For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do those things which ye desire. ~ Galatians 5:17 (Darby)
Paul describes the Christian life as a tug of war between the flesh and the spirit. The flesh is that part of us that lives purely by natural experience – what we see, hear and smell, etc. – while our spirit is that part of us that is united with Christ and lives by the word of God. Did you know it’s possible to be in the Spirit (i.e., saved) yet walk after the flesh? Indeed, this is exactly how many Christians live. They are trusting in God for the forgiveness of their sins, but in most every other respect they live no differently from their unsaved neighbors. When they get sick they queue up in the waiting room and when they get in debt they look for extra work. (I’m not against doctors and hard work!) They may be moral and decent people, but their lives are untouched by the supernatural power of God.
I suspect most Christians walk after the flesh simply because they don’t know any better. They don’t know that Christ’s atonement provided not only for their complete forgiveness, but also for their healing (1 Pe 2:24), deliverance (Mk 16:17), and provision (Ph 4:19, 2 Cor 8:9)). They are not receiving the full benefits of the cross because they don’t know the full benefits of the cross or, if they do, they think they must work to get them. They live like this because their minds have not been renewed. If this sounds like you, here are two good books that will help sort out your thinking and set you free.
When you were born again, your spirit – the real you – was instantly made new but your old habits of thinking and your body were essentially unchanged. If you battled with health or emotional issues before you were saved, there’s a good chance you continue to battle with those same issues now that you’re saved. Don’t misunderstand me. There is a huge difference between a sinner and a saint! But until the saint learns to think like a saint, he will continue to think like a sinner and in many ways this is fatal (Rm 8:6).
Paul didn’t challenge the Roman Christians to renew their minds in order to get saved but so that they would see the will of God manifest in their lives – His will for healing, deliverance, and provision. This is a life-long process. At every decision we either choose to walk after flesh (what do our five senses tell us?) or we renew our minds and walk after the spirit (what does God say?). You can walk by sight or you can walk by faith. Some Christians try to do both! They say they’re trusting God to come through for them but at the same time they’re busting their humps trying to fix things themselves. Perhaps they think they’re mixing faith with works but in reality they’re just walking after the flesh. They may talk differently from their unsaved neighbors, but their walk is exactly the same.
A book which will help you come to grips with these issues is Spirit, Soul and Body by Andrew Wommack. Personally I am not convinced that there is a broad distinction between the spirit and the soul and I object to the implication that only part of you is saved. But I like the way Wommack explains how we work out God’s salvation in our lives.
If I told you that there was a rich treasure hidden in your yard, you would either believe me or reject me, but nothing would actually change until you started digging. Similarly, we will never see the spiritual blessings that God has already given us revealed unless we dig. Whether your need is healing, deliverance, or provision, this book teaches you how to dig.
Another good book on this subject was published just yesterday. Extra Virgin Grace, by Ryan Rufus, provides a sweeping study of many topics that have long been misunderstood and misrepresented, including the Beatitudes, holiness, eternal security, discipline and one of my all-time favorite subjects, true rest.
In Extra Virgin Grace, Ryan Rufus takes a close look at Galatians 5 and asks “What does it mean to walk by the spirit?” Traditionally “the spirit” has been interpreted as meaning the Holy Spirit. To walk by the spirit thus means doing whatever the Holy Spirit tells you. But if you look at the context of Galatians 4, you will see that Paul was referring to our reborn spirits. Your spirit is one with Christ and is in constant fellowship with the Holy Spirit. So the choice Paul was describing was whether to walk by the limited sensory experience of the flesh, or the unseen reality of our perfectly sanctified spirits. To live by the spirit means learning to make decisions from our spirit rather than our minds. Sometimes we just know things that reason cannot explain because they are spiritually discerned. We sense a prompting to pray for someone only to learn later that it was for them a moment of great need. This is how Adam and Eve lived before the Fall – their thinking was spirit-led rather than flesh-based.
If we understood that our spirits are perfect already (see Heb 10:14), and that we lack nothing (1 Co 1:7), we would spend less time teaching godly character and more time renewing our minds to live by the spirit. Instead of preaching on faith and sanctification, we would seek to reveal our true identity in Christ. As Ryan says, “The church preaches too much about who we aren’t.” Knowing who you now are and Who lives in you is the key to Christian living.