Read Galatians 5:13-26 (read again 16-18)
I’ve been talking to people. Of course that’s not unusual for me at any rate, it goes with the ‘job’ and explains why, when on holiday, which this isn’t, I don’t want to talk to people, especially strangers. Does that make me weird? Humm! Let’s not go there. Talking to people is not unusual but what has been is the mode of speaking to people it’s now almost exclusively over by phone, by email or text. By whatever means the story is the same, after two or three weeks of isolation at home the novelty is wearing off and it’s becoming hard. The gardens are almost immaculate, not a weed in sight, the odd jobs list is becoming shorter by the day, then what? Most people would love to be out and about and back to normal but it’s not going to happen, not because the government restrictions, or because we run the risk of being cautioned by the police. No, it’s something deeper, something personal and internal we don’t want to become ill, especially the older and more vulnerable we are. So though there is a conflict of desires, the inner concern in this case, keeps us on the right side, at least doing the right thing.
It’s fine for Paul to say “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh” (V13) but the desires of the flesh are strong in us and there is an internal battle going on which in fairness he recognises and it comes down to this; gratify the desires of the flesh (gratify not satisfy – the flesh is never satisfied) or live to God’s glory. Now that battle would be unequal but for one thing and Paul identifies that in verse 16; “live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come to believers, “unless I go away the Advocate (Spirit) will not come. John 16:7. He then outlines the work of the Spirit and in verse 13 says “when He, the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth” and in verse 14 “He will glorify me.” The Spirit is the presence of Christ in us and when Paul says “Live by the Spirit” he’s saying that we have the power already to live in the way we desire as Christians, to Christ’s glory. This though, is not in our own strength but in the Spirit’s power. So then, the conflict he describes is not an equal contest. If I try to live for Christ in my own power the desire of the flesh is stronger. The result is failure and discouragement. If though, I live in the power of the Spirit, the Sprit is always stronger. Either way the flesh and the Spirit are mutually exclusive, we can’t gratify the flesh while at the same time living to the glory of Jesus and vice versa. The problem is that this is not an automatic process and this is all made clear by one writer, Ronald Fung, who says “Paul does not regard the believer simply as a helpless spectator or an unwilling pawn in the fierce battle between the flesh and the Spirit; the assumption is rather that the Christian can overcome the flesh by siding with the Spirit. The active leading of the Holy Spirit does not signify the believer’s being, so to speak led by the nose willy-nilly, on the contrary he must let himself be led by the Spirit.”
As arguments continue about what are the essential supplies we can legitimately leave the house to buy and what are not; or who can work and who can’t because the work is not essential there is no such ambiguity in what Paul writes. We are called to do one thing “live by the Spirit” and to abstain from another gratifying the desires of the flesh. As we live by the Spirit, he will so fill our lives with the presence of the risen Christ that there will no longer be room for the desires of the flesh. Perhaps today is the day we can take a stand, not by ourselves but with the Spirit.