The Fruit of License - Part 3 (series Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
Paul cautions them to take precautions because they are in danger of being consumed by the controversy raging within the Christian community. The peace and comfort of believers are at stake, which is often the situation, even though a person’s relationship with God is safe. But strife within a church can eventually destroy it since love is the cement that holds it together; remove the cement and the church will undergo the same fate as that house that was built upon the sand; it will be destroyed. No civil community, either public or private, divided against itself, can stand for very long, and neither can a religious one; and where love is lacking, the Lord threatens to remove, and sometimes does remove, the candlestick out of its place.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
This I say then, walk in the Spirit.
The Christian life is often represented as a journey, and the word “walk,” in the scripture, is often equivalent to live; for example: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" (Mark 7:5).
This is the advice the apostle thinks would be best for the Galatians, and which he would have observed if he was in their situation, that is, to "walk in the Spirit." By this is meant either: (1) after the Spirit of God; making that which is the standard of faith the rule of behavior, thus putting the principle into practice, and is the lamp unto our feet, and the light unto our path; taking the Spirit himself for a guide, who not only guides into all truth, but in the way of holiness and righteousness; and in the end to take us to the land of uprightness; and looking back we discover that we have been depending upon his grace and strength for assistance throughout the entirety of our Christian walk. Or it may mean (2) the exercise of the graces of the Spirit of God; as in the exercise of faith in the person of Christ; and in love of God, Christ, and one another, which is a fruit of the Spirit; and in humility, lowliness of mind, and meekness; all which is to walk in the Spirit, or spiritually, and strengthens the argument for love which the apostle is currently making.
It is likely that Paul’s instructions to the Galatians were meant to express both of the above meanings. His advice will never be out of date for Christians of any age. Today, as then, we are to live under the influences of the Holy Spirit and admit those influences fully into our hearts. Do not resist Him, but yield to all his suggestions—“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8.1). According to this statement by the apostle, if a man has the fruits of the Spirit, he is a Christian; if not, he is a stranger to religion, regardless of whatever else he may possess. Paul has listed the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law.” If a man would yield his heart to those influences, he would be able to overcome all his carnal tendencies; and it is because he resists that Spirit, that he is never able to overcome the corrupt urges of his nature. Never was a better rule given for overcoming our corrupt and sensual desires than what Paul has given us here. Actually, it’s the only way to overcome the corrupt desires and tendencies of our nature; philosophy can’t do it, mere resolutions can’t do it, and education and laws can’t do it. It is only by admitting into our souls the influence of religion and yielding ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. If we live under the influences of the Spirit, we need not fear the power of the sensual and corrupt inclinations of our nature.
Paul’s instruction, simply stated is, if we walk in the Spirit (instead of trying to live by the law), we naturally shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. The fear of the legalist—that walking in the Spirit gives license to sin, and that only legalism can keep us holy—is just plain wrong.
How does the Holy Spirit influence our life? First, He reveals His will to us through the message of the Bible. Second, He influences us through others who walk in the Spirit. Third, He influences us through an inner direction that we become more sensitive to, and respond to better, as we mature in Jesus.
How can you tell if someone walks in the Spirit? They look a lot like Jesus! Jesus
told us that the mission of the Holy Spirit would be to promote and speak of Him (John 14:16-17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15). When someone walks in the Spirit, they listen to what the Holy Spirit says as He guides them in the path and nature of Jesus.
Fulfill the lust of the flesh.
What is the lust of the flesh? Luther answered this way: “I do not deny that the lust of the flesh includes carnal lust. But it takes in more. It takes in all the corrupt desires with which believers are more or less infected, as pride, hatred, covetousness, impatience.”
Notice that he does not say there will be no flesh, nor any lust of the flesh in them if they walk spiritually; or that the flesh would not act and operate in them; or that they would not do anything sinful; all which is only true of Christ; and the opposite is to be found and observed in all true Christians, though they may be ever so spiritual. He acknowledges the great weakness of the godly; that they are only partially regenerated: but he exhorts them to remember that they are endued with the Spirit of God, who has delivered them from the slavery of sin so that they would not give themselves to lusts of the flesh. The flesh, the old nature is always with us, but when we die it remains in the grave, while our spirit goes to be with the Lord. While we live, we should not fulfill or perfect the lust of the flesh; should not give up ourselves entirely to the power and dictates of the flesh, so that we are under its control, and obedient servants and slaves to it. True Christians do sin, but they do not make a trade of it, and when they confess their sin to God, He is faithful to forgive them.
If the Spirit of God dwells in you and rules your heart, the whole carnal mind will lose its power; and then, not only carnal dictates will be abandoned, but also the works and inclinations of the flesh—the natural man, out of which flow the evils specified in verses 19-21. The spirit and the flesh mutually exclude one another. It is not promised that we would have no evil lusts, but that we should "not fulfill" them. If the spirit that is in us can be at ease under sin, it is not a spirit that comes from the Holy Spirit. The gentle dove trembles at the sight even of a hawk's feather. There is no way anyone can fulfill the lust of the flesh as they walk in the Spirit. The two simply don’t go together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t move in us to gratify our fallen desires and passions, but to teach us about Jesus and to guide us in the path of Jesus. This is the key to righteous living—walking in the Spirit, not living under the domination of the law.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit.
What is the flesh in the way Paul uses it here? He doesn’t mean our flesh and blood bodies. Precisely speaking, our flesh isn’t even that fallen nature, the “old man” that we inherited from Adam, because the old man was crucified with Jesus, and is now dead and gone—“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:6). Instead, as Paul uses it here, the flesh is our inner man that exists apart from the “old man” or the “new man,” and which is trained in rebellion by the old nature, the world, and the devil. Even though the old man was crucified with Christ, and is dead and gone, his influence lives on through the flesh—and he will battle against us until we experience God’s final antidote to the flesh: a resurrection body. By "flesh," then, is meant the corrupt nature, which is still in saved persons. It is called flesh because it thrives and intensifies by feeding on carnal (fleshly, bodily, sensual) desires; its lusts and works are fleshly; and though it has its seat in the heart, it shows itself in the flesh or members of the body, which are yielded as instruments of unrighteousness. The flesh can make men carnal and dominate carnal men, even believers themselves, if it is allowed to succeed.
By "the Spirit" is meant the internal principle of grace in a saved man, and it gets its name from the author of it, the Spirit of God because it is His workmanship. Its nature is spiritual, its objects are spiritual, and it delights in spiritual things.