The Fruit of License - Part 4 (series Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
By “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit” is meant that the inclinations and desires of the flesh are contrary to those of the Spirit. They draw us away in an opposite direction, and while the Spirit of God would lead us one way, our carnal nature would lead us another, and that produces the painful upheaval which exists in our minds. The word "Spirit,” as it is used here refers to the Spirit of God, and to His influences on the heart. It is through His Spirit that God still continues to struggle with you, in spite of your apostasy, showing you where you have fallen, and inviting you to return to Him; but your own stubbornness renders the Spirit ineffective; and through the influence of these different principles (flesh vs. Spirit), you are kept in a state of self-opposition and self-distraction, so that you cannot do the things that you know you should. You know what is right, and you want to do it; but, since you have abandoned the Gospel and the grace of Christ, and, in their place you have chosen to live by following the law and its ordinances which, unlike the Holy Spirit, can afford you no power to conquer your evil tendencies. It was on this ground that the apostle exhorted them, in Galatians 5:16, to walk in the Spirit, that they might not fulfill the lust of the flesh; since without the grace of God they could do nothing.
And the Spirit against the flesh.
The reason is given here for why those who walk spiritually shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh—because they have a powerful governing principle within them, the Spirit, or grace; which though the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and opposes it, the Spirit rises up against the flesh, and often hinders it from doing the works and lusts of the flesh. There is in saved men a propensity and inclination to sin, a spirit that wills and desires sin, and wishes for an opportunity to do it, which when an opportunity is present, the flesh strongly solicits the man to take advantage of the opportunity; but the Spirit, or the internal principle of grace, opposes the motion; and like another Joseph says, “How can I commit this great wickedness and sin against a God of so much love and grace?” It is a voice behind and even in a believer, which, when he is tempted to turn to the right hand or the left, says, this is the way, walk in it, and will not allow him to go into crooked paths with the workers of iniquity; and so sin cannot have the dominion over him, because he is under grace as a reigning principle; and the old man cannot do the evil things he would, since he is under the restraints of mighty grace. This is the apostle's principal opinion, and best suits his reasoning within the context of the passage; but inasmuch as the two are contrary to one another the other sense should also be considered; that sometimes, by reason of the dominance of the corrupt nature, and power of indwelling sin, a saved man does the evil he would not normally do, and he cannot do the good he wants to do (he always desires to do good), because of this opposite principle, the flesh.
And these are contrary the one to the other.
They are as different as light and darkness, fire and water, or as different as any two opposites can be thought to be. They are contrary in their nature, actions, and results. They are not only repugnant to each other but are constantly at war. The flesh is the internal force of sin, which wars against the Spirit—the law in the mind, or the force and power of the principle of grace. These are the two armies fighting against each other. The Jews say that one is the good imagination, and the other the evil one, by which they mean the same as here. They also say that they are like Abraham and Lot; and that "though they are brethren, joined in one body, they are enemies to one another."
There is no suggestion that it is impossible to do what is pleasing to God, but the activity of the flesh tends toward not doing what we want to do. It is only God, by His Holy Spirit, who can gain the victory in this battle. My struggling does not help at all, for this would be only the flesh trying to subdue the flesh. The Spirit of God within me accomplishes what I cannot do because He draws my heart to the Lord Jesus to depend totally on Him and have no confidence in the flesh.
“And these are contrary”—because they are opposite in their nature. They never can harmonize—“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:6-7; also, compare Galatians 5:19-23). Paul illustrated their contrariety by showing what each produces; and they are as opposite as adultery, wrath, strife, murders, drunkenness, etc., are to love, joy, goodness, gentleness, and temperance.
For those who are familiar with computers,
I would offer this illustration: it’s as if we are a computer, and we have two hard drives in us. One is programmed according to the Spirit, and the other is programmed according to the flesh. In any given situation, it’s up to us to decide which “drive” we will access. The resources of the Spirit are there. The resources of the flesh are there—but which will you access? Some want to take the “drive” of their flesh and make it as efficient as possible. God never meant your system to run that way. He wants you to run off the “drive” of the Spirit of God. In this illustration, the law is like an error message that keeps popping up on your flesh “drive.” It doesn’t fix the drive, and it sometimes makes the system crash—but it does tell you something is wrong, and it points you in the right direction. Instead, the Spirit “drive” has programming on it that will make your flesh drive better—and one day, when we get to heaven, God will replace that “flesh” drive with a resurrection upgrade.
So that ye cannot do the good that ye would.
Walking in the Spirit is the key, but it doesn’t always come easily. Often, it is a battle. There is a battle going on inside the Christian, and the battle is between the flesh and the Spirit. As Paul writes, these are contrary to one another—they don’t get along at all! When the flesh is winning the inside battle, you do not do the things that you wish. You don’t live the way you want to; you live under the flesh instead of under the Spirit.
The fact that there is a battle going on should wake us up. If you don’t know you are in a battle, you will always lose. Also, the fact of the battle teaches us that effort is required to walk in the Spirit. God doesn’t just knock us over the head with it; we have to seek it and block out the things that hinder walking in the Spirit.
How do we fight against the flesh? First, we have to be able to say “No” to the flesh and its sinful desires. Second, we have to be able to starve the flesh from bad influences. Third, we have to strengthen ourselves in the Spirit of God and follow His influence. “When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word, I could not have helped myself against the flesh.” (Luther)
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
But if ye be led of the Spirit
That is, if you submit to the teachings and guidance of the Holy Spirit—who has the power to draw men to Christ.
Ye are not under the law
You are under a different dispensation—the dispensation of the Spirit. You are free from the restraints and control of the Mosaic Law, delivered from its condemning power, and now under the control of the Spirit of God. But no one is delivered from the condemning power of the law, or overcomes the corruptions of his own heart, except under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean one is free of the obligations of the moral law, but that your heart agrees with the Spirit so that you no longer feel the presence of the law, only the influences of the Spirit.
Judaism was concerned almost entirely with external, religious ceremonies, and spectacular, material and physical things; and filling people's minds with that type of observances would add nothing at all, and even detract from the energies needed in the true spiritual warfare. Paul did not hate Judaism, as such; but it simply could not do any good in the kind of warfare that must be won if people are to please God. The moral commandments of the Mosaic Law are to be fulfilled by Christians, no less than the law of Christ (see Galatians 5:14); and here Paul doesn’t stress the relaxation of such obligations, but only the manner of their fulfillment.
So, the force of the apostle's argument seems to be this: "You are by the spiritual dispensation of the gospel, free from the curse and terror of the moral law; how unreasonable then is it to suppose, that you should still be subject to the ceremonial law? No; if you be led by the Spirit, neither the moral law shall condemn you, nor the ceremonial law gratify and bind you."
Here someone may object: "Paul, how can you say we are not under the law? You yourself said that we have the flesh which wars against the Spirit, and brings us into subjection." But Paul says, “Don’t let that bother you, because as long as we are led by the Spirit, and are willing to obey the Spirit who resists the flesh, we are not under the Law.” True believers are not under the Law. The Law cannot condemn them although they feel sin and confess it.