Works of Flesh vs. Fruit of Spirit
Galatians 5:1, 16-26
: I begin a new series today that I have had in mind and heart for a few months now.
“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
[Stand fast, therefore] Be firm and unwavering. This verse properly belongs to the previous chapter, and should not have been separated from it. The sense is, that they were to be firm and unyielding in maintaining the great principles of Christian liberty. They had been freed from the bondage of rites and ceremonies; and they should by no means, and in no form, yield to them again.
[And be not entangled again] Tyndale renders this, “And wrap not yourselves again.” The sense is, do not again allow such a yoke to be put on you; do not again become slaves to any rites, and customs, and habits.
[The yoke of bondage] Of servitude to the Jewish laws.
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,
idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,
envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.”
: Part 1 today will address the sinful nature; I call this
“the stuff that we are made of in the natural.”
“Sinful nature” (NIV) or “flesh” (KJV, NRSV, NASB),
in Greek, is a key term in Romans 7 and 8. But at first glance it is confusing. This is because the word “flesh” is used in at least four different ways: The first three are morally neutral:
But perhaps Paul’s most characteristic use of
is with reference to
The word appears with this fourth definition in Romans 6:19; 7:5, 18, 25, and 13 times in the first 13 verses of Romans 8. It is central to our study.
Paul teaches that the fallen human nature is inherently rebellious against God. We inherited this nature from Adam and, unfortunately, it was not eradicated when we became Christians. It is still within us, but we are no longer forced to follow its dictates.
As we will see in Romans 8, we now have the Spirit within us who is strong enough to keep the flesh from getting the upper hand. What kinds of things does the flesh cause us to do?
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
The flesh motivates the selfishness we sometimes feel, the whining about our circumstances, the petty jealousies, the jockeying for power in the office and in our marriages, the lure of pornography, the desire for money and possessions, and all the rest. In 7:14-25 we’ll explore our struggle with the flesh. In 8:1-17 we’ll see how the Spirit can enable us to live free of the flesh.
Waging War against Our Souls (Romans 7-8)
As we seek to understand the flesh, it’s important to see that this is no benign competition. It is war against our spirits.
“I love God’s law with all my heart.
But there is another power
within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”
(Rom 7:22-23 NLT)
This term “waging war” (NIV, NASB), “warring” (KJV), “at war” (NRSV) is
, “to be at war with,”from anti, “over against, hostile opposition” + “strateuō, “to engage in a conflict, wage battle, fight.”
In chapter 8 of Romans we read,
For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.”
(Rom 8:7 NLT).
This concurs with several other New Testament references that characterize the Christian life as conflict:
(Gal 5:17 NLT)
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions
NLT – “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?”
1 Peter 2:11
– “Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.”
Note: The scope of spiritual warfare is the world, the flesh, and the devil. These verses refer primarily to the war with the flesh, though these realms do interact with each other.
If we pamper the flesh and give into its desires, we are merely feeding a monster that will grow that much stronger. The flesh is the enemy of our soul and wages war against it. The answer to the flesh, of course, is the power of the Spirit, which we’ll explore fully in Romans 8.
: Connceted to the battle is also the understanding that the human (natural) heart is corrupt/sinsul.
The Corrupt Heart of Man
Jeremiah put it this way:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Man in his present fallen state is not basically good, the Scripture teaches. He is deceitful and conniving. Yes, there is good in him — the remnant of God’s image in which he was formed. But the good is corrupted. No part of man is any longer perfectly good. All is a mixture of good and evil. And certainly man’s “flesh” is corrupt: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature (flesh,
)” (Romans 7:18).
All is somewhat corrupt and therefore, even the “good” in us cannot be trusted. Jesus recognized this when he taught on the heart or core of man:
“The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.’”
(Above) Written by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Of course, this is just what Paul is teaching about the flesh. Theologians have framed this as the Doctrine of Total Depravity. Not that man has absolutely no good in him. But that in every aspect man is flawed. Even the good that a person may intend may come from mixed motives, etc.
If we pamper the flesh and give into its desires, we are merely feeding a monster that will grow that much stronger. The flesh is the enemy of our soul and wages war against it. The answer to the flesh, of course, is the power of the Spirit, which we explore fully in
10 Cravings of the Sinful Nature – John Piper.
is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of
more than 50 books
What are the cravings of the sinful nature? What kinds of strong desire does the sinful nature produce? What does the intense longing that comes from your sinful nature look like?
Here are 10 examples. You’ll recognize them immediately.
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