So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16
Imagine taking two dogs for a walk, with the lead of one sturdy mutt in each hand. Each dog pulls at you, and there’s no way to avoid the feeling of being torn apart.
And one dog is called “Flesh” and the other is called “Spirit”. When Paul uses the phrase gratify the desires of the flesh he is talking about foolishly encouraging something that may become uncontrollable. So what do you do?
You stop feeding ‘Flesh’ until it weakens its grip on you!
Paul lays out with great explicitness what the flesh looks like and what it does. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
Sex comes first on his list, but only because it is the most obvious. He goes deeper, to its motivations and power bases. He looks wider, to uncontrolled behaviour patterns. Make no mistake: this is a battle in which we engage until the day we die.
But what of the other side of it? Once I see the two-dog conflict, that the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh I cannot merely starve the one, but I must feed the other!
What is it, then, to live by the Spirit? The chapter (Galatians 5) gives a wonderful word-picture of Jesus in vv22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
This is what living by the Spirit looks like. But it is subsequent to a crucial event. The passage concludes: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
So in one important sense the battle is won, the dog has been put down (!). Christ went through all the temptations that we go through, and bore my sins on His body on the cross. It is finished. All the sins of my flesh are nailed to the cross in Him.
And if I am “in Christ” then I have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
But there still remains the last vital part. From now on I am called to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.
So go feed that hound.