The Spirit of God and our Earthly Existence in the Flesh
Sunday, February 21, 2010 -
Galatians 5:16-18 - “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Paul makes an amazing statement in verse 14 of this fifth chapter of Galatians - “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."Sometimes the beauty of those words actually distracts us from their content.“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Have you thought about that? I am to care about my neighbor’s unemployment as much as I love having my own job. I am to be as concerned about my neighbor’s hunger as much as I love to eat my own food. I am to sacrifice my wealth and lay down my own life for my neighbor’s salvation as much as I enjoy being saved myself. Who is able to live like this? That’s the first question. And the second is like it. Isn’t this new demand of Paul’s just as hard as keeping the laws of ethnic Judaism? Isn’t Paul just laying down another standard of holiness that is harder to live by than the law itself?
Let’s face it, we all know Christians who seem to have a hard time getting their walk with the Lord airborne. What are we to say to them? These are the concerns of today’s text:
1) THERE IS NO POWER TO OVERCOME THE DOWNWARD PULL OF THE FLESH IN RELIGIOUS REGULATIONS OR IN PERSONAL WILLPOWER - Galatians 5:16 - “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Remember, the flesh, in most of Paul’s writing, is the final confidence we place in ourselves, either to earn our righteousness through our own keeping of laws and regulations, or it is the casting off of restraint to fulfill our own pursuit of pleasures and possessions to fill the emptiness of our hearts apart from Jesus Christ. In other words, one form of the flesh is religious and the other is sensual. The religious expression of the flesh is proud, while the sensual expression of the flesh is unrestrained and desperate. But neither expression is ever loving or free.
Paul’s point in this verse is we do not have it within ourselves to overcome the life of the flesh in our own strength. Not one of us. But long ago a promise was made that answers to our deepest need - Jeremiah 31:33-34 - “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
This is what we’re all after. The external code would be replaced by an internal power. And, says Paul, that power is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
2) PAUL DESCRIBES THE DAY TO DAY LIVING OF THE CHRISTIAN AS A CONFLICT OF OPPOSING FORCES - Galatians 5:17 - “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
While these words describe a painful process, they should also be taken as words of encouragement. This process of inward struggle isn’t a sign of God’s absence, but His presence. The most damning sins are sins committed in serenity. The role of the Spirit is to set up an internal conflict with the desires of the flesh. This is a part of the promised covenant Jeremiah predicted to expose the emptiness and the dominance of the life of the flesh. Peter says the life of the desires of the flesh, while promising freedom and fulfillment, are actually militant terrorists seeking to establish a brutal dictatorship over our souls - 1 Peter 2:11 - “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
3) IN THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT, YOU HAVE TO WALK BEFORE YOU CAN BE LED
Paul uses two terms in describing our role and the Spirit’s role in making a free life: First, Galatians 5:16 - “....walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Then, second, Galatians 5:18 - “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”Walking and being led. This is very, very important. While we do not have the strength to defeat the flesh in our own strength, nor will the Spirit do it all for us. We must make the choice to walk. Then the Spirit will lead. And remember, He leads, not in the way a map gives direction. He leads, not externally, but internally, supplying the power to get the job done.
4) HOW CAN I MAKE A GOOD START, RIGHT WHERE I AM?
It is always important to know how to start something. What are the first steps? Key to understanding walking in the Spirit is remembering how Paul describes the life of the Spirit in these Galatian believers. Remember his words back in Galatians 3:2-3 - “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Notice how Paul links “hearing with faith” (3:2), with having “begun by the Spirit” (3:3). Hearing God’s promises in faith is the first step to walking in the Spirit. Notice again how Peter links hearing God’s promises in faith with defeating the life of the flesh - 2 Peter 1:3-4 - “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
Remember, if you want to increase your capacity and willingness to choose to walk in the Spirit so your life will be empowered by the Spirit, focus your mind on the promises of God. Believe that there is more fullness of joy in His presence than in the highest paid job in the land. Believe that His Word really is more precious than the price of gold when the market closes. Believe that it is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to have gold seats at a Leaf final in the Air Canada Center. Believe that if you diligently seek His Kingdom first, everything else - absolutely everything else - about your whole life will be better than if you seek Him second. That’s how you train your heart to choose to walk in the Spirit. And when you do, the Holy Spirit will fly your life higher than you even imagined possible.