But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh

by Mike Ratliff

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 NASB)

What is Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Spirituality? Are these just another term for Christian spiritual growth or “the way or method” that God has designed for His people to grow spiritually? Or are they totally different from what the Word of God teaches us? A clear-headed and Biblically-based study of Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Spirituality will actually reveal that they are being introduced into the visible church via deception. The proponents of these non-Christian spiritual systems attempt to validate that they are Christian by taking passages from God’s Word out of context and attempt to force them to support their mystical paradigm. While these people do put a lot of emphasis on Christian Authenticity and what that means as well as becoming Christlike or like Christ and while I write about those things quite a bit, it is quite amazing and a bit surprising to see them 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.

The teachers of this mystical paradigm of Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Spirituality actually lead their followers to believe that true spirituality comes to those who profess to know nothing and, in fact, if someone like me teaches God’s truth as the truth this does not prove that I know the truth, but that I am just arrogant for no one can know the truth.  Also, they teach their followers to not to pray and meditate on Sacred Scripture, but we are to put our minds into neutral in an attempt to find our true selves. No, the Word of God says otherwise. 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 carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 NASB)

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 could by no means perform the desire 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 (σαρκὸς) or according to the Spirit (πνεύματι). The New Testament usage of σαρκὸς 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 flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Galatians 5:17-18 NASB)

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’s desires are against the Spirit and the Spirit’s are against the flesh; for these things oppose each other, so that you cannot do whatever you desire.  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 (πνεύματι ἄγεσθε), 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 deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NASB)

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 the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions, sects,  21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, as I said 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 (σαρκός) 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 (πράσσοντες) 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 Now 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 walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26 NASB)

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 not a law.  24 But the ones of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and its desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, we should also be in line with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  (Galatians 5:22-25 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!

2 thoughts on “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh

  1. Gosh, Mike – you take all the fun out of false religion🙂

    Even folks in some reformed churches have been led a bit down this spiritual formation path, embracing questionable teaching because of the author.

    We must be ever watchful. Thanks for being faithful to One Who called you – knowing it is He Who started and will complete His good work.

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