After a brief study of Romans chapter 8, let us now turn our attention to another doctrinal passage of the New Testament. Galatians chapter 5 contrasts the works of the flesh and that of the Spirit. The tension and struggle between the flesh and the Spirit is clearly described in this passage. The apostle wrote,“16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17For 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. 18But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18, emphasis mine).
Matthew Henry rightly observed “that there is in every one a struggle between the flesh and the spirit (v. 17): The flesh (the corrupt and carnal part of us) lusts (strives and struggles with strength and vigour) against the spirit: it opposes all the motions of the Spirit, and resists every thing that is spiritual. On the other hand, the spirit (the renewed part of us) strives against the flesh, and opposes the will and desire of it: and hence it comes to pass that we cannot do the things that we would. As the principle of grace in us will not suffer us to do all the evil which our corrupt nature would prompt us to, so neither can we do all the good that we would, by reason of the oppositions we meet with from that corrupt and carnal principle.” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, page 2303)
Paul exhorted the Galatians to “walk in the Spirit”, and to embrace serious, practical godliness. The “flesh” is the term Paul often used to describe what remains of the “old man” after a person is saved. It refers to unredeemed humanness, the part of a believer that awaits future redemption at the time of his glorification (Romans 8:23).
MacArthur elucidates that this struggle between the Spirit and the flesh is a diurnal occurrence for the Christian; it happens every day on a regular basis:
“It is only in the lives of believers that the Spirit can fight against the flesh, because it is only in believers that the Spirit dwells. Only a believer can truthfully say, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:22-23). Only in believers are the unredeemed flesh and the Spirit living in the redeemed self in opposition to one another, so that believers may not do the things that they please. Believers do not always do what they wish to do. There are those moments in every Christian’s experience when the wishing is present but the doing is not. The Spirit often halts what our flesh desires, and the flesh often overrides the will that comes from the Spirit.” (MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Galatians)The Spirit of God leads those who are redeemed by Christ Jesus. When God saves a sinner, the Holy Spirit enters simultaneously (cf. Rom. 8:9). And the moment He enters He begins to lead the new Christian in the way of fruitfulness (Gal. 5:22-23), holiness (5:16), truth (John 16:13-15), and assurance (Rom. 8:16).
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul described the works of the flesh, “19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (emphasis mine).”
Did Paul entertain the thought that “they which do such things shall loose some rewards”? Although Paul admitted that there is an ongoing tussle between the flesh and the Spirit (cf. Romans 7:14-24) within a genuine Christian, Paul never once mentioned that there is a separate class of Christians. According to Paul’s understanding, there exists no “Carnal Christian” whose entire inclination is towards the flesh, and is devoid of any desire to obey the “doctrine which is according to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3).” The Scripture teaches unequivocally that people who habitually engage in wicked, sinful behavior are not truly regenerate.
The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, concurs, “If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord’s will, but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumptions, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Do not suppose that the Gospel is magnified or God-glorified by going to the world ... and telling them that they may be saved at this moment by simply ‘accepting Christ’ as their Savior, while they are wedded to their idols, and their hearts are still in love with sin. If I do so, I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Charles Spurgeon, Today's Evangelism, pp. 25-26).
Those who have never submitted their lives to the lordship of Christ, and are constantly rebelling against the Word of God are not truly believers. According to Galatians chapter 5, it is apparent that the true child of God has a constant, innate desire to obey Him. While the indwelling Spirit of the Christian constantly wars against the flesh, the unregenerate person will have no such struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.
The remorse or shame that an unsaved person experiences must not be confused with the spiritual warfare that occurs within a Christian. Although the sinful activities that the heathen indulges in might disappoint or disgust him, these sins are entirely consistent with his intrinsic nature as a child of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Beyond whatever conscience that might remain in his sinful state, there is no genuine spiritual warfare within the unregenerate person.
Paul wrote, “24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). Since the flesh is ‘crucified’ in the sense that it does not reign over us or hold us in inescapable servitude, we now live in the realm where Christ reigns over us by His Spirit. We should now live according to the Spirit, and not the flesh.
To be continued in Part 4