When God sets out to save and free his people, he always equips them for the victory at hand and ensures their salvation. David slew Goliath, leading to the defeat of the Philistines with but a sling and his faith in God, knowing that it was God who delivered such a powerful enemy into his hand. When God led his people out of Egypt, Moses lifted up his staff and the Red Sea split apart by the wind of God allowing them to walk between two walls of water on dry ground before it came crashing down on those who pursued them. Again, it was God who gave the deliverance to those who exhibited a faith in God that was manifested in action.
We serve a mighty and powerful God who loves us and provides abundantly in bringing about our salvation. With the coming of Christ to save us from our sins, God has given us his Holy Spirit, which not only increases our faith, but also empowers us to live a godly life.
The Power of the Spirit
Paul declares, “I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want” (Gal 5:16-17). Unfortunately, the last clause, “so that you may not do what you want,” in this passage is often misunderstood and interpreted as a statement pointing out the power of the flesh, when, in fact, it is exactly the opposite. The second verse can also be translated from the Greek, “For the flesh desires against the Spirit, but the Spirit against the flesh [for these are opposed to one another] in order that ye might not do the things that you may will [from those desires of the flesh] to do” (5:17). If we paraphrase the correct meaning of Paul’s last clause, it reads, “in order that you might be able to resist the things your flesh may want to do.”
This passage is about the strength of the Spirit that empowers us to live a godly life, not the power of the flesh over the Spirit that would incorrectly imply a weakness of the Spirit of Christ within us. Paul is not saying that the flesh overpowers the Spirit, but rather that the Spirit enables us to overcome what the flesh might want us to do. It is not an explanation for failure, but an encouragement of power and strength to walk in the Spirit and live a godly life. It is a declaration of victory because of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Though Paul still admits there is a struggle, it is the Spirit that has the strength to be the victor over the flesh. This does not mean we do not falter or sin, but it does mean that we have the power to overcome sinful desire and the temptations of the flesh the more we surrender to the Spirit.
The Christian life is meant to be one of victory. The Spirit that empowers us is not weak but strong. It is God within us who ever so lovingly and gently guides us and equips us to live a life of piety and surrender. Knowing that we have this power because of the Holy Spirit, Paul, in the same letter, later warns that the one who sows to the flesh will reap corruption while the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit (see Gal 6:8).
Walking in the Spirit
Before we can walk in the Spirit, it is, of course, first important to really understand Paul’s point that we have the power of victory by the Spirit that enables us to do so despite the struggle with the flesh. We do not have to live a defeated life with the misunderstanding that the flesh has more power than the Spirit. Paul wants us to know we are equipped for victory. However, how do we walk in the Spirit now that we know this? Paul answers this in another place when he contrasts those who walk in the flesh as those setting their thoughts on the things of the flesh with those who walk in the Spirit as those setting their thoughts on the things of the Spirit (see Rom 8:4-5).
Paul instructs us elsewhere: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2). He also says to “put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph 4:22-23).
In other words, Paul is telling us to turn away from the lusts of the world in both thought and behavior with the occupation and focus of our mind as being the key factor we play in this achievement. We need to be careful what we expose ourselves to in this world and ask ourselves if God would be pleased with those things that occupy the thoughts of our mind and the activity of our person.
The Holy Spirit within us will help us and guide us in this quest if we but seek his help. God wants us to focus our mind on him and his will in this world. When we do this, we will find ourselves with more strength of the Spirit to overcome the desires of the flesh, walking in the Spirit as we live a life of perpetually increasing holiness. What we spend our time reading, watching, listening to and exposing ourselves to is critical. James tells us: “So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds” (Jas 4:7-8).
The way to walk more and more in the Spirit is by exposing our minds more and more to the things of God. When we do so, the power of the flesh weakens. The Spirit who dwells in us is mighty and powerful despite the struggles that ensue between flesh and Spirit as we dwell in this world serving Christ. But God has not changed, for he still provides what is needed for victory in freeing and saving his people — that is, his power enabling us to live a godly life, dwelling within us. By faith in God, with a sling in hand, God can and will deliver that powerful enemy of the flesh, and we can watch it come crashing down mightily before us.
Robert King writes from Casa Grande, Arizona.