Lessons from
The Book of Galatians
James J. Barker

Lesson 15
CONFLICT BETWEEN THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT

Text: GALATIANS 5:16-26


INTRODUCTION:


  1. We have here in our text, two important Bible terms -- flesh and Spirit. The Spirit of course, refers to the Holy Spirit (5:16, 18).
  2. The "flesh" is the Biblical word for fallen human nature.  F.B. Meyer used to say, "Leave off the h and spell it backwards, and you have self."  The Holy Spirit and the flesh are diametrically opposed.
  3. Their aims and purposes are diametrically opposed. Each says "No" to the other.   There can be no compromise with the flesh (5:24).
  4. These are two opposing resources upon which life must depend.  Someone has said, "If we are living 'our' life, it is flesh; but if we are living 'His' life, it is Spirit" (Norman Harrison).
  5. The flesh has its way of asserting itself.  On the other hand, the Holy Spirit has His way of expressing Himself (5:22-24).
  6. The two are "contrary" (5:17). There will always be antagonism between the flesh and the Spirit (5:17; cf. 4:29; Romans 8:4-9).
  7. These words are addressed to Christian people.  The unregenerate man cannot understand spiritual things. First Corinthians 2:14 says, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
  8. The unregenerate man ("the natural man") only understand the things of the flesh because he does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit.
  9. Flesh is the self-life.   Paul said in Romans 7:18, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing."
  10. Our Lord said in John 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
  11. The flesh should not be pampered or indulged.  The flesh cannot be improved upon, or educated, or tamed, or disciplined.  God only condemns it.
  12. F.B. Meyer said, "God has nailed the likeness of my self life to the cross. The cross is the symbol of degradation and curse. Cursed is everyone that hangs on the cross. If then God has treated the likeness of my sinful self, when borne by the sinless Christ, as worthy of His curse, how terrible in God's sight it must be for myself to hug it and embrace it and live in it!   Oh, wondrous cross! But that is not all.  Christ and I are one. In Him I hung there. I came to an end of myself in Christ, and kneeling at His cross I took the position of union with Him in His death, and I consigned my self-life to the cross. It was as though I took my self-life with its passions, its choices, its yearnings after perfection, its wallowing, its fickleness, its judgment of others, its uncharity, -- I took it as a felon, and said:  'Thou art cursed, thou shalt die. My God nailed thee to that cross. Come, thou shalt come. I put thee there by my choice, by my will, by my faith. Hang there.'   After that moment -- you remember in Galatians it is the aorist tense: 'They that are Christ's, crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts' -- after that moment, that decisive moment in my life, I have ever reckoned that my self life is on the cross, and that the death of Christ lies between me and it."

 

I. WE ARE TO WALK IN THE SPIRIT (5:16).

  1. The flesh and the Spirit are diametrically opposed. Each says "No" to the other. The flesh hinders the Spirit, so he "cannot do the things that ye would" (5:17).
  2. God has provided a way out -- "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (5:16).
  3. This is the only answer -- "Walk in the Spirit" (5:16).
  4. Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
  5. We are "led of the Spirit" (5:18), just as the children of Israel were led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

 

II. THE WORKS OF THE FLESH (5:19-21).

  1. The variety of ways in which the flesh expresses itself is listed here in verses 19-21.  It is an ugly list.
  2. It begins with the baser sins of sexual immorality, but it also includes the sins that are often overlooked, and sometimes accepted by worldlings (and even sometimes by Christians) -- "strife, seditions, heresies, envyings" (5:20, 21).
  3. Similar lists are found in Romans 1:26-32 and  II Timothy 3:1-7.
  4. Our Lord said in Mark 7:20-23, "That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:20-23).
  5. Our Lord was referring to the sins of the flesh which come from the wicked heart of man.
  6. The sins listed in Galatians 5:19-21 can be divided into three sections: sexual sins (5:19), religious sins (5:20a), and social sins (5:20b, 21).
  7. All of these sins get into churches, but the social sins seem to be the most commonplace:
  • "variance" -- contention and strife, fussing and fighting, quarreling, sowing discord.
  • "emulations" -- jealousy, envy, rivalries.
  • "wrath" -- outbursts of violent anger, raging resentment.
  • "strife" -- self-seeking, selfishness, stirring up trouble.
  • "seditions" -- causing division.
  • "heresies" -- similar to "seditions."  Factions, sects, etc.
  • "Envyings" (5:21) -- a stronger word than "emulations."  It refers to the feeling of displeasure one has when someone else is successful.
  • "murders" -- this is what is behind hatred and envyings.   First John 3:11, 12 says, "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous."
  • "drunkenness, revellings, and such like" -- drunken and riotous behaviour.   What worldlings call "partying" and "clubbing."
  1. They that indulge in these wicked sins "shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21).
  2. First Corinthians 6:9 and 10 says, "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
  3. Ephesians 5:5 says, "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."

 

III. THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT (5:22, 23).

  1. The conjunction "but" stands between these two lists (5:22). "But" stands between flesh and the Spirit.
  2. There is a notable distinction here.  It is the "fruit" of the Spirit versus the "works" of the flesh (5:19, 22).
  3. Works are produced by man's efforts; fruit is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit as we obey Him and yield to Him.
  4. Another important distinction: "fruit" is singular, and "works" is plural. The flesh produces a variety of evil works, whereas the Holy Spirit produces a blended whole of Christian character.
  5. Fruit grows out of a life that is yielded to the Holy Spirit.
  6. The Scofield Study Bible says, "Christian character is not mere moral or legal correctness, but the possession and manifestation of nine graces: love, joy, peace -- character as an inward state; longsuffering, gentleness, goodness --character in expression toward man; faith, meekness, temperance -- character in expression toward God. Taken together they present a moral portrait of Christ, and may be taken as the apostle's explanation of Galatians 2:20, 'Not I, but Christ,' and as a definition of 'fruit' in John 15:1-8.  This character is possible because of the believer's vital union to Christ (John 15:5; I Cor. 12:12, 13), and is wholly the fruit of the Spirit in those believers who are yielded to Him (Gal. 5:22, 23)." -- p. 1247.
  7. When we abide "in Christ" we will produce "much fruit" according to what our Lord says in John 15:5.
  8. The fruit of the Spirit means the Holy Spirit is reproducing Christ-like character in us (Galatians 5:22, 23).
  9. Romans 8:29 says God the Father has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son.
  10. If we as Christians lack any of these virtues, we are sinning against the Holy Spirit because we are hindering God's purpose for us.
  11. It is the Holy Spirit's purpose in coming to live in us, that we would be more like Jesus. But if we lack the fruit of the Spirit, we are grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30-32).
  12. "Love" is first on the list (5:22; cf. vss. 6, 13, 14).   Unfortunately, some fundamental Christians, in their hatred of sin and their zeal to earnestly contend for the faith, are not very loving.
  13. On the other hand, some Christians are very loving but they will not take a stand for truth. W. Graham Scroggie said, "To walk only in love would make us soft; to walk only in truth would make us hard; but walking in truth and love we become strong."
  14. First Corinthians 13:13 says, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity (love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity (love)."
  15. The Greek word translated "charity" in I Corinthians 13 is agapē.  It is the same word translated "love" here in Galatians 5:22.  It is usually translated "love" in the New Testament.
  16. Our Lord said in John 13:35, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
  17. "Joy and peace" (Gal. 5:22) come next.   Our Lord said in John 15:11, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
  18. We are commanded to be joyful. First Thessalonians 5:16 says, "Rejoice evermore."
  19. I liked the illustration we heard from our evangelist Sunday evening.  Something broke on his fifth wheel as he was trying to back it into a tough spot, and the preacher said, "Well, praise the Lord!"
  20. Being joyful means being able to rejoice in all of life's circumstances.
  21. Nehemiah 8:10 says, "The joy of the LORD is your strength."
  22. The apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 6:10, "As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."
  23. Paul from these words from a Roman prison, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4).
  24. Joy and peace always go together. "The fruit of the Spirit is peace" (Gal. 5:22).
  25. Our Lord said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27).
  26. "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful" (Colossians 3:15).
  27. Next comes "longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness" (Gal. 5:22).  Christians are to be "longsuffering," but oftentimes we are quick-tempered and easily provoked?
  28. First Peter 2:21 says, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps," and then goes on to say in verse 23, "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not" (1 Peter 2:23).
  29. First Peter 2:21 says Christ is our "example" and we are to "follow his steps."
  30. God has given us the indwelling Holy Spirit in order to make us more like Jesus.
  31. "The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness" (5:22). This means "kindness."
  32. Norman Harrison wrote these words: "Why is there so much unkindness, even among Christian people? There is but one explanation.  We brush aside the Spirit to be free to indulge the self-life. We get back on Our Side where the flesh holds sway."
  33. First Corinthians 13:4 says, "Charity (love) suffereth long, and is kind" (cf. Ephesians 4:30-32).
  34. "The fruit of the Spirit is goodness" (Gal. 5:22).  This denotes moral excellence.
  35. This cannot be produced by ourselves.  Paul says in Romans 7:18, "In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing."
  36. Even our Lord refused to be called good if regarded as a mere man.  He said to the rich young ruler, "Why callest thou Me good? none is good, save one, that is God" (Luke 18:19).
  37. Our Lord was not denying His goodness.  He was affirming His deity. Only God is good.  All men are sinners.   Jesus is good because Jesus is both God and man.
  38. Romans 3:12 (quoting Psalm 14:3) says, "There is none that doeth good, no, not one."
  39. So if a Christian has any good in him, it is because he is walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22).
  40. "Faith, meekness, and temperance" come next (Gal. 5:22, 23).  "Faith" here means "faithfulness."  It is an attribute of God because God is faithful.  "Great is Thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:23).
  41. Many Christians are unfaithful, undependable, and untrustworthy.  But as they grow in the Lord, and walk in the Spirit they become faithful, and dependable, and trustworthy.
  42. This is the fruit of the Spirit.
  43. "The fruit of the Spirit is meekness" (Gal. 5:23).
  44. Meekness is the spirit of humility. Our Lord said in Matthew 11:29, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
  45. Someone has said that meekness is strength that is under control.  Moses is a good example.  Numbers 12:3 says, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth."
  46. James 4:6 says, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6).
  47. Man is naturally proud. Pride is part of our fallen nature. Paul beseeches the proud Corinthians "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:1).
  48. "The fruit of the Spirit is temperance" (Gal. 5:23).  This is self-control.  We tend to think that this is something we must do for ourselves, but it is by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we restrain the self-life.
  49. "Against such there is no law" (5:23). There is no law needed when is filled with the Holy Spirit, and led by the Holy Spirit.
  50. The epistle to the Galatians teaches that we are saved apart from the law, and we are sanctified apart from the law (cf. 3:1-3).
  51. "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (5:24).   When Christ died on the cross, our wicked self-life was crucified (5:24).
  52. This is what Paul means in Romans 6:6. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."
  53. Norman Harrison said, "To His cross He took my temper, my passions, my tendency to evil. Thus Christ accomplished a victory for me over every moving, every prompting of my flesh-life...Here the Spirit is constantly checking out for me the values of this accomplished victory of self-crucifixion. I'm not doing it; He is doing it. My responsibility, since I 'live in the Spirit,' is to 'also walk in the Spirit' (vs. 25). If I give expression to Him momentarily He will momentarily see to it that I do not 'fulfill the lust of the flesh.' Christ's victory for me is now the Spirit's victory in me" (His Side versus Our Side.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. Salvation is a three-tense experience: in the past, from the penalty of sin; in the future, from the very presence of sin; for the present it is salvation from the power of sin.
  2. I am presently being saved by the power of the Holy Spirit from the activities of the flesh.
  3. This not only refers to the horrible sins mentioned in Galatians 5:19 and 21 -- adultery, fornication, murders, drunkenness, etc.
  4. It also includes the more commonplace sins mentioned in Galatians 5:20 and 21 -- "hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, etc.


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