Commentary on Galatians, 5:16-18

Galatians 5:16-18

“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the desire of the flesh.

All through this book Paul has been dealing with those who have strayed from the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, and have embraced a “perverted” gospel. However, there are always the faithful few, and so Paul is addressing the true followers of Jesus Christ who have remained faithful. On the other hand, he most certainly is trusting God to lead the others back to the truth that they originally embraced (Gal 5:10). With that in mind, he now turns his attention to the walk of the Christian.

“walk”  (Gr. peripateo – 4043)

Walk, live, to regulate or conduct one’s life according to.

As Christians, we’re either walking according to the Spirit of God, or we are walking according to our own desires. We’re either yielding to the will of God, or we’re following our own prideful, self-will. As followers of Christ, we’re to regulate our lives according to the will of God, in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. That’s the normal Christian life. Anytime we set aside the will of God, to go our own way, we are at that point living a life that is abnormal for the Christian.

We obtain the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we sincerely present ourselves to Christ as His servants. As we deny ourselves of self-will, and present ourselves and our members (every part of our body) to God in true humility (Ro 6:11-19), the Holy Spirit honors our heart for Him, and grants us the grace to live for Him. It’s when we give in to pride and self-will that we lose the power of God. Humility before God is what activates God’s power in our lives (1 Pet 5:5,6).

“17 For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you wish.”

“flesh”  (Gr. sarx – 4561)

Human nature, earthly nature, natural man, old man, sinful nature.

Some translations, like the NIV, translate flesh as “sinful nature.” Some believe this to be an inaccurate rendering of this Greek word because of passages like Rom 6:2-8; Gal 2:20; 2 Cor 5:17. They believe, and argue, that the old sinful nature has been eradicated. However, the fact that sin still dwells within us, and can still dominate us (Rom 6:12-22), that argument seems quite unconvincing to me.

Spiritually, we have indeed died (Col 3:3), and have been raised to new life in Christ (Col 3:1). However, we are still trapped in this body of sin (Ro 6:6; Ro 7:24; Ro 8:10). As new creations (2 Cor 5:17), when we die we live on with this new nature that we have in Christ. But in this life, we are body, soul, and spirit (1 Thes 5:23). We are not simply soul and spirit. The old sinful nature is woven into this body of ours, and we will not be delivered from this body until we die, or are raptured/resurrected. Unbelievers, who have not experienced the new birth, they die as they are in their unregenerate, sinful state.

In my opinion, those who believe, and teach, that the old sinful nature has been done away with in Christ, are actually describing what we will be in our resurrected bodies. When we are resurrected in our glorified bodies, it will be without the sinful nature. To argue that we are now without the old nature, is to put us on an equal basis with what we will be in the resurrection. You’re free to disagree with my viewpoint on this, but to me it makes sense.

I would like to add, that since we have died spiritually and been raised to new life spiritually, we have died to the power of sin, so that sin is no longer our master (Ro 6). However, since we are still in this body of sin, we can allow it to enslave us and reign (Ro 6:12) in our lives as though it still has a right to do so. To gain victory over the flesh, we must yield to the Holy Spirit. Before we were regenerated, we didn’t have a choice but to allow sin to rule us; now we have a choice. We must realize that we have a new Master, and that we are now “slaves of God” and “slaves of righteousness” (Ro 6:17-22). We must recognize who we are in Christ, and live our lives according to that awareness (Ro 6:11).

“for these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you wish.”

The desires of the flesh are “contrary” to the desires of the Spirit. The desires of flesh are totally self-ward, with no view of doing the will of God. Even though we are born-again, with a new nature, we still have this old nature that is constantly pulling at us to go its way. It wants to claim a right to us that it doesn’t have. It wants to continue to rule us as its master, but we don’t have to allow that to happen. Jesus said that “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). This war within us will continue until we are out of this body of sin and in the presence of God. But the victory is already ours; we simply need to live according to the enabling grace that God has provided.

“18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

The normal life for the Christian is to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit. We are no longer under the dictates of the law. We are no longer obligated to live according to the letter of the law, but are free to live according to the spirit of the law. This is what the Galatians needed to understand. We have been set free from the law, and under grace we are instead to be led of the Spirit, who will lead us according to the will of God. As we saturate our minds with the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will do a miracle within us. Over time He will conform our heart to the heart of Christ, and bring our lives into harmony with His Word. The reason why so many Christians live worldly lives, is because they are not faithfully absorbing the Word of God.