But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
Every believer has received the promised Spirit of God, who has remade us after the image of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. The believer has been spiritually resurrected by the Spirit through the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). In coming to Christ we have laid aside the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22ff). Thus we are alive from the dead by the Spirit of God, and, as Paul commands us here, we are to walk by the Spirit. This means that we are to submit to him day by day. We yield our lives to his leading.
I want you to see that this command is both very serious as well as very encouraging.
A call to fight
This call is serious because we are at war. Says Paul, 17 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.
The flesh in Paul refers to life in the old age with all of its rebellion and desires. It is old Adam, living in opposition to God and comes to expression in sinful passions and desires. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and has regenerated us. He is working in the believer desires for the life and righteousness of the age to come. These combatants are set against each. The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh to keep you from doing the things you want (ESV). That is a good translation. The New King James rendering says so that you do not do the things that you wish. Following the NKJV Paul is indicating the result of the conflict. That is, each combatant thwarts the other thus leading to frustration. But actually Paul intends to convey the purpose of each combatant. The Flesh is against the Spirit and intends to thwart the Spirit that its desire may prevail. And the Spirit is against the flesh and seeks to thwart the flesh that His desires will rule. If the desires of the flesh prevail, destruction. If the desires of the Spirit prevail eternal.
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Galatians 6:8).
So because of this deadly war, the believer cannot be passive. He or she must self-consciously submit to the Holy Spirit who has regenerated them.
Encouragement for the fight
Paul says that if we walk by the Spirit, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. This is a promise, and it pertains to the here and now for God people living on earth in period before the consummation of God’s kingdom.
We can walk by the Spirit and not the flesh because of the strong theological realities.
First we are not under the law. Paul states in verse 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. What does this mean? In Galatians to live under that law means also to live under the reign of sin. To be free of the law does not mean freedom to sin, but freedom from sin. Not that the law is sin, but the person in whom sin reigns, it uses the law to make us more sinful. But if we are led by the Spirit, then this shows us that sin is no longer the “determinative power” over us. That power has been broken. We are in the realm of Christ and His Spirit free to carry out His desires.
Second, the Spirit of God is stronger than the flesh. He is omnipotent. The determinative power of the flesh has been broken. Greater is he that is in you that he who is in the world. Thus by the Spirit we can kill the misdeed of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).
So while we will never be perfect in this age, we will, during our pilgrimage here, necessarily grow in knowledge and God-honoring character.
So Galatian 5:16 is an urgent call to walk by the Spirit because of the war within, and we can walk by the Spirit because we are not under sin, and if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
So dear believer, do not be passive in you walk; you can’t afford to. Nor should allow pessimistic mood and thoughts control your understanding of growing in the Spirit; you are not under law. Raise up and kill the flesh and live in step with the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 5:25).