Sunday Evening Bible Study

April 14, 1996

Galatians 5:16-18


Paul is writing to a group of churches which have been infected with a doctrine of legalism.

Being Gentiles themselves, the Galatians were being taught trusting in Jesus wasn't enough, but they must follow the Law of Moses as well.

After a lengthy discussion showing how our relationship with God is based on trusting what God has done for us, and not what we do for God, Paul switched in verse 13 with a warning:

Galatians 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Even though Jesus has called us to a freedom from the Law, we shouldn't let this freedom from the Law be turned into a springboard into allowing our old sin nature to do whatever it wants to do.

:16-26  The Spirit versus the Flesh

:16  Walk in the Spirit

For me, this is one of the all time important Scriptures in my Christian life.

walk - peripateo - to walk; lit., to walk around; to make one's way, progress; to make due use of opportunities; to live

I look at it as making a series of consecutive steps.

Walking is nothing more than taking a step, then another, then another, and so on.

Taking steps involves making decisions, making choices.

It's a present tense command, it's something that we're supposed to be doing all the time, continuously.

in the Spirit - that is, in the Holy Spirit.


Make each choice in the Holy Spirit.

Live each moment in the Holy Spirit.

This is the real key to gaining victory over our old sin nature, learning to take each step under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.


Soon after Augustine's conversion, he was walking down the street in Milan, Italy.  There he accosted a prostitute whom he had known most intimately.  She called but he would not answer. He kept right on walking.  "Augustine," she called again.  "It is I!"  Without slowing down, but with assurance of Christ in his heart, he testified, "Yes, but it is no longer I."  Although young in the faith, he knew something of a solicitation to do evil and the way of victory over temptation.  His reply, "It is no longer I," expresses a realization that he had a new power available to combat the forces of sin and evil which would seek to dominate his life.  He was a changed man.  In the words of the Master, "Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Learn to cultivate an ear for the Spirit of God.

The more you listen for the Lord, the more you'll hear Him.

I can't help but think that sometimes we're just too busy and too noisy to bother even hearing the Spirit's leading.

When God met with Elijah, it was in the "still small voice" that God spoke, not through the fire, wind, or earthquake.

Stop and listen for the Lord.


It is said that a certain guide lived in the deserts of Arabia who never lost his way.  He carried with him a homing pigeon with a very fine cord attached to one of its legs.  When in doubt as to which path to take, he threw the bird into the air.  The pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and thus led the guide accurately to his goal.  Because of this unique practice he was known as "the dove man."  So, too, the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Dove, is willing and able to direct us in the narrow way that leads to the more abundant life if in humble self-denial we submit to His unerring supervision.

The more you obey the Lord, the clearer the voice.


:16  and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

ye shall not fulfill -  teleo - to bring to a close, to finish, to end; to perform, execute, complete, fulfil

This is not a command, but instead the result of what will happen when you walk in the Spirit.

lust - epithumia - desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust

flesh - as we've discussed before (vs.13), this is man's sin nature, that part of him that wants to disobey God.


Paul doesn't talk about the flesh disappearing.

He talks instead of it losing it's power.

We're going to have this old sin nature in us as long as we have these old bodies.

It's only when we get our new, resurrected bodies, that we will no longer have to worry about a sin nature.

Some churches handle the problems involved with our sin nature as if it's all caused by demons.

So they have "deliverance" meetings, where you are prayed for, and the demons that are causing your problems are cast out.

The mistake comes when the problem isn't a demonic one, but a fleshly one.

Things like sexual lust, drug addiction, lack of self-control, etc. may indeed be stimulated from time to time by demonic beings, but for the most part, they are problems within our own sin nature.

And your sin nature isn't something you're going to be able to just "cast out".


Handling the flesh:

The Bible gives two basic remedies for handling our flesh:

1)  Kill it.

We are to learn to "reckon" our sin nature as being dead, as being crucified with Christ on the cross.

Romans 6:10-11  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When you reckon something dead, you know longer respond to it.

When the flesh whispers "lust!", we should respond with ..... nothing

I believe that everytime you choose to say "no" to the flesh, you are killing it a little more.

And believe me, it's not always a fun thing to be dying all the time.

After all, the flesh isn't some entity that lives twenty miles down the road, it's YOU!


The story is told of one renowned seminary professor in his seventies walking down a city street with a young student. As an attractive, perfumed, and well-groomed lady passed by the two men, the seminary student took the characteristic masculine double take. Then, realizing his esteemed professor did not even bat an eye or acknowledge she was there, the student asked, "Sir, do you finally reach a point in your Christian life where you are no longer enticed or have problems with lust?"

The wise senior professor smiled and answered, "My boy, the flesh never gets better, it just gets deader!"

2)  Walk in the Spirit.

Stop putting your focus on the flesh, and start focusing on the things of the Spirit.

Feed that Spirit-influenced part of you.


The old Eskimo once said that it was like a pair of dogs were fighting inside of him.

The dog that he fed was the dog that usually won the fights.


In your garden, you are supposed to water and feed the flowers, and pull the weeds.

But I'm afraid that if some of us applied our spiritual lives to gardening, we would be watering and feeding the weeds, and pulling up the flowers.

How do I "feed the Spirit"?



Bible Study




:17  the flesh lusteth against the Spirit

lusteth - same basic word as used in verse 16, talking about a "strong desire".

The sin nature has strong desires that are opposed to the things of the Spirit of God.

Romans 8:6-8  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

:17 these are contrary the one to the other

It's like a battle going on inside our hearts.

There's one side that trying to break lose and disobey God as much as it can.

And there's another side that's trying to pull us back into doing the things that please God.

:17  so that ye cannot do the things that ye would

This struggle between the two natures is strongest when we are walking the fence with God.


Get off the fence!

We tend to be trying to appease our conscience by doing Spiritual things, which feed the Spirit, but because we're not completely committed to the Lord with a whole heart, we also find ourself feeding our flesh, because after all, it feels SO GOOD!

It's a dangerous thing to be doing things that feed the flesh, they only make it stronger and stronger, making you deader and deader.


A visitor at a fishing dock asked an old fisherman who was sitting there, "If I were to fall into this water, would I drown?"

It was a queer way of asking how deep the water was, but the fisherman had a good answer.  "Naw," he said.  "Fallin' into the water doesn't drown anybody.  It's staying under it that does."

If you keep doing things that feed your flesh, it's like jumping in the water, and keeping yourself under!

The result in situations like this is nothing but frustration.

The flesh doesn't like it when we give in to the Spirit's side, and the Spirit is grieved and makes us miserable when we give in to the flesh's side.

We cry out as Paul did:

Romans 7:19  For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

Romans 7:24  O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

:18  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

ye be led - present tense, a continual leading.

This is not what you expect Paul to say.

He's been contrasting the Spirit and the flesh.

But what's the whole point of the book of Galatians?

It's all about escaping the legalism that the Judaizers were teaching.

They were teaching that a person had to try to keep the whole law in order to be righteous before God.

Paul now says that all you need to be doing is to walk in the Spirit, or to be led by the Spirit, and things will take care of themselves.

If you walk in the Spirit, you won't be carrying out the desires of the flesh, which is what might happen if you carelessly toss the Law aside, and let your liberty become a springboard for the flesh.

And if you are led by the Spirit, you'll not have to worry about keeping the Law, because actually you'll find yourself fulfilling it anyway.

Romans 8:4  That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.


Fill the void.

Paul isn't just trying to take away the Law without replacing the void it makes with something else.

If you just take away the Law, without filling the void, then the flesh will naturally step in, and your liberty becomes a springboard for the flesh (vs.13).

Some people will tell others that they need to give up this practice or that habit.

But what happens is that they inevitably fill the hole in their life with something else.

When God takes away something in our lives He fills it with something better.

People in the world understand this, trying to stop smoking and take up gum chewing instead.

But instead of filling the void with another physical habit, what if we allow the Holy Spirit to fill the void with more of Himself?