Galatians 5:16-18 “The Ammunition of the Spirit in Civil War”

Posted: November 29, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Galatians
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Galatians 5:16-18 “The Ammunition of the Spirit in Civil War”

Galatians 5:16–18 (ESV) — 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

McKnight (1995:272):

I know of no Christian parents or youth leaders, or for that matter any pastorsm who seriously believe what Paul teaches in verses 16-26 (of Galatians 5), that the sole foundation of Christian ethics is dependency on the Spirit and a life of freedom in the Spirit….I have met only one person who ever expressed this view of Paul in a definitive and, to him, practical way. That person was F.F. Bruce…”

I would add Gordon Fee to that list in my own experience as I also shared this same conviction in my study of the reality of Spirit-fullness in the New Covenant. McKnight continues:

To be sure, Paul knew that when a person was controlled by the Spirit, that person was holy. He also knew that a person who lived in the Spirit lived in a loving way. Thus, he knew that the Old Testament moral guidelines and the teachings of Jesus on holiness, righteousness, and compassion would be confirmed by anyone who lived in the Spirit (1995:273).

Needless to say that we can be accused, just like the early Galatians, of wanting to derive our ethic from the law or traditions of man. I am not opposed to the “3rd use of the Law” in relation to our sanctification, but if such is taught in a way that doesn’t necessitate the presence of the Spirit, then we may very well be acting like the early Judaizers.

What has Paul said about the Spirit thus far?

Galatians 3:1–6 (ESV) — 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

–          Received the Spirit by faith

–          Began in the Spirit, but seeking sanctification in the flesh

–          Spirit supplied by hearing with faith, not works of law

Galatians 3:13–14 (ESV) — 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

–          V. 13 speaks of the verb…Christ redeemed us

  • Followed by two adverbial purpose clauses
    • So that…blessings of Abraham to Gentiles
    • So that we might receive the promised Spirit
      • The work of redemption must lead to salvation and the reception of the Spirit.

Galatians 4:6–7 (ESV) — 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

–          We are sons and heirs through the Spirit, enabled to cry out Abba! Father! The Spirit enables our faith, our assurance as children. This speaks of objective status realized through a subjective cry, which is absolutely brought about through the giving of the Spirit

Galatians 5:5 (ESV) — 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

–          The Spirit is the agency through which we have faith and hope for the coming righteousness.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

–          Walk = present imperative, denotes ongoing life of the Christian, NIV has “Live” although the new NIV has “walk”.  Speaks of direction

–          “by” or “in”, “pnuema” is in the dative/locative/instrumental case with no article. “by” or “in” is supplied to understand the nature of the command.

  • Dative = to, locative = in, instrumental = by, can be referring to the domain we live in, or the means whereby we walk. Both ideas are taught in Scripture. I think “by” makes the most sense, especially in light of Paul’s earlier reference in  3:3 about beginning by the Spirit, trying to perfect by flesh.

–          “you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” – strong double negative, aorist subjunctive expresses certainty, “you will never under any circumstances”. Implied and expected result of walking in the Spirit, it is thus a promise. If you are walking in full reliance on the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (sarx). There is a “pneuma/sarx” battles in Scripture.

  • Is this promise too strong? NO. It is impossible to gratify the desires of the flesh when you are walking in the Spirit, just like it is impossible to lie when you are telling the truth, to starve to death when you eat, to suffocate to death when you are breathing.
  • The law can only inform and instruct, but it is the Spirit that actually empowers!!!
  • This civil war inside of us is dealt with some more:

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.

–          Romans 7:14–8:11 (ESV) — 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

  • I am actually somewhat convinced that Paul speaks in Romans 7:14-23 of a pre-Christian state under the law of sin and death, with very mild conviction (hard passage to exegete). The wretchedness is then brought to Christ for salvation in v. 24. Rom. 8:1 then speaks of our judicial standing as not guilty in Christ. Rom. 8:2 speaks of actual deliverance from the Spirit of life from the law of sin and death that was described in most of chapter 7. Rom. 8:3-4 speaks of imputed righteousness in Christ. Rom. 8:5-11 continues to contrast the life of the “sarx” with the life of the “pneuma”. It’s tough to know what is objectively true and what is subjectively true, meaning the “the body is dead because of sin”. It seems to be true and we are called to live in that reality…not to be merely content with our objective status. I AM NOT DENYING the subjective experience of Romans 7, I am just saying that Paul is discussing bondage within the flesh with no resolve until he gets to Jesus at the end and in 8:1, and n dramatic langiage about the Holy Spirit in Romans 8
  • Your objective status is marked by the Spirit, which will inevitably lead you to desire a life pleasing to God. This motivation doesn’t come from looking at the Law and wanting to make God happy, and I would even dare say that our motives are not solely motivated by gratitude for what Jesus did for us, although that is a part of it. It is here, where I suggest, like the earlier quote from McKnight, that this ethic and motivations is completely derived from the Spirit who dwells in us. We are literally new creations in Christ, filled with the Spirit. This is the whole point of Paul’s command to “walk by the Spirit” and not fulfilling the desires of the “flesh”.  The Judiazers weren’t dependent on the Spirit, they were telling the folks to look to the Law and be all they can be for God. That is not Christianity!!!
  • The battle still rages or else Paul wouldn’t command Christians to walk in the Spirit. This is lived out in-between the times of our already/not yet. I’m not suggesting that the experiences of Romans 7 disqualify us from being Christian, but that we have the reality of the Holy Spirit. The person in Romans 7 is trying to fulfill the law in his flesh and it leads to misery and death…Jesus has delivered us from this by giving us the Spirit. The Spirit now enables us. We no longer bring our flesh to the Law of God, vowing to do our best. We instead walk by the Spirit and focus our attention on Christ and His glory, and then so fulfill the law of love as the natural byproduct of being a Christian. In fact, of all people, it is only Christians who truly fight this battle.
  • John Stott: “Some teachers maintain that the Christian has no inner conflict, no civil war within himself, because (they say) his flesh has been eradicated and his old nature is dead. This passage contradicts such a view. Christian people, in Luther’s graphic expression, are ‘not stocks and stones’, that is, people who ‘are never moved with anything, never feel any lust or desires of the flesh’. Certainly, as we learn to walk in the Spirit, the flesh becomes increasingly subdued. But the flesh and the Spirit remain, and the conflict between them is fierce and unremitting. Indeed, one may go further and say that this is a specifically Christian conflict. We do not deny that there is such a thing as moral conflict in non-Christian people, but we assert that it is fiercer in Christians because they possess two natures—flesh and Spirit—in irreconcilable antagonism.”[1]

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

–          Notice the passive disposition of being “led by the Spirit”. Verse 16 says to “Walk by the Spirit”, and here it is described as being “led by the Spirit” (ago). Walking in the Spirit means to stay in step with the Spirit. Ironically, walking in the Spirit fulfills the Law truly and therefore means that we are no longer “under the law” by being in bondage to it. Jesus has purchased our deliverance from the law so that we can walk by the Spirit!!!

–          Romans 7:4–6 (ESV) — 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

  • ILLUSTRATION: Kira filled with the Spirit when good, not when bad. Partly true subjectively. Though you are sealed with the Spirit and you can’t be any more sealed, Paul does say in Eph to be continually filled with the Spirit, which indicates that in our actual redemption, living out the Christian life, there can be varying degrees in which we are looking to Christ and the Spirit for help.
  • You don’t sin for lack of knowledge, but from lack of being Spirit empowered and Spirit led.

–          We are in a better covenant. We were weak and depraved in the flesh in relation to God’s Law and evermore will be. We can’t look to the Law as a mediator of salvation or even as a litmus test for salvation. Our “sarx” is counted as dead in Christ’s death and we are awakened in His resurrection to walk in the newness of the Spirit. This is objective in that we have this standing, but we are also called to live this dynamic out because the flesh is very much still alive and won’t be permanently destroyed until our resurrection and glorification, where we will be given new bodies. We are to live out the past reality of Christ and our future reality in Christ right now.

–          Eph 5: 18 And sdo not get drunk with wine, for that is tdebauchery, but ube filled with the Spirit,

  • In other words, don’t sin, be filled with the Spirit instead. That is our ammunition in this civil war, He’s what even qualifies the battle. It is the Spirit of God at war with our flesh and this battle will rage on till our last breath. Anybody who tells you that they can reach Christian perfection, or have reached it, are underestimating what sin is. In the end, you will win, even when it feels like you are getting your butt kicked. You will win because the Spirit’s very presence is God’s presence and He will never leave you or forsake you. The Spirit’s presence is living proof that God is for us and that we are His because of what Jesus has done!!!

2 Corinthians 3:17–18 (ESV) — 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

[1] Stott, J. R. W. (1986). The message of Galatians : Only one way (146). Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press.


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