The Battle Between the Flesh and the Spirit

By Yetta Yao, October 18, 2017 23:10 PM

The conflict between the Spirit and the sinful nature is like two athletes wrestle against each other.

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.(Galatians 5:17) 

What does the Bible mean when it says the flesh and the spirit are "in conflict with each other?"

Rev. Liang Zhiyong, a preacher from Zhengzhou, Henan, stated in an article published on his public WeChat account that Christians encounter uneasy spiritual battles every now and then. 

Christian do not always feel the work of the Spirit without being disturbed or overcome by the sinful nature easily. According to Galatians 5:17, Rev. Liang said no. The verse demonstrates that the flesh and the Spirit fight fiercely. 

The Spirit and the sinful nature are in a fierce battle like two armies pitted against each other.

The pastor comforted Christians who feel a great spiritual battle and struggle not to be discouraged and judge themselves; on the contrary, they should rely on the Spirit and fight hard. Despite the arduous process, they are bound to have ultimate victory in faith to overcome the inclination of nature. Moreover, the victory reinforces the assurance of salvation. 

It's not easy to have a victory led by the Spirit inside us. 

Some believers believed that the Spirit should win easily if Christ lives in them and they should not have struggled for so long. For this, the pastor declared that the verse showed that the both sides fight violently, as two countries send their elite units to engage in a lasting life-and-death war. 

Then why does God, who is good, allow the Spirit to fight against the sinful nature for so long? Why did He not smash the sinful nature with an irresistible force?

Rev. Liang explained that the goodness of the Holy Spirit does not merely regard our souls as a battlefield. He could crumple the fleshly desires like sweeping up dead leaves, but that would also destroy our souls, just as patients should receive treatment in an orderly way rather than use desperate remedies.

In addition, he stated that God guides Christians to learn many precious lessons from the process: the power of the gospel, the deadliness of sins, the cunning and toughness of the sinful nature, how to depend on the power of the Spirit, how to be more hopeful through Jesus, how to seize God's promises to overcome frustration, and how to be more patient through truth, etc. 

Martin Luther the Reformer interpreted Galatians 5:17 too. He said in his work "A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians": 

Do not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you cannot make it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all things without interference on the part of the flesh is impossible. 
You are doing all you can if you resist the flesh and do not fulfill its demands.

When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: "You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing." If at that time I had understood this passage, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," I could have spared myself many a day of self-torment. I would have said to myself: "Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh."

I remember how Doctor Staupitz used to say to me: "I have promised God a thousand times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God is merciful to me for Christ's sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be able to stand before Him." 

- Translated by Karen Luo

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