The Conflict of the Flesh and the Spirit
We know well the part from Galatians which describes the conflict of the flesh and the Spirit. Let’s read it from Galatians 5:17:
“the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you may not do the things that you want.”
In addition to the Scriptures, our experience also proves us that there is a real struggle going on between our carnal desires and the will of God. As this is a daily experience in the lives of most Christians, we could easily conclude that this battle must accompany us for the rest of our lives.
But is it really so? Do we really have to struggle against carnal desires and actions until the grave? Or is there a possibility of a decisive victory for the one and defeat for the other?
From verse 17, we won’t get an answer for the question. It only describes the opposition, the contradiction, the conflict of the two fighters. But if we look at the previous and the following verses, we will see a clear picture.
First, let’s look at the previous verse. Verse 16: “I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and do not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
This is a command, which shows us the possibility, that the flesh can be defeated with its works. In fact, we must do it with God’s help.
Here I note that verse 17, may not speak about every believer all the time. In this case it was written to the Galatians, who were in quite a bad shape, whom Paul earlier called foolish, and in verse 15, he wrote them:
“If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you may not be consumed by one another.”
In verses 19-21, the apostle lists the works of the flesh, which includes some utterly horrible ones, like adultery, witchcraft and murders. And at the end of the list we read very solemn words which speak surely not for the Galatians only, but to everybody: “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Wow! We not only can win the battle against the works of the flesh, but if we don’t win, it may cost our salvation! God’s Word holds out the prospect of damnation for those who do not walk in the Spirit but practice the works of the flesh.
Let’s see an encouraging Scripture from another New Testament epistle: “brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh”
(Romans 8:12). The flesh may try to work against us, but we are not its debtors. We don’t have to do his works.
“for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”
(verse 13). The works of the sinful flesh can be killed. Through the Holy Spirit we can make them dead, powerless, incapable.
From Galatians 5:22 we learn that if we walk in the Spirit, then the fruit of the Spirit will flourish in our personality, headed by love.
As we go on reading Galatians 5, we find the way of putting to death the works of the flesh.
“those who are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts”
(Galatians 5:24). If we are Christ’s, then our sinful „flesh” was crucified. When we received Jesus, we became one with Him in His death on the cross.
“I have been crucified with Christ”
How will all this become real in our experience? Of course it is through our faith. If we believe that we were crucified with Christ, when we know that because we are Christ’s, our body of sin is crucified, then the works of the flesh, our sins will die out of our lives.
By willing, endeavoring and human efforts we can not overcome the flesh, but through faith and the Holy Spirit we can put to death its works, and then we can freely and abundantly bear the fruit of the Spirit.