I pray that you have experienced many times when you have felt and been incredibly close to God. Think about those times. Maybe it’s today but if not, do you remember the freedom, peace and joy that you experienced then? Those are the times you have real love for God and a great outlook on life. Those are the times that you know heaven awaits, you want to learn all there is about God, you want to tell everyone what Jesus had done for you, and you want to serve the Lord in any and every way possible
Then it doesn’t take long and the enemy attacks. You are tempted to sin and …YOU DO IT! Then those thoughts of guilt and shame creep in. The enemy begins to whisper words of doubt in your mind. He makes you ask certain questions to yourself:
– How could you do such a thing if you were really a Christian?
– How could you have such thoughts if you were really born again?
– How could you say those things if you were really a child of God?
Then discouragement sets in.
In your surrender, you did not just get a free pass out of Hell and receive a home in Heaven. You also enlisted in God’s Army and you were placed on the frontlines of a war! You are not involved in a small battle, you are in the midst of an intense war… A WAR WITHIN!! – I am referring to the war between the flesh and the Spirit. Galatians 5:17 “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.”
Many Christians live defeated lives! Why? I think the blame lies in today’s often too easy thinking. For far too long the Church has put all of the focus on professions of faith, baptisms and numerical growth and has neglected to “make disciples” It is a great joy to see someone born into the family of God but there are countless people who have prayed a prayer and have no idea what comes next.
Enlist in an army and you might want and enjoy the benefits, but then there is more, there is training on how to fight so you are prepared to fight the enemy. In many cases the people recruit people to Jesus, they come to church, but no one is training them for the battle, be it the recruiter or the church. Everyone understands that if you’re not trained chances are good you can’t win the fight. So maybe you are here and you have asked this question… “If I am truly saved then why do I sin so easily and so often, even when I don’t want to sin?
It may encourage you to know that the Apostle Paul faced that same struggle- Romans 7:18-23 “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Adrian Rogers said, “The Christian life is not a playground, it is a battlefield” – It is a war! And today I let’s look at how to win the war. Here’s the answer, Galatians 5:16, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The key to victory is clear, but the battle is not an easy one! In order for us to truly “live by the Spirit”, we must understand the differences between the Spirit and the flesh. So let’s’ look to verses 16-21 and see the contrast between the flesh and Spirit.
I. The Flesh
A Dr. W.G. Scroggie said that “The flesh may be defined as “man’s fallen nature under the power of sin.” It is the evil principle in man’s nature. The flesh is the starter material that the devil’s temptation can use for the fire. Galatians 5:19-21 from the Common English Bible gives the list:
The actions that are produced by selfish motives (our flesh) are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.”
The flesh refers not only to the physical body, but also the mind, will, and emotions which are all subject to sin. The flesh is shown in our selfish motives which will be obvious by your actions. Paul gives us a rather extensive list of the “works of the flesh” or “selfish motive actions. Let’s simply list them:
sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying.
This describes one side of the battle that we face. Keep in mind that your soul may be saved but your flesh is as lost as it ever was! And that flesh still has evil, worldly and sinful desires, desires that must be dealt with! Consider Galatians 5:17: “A person’s selfish desires (flesh) are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires (flesh). They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. The flesh and Spirit have desires that are contrary to one another. This is where the battle comes in! We find ourselves in a place where we have desires to do both good and evil!
Let’s recognize what we know, the flesh, our selfish desires, want to push us around, often when you least expect it. Paul knew it in Romans 7:18 “I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it.” If you want to know how corrupt the human flesh is, our selfish desires are, just look at our society. There is no limit to the evil that can come from a life lived in the flesh, in selfishness! And even in the believer the flesh is an ever present force.
Oh how we wish we could not be distracted by the flesh, our selfish desires? The battle happens all the time. You’re doing good, in the Spirit, then your selfish self desires something you know is wrong. You’re focused on God then BOOM! You’re in prayer then all of the sudden your mind drifts to something other than the prayer? How about now and then it’s a great worship service then everything other that worship is on your mind..like what’s for lunch?
Simply put, you have the desire to do what is right but find yourself doing what is wrong? It’s war. You desire good and evil all at the same time. Your Spirit wants to pray… your flesh wants to watch TV. Your Spirit wants to forgive… your flesh wants revenge! Your Spirit wants to witness to that person… your flesh wants to let someone else do it! Your Spirit wants to tithe… your flesh wants to spend! Your Spirit wants to love… your flesh wants to hate! Your Spirit wants to go to church… your flesh wants to go do anything else or just stay in bed.
The battle will always rage and often it is really tough….this battle between the spirit and the flesh/selfishness. But remember that you do not have to fight this war on your own! We must live and fight by the Spirit of God. Remember what Paul said back in – Galatians 2:20 “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
We can experience victory when we follow the directions given in verse 16 … “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Let’s take a little time and look at the other side of this battle. Consider: The Spirit
At the moment of our surrender we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 6:19 “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.” Paul simply says for us to live in a lifestyle of obedience. We are to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. When we are confronted with temptation…when our fleshly selfish desires come, we MUST YEILD TO THE SPIRIT!
When you belong to Jesus, here is what Paul tells you from Romans 8:9 “But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him.” When you belong to the Lord, you’re in the family of God, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. He is there to lead us, guide us, and directs us. That is the awesome power that we have too tap into.
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” When we are obedient and follow the direction of the Sprit we will not give in to our fleshly selfish desires. There is no guarantee that we will not face temptation but when we walk in the Sprit we can overcome and have victory over that temptation. Most have heard 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.” Yes there is a way out, the Spirit will protect, it can be done. It’s your choice.
Do you remember the fruits of the Spirit? love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit produces these fruits. This is the proof of the Spirit life! There is simply a stark contrast between this list and that other list. You know what is shown in your life, flesh /selfishness or the Spirit fruits.
When you compare the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit you can know whether you are walking by the Spirit or being controlled by the flesh. It is also an indicator of salvation! A lost man will never truly possess all of the fruits of the Spirit apart from Christ! What describes you? What do others see in you? What is your life marked by? You say that you are saved…I hope so but the scriptures tell us that there WILL be fruit in the life of a believer and it will show!
Are you LED by the flesh, your selfishness or are you LED by the Spirit? YOU make the decision as to WHO will lead you! YOU decide if you are going to listen to your FLESH! YOU decide if you are going to be submissive and obedient to the SPIRIT!
This story illustrates this truth: “A young man, determined to find help for his troubled life, walked into a church. He told the pastor that his life was meaningless and in constant turmoil. He wanted to make better choices, but couldn’t. The young man said: “It’s as if I have two dogs constantly battling within me. One dog is evil, while the other is good. The battles are long and difficult; they drain me emotionally and mentally.” Without a moment’s thought, the pastor asked, “Which dog wins the battles?” Hesitantly, the young man admitted, “The evil dog.”
The pastor looked at him and said, “That’s the one you feed the most. You need to starve that dog to death!”
Yes it all starts with being more obedient. Are you feeding the good dog or the evil dog? Are you following the lusts of the flesh and your selfishness or the direction of the Holy Spirit? If you truly desire to win the war, you must follow the Spirit!