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Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians
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Meditation No. 26


Meditation Title: Spirit versus Sin


Gal 5:17 the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.

As we have considered the verses in this chapter we have been considering the freedom that Christ has called us to, a freedom not to live bad lives but a freedom to live love-motivated and love-orientated lives. When we do that we will, in fact, be fulfilling the Law, summarised by “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (5:14). We concluded the previous meditation with Paul warning, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (5:15). We have commented previously on how Paul uses contrasts, and so it shouldn't come as any surprise when, by contrast to the life warned against in that verse, he now exhorts them as follows: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (v.16) There we see a stark contrast portrayed for us – Spirit versus sinful nature. It is only what he has been saying a number of times already but it is now declared very clearly. We saw in the previous meditation Paul saying, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (v.13)

Paul uses the term translated here as ‘sinful nature' eleven times in Romans and now seven times here in Galatians. In older versions it was translated ‘flesh' and it essentially means a life orientated in self, and of course that is in reality a sinful life because it is a godless life (ignores or rejects God) and subsequently a life that is unrighteous (fails to live by God's standards). ‘Sinful nature' is a clearer translation in that the word ‘flesh' sometimes just means humanity and sometimes just means the literal body makeup, as in ‘flesh and blood'. ‘Sinful nature' focuses the meaning of our nature or inward being, the way we are in our mind, spirit or soul, and reveals the negative nature of our lives outside of Christ because, as we've just said above, it is godless and unrighteous.

Paul will go on to describe the acts of this ‘sinful nature' but for the moment we can leave it and simply see it in contrast to the life in the Spirit. By definition, in the light of what we have just said, when we are being led by the Spirit we are being godly (for the Spirit is God) and righteous (for He always leads us in His will and rightly). We are being led by the Spirit when we let Him prompt and guide us into what is right and away from what is wrong. He steers us away from the wrong by either convicting us or simply by giving us a sense of dis-peace. He guides us into what is right by drawing our attention to the things He wants us to do or move into, or the people He wants us to respond to. When He leads us it will always be into love and into goodness, and it should bring peace and blessing.

Now Paul continues by emphasizing the difference between the way of the sinful nature and the way of the Spirit: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” (v.17a). It is impossible to live according to both. It is one or the other; it can't be both because one is self-orientated and the other is God-orientated. One desires our own way (which is often harmful), the other desires God's will (which always brings blessing).

But then he adds, “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (v.17b). This is a shorthand version of what Paul said to the Romans: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) and, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18 ,19) i.e. the Spirit draws us in one direction while the flesh or sinful nature is pulling in the another direction, so if we give way to the flesh we find ourselves in opposition to the Spirit and we have this awareness of doing wrong.

He concludes the paragraph with, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (v.18) Very simply, if you are being led by God's Holy Spirit into His will, that overrides the individual design rules that He gave. Yes, you will conform to them, because He never runs contrary to His own declared will, but they will not be the focus or driving force they once were. Now it is a much more ‘natural' outworking of the Christian life because it is directly from God, via His Spirit, rather than having to refer back to the ‘rule-book'. The ‘rule-book' is there when we are unsure of the path ahead, and He uses it to confirm the path to us, but our primary source is the Lord Himself.