Reflection on Gal 5:16-17Post date: 2018-07-14
Reflection on Gal 5:16-17
"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."
Again, it is good to read the whole chapter five of the Epistle to the Galatians. Apart from dealing with the question of circumcision, it shows true freedom in the Spirit of God. Verses 13 to 15 read: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
This is a kind of introduction to our Word of life. It clearly tells us to live by the power of the Spirit of God. And then we will not gratify the desires of the flesh; in other words, we will not become slaves of lusts. Verse 19 enumerates the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord… These are the fruits of the flesh and human selfishness. And next the Apostle explains: “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” And then he says: “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” – naturally, this is true only when we do not live by the Spirit but rather by the flesh, i.e. our lusts, pride and selfishness.
If we live by the power of God’s Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. “And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” In verse 24, the Apostle adds: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Of course, this cannot be understood as physical crucifixion; it is meant spiritually just as when Jesus said: “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” It means: if anger, impurity, self-pity – this manifestation of the flesh – wants to govern your spirit, it needs to be radically paralysed. Such thought or feeling must be spiritually cut off and thrown away. In other words, as the Apostle Paul says, the source of evil in our flesh must be spiritually crucified, paralysed, so as not to bear pernicious fruits. It is an inner act of self-denial and love of God, yourself and neighbour.
Let us try over the next two weeks to confront the dilemma of the flesh desiring what is contrary to the Spirit. If our flesh lives by the Spirit of God, there is harmony, and we can do what the Scripture says: “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” And next: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1-2)
How to live by the Spirit in practice? If we failed to be watchful and committed a sin, as soon as we realize it, we should stand in God’s light for a few seconds, admit our sin to us and to God, and ask Jesus crucified for forgiveness – e.g. we can repeat three times: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Then we must break with the sinful thought or image and come back under the rule of God’s Spirit. When a temptation comes, and we are aware of it in time, let us ask the Spirit of God briefly, or at least call on the name of Jesus quietly with faith, so that we may obtain the light and strength to overcome the temptation of the flesh, i.e. a thought or a feeling. Often we only need to do a little thing – to make a small act of self-denial, to lower our eyes, to leave the place, etc. – and we thus allow the Spirit of God to co-work in us.
So walking in the Spirit is a stimulus to self-sacrificing love, as Jesus says: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words.” And He continues: “We will come to him,” – the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus – “and make Our home with him” (Jn 14:23). The keeping of Jesus’ words entails little sacrifices, a kind of self-discipline, without which self-sacrificing love of God and man is impossible. And this sacrifice indeed is our spiritual act of worship. Whenever we lose, for God’s sake, the evil desires that tempt us, this our sacrifice in which the Holy Spirit strengthens us brings us true freedom and, moreover, we bear the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace. This spiritual act of worship involves short moments of a living faith and inner self-denial – that is a sacrifice which brings us peace and joy. This is walking in the Holy Spirit. It is a great art. We need to learn it all our life, and we will really undergo a transformation – be transformed into Christ. Then we can say like the Apostle: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
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