinction to differentiate between our ordinary callings. Speaking of that, find a lawful calling and busy yourself with that. The common proverb of idle hands are the devil’s worship is very true. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband and it all began with his idleness and then the desires of his flesh took the opportunity.
Deny the desires of the flesh.
The Believer is told what to do by God. God tells us to deny the desires of “our” flesh. And I stress the word “our”. In one way our greatest enemy and danger to our holiness is ourselves, our sin nature, our desire for sin.
One of our greatest enemies to growth in Christlike holiness is the tendency to vindicate our sin and indict others. This is sowing to the flesh. Oh, I did such and so because of this or that person, they are the real cause of my sin. No. The real cause of our sin is our flesh.
In some ways this calls us to take responsibility for our life in Christ. I do not mean we merit anything. But I do mean that other people cannot mortify our flesh, only we can. To the extent that we blame others for our sins we will not put to death our sins and we will not feed and strengthen our new nature.
V.16-17. “You may not do the things you please”. That is to say that pleases your flesh.
This is the duty of self-denial. We must say to our self – no. We must govern ourselves by the word of God. The word of God is our standard for what we permit in “our” life and what we reject.
And self-denial of something we want, something our flesh wants. I stress this because things that we do not want or like are not a test of our ability to deny ourselves. It is no effort for me to refrain from seafood. I am probably the only fellow to grow up on Cape Cod that loathes all sea food. But pizza and ice cream, that it is a real cross to deny those. I now I am being a little silly with that example, but you see what I mean.
But we must practice this cross-bearing self-denial to satisfy sinful desires if we are to experience victory in our spiritual battle. Learn to say no. Learn to push away from the dinner table. Learn to shut off the computer. Learn to avoid arguments. Etc.
V.17. Let me say something that I hope is encouraging. Paul is talking about the normative Christian life. If you as a Believer in Jesus are struggling and fighting against sinful desires and in favor of holy desires, well do not despair.
That is the struggle of all Christians until we go to heaven. God Himself helps us in this struggle.
So then, expect this struggle of desires. Don’t be surprised when you experience it. And perhaps, I should say, be very concerned if you do not have this struggle between sinful desires and living a holy life for Jesus. A lack of spiritual struggle means a lack of spiritual life. (Heb.12:1-11)
What we find then is the life of a Christian is something of a mixed life.
So, when any Christian is examined, and I really mean by God and not by us. Then you will see a Christian partly thinks and does sin. And he or she thinks and does righteousness. This does not make us phonys or hypocrites as I heard one minister refer to another sinning minister that he was a phony, a fake Christian.
Oh beloved, be careful against that. Sexual sins are not the worst sins, remember pride is.
Thomas Watson said, a man may be damned for morality as well as for vice, a vessel may be sunk with gold as well as with dung.
This text also teaches us that even our desires and acts of righteousness are still corrupted by our flesh. That means even our good works are not perfect according to the strict justice of God. For example, we may attend corporate worship partly from a holy motive and perhaps partly from a selfish or sinful motive. And sometimes we ourselves are unable to determine what is of our flesh and what is of the Spirit. (WCF 16.1-7)
What is interesting in this spiritual warfare within ourselves is sometimes we think, oh I am doing some holy thing here, something that God requires. Let’s say, I am contending for the truth of the Gospel. Well and good. But at the same time our flesh is prodding us get angry with our opponents – call it righteous anger. You see in this way the real desires of the Holy Spirit are thwarted or quenched by our trying to fight spiritual battles with carnal means, which is impossible.
Embrace your freedom in Christ.
In this painful war of desires that goes on within us God wants us to know that if we are led by the Spirit we are no longer under the law.
Now when he says this, he means that we are no longer under the law as a covenant of works. Paul says in Romans 7:1-3 that in Christ we have died to the law (as a covenant of works) so that we can be married to Christ and we be found in the covenant of grace.
George Whitefield said that we are dead to the Law as a covenant of works, but we are alive to the law as a rule of life. (Collected Sermons, vol.1, p. 227)
Galatians 5:18. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
What this means as we find ourselves failing in our desires to live according to the Spirit and we sin and give in to our flesh and not practicing the holy things we want then we ought to remind ourselves that the law can no longer condemn us because it has condemned our Christ in our place.
So as the desires of the flesh and of the Holy Spirit battle within us we need not live in dejected depressed fear concerning our failures. This is not a excuse to sin. But it is a comfort when we do sin.
Martin Luther said that when he was a monk he felt utterly cast away from God when felt any lust or desire of the flesh that is, any envy, wrath, or hatred of a brother. But once he found all his righteousness in Christ, he would remind himself from this passage, Martin, you are not without sin, you still have the flesh, therefore you cannot do the things you desire to do. And He would turn his eyes back upon Christ.
Beloved, faith in Jesus, enjoying the love of Jesus is always the great answer to all our needs.
In Christ we have our victory.