Updated: Jan 21
According to Galatians 5:17, every Christian will experience the flesh lusting against the Spirit. We experience this is in the form of sinful, ungodly desires entering our minds. How we respond to these desires entering our minds will determine whether we fulfill them.
The approach many Christians take, due to a lack of knowledge regarding Romans 6:3-11 and other passages, is to respond to these desires as though they represent who we are and what we really want. In other words, we see the affections and lusts of the flesh as our affections and lusts. From that position, we engage in all sorts of activities and efforts to change this evil aspect of ourselves. We try to suppress it by an act of willpower, we try to escape it by thinking about something else, we engage in religious activities we are told will either make the desires less powerful or earn God’s help in overcoming them, we focus on the aspects of the Bible that tell us not to do or think such things in an effort to convince ourselves we shouldn’t want such things, and we do many other things that are supposed to restrain, weaken, or eliminate these desires.
The result of all these efforts is that Galatians 5:17 is still true. Despite all our efforts, the flesh is still there, lusting against the Spirit. Nothing we do ever makes it stop and we can never escape it, because, according to Romans 7, a law of sin dwells in our flesh that operates in such a way that when we would do good, evil is present with us. Though something in us delights in what is right, there is always something else there, warring against the right desires, delighting in what is evil.
Conversely, the correct, biblical way to respond to the lust of the flesh is to know not only what Jesus did for us on the cross, but also what He did to us on the cross. In other words, we need to know that, if we are born again, when Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, our old man was crucified with Him, and when He was raised from the dead three days later, we were raised up together with Him as a new creation with a new nature and new desires (Rom 6:3-7).
With that knowledge of what happened to us when we were baptized (not speaking of water baptism) into the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3-5), we see that the desires and thoughts of two men exist in us: a new man and an old man.
From there, we respond to the thoughts and desires of the old man entering our mind by understanding and obeying Romans 6:11, which commands us to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto indwelling sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So, instead of responding to the evil desires in our mind as though they're our evil desires, we respond to them by reckoning that they're the desires of an old, dead man who was dethroned and defeated by our Savior 2,000 years ago on Calvary.
From that position of faith, we don't respond to the evil desires as though we must do something to overcome or escape them. We know that no act of our will, no good work we do, and no ritual we perform needs to be added to what Christ has already done to place us in a position of victory.
We know that, while the desires are present with us, and always will be to some degree, their presence does not indicate that they have dominion over us (Rom 6:14). Seeing ourselves in light of the finished work of the cross, we know that though these desires be with us, they are no longer of us.
From this position of faith in what Christ has done, we are free to identify with the holy desires the Spirit of God is working in us as a new man. As well, through faith in what Christ has done, we can trust in the Spirit to empower us, step of faith by step of faith, to put off the conversation (conduct - including both thoughts and actions) of the old man.
The first approach amounts to setting aside the finished work of the cross and instead trusting in our works and efforts.
The second approach relies exclusively on what Christ has done as having given us a position of victory over the aspects of the old man that still dwell with us.
The first approach, even when we understand how the second approach works, tends to be our unconscious default due to our need to grow in grace, faith, and the knowledge of Christ. But as we become more and more rooted and grounded in the message of the cross and how it pertains to our daily victory over sin, we can walk, to an ever-increasing degree, in accordance with the position of victory we've already been given.
This is what it means to walk in the Spirit so that we don’t fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
Freedom in the Cross Ministries