This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
B1.1This I say Then
We now have a conclusion that leads us into the consequences of walking either in the flesh or the Spirit. So far in this epistle we have seen, amongst other things, that salvation, and living the Christian life is of the Spirit, and not by any effort of the flesh. The Law was only a temporary addition to the promise made to Abraham until Christ should come; and that as born again believers we are of Jerusalem above, and not the Jerusalem below. To go back to the law and its works, in whatever form, is to be once more enslaved in a yoke of bondage.
Throughout the epistle we have seen that we are either of law (whether it be the Mosaic one, or one made up by men or self) or we are of the Spirit; we cannot be of both, it is one or the other. If we want to live under a legal system then we are obliged to be slaves of that system and to keep every aspect of it. But on the other hand knowing that we are freed from the Law, we are not to allow that liberty to be used for the flesh, but rather in order to serve and love one another.
B2.2 The lust of the flesh
The word lust in modern speech has certain overtones, which obscures the Bible’s use of the word. The word in scripture is used to mean a strong desire, and that could be good or bad. Here are a few scriptures that illustrate this.
B2.2a Good lust/desire
Mtt.13:17; Lk.16:21;17:22; 2:15; Phil.1:23; Heb.6:11; I Pet.1:12
B1.2b Bad lust/desire
Mtt.5:28; Jn.8:44; Acts 20:33; Rom.1:24; I Cor. 10:6; I Pet.1:14
Paul talks about the lust of the flesh, that is the strong desires of the flesh, as being opposite to walking in the Spirit. If we are led by our fleshly desires then we are living contrary to God’s design for us, for we would be allowing something other than God to be our guiding factor. As a result we are then slaves to the body. Instead, it is God’s purpose for us to be led by the Spirit, and to make our bodies our servants and not our master.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
In this passage James gives us the downward steps when yielding to temptation. Its origin is in the lust of the flesh. The words drawn & enticed here give the idea of luring game from its place of safety in order to trap it. Trying not to extend the metaphor beyond its meaning, we can say that when hunters trap animals they use their natural instinct for food for their own destruction. Likewise when we are tempted, it is along the line of our natural desires, to the point where it becomes an over desire, and often drowning out any thought of the consequences.
When we have given in to the temptation a conception takes place; this happens the moment we accept the thought of the temptation (in whatever form it takes). We may dwell on it, we may lay plans to do something, or we may immediately act on it. But the moment we do so the lust conceives, we are thus caught by the temptation (which is one meanings of the underlying Greek word for conceive). Consequently the act of sin then follows, and then that result is death.
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
I Jn. 2:16
Fulfilling the lusts of the flesh means to live independently of God, and that is the basis of all sin. It is what caused Lucifer to fall in the first place: he gave way to his desires and tried to set up his own throne, Isa.14:12-15; Adam and Eve did the same sort of thing in the garden of Eden. We all are born with that same disposition, and the whole world’s system is based on that lust, as the above scriptures reveal. No wonder Paul says the lust of the flesh is contrary to the ways of the Spirit.
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
B1.3 Walking in the Spirit
Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. We must be careful as to how we read this scripture. It DOES NOT say: if you don’t fulfil the lusts of the flesh you are automatically walking in the Spirit! There are many who deny self, those who try to hold down the desires of the flesh, not just in so called Christendom but in many religions, yet they are not in the Spirit! Indeed to start by denying the flesh before we are walking in the Spirit is itself a work of the flesh! Further, such teaching and practice leads to asceticism and mysticism, something the Colossian letter warns about.
The scripture simply reads that if we walk in the Spirit then we do not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. It is a simple statement of fact. We have already seen in this chapter that to walk in the Spirit is to actually fulfil the whole law. It is not by efforts of self, but rather by the life that God has planted in us – His own nature.
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
If we have the Spirit of God then we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, that is we have been renewed in our hearts and raised into the heavenlies with Christ. So we have no excuse to live according to the lusts of the flesh. The example par excellence is of course the Lord Jesus, and it is worth our time examining His example.
We mentioned previously the Fall of Lucifer and of the first humans. These falls we note were in ideal circumstances: Lucifer in heaven, being the anointed Cherub; Adam and Eve in a paradise garden. Yet these beings, one heavenly the others human, gave in to their lusts when tempted and fell from their estates, thus declaring their independence from God.
In contrast we have Jesus, God incarnate. Fully God and fully man. He too had no sin and was tempted, just as Lucifer, Adam and Eve were at their beginnings, but that is where the similarity ends. When Jesus was tempted it was not in ideal conditions, but was in a wilderness and had fasted for forty days. Not exactly the most conducive of situations to resist the desires of the flesh! But that is what He did.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Firstly, note that Jesus was led of the Spirit to the wilderness, Luke’s account has this extra piece of information: Jesus [being] full of the Holy Ghost….. Lk.4:1 The emphasis is of being full and led by the Spirit. Jesus didn’t do anything from His own will, He laid down His own desires and only followed His Father’s will, eg. Jn. 4:34;5:30;6:38; 8:28; 14:10 and the famous Mtt.26:39. The secret was being full of the Holy Spirit and not following the lusts of the flesh, this is exactly what Paul in Ephesians exhorts us to do. Eph.5:18.
Secondly, Jesus’ reply to the devil. Now eating after a period of fasting is not in itself wrong, but here we note that the enemy wanted Jesus to gratify the flesh by showing off His glory and power, by questioning God’s word that was declared at Jesus’ baptism Mtt.3:17. This is exactly where Eve went wrong, she listened to the devil’s doubting of God’s word to her. But Jesus, under the most severe conditions, great hunger and a wilderness to live in, He said that it was God’s word we should live by. To give in to the devil would have meant that Jesus would have proved that He was the Son of God by listening to the enemy and not by simply accepting His Father’s testimony.
What a greater example can we have than that of the Lord Jesus? Never moving on the desires of the flesh, but being led and thus walking in the Spirit. We can now see why Paul declares that the lusts of the flesh are contrary to the Spirit, one is dependence on God the other independence from God. One is setting self up as the source of living, the other complete reliance on God.
In the context of our thoughts in Galatians we can see the folly of trying to live the Christian life by works of the flesh. By making rules and regulations to live by it is as if one is trying to prove that one is a child of God: “if thou be a child of God then live like this…” It’s bad enough making it a standard to live by oneself, but to impose it on others makes it worse. No we are to live by the Spirit, and by so doing we will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, not even laying down rules to make us deny the flesh!
If we are God’s children and are filled with the Spirit, we have nothing to prove to anyone. We are His and His word is sufficient; we just have to live and walk in the Spirit with a clear conscience before God, and no external rules or regulations will be necessary whether imposed by self or others. We are not under law!