Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh

by Mike Ratliff

1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (NASB) 

Any attempt to please God by rule keeping or law keeping in order to “earn” right standing with Him is fruitless effort. Not only is it impossible, failure is inevitable. Also, for Christians to “evangelize” through legalism is a total waste of time. These well-meaning people tell unbelievers to stop sinning instead of preaching Jesus to them. I find this a ludicrous mind-set since no one who still lives in the temporal can be sinless. On the other hand, as we see in the passage above (Romans 8:1-8), those in Christ are in right standing before God because the law of the Spirit of life has set them free in their Saviour from the law of sin and death. However, this does not mean they are free to live this life as antinomians, that is, taking the grace of God for granted and living any way they choose. How can we live this life as we should my brethren? As we see in Romans 8:1-8 (above) those who walk correctly before the face of God do so according to the Spirit.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 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. Galatians 5:16-17 (NASB) 

16 Λέγω δέ, πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε. 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. Galatians 5:16-17 (NA28)

The main verb in v16 is “walk,” which translates the Greek word περιπατεῖτε. The verb is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice, therefore, this is a command to do something as a way of life. The verb means to “tread all around” or “deport oneself.” What is the command? It is to live according to the Spirit (πνεύματι). What does that mean? The combination of words here implies both direction and empowerment. The Christian who walks by the Spirit makes decisions and choices according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. He or she acts with the spiritual power that the Spirit supplies. Paul tells us plainly that those who live this way “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” What does that mean? These are the “desires” or “cravings” of fallen human nature. We will look at a list of these shortly. What we must understand is that these “desires” or “cravings” of the flesh are against the Spirit. Also, the desires of the Spirit are against them. There can be no peace between the two, no compromise.

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 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 5:18-21 (NASB) 

18 εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον. 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 5:18-21 (NA28)

The Greek word translated here as “you are led by” is ἄγεσθε. This word has many usages and forms. Here, however, ἄγεσθε is referring to the Holy Spirit leading, ruling, or governing the believer. If we are led by the Spirit in this context, will we pursue the works of the flesh? No we won’t, nor will the works of the flesh become evident in our lives. Why? These are mutually exclusive. Either Christians live by the power of the Holy Spirit, which results in righteous behavior and spiritual attitudes, or by the law, which can only produce unrighteous behavior and attitudes (1 Corinthians 15:36). Look at the list of sinful behaviors in vv19-21. These sins are characteristic of unredeemed mankind living under impotent commands of the law, which can only produce iniquity. Paul closes this horrid list of sinful behaviors by saying, “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, those who live like this are proving that they are unregenerate. Only the regenerate will be allowed to enter the spiritual kingdom of redeemed people over whom Christ now rules.

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)

The Greek word used here that is translated as “fruit” is καρπὸς. This is the product of something else. The Holy Spirit produces fruit which consists of nine characteristics or attitudes that are inextricably linked with each other and are commanded of believers throughout the New Testament. Remember, this is referring to those who are led by the Spirit not ruled by their flesh. These nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit identify Christians as being “Christlike.” They take on His character as they are led by the Spirit. They also are the ones who have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Well, we know very well that we still must battle against our flesh each and every day so what is Paul talking about here? This is a look back to the Cross of Christ, where the death of the flesh and its power to reign over believers was actually accomplished (Romans 6:1-11). However, we know that we must wait until our glorification before we are finally rid of our unredeemed humanness (Romans 8:23). However, as we walk by the Spirit, we can please God in the world by walking by the Spirit just as we are alive in the Spirit.

My brethren, the enemy within each of us demands that we feed it by taking away from anything or anyone that is opposed to self-gratification. To walk by the Spirit is to deny our flesh literally what it demands by obeying our Lord in all things by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a behavior we must learn because we do not naturally know this or act this way. This is why we have this ongoing sanctification process that we must all go through. I am praying for all believers reading this that they will dedicate the rest of their lives to this. Seek the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness, not the trinkets of this world. To God be the Glory!

Soli Deo Gloria!