But I Say Walk By The Spirit And You Will Not Gratify The Desires Of The Flesh

by Mike Ratliff

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 ESV)

Any honest research into Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Spirituality will reveal a serpent’s nest of Emergent writers who, with ease, take passages from Sacred Scripture out of context and attempt to force them to support their mystical paradigm. If you do this you will find a great deal of emphasis on Christian Authenticity and what that means as well as becoming Christlike or like Christ, which is also the emphasis of this ministry. What is is disturbing in this research, however, is how those in the Emergent movement take the passages from God’s Word I use to teach believers to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow Jesus to mean something quite different from how they are used in Biblical Orthodoxy. 

One of the most disturbing sites as I described above is called The Website of Unknowing.This site was actually a feeder to other sites that promotes the concept of Christians being “formed, by the Holy Spirit, through Christ, in the image and likeness of God.” Man, that sounds just like what I teach here most of the time, however, what they are selling is something quite different from what Christ and the Apostles wrote of in the New Testament. The main difference is that the Bible actually teaches Christians to learn about God, to learn His truth and apply it to their lives, to know His sound doctrine and through that, be made free to walk by the Spirit. On the other hand, the proponents of Spiritual Formation teach that only those who profess to know nothing with certainty are truly following Christ. Those, like me, who teach sound doctrine with certainty, are merely arrogant. Spiritual Formation is not Christian, but a melding of christian mysticism  with Quakerism and Eastern Mysticism. The Contemplative Spirituality they are selling teaches professing believers to use meditation techniques that are unbiblical. In fact, they are all about centering prayer with the use of mantras, the continual repetition of phrases or words in order to open up the subconscious to communicate with the Spirit world.

This is not the same way our Lord taught us to pray nor is it how we are to meditate on Sacred Scripture. Instead, we are to pray with the glory of God at the forefront of our minds. We do not put our minds into neutral as we do this, but are actively seeking His will and the deeper we immerse ourselves into God’s Word, the more God will use that which is hidden in our hearts to give us what we need, be that direction or edification or encouragement. The contemplative prayer techniques do not do this. Instead, they are very dangerous and can only lead to further deception by our enemy who is preying on these people pretending to be the Lord, guiding them into even deeper darkness. Let us look at a biblical example of spiritual maturing.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 ESV)

16 Λέγω δέ, πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε. (Galatians 5:16 NA28)

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will by no means be able to perform lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

What is the focus here? We are called as Christians to walk in repentance. However, most believers are enslaved to the their flesh. However, Paul tells us what it takes to break those bonds of slavery. The word translated here as walk by or walk around is περιπατεῖτε. This word speaks of how we deport ourselves in our daily walk before the face of God. We can do this according to the flesh (σαρκος) or according to the Spirit (πνευματι). The New Testament usage of σαρκος in this context always refers to the fallen human nature with all of its moral frailties. When we walk by the Spirit (πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε), what are we doing? This is walking through each day down the narrow path (direction) in the power of the Holy Spirit (empowerment). If we are walking this way then we are being guided by the Holy Spirit in our decisions and then we at within the spiritual power that He gives us to do so.

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:17-18 ESV)

17 ἡ γὰρ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα κατὰ τῆς σαρκός, ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντίκειται, ἵνα μὴ ἃ ἐὰν θέλητε ταῦτα ποιῆτε. 18 εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον. (Galatians 5:17-18 NA28)

17 For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, for these things oppose each other so that whatever you desire to do you cannot do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law. (Galatians 5:17-18 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

What does this mean? The first part is self-explanatory. All of us know that God did not kill our flesh when He saved us. We still have this enemy within and this old nature battles with our new nature, which is of the Spirit. If we walk in self-focus and temporal-focus then we are not walking in the Spirit and this means that we are not being empowered by the Holy Spirit nor are we listening to His guidance. This means that we make stupid, selfish decisions here that are actually motivated by our pride. On the other hand, if we are led by the Spirit (πνευματι αγεσθε), this is proof that we are no longer under the law. What does this mean? It means that all in Christ have been made free from the pre-Christian system of keeping God’s Law. Instead, they are under grace. We can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) to seek help from God in forgiveness as we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) or to implore Him to give us wisdom and discernment to know how to proceed and not sin.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident:sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

19 φανερὰ δέ ἐστιν τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός, ἅτινά ἐστιν πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια, 20 εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακεία, ἔχθραι, ἔρις, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθεῖαι, διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις, 21 φθόνοι, μέθαι, κῶμοι καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις, ἃ προλέγω ὑμῖν, καθὼς προεῖπον ὅτι οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν. (Galatians 5:19-21 NA28)

19 Now are the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions, sects, 21 envyings, drunkennesses, carousings and things like these, of which I warned you before, that the ones practicing such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

These works of the flesh (σαρκος) are evidences of one being unregenerate (v21). This is so because these sins are all bound up in self-focus, self-promotion, self-affirmation, self-aggrandizement, et cetera. When we are controlled by our pride then these sins will take over and control us. We become enslaved to them. The key to understanding this is that Paul is not saying that Christians do not sin, but that those who practice them as a way of life or a way of walking (πρασσοντες) are giving evidence of not being genuine Christians.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self- control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26 ESV)

22 ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις 23 πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος. 24 οἱ δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ] τὴν σάρκα ἐσταύρωσαν σὺν τοῖς παθήμασιν καὶ ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις. 25 Εἰ ζῶμεν πνεύματι, πνεύματι καὶ στοιχῶμεν. 26 μὴ γινώμεθα κενόδοξοι, ἀλλήλους προκαλούμενοι, ἀλλήλοις φθονοῦντες. (Galatians 5:22-26 NA28)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law, 24 but those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its lusts. 25 If we live by the Spirit, we should also be in line with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, proving one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Do you see the contrast my brethren? If the walk of the professing Christian is marked by the first list of sins then it is evidence that they are not genuine. On the other hand, the genuine Christian, though not perfect, will walk with the second list as the markers in their character that give evidence of a growing Christlikeness. Paul even goes on to say that genuine Christians (οἱ δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ) have crucified the flesh (σάρκα ἐσταύρωσαν) with its passions and desires. This means that genuine Christians have died with Christ to sin (Romans 6:4-6). This is the result of walking in the Spirit as these Christians assign these passions and desires to the dung heap. They view them as worthless and can do this because their focus is not in the temporal nor is it on the self all wrapped up in pride. No, instead, it is on God and His glory. Their focus is eternal and when they are walking this way, their flesh is denied and has no power to ensnare them and get them off of the narrow path.

Is this the same thing as Spiritual Formation? Will practicing a form of transcendental meditation cause the believer to walk by the Spirit? No, for this requires an active walking in repentance and praying continually in the Spirit. The mind is not put in neutral, but is fully engaged with God. This is why it is imperative for Biblical literacy to be a top priority in the Church. This is what the Spirit uses to renew our minds so that we can be transformed into the Spirit-led believers described above (Romans 12:1-2).

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “But I Say Walk By The Spirit And You Will Not Gratify The Desires Of The Flesh

  1. This contrast is the major thing the Lord has been teaching me the last decade – and still teaching me. Right now I am brokenhearted over a friend and brother in Christ who has left his wife and 3 daughters for a woman he met on a business trip. I was very close to this man for several years. I pray the Lord takes everything away from him and draws his focus back to the Lamb of God. And while I have been weeping over his rebellion against God, I am also weeping with thanks that He has kept me from doing the same thing. Because I know my sinful desires have dragged me aside from the clarion call of personal holiness and there, but for the grace of God, go I.

    If we are not deliberate in seeking after God, pursuing His righteousness, mortifying the sin that so easily entangles us, we will be drawn aside and be made a spectacle for the world to gawk at. And all men will be judged for the deeds done in the flesh. Nothing is done in secret that will not be revealed.

    May God have mercy!


  2. Thank you for this wonderful article. Great (sobering) description of works of flesh: “senseless, stupid… motivated by pride.” Only conscious, premeditated effort under grace of Holy Spirit can help us to walk with Him. This is war, but with victory assured through Christ alone.


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