It’s a battle. Dare I even say, a daily battle. Sometimes a low-level skirmish in the background, sometimes an all-out assault front and center. I know this not just theoretically, but in reality. ‘Cause I am the battlefield.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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.
(Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)
Paul has just twice reminded these Galatians it was “for freedom” that Christ had called them and set them free (5:1, 13). And yet that freedom isn’t a gimme. “Stand firm therefore,” says Paul, “and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” It’s gonna be a battle.
Why the Father didn’t remove entirely the old nature — with both its legalistic (5:2) and licentious (5:13) cravings — upon conversion, I don’t know. But if Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is any clue, it was to keep us dependent on the Lord and His all-sufficient grace, and to experience His divine presence and power made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:7-9). The power of God sourced in the Spirit of God which the Son of God sent to dwell in us. The Spirit who is opposed to the flesh, just as the ways of our old nature are opposed to Him.
It’s a two-way battle. When the Spirit prevails, it keeps us from doing the things we want to do which are marked by fleshly desire, fleshly effort, and fleshly satisfaction. But when the old nature gets the upper hand, it prevents us from doing the good things we want to do — walking in freedom, imitating Christ, investing in the kingdom, wanting only to please the Savior for the glory of God. And so, we battle. Every day. Did I mention, we’re the battleground?
Paul says, “walk by the Spirit” (5:16), be “led by the Spirit” (5:18), “keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25) and you will bear “the fruit of the Spirit” (5:22-23). That’s how we do our part in waging war against the old nature.
We recognize the reality of the battle. We engage with holy determination in the battle. We look to the Spirit within us to win the battle.
And it seems to me, the Spirit is not only active in our victories, but also in our defeats. He convicts of sin. Prompts us towards confession and repentance. Reminds us of the work of the cross, and the power of the blood, to “to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn. 1:9). And leads us again into battle against the flesh.
And so, we rise another day to walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, even as we seek to keep in step with the Spirit. Another day on the battlefield.
By His grace. For His glory.