What things that give spirit to life
The struggle between flesh and spirit in the everyday Christian life
On the one hand, because we are still living in the flesh, it is completely normal if, in our life of following Christ, we repeatedly experience the tension between the desires and impulses of our flesh and the desires and impulses of the Spirit of God. On the other hand, it is very important that we learn to overcome carnal desires and live in victory over them.
But I say: if you walk in the spirit, you will not achieve the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts for the spirit, and the spirit for the flesh; and these oppose each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal 5: 16-17)
For example, we feel that we should take a little more time today to pray more fully and to talk to our Heavenly Father about certain things in our lives. On the other hand, our flesh is reluctant to take time to pray. We can think of these and those things that urgently need to be done. We choose to do these “urgent” things first so that we can have time to pray afterwards. But time flies by, and at the end of the day we find that we haven't come to prayer after all - a victory for the flesh and a defeat for the spirit.
We have the responsibility
to choose against the flesh and for the spirit
As a renewed man of God in Christ I am called to follow the impulses and guidance of the Spirit of God who dwells in me, who guides me through the word of God and through His testimony in my spirit. At the same time, however, the impulses of the flesh come to me. I can choose to follow the flesh - but I can also choose to follow the Spirit of God.
The flesh desires self-realization, self-development, the fulfillment of self-will and its desires. The spirit longs for Christ to be realized, for the resurrection life of Christ to develop in us and for God's will to happen in our lives.
When I obey the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God gives me the strength to take steps of obedience, to overcome the flesh, to do the will of God. I do not have this power in myself (Romans 7), but Christ gives it to me through His indwelling Spirit: "I can do everything through him who makes me strong, Christ" (Phil 4:13).
God gives me the mighty resurrection power of Jesus Christ through His Spirit; He works in me what is pleasing to him, according to his glorious power and strength, which is basically unlimited.
(...) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of himself, enlightened eyes of your understanding, so that you may know what is the hope of his calling and what is riches the glory of his inheritance is in the saints, which is also the overwhelming magnitude of his power upon us who we believe according to the efficacy of the power of his might. He made them effective in Christ when he raised him from the dead and placed him on his right hand in the heavenly [regions] (...) (Eph 1,17-20)
If I follow the impulses of the Spirit of God, then the Spirit can lead me deeper into the word and the full knowledge of God; I grow spiritually towards Christ; I receive more light and become more useful for God, come into closer personal communion with him.
The result is increased fruit of the spirit; God is glorified in my life; I can walk in the works prepared by God and I am a useful vessel for Him.
How our flesh restrains and hinders the spiritual life
Spiritual loss for a carnal Christian
Any such choice for the flesh also means sin and disobedience to God. I become sluggish in prayer, no longer have the boldness to come before God. My flesh grows stronger, more influential; bad character traits and habits gain more power over me. I become ambivalent, often feel guilty, and lose joy and peace in the Lord. Giving space to the flesh does more harm to our spiritual life than we often think at first glance.
When believers allow their flesh to influence them, they become headstrong, obscure and disobedient, wavering and worldly. They often stumble and fall into sin. They become largely useless for ministry and discipleship, in fact, they prevent other believers from serving the Lord, burden the church of God, and interfere with the work of the Lord.
To be fleshly does great harm to the life of faith; it robs the children of God of their strength and joy, of their deep communion with the Lord and of many fruits which they should actually bring to the glory of God.
The carnal Christian thinks he gains something by compromising worldly pleasures and selfish self-actualization; in truth, he deprives himself of the many precious spiritual blessings that God intended for him.
A carnal Christian has no ministerial authority and no spiritual conqueror. He is ambivalent, tossed about with desires and false teachings. He cannot enjoy the assurance of salvation and does not have the constant peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. The view of his wonderful master is often obscured to him; he does not see many answers to prayer.
The Spirit of God seeks to lead the believer into deeper love and full knowledge of Christ, into obedience and discipleship, into self-denial and faithful service.
But the flesh strives to keep the believer from all this and instead to lead him into self-will and selfishness, into a life according to his own desires and lusts, in pride, self-realization, ridicule, bitterness, reproach, impermanence and ambivalence.
We cannot give space to the spirit and the flesh in us at the same time. If we give space to the flesh, allow it to come alive and unfold in us, then the result is that the work of the spirit in us is inhibited and blocked so that we cannot live as we as children of God actually want . We suffer defeats, sin gains space in us, we become spiritually powerless and sluggish, we go back in faith instead of going forward.
Such a condition of a Christian is referred to in the Bible as "carnal," that is, under the predominant or strong influence of the flesh rather than the Spirit. So Paul must admonish the Corinthians:
(...) because you are still carnal. For as long as there is jealousy and strife and discord among you, are you not carnal and walking according to the human way? (1Cor 3,3)
For I fear that when I come I could not find you as I wish, and you could also find me as you do not wish; there could be quarrels among you, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, spreading rumors, pomposity, unrest (...) (2 Cor 12:20)
The Bible now shows us that we should not give the flesh a place in our lives, that we should not follow the desires and impulses of the flesh: "So, brothers, we are not obliged to the flesh to live according to the flesh!" (Rom 8:12). But how do we get rid of this power within us?
How we can keep the flesh in death in everyday life
As true believers we want to do God's will and serve God - but if we give space to the flesh in our lives, we will fail again and again; we will be spiritually sick, dissatisfied, and powerless, and the Spirit of God will eventually become grieved and subdued.
Paul describes the condition of such "carnal" Christians in his letters to the Corinthians. How often does it look similar in our life! But God wants us to walk in the spirit, i.e., in the power and under the rule of the Holy Spirit, to overcome the flesh and live for him.
But how can we defeat the flesh in us? Certainly not through one's own strength and exertion! Own efforts, mere decisions of the will, pulling yourself together, none of this has any strength because it itself comes from the flesh. Our meat does not give in that easily.
Only another power superior to the flesh can defeat it - the power of God, the power of the crucified and risen Christ. The Letter to the Galatians refers us to this a few verses later: The key to victory over the flesh is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Not only was our Lord and Savior crucified there for us - the Bible testifies to us again and again that there we too were crucified and killed with Christ, so that we were crucified and died to sin and the flesh and the world, as we were already in second part.
But those who belong to Christ crucified the flesh along with the passions and lusts. (Gal 5:24)
At conversion and rebirth, through our union with Christ, our flesh, together with its lusts and desires, was subjected to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It happened once. But that does not mean that this flesh is therefore forever dead, as we know from painful experience.
Giving the impulses of the flesh to death
The crucifixion of the flesh is a spiritual fact which we willingly apply again and again and which we must consciously reckon with when the flesh contacts us and wants to influence us.
We must therefore consciously give the flesh together with its desires, impulses and impulses in the power of the Spirit to Jesus Christ's death on the cross; then these impulses become powerless and we can overcome them.
So, then, brothers, we are not obliged to the flesh to live according to the flesh! For if you live according to the flesh you must die; but if by the Spirit you kill the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8,12-13)
Therefore, kill your members that are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil lust and covetousness which is idolatry; for these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience; you too once walked among them when you lived in these things.
But now you too put all that off - anger, anger, malice, blasphemy, ugly sayings from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have undressed the old man with his actions and put on the new man who is renewed to knowledge, in the image of him who created him ... (Col 3: 5-10)
“To kill” therefore means: to reckon in faith that the flesh and its desires are dead for us; to give it consciously in the completed death on the cross of Jesus Christ and to assume in faith that it no longer has any power over us.
If I take this attitude towards the flesh, then it really has no power over me, then it will "Deactivated" (Rom 6: 6), and the Spirit of God has room to work through me.
How can that look in practice? For example, if a younger believer sees a magazine lying in the doctor's waiting room that he knows contains some pictures that might tempt him, his flesh may tempt him to leaf through the magazine "just once".
If he gives in to this impulse and is then not vigilant, he may be tainted by looking at impure images. His spiritual life has been defeated and weakened; if he does not repent clearly about it, he is likely to commit a more serious sin the next time.
But if he is vigilant, he will choose in the power of the mind to leave this magazine unread. He gives the desire of his flesh to look at lustful pictures in death, and the flesh then has no strength to induce him to do so.
The spirit has won a victory, its self-control is strengthened, and it has good prerequisites to react correctly to the next temptation - although this is not a matter of course and the vigilance should be constant (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12: "Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing, see that he does not fall!").
Another example: In the church there is tension between two sisters, with one doing the other injustice through slander and unkind behavior.
Now the flesh of the sister concerned reacts in such a way that she is tempted to respond to the injustice she has suffered with bitterness, self-pity and implacability towards her sister in the Lord. She is already imagining how she describes her cause to various other women in the community and pays the other woman back with the same coin ...
But now the Holy Spirit warns them that this would be wrong. She becomes aware that this would mean disobedience to God, repaying evil for evil, and grieving the Lord. A struggle ensues in her heart. She is tempted because she is “right” to give space to her flesh.
But that would mean that she would not take the stand of the new man, the attitude of grace and constant forgiveness, but the attitude of the court, the accuser. That would block their spiritual life and bring them into discipline.
After some inner struggle, she consciously decides against her flesh. She gives her resentment, her thoughts of revenge in death and also confesses it as a sin before God. She repents for her wrong heart and decides to consciously forgive the sister in question before God.
She goes one step further and confesses before God that He has allowed this thing to educate her, and consciously accepts injustice from God's hand. In this test she becomes a conqueror, her spiritual life is strengthened.
You can download the complete PDF document here:
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