Replacing the Rules with Something Much Better2
6 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
Here’s that nemesis again: the flesh. The human body isn’t all bad throughout the Scriptures or in Paul’s writings. But when he talks about the flesh he is talking about this corrupted portion of our existence that is set against the God who made us and who loves us and who is re-making us into the image-bearers he made us to be.
The corrupted portion of ourselves (the flesh) is set in opposition to God’s re-making energies that have been unleashed in our hearts through Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the power of God poured into the hearts of believers to reclaim that which Christ has purchased at the cross: hearts, souls, minds, spirits, and ultimately bodies all re-made, restored, renewed. The wonderful “re” words that so powerfully mark God’s work in our lives.
The flesh leads us into sin. Sin de-humanizes us. The Holy Spirit re-humanizes us. Sin fragments us. The Holy Spirit makes us whole again. God’s power is at work in us to bless us with abundant life in Christ. We’d most often settle for a cheap substitute.
The Galatians knew at least some of this and they knew that holiness was important to be in a relationship with a holy God. That’s in part why they were drawn to the false teachers who told them they needed to obey all of the Old Testament Jewish law.
Rules are clear. You know what’s right and what’s wrong. You’re in or you’re out. And if you’re guarding against the desires of the flesh, what better thing could there be than to just pile up more and more rules to tell everyone exactly what they should and shouldn’t do?
Paul says there’s something much, much better: the Spirit. It’s got power not just to tell you what’s right or wrong but to help us do what’s right. The law is descriptive, the Holy Spirit is redemptive. The law is true. The Holy Spirit is powerful.
So Paul encourages the Galatians to wield a stronger weapon against the flesh: the Spirit, not the law. The Spirit is what leads to real freedom. A Spirit-led freedom that doesn’t send us back into the desires of the flesh but a freedom that relieves us of both the flesh and the law, lifting us above both.
What if you made your prayer today that you would walk in step with the Spirit? What if you asked Jesus to give you ears to hear what the Spirit is whispering to you and how the Spirit is prompting you today? If you’re drawn to the law, ask Jesus to help you to understand the better gift of the Spirit. If you’re drawn to your flesh, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to long for real freedom.