“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (Galatians 5: 16 & 17, NKJV)
We are exhorted by the Scriptures to become more like Jesus, to live and act as He lived. Ultimately, we are exhorted to truly love God and truly love one another, as Jesus did. The Scriptures tell us that loving God and our neighbors is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets, and that love is the ultimate goal.
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, Your shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: 8-10, NKJV)
So why is this so hard? Why can’t we just love everybody? What is stopping us? The truth is that we cannot have the deep abiding love that fulfills the law if we are walking in the flesh. People in the world don’t understand this. They don’t understand the dynamics of this. They are determined to love others, they set a goal to do it, they “will” to do it, they sing songs about doing it, but they can’t do it. They start out with some shallow acts of love, attempting to be nice and kind to others, but when it comes down to really loving in a deep way they always fail. Why? It’s because they are not walking in the Spirit.
I have made this observation over the years with people. I have noted that the external display that people put on is very different than what is actually happening in their lives and homes. If you see them as they really are, you get a different picture than the impression you get from their public facade of kindness and love. I have met neighbors who seemed to be friendly and kind and giving, but when it came down to “where the rubber meets the road” as they say, their true nature came out, their flesh, and love failed. Circumstances exposed their true nature; they went from friendly neighbors to enemies.
Romans 7:14 says: “For we know that the law is spiritual….” So then it stands to reason that love is also spiritual, since love fulfills the law. We are also told that God is love, and that God is Spirit. My point is that the source of true love is to become spiritual. We need to understand what it means to walk in the Spirit so that we can have the godly love that the Scriptures define. Also, we need to understand what it means to walk in the flesh, since it is contrary to walking in the Spirit.
Setting our minds on our Living Hope
I remind you that the definition of words is important. The world likes to define words like love, spirit, flesh, and lust, and so do people in the churches, but how do the Scriptures define these words; this is what is important. We also need the Holy Spirit to help with these definitions.
In Romans chapter 8 we find a definition of walking in the Spirit and in the flesh: (vs. 5) “For those who live according to the flesh (i.e. walk in the flesh) set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit (i.e walk in the spirit), (set their minds on) the things of the Spirit.”
In these verses we see that what we “set our minds on” is important and the key to whether we are in the flesh or in the Spirit. Also, in the verses quoted above from Galatians chapter 5, at the beginning of this post, we see the word “lust” used. Lust is defined as a strong, overmastering, passionate desire or craving. When we lust, we are strongly and passionately setting our minds or affections on something, either spiritual or fleshly. And so if we want to know if we are walking in the spirit or in the flesh we must ask ourselves: What is the focus of our affections? What are we longing for? Where do our passions lie? And then once we answer those questions, we then should determine if these things are spiritual or fleshly.
In determining if something is spiritual or fleshly, we must define what these terms mean from the Scriptures. It is clear to me from the Scriptures that anything that is associated with this physical world and this physical world system is of the flesh or fleshly. The idea of “flesh” in the Scriptures is more than just the fleshly sins like sexual immorality, greed, envy; these are the fruits of the flesh. In the scriptures we are told to die to our flesh, and to put to death what is fleshly in us, but this death involves more that just dealing with the deeds of the flesh. Consider this verse in Colossians: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles (rudiments or system) of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations…” We are to have died to or separated ourselves from the system of the world. This is part of dying to our flesh. And also in the epistle of John: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Later in the 5th chapter of Galatians it says this: (vs 24) “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
We must be very careful about what we set our passions and desires on. If we are setting them on anything that has to do with this world, or is associated with this life on earth, it is fleshly. This is a stumbling block for many Christians. They would say, “What’s wrong with having a passionate desire for my husband or wife, my children, my job, my ministry, or any other seemingly “good” desire. The concern is about how strong of a focus these things are in your life. Are they the center of your affection? Do they encompass your future hope? These things are temporary and they could disappear at any time. Consider what happened to Job when he lost everything. His response was to fall down and worship God and say “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; Naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” If you can truly see yourself having this same attitude upon the loss of an earthly item, then you can conclude that your desires are not too strong towards this item, but if you cannot, then you have a root cause of fleshly passion that will be contrary to the Spirit and will be a hindrance to love.
Consider also the advice of the Scriptures in Colossians 3: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Here we are clearly shown what to set our mind on – what is spiritual – the things that do not have to do with this temporary world system on the earth, but have to do with the unseen, immortal, eternal system in heaven that we will one day become a part of through our acceptance as God’s children by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. We are to live and act as if we are part of this heavenly system even now, as citizens of heaven!
This is why setting our hope on the promises of God that were presented to us through His Messiah, Jesus Christ, is so important. This hope should be our passion. It should be what our mind is set upon constantly. It should be the source of our happiness and our rejoicing. It should be the focus of our energy. This is how we “walk in the Spirit”, setting our minds on these spiritual things instead of the hopes and pleasures that this world has to offer.
Does this mean that we can have no pleasure in this life? Does this mean that we should have no desires associated with this world? I don’t believe that the Scripture is saying that we should be totally devoid of earthly pleasure or desires, but I would caution you here. Our flesh and our hearts are deceptive. The caution is about “strong” desires or lust or passions, the type that consumes your life and captures your attention and affections. We need to guard our hearts and minds, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our affections properly. Our conscience will witness with our spirit and the Holy Spirit to make us aware of the things of this world that have become too important to our hearts and minds and interfere with our spiritual walk. I have found that when I become depressed or “blue” or discontented with my circumstances, I can trace it back to allowing my heart to be set too strongly on something in this world. I then must put that thing to death and re-focus my heart on heaven, the promises, and my spiritual treasures.
If you have lived for any length of time on this earth, you quickly realize that the pleasures that this world offers are deceptive. They quickly diminish and lose their allure. I can remember being a part of the drinking and party scene. I found myself with the same people doing the same things. It quickly became boring and lost its value. Much of the attraction is from enhancing the anticipation: “won’t it be great when we get there…” and “I’m so looking forward to this weekend..”, only to find that it’s really not all that fantastic. Or then we need to drum up the pleasure by reminiscing: “….wasn’t it funny when he or she did this”, but the reality was that it wasn’t much of anything. Sure there are times when we enjoy ourselves, but this enjoyment last for only a short time. The Scriptures suggests that the flesh is never completely satisfied; it always needs more. How true this is.
When we focus on the Spirit, we bear the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22&23, “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
Notice that love is a fruit of the Spirit, and that all of the other listed fruits are related to love. This means that the Spirit will produce these things. We as Christians need to know how to become spiritual and make sure that we are producing this fruit abundantly like a healthy tree.
Exercise your Faith to become Spiritual
In order to be Spiritual, we must also have faith, for how can we place our hope in these unseen promises unless we exercise our faith. Also, we need to walk in the reality of these promises. This is another part of being spiritual.
There are many examples in the scriptures of men of faith and how they walk in the spirit. Hebrews chapter 11 lists many of them. This is why reading the Word is so critical to our ability to keep walking in the Spirit, to our endurance. The Word of God teaches us how we should walk, how we should think and consider our situation in this world, in other words, how to be “in” this world but not “of “this world.
Last week I was lead by the Holy Spirit to read Psalm 22, which was of great encouragement to me. The next psalm, the 23rd, is a famous psalm of David, who was a shepherd as a youth, about how he considers the Lord to be his shepherd and how he views his life and walk in the light of this truth. This psalm is a great example of thinking spiritually.
Consider David’s thoughts in the psalm: He sees God as keeping, guiding, leading and protecting him during his life, and this leadership and guidance produces a peace and security, and also restores his soul. Not only do we need to have our minds set on our heavenly hope, but we must also find our confidence and contentment from spiritual things and not earthly things. What can be more valuable than this godly peace and comfort that can take us through even the greatest evil or most fearful situation? Even our enemies will be put to shame by the Lord in our presence. And the final verse ties these truths back into the hope of eternal life with the Lord: “…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
My hope is that I have stirred up your interest in knowing how to walk in the spirit, and to put to death any fleshly thoughts that will conflict with your spiritual walk. I, too, have much to learn in this area and plan to spend the rest of my days here on earth perfecting and improving this spiritual walk.