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Galatians 5:16-26: Spiritual Battle, Part 3

As God’s children, as we grow, we are expected to walk in the Spirit to fight the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-26: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (ESV)

 As you probably already know, I have twoyearold twin girls. The slightly younger one is very mischievous. Last week, she surprised me with the cutest defense of her behavior.

My wife Sarah had found her in the bathroom destroying her makeup. When I heard her yell, “Shiloh!” I rushed to see what was going on. I crouched a little to have direct eye contact with Shiloh, and then I said, “We had this discussion before that you cannot touch your mom’s stuff, or else you will be punished.”

I kid you not, this little girl looked straight into my eyes and said, “But I am a baby.”

That was her defense, and it worked. What she was telling me was that first, she is just a baby, so I should expect her to act like a baby. Second, she is my baby, and I am supposed to love her no matter what. On both counts, she was right. Of course, as she grows, I do expect her to listen and obey her father.

When dealing with sin, shame, guilt, and its consequences, those who belong to Jesus have the same defense before God, that we are His babies, and He is our father. He loves us no matter what, but as we grow, He expects us to listen and obey our father in heaven.

Paul explained to the Galatians that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and are co-heirs with Jesus. Nothing can change that no matter what. But as God’s children, as we grow, we are expected to walk in the Spirit to fight the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.

In Galatians 5:24-26 Paul describes what that fight and walk should look like in day-to-day life.

If we say we belong to Jesus, we are expected to crucify our passions and desires daily as we walk by the Spirit. Now how do we do that?

Let’s look at verses 24-26: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

First, “flesh” in verse 24 is sarx in Greek, meaning our old sinful nature. Second, “passions” here is path’aymah, which can be translated as strong, deep, agony-like emotions that can be good or bad depending on the object of our passions. If it is self-centered, sinful, and self-righteous, then of course, burning in passion will fuel your old sinful nature. The same is true for your “desires,” which is translated here from epithumia, an oversized desire most accurately reflected in our understanding of the word lust, which can be for good or bad.

With these translations in mind, I want to show you three steps of progression for our spiritual formation, that is, our sanctification that we need to remember in day-to-day life.


First, we belong to Jesus. This is the basis of everything: our faith, salvation, the assurance of salvation, and our sanctification all the way to our glorification.

In this letter, Paul is dealing with two major threats to the gospel and the freedom for which Christ has set us free: legalism and antinomianism. The false teachers taught that faith without law leads to lawlessness and immoral living and presented legalism to fix that.

In verse 24, Paul resolves the tension between legalism and antinomianism by challenging the Galatians and all believers everywhere that if they say that they belong to Jesus, their lives should show that they have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. The legalistic mindset attempts to do that by taking all the responsibility to fix one’s own moral corruption and penalizing others for falling short. Paul said previously that as a Pharisee, he did that until Jesus confronted him, and the gospel transformed him.

An antinomian mindset will do nothing and use freedom in Christ as a license to sin more; therefore, in previous verses, Paul taught that believers are free from sin and not to sin. Verse 25 challenges the readers to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit because when we belong to Jesus, our human works, bad or good, matter not. Only Jesus matters. When our desires and passions are for Him, then the Spirit deals with corrupt moral behaviors.

Here is the application: as long as we are in these bodies, there is always going to be ample opportunity for the flesh and the old sinful nature to act on our passions and desires. Therefore, belonging to Jesus is a choice we make every day to deny the self and to live for Him.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Whether at home, at work, at school, while commuting, or even in church, we must make a choice in words and actions to show others that we belong to Jesus.


The second step of progression for our spiritual formation, which is our sanctification, that we need to remember in day-to-day life is that we have been crucified with Jesus.

Bible scholars have long been arguing over the question of who is responsible for crucifying the flesh in verse 24. Is it the Spirit who crucifies the flesh with its passions and desires, or is it up to every individual? The fallout of not knowing is not just a theological error but could be detrimental to our souls because one answer leads to legalism and the other can lead to antinomianism.

Legalism is adding anything at all to the work of Christ on the cross for any reason whatsoever, which shifts the focus from what Christ has accomplished to what we can accomplish to stand before God. Antinomianism is when for any reason, we deny or set aside God’s moral law, to entertain sin and abuse grace and what was accomplished on the cross for all sinners.

Here is the application: at no point should you ever separate justification from sanctification because they never break away from the centrality of Christ and His work on the cross. Christ paid the price for the penalty of our sin, bringing forgiveness, imputing righteousness, and reconciling us to God. He gives us the Spirit to guide us in the process of sanctification. Therefore, genuine conversion spontaneously produces the fruit of the Spirit, which is evidence of us belonging to Jesus.

Last Sunday, we learned that we don’t produce the fruit of the Spirit, the Spirit does that, and you cannot claim to have some and not all because they function as one. Let me take the first three of the list in verses 22-23 to show you how the fruit has the power to transform our life toward God, toward self, and towards others around us. They are love, joy, and peace.

You cannot really love others selflessly and unconditionally unless you have experienced agape love, the unique divine love. Out of this love, you ask for forgiveness and extend forgiveness because you have been forgiven completely because of agape love.

Joy, in Greek, chara, is deep-seated pleasure. It is not happiness that is temporary and conditioned to what is happening in your life. Rather, joy comes from above and functions in your life by the power of the Spirit. Unlike the world, you can be joyful even in the most challenging moments of life because you have a cheerful heart that delights in Jesus.

Peace, in Greek, eirene, is similar to the Hebrew word shalom. This also comes from above. When the Prince of Peace takes possession of your heart, not only do you experience divine peace within but also between God and you, and you project this peace even in the most chaotic situations around you.


The third and final step of progression for our spiritual formation, which is our sanctification, that we need to remember in day-to-day life is that we have been resurrected to live for Jesus. Since we belong to Jesus, we must live for Jesus. How do we do that?

First, we can do that by believing that just as Jesus paid for our sins to resurrect us from spiritual death, He also empowers us daily by His Spirit to live for Jesus. This is why the key is knowing what the gospel is and what it is not.

What false teachers preached to the Galatians, and many continue to preach today, is: believe, obey, and you will be saved. They put the focus on obeying and doing rather than believing in order to be saved.

Paul preached the only gospel that there is: it says believe, be saved, and as a result, obey. It puts the focus on believing and not doing. We nail our flesh with all its passions and desires to the cross by believing that we belong to Jesus, that is to put our faith in Jesus. Then, as a result, we obey, and through sanctification, we yield more completely to the Spirit that comes to dwell in us the moment we believe in Jesus. Then we overcome our sinful desires through His power and guidance in the right direction.

Second, we can live for Jesus by being willing to live in the Spirit. Guidance is not dragging someone to do something they don’t want. The person has to be willing to be guided and do what is necessary for growth. All the references in 5:16, 18, and 25 communicate that the Spirit does not possess us, He dwells in us. He does not take over to do whatever He wants like an abusive dictator, but rather, He is there to be invited and to assist.

When we willfully, in our collaborative dependent responsibility, allow the Spirit to function in our lives, then the Spirit sets the direction for us and guides us to walk and live by the Spirit. Then we nail our flesh, our old sinful nature, to the cross. Even though we still carry the old sinful nature in this flesh, we do not feel the weight of it. Therefore, our sinful passions and desires do not incite us.

Let me try to help with an illustration. Shiloh, my two-year-old that I talked about earlier, loves carrying a backpack, so lately, she has been carrying her diaper bag that has everything for her and her sister. With their snacks, milk, and water bottles, it has become pretty heavy, so I want to help her, but she refuses to receive help.

Now, we have come to an understanding. She wears the bag while I lift it up from the handle, so even though she wears it, she does not carry the weight. The Spirit does the same for those who belong to Jesus.

Everyone else feels the weight of their sin, shame, guilt, and consequences and does everything in their power to alleviate the weight by doing good, religious, and righteous deeds. For those who belong to Jesus, the Spirit lifts the weight of our flesh off us, so we don’t have to live with guilt, shame, and fear of consequence. This is how, in day-to-day life, when we walk by the Spirit, we do not perform the works of the flesh, but rather we bear the fruit of the Spirit, and we crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.


All believers, whether ahead of the race or at the beginning of the race, whether winning the spiritual battle between the flesh and the Spirit or struggling in the battle, whether bearing a little fruit or more, whether slow growth or fast, we all belong to Jesus.

Church, Jesus has a claim on us all. Do you believe that? If you do, Paul argues, you will crucify your passions and desires with Christ on the cross, because it is there on that cross, the emblem of your faith, that your fight against the flesh was fought and in the heavenly places has already been won.

Do you believe that? If you don’t, then you will fight your fight of flesh with flesh, and your flesh will own you. Your passions and desires will rule you, and consequently, your sin, shame, and guilt will devour you long before you stand in front of the Just God whose love was rejected, whose fatherhood wasn’t accepted. So, believe, be saved, and obey; this is the gospel.

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Galatians: 5:16-26: Spiritual Battle, Part 2

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