“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).- Galatians 5:16–26
When theologians speak of the struggle to come to spiritual maturity, three major obstacles to spiritual growth are generally discussed. We have already looked at the first general obstacle: the world. The sinful customs and traditions of this world continually influence us, and if we are to overcome them, we must have our minds become more and more conformed to Christ (Rom. 12:2).
Today we will talk about the second general obstacle to spiritual maturity: the flesh. Today’s passage is but one of several instances in the New Testament where the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit is discussed. Here, and in many other places, we are exhorted to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the flesh in the history of the church. Many times people think that the term flesh refers to the physical body, resulting in the assumption that our bodies are bad and our spirits are good.
This idea, however, is rooted in Greek philosophy, and it denies the goodness of the physical, created world. This is not the teaching of Holy Scripture. The Bible teaches that the physical world, in and of itself, is a good thing (Gen. 1:31). It is only since the Fall that the physical world has been corrupted. This world is being redeemed and should not be regarded as less important than the spiritual realm.
When the Bible speaks of the war between flesh and spirit, it is not speaking about a war between body and soul. Rather, it is speaking about a war within ourselves — a war of our desires. This war is fought between the new life granted to us by the Spirit and our sin nature which has not yet been removed from us completely.
When we place our trust in Christ alone, we are set free from the slavery to sin and enabled to live our lives according to His will. That is, we are enabled to live our lives by the Spirit. However, our sinful nature is not totally eradicated. Though it no longer controls us, it still presently resists the Spirit at times so that we do not follow Jesus, the life-giving Spirit, on every occasion.
The flesh is the term for this sinful nature. This nature will not be eradicated until we are glorified. Until then, we are commanded to put it to death so that we will keep in step with the Spirit (Col. 3:5).
In order for us to progress in our walk, the old nature of the flesh must be weakened and our new nature must be strengthened. One of the most powerful ways we can do this is through godly fellowship with other believers. Find another believer whom you do not know well, and take steps to establish a godly relationship with him or her.
Passages for Further Study