The Two Ways of Living: the Flesh and the Spirit!

Two Ways of Living

The Two Ways of Living:

the Flesh and the Spirit

Richard Hollerman

You are now living according to the flesh or are living according to the Spirit. Which is it? What are you pursuing and what is the principle of your life?

Although there are various Biblical passages that deal with this issue, let’s turn to Galatians 5. Here we find that Paul urges us not to give into the flesh but to live a life of love (v. 13). He goes on to say, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (v. 16). We can walk by the Spirit—according to the desire, the expression, and the ways of the Holy Spirit. Is this the way you live? Do you consciously submit yourself to the Spirit’s will for your life and are you filled with His power? On the other hand, do you surrender yourself to the “desire of the flesh”? Do you allow your flesh to dictate what you do and what you don’t do? Do you submit to the baser aspects of life that are actually sinful? What is it with you?

The apostle goes on to elaborate: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:17). This shows that we are either living for the flesh or the Spirit. The flesh refers to that inner power and will to do wrong, to disobey the Lord, and to yield to sinful inner urgings. On the other hand, we may submit to and follow the inner power of the Spirit, doing those things that the Spirit would want us to do and thinking according to the Spirit’s desire.

The Two Ways of Living

That’s not all.  Paul proceeds to tell us how the flesh and the Spirit will be manifested in our inner selves as well as our outer life. First, let’s see what he says about the flesh and how we express it. We might think of this as being those sins of the flesh or even the sins of the spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:1).

The apostle says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). This is a rather long series of sins, but they are important for us to consider carefully. We should ask ourselves whether these sins are manifested in our own life. Let’s ask a number of questions—and please try to answer them out of a sincere conscience.

The Two Ways of Living

Do you allow the “flesh” to overcome you by committing such sins as immorality, impurity, or sensuality? Immorality or fornication refers to having a sexual relationship with someone who is not a legitimate husband or wife. As you know, this is a very popular but very devastating sin in our day. Impurity can refer to all kinds of sinful sexual expressions. And sensuality can mean sinful sex as well, including more outrageous sexual expressions.

Let’s continue. Are you guilty of idolatry or “worshipping” and “serving” a false god? Of course, this could refer to a Hindu god or a Buddhist “god” such as Buddha. But, in the Western world, it could refer to the “god” of wealth, money, sex, entertainment, TV and movies, music, literature, cars, vacations and vacation homes, and so much more! Most of us, using this definition, are idolaters! Sorcery would include all kinds of supernatural manifestations—or at least those elements that people assume are supernatural. We refer to such sins as fortune telling, horoscopes, spiritism, drugs, magic, and the like. Obviously, this would be found increasingly in the world—and maybe in your own experience.

Enmities, strife, disputes, dissensions, and factions are sins that refer to wrong attitudes, actions and words with other people. When we hurt others, are mean toward others, speak evil of others, and separate ourselves from others, we may be guilty of these fleshly sins. Included in this list would be jealousy. Do you ever find yourself with jealously against a friend or associate or fellow-worker? Are you fearful of losing a friendship because someone else has entered the picture? Paul also mentions outbursts of anger. Have you ever heard someone yell or rage against another person, with anger and resentment? It may be anger on the highway, anger in the home and family, anger expressed in sports, and so much more. Maybe you are guilty of this yourself!

Paul continues. The flesh may be manifested through the sin of envy. Do you earnestly desire what rightfully belongs to another person? Maybe you envy someone’s husband or wife, or you envy someone of their new car, or a beautiful house, or a person’s academic credentials, or someone’s high pay. Envy is very common! Drunkenness is also a common deed of the flesh. Probably most people occasionally or even regularly get drunk or intoxicated. (Taking drugs is a sin similar to this.) Does this describe you? You may also be guilty of carousing or allowing yourself to pursue fleshly, sexual, or wicked pastimes and pleasures!

These sins are not complete, thus Paul ends by saying, “. . . and things like these” (v. 21). There are many other sins that could be added to this list (you may want to check this out: Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3-7; Revelation 21:8).

Now comes the very sobering conclusion to this list. We read that Paul has been “forewarning” us of these deeds of the flesh and the inevitable result of living like this. He plainly says, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). Did you see the seriousness of this? The reason why those who live in the flesh won’t enter God’s kingdom is because the result of sin is death (Romans 6:23), God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:3-7), alienation from God (Isaiah 59:2), and the lake of fire—or hell (Revelation 21:8). Can you see how serious it is to submit to the flesh and the sins or deeds of the flesh!

The Two Ways of Living

But then the apostle goes to the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Spirit manifests Himself when our lives are characterized by these nine qualities or traits (and there are many more, unlisted here). What are some of these “fruits”? Love heads up the list. When the Holy Spirit is at work in our heart and life, we will manifest the sweet quality of love! We will seek the good and benefit of others out of love. As Paul said, “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b).

He next refers to joy—that inner happiness that comes from the Holy Spirit. As Scripture says, “The disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). Let us be joyful for we belong to God, we have sweet fellowship with Jesus, and we will one day inherit eternal bliss with the Lord! This is something to be joyful about—even when we are persecuted (cf. Acts 5:41; Luke 6:22-23).

Peace also is manifested in the life controlled by the Holy Spirit. This refers to a deep inner sense of security and blessedness through our fellowship with the Lord. Although we may be in the midst of strife and persecution and disturbance, we can have the inner attitude of peace.

We will also manifest the quality of patience in the midst of trials and disturbance. We will be known for our kindness or our attitude and treatment of others that is tender and sweet. We will also be good in our heart and life and faithful to God and our dealings with others. Another basic quality will be gentleness, which is so different from the coarseness, harshness, retaliation, and violence that we often see in the world. Again, self-control is often missing in this world. It is the attitude that controls or regulates one’s own attitude, words, and actions.

How can we possibly get rid of the flesh and walk in the Spirit? Paul answers this in Galatians 5:24: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” When we come to know God through Christ Jesus, we “die” to sin and the flesh. Here, Paul says that we have “crucified” the flesh. And the flesh is characterized with sinful “passions” and “desires.” If we yield to the flesh, we will yield to these inner sinful impulses, but if the flesh is “crucified,” the flesh dies and we are able to live according to the Spirit!

This is why Paul can next say, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (v. 25). When we come to Christ, we have faith, and we receive the “Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). When we repent and are baptized, we receive the “gift” of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39) and when we obey, that Spirit is given (Acts 5:32). We receive inner life through the Holy Spirit and we regulate our life though that same Spirit.

The Two Ways of Living

How important is it that we walk according to the flesh or walk by the Spirit? Paul answers: “The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). Doesn’t that show how vital it is to be transformed? Once again the apostle shows the difference between these two ways of living. If we sow to the flesh by participating in the deeds or works of the flesh, we will reap corruption or die. But if we sow to the Spirit, we will receive eternal life! No wonder Paul could affirm that through Christ’s cross, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (v. 14). We die to sin (Romans 6:1-2), to the flesh (Galatians 5:24), to self (Romans 6:6), and to the world (Galatians 6:8). We then are able to live in the Holy Spirit!

Paul discusses this change or transformation in other places, such as Romans 6 and 8. He says that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” for “he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). We are “dead to sin” but “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). This is a basic change or transformation that occurs when we come to God through Jesus Christ in salvation.

In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul says that we “do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (v. 4b). In other words, this is the normal way of life for the consistent and sincere follower of Christ. He explains further: “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (v. 5). What about you? Where is your heart? Is your mind on the things of the flesh or the things of the Spirit? He shows the outcome of these two ways of life: “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (v. 6). These consequences are far apart—death on the one hand, and life and peace on the other hand. Which would you choose?

In case you have any doubt, Paul says that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). Is a person in Christ Jesus in the flesh or the Spirit? The apostle says, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him” (v. 9). Thus, the sincere, consistent, and surrendered child of God is not in the flesh but in the Spirit! Thanks be to God! What about you?

The Two Ways of Living

We earlier discussed the deeds of the flesh (the sinful deeds of the flesh) and the fruit of the Spirit (the qualities found in the life of one who is walking in the Spirit). Paul once again shows how important it is that we renounce the flesh and the sins of the flesh and live for God through the Spirit: “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

This suggests that a true child of God could actually live according to the flesh or fall into sinful and fleshly attitudes and actions. He could allow the fleshly appetites and bodily sins to overcome him and direct his life. On the other hand, through the Spirit, the child of God is able to put to death the deeds or sins of the body. The difference is great: those who surrender to the flesh will die (spiritually) but those who consciously put to death the deeds of the flesh or sins of the body—the sins of the flesh—will live (experience spiritual life). Which do you choose?

We have seen enough to show us that it is vital that we renounce the sins of the body or the deeds of the flesh for these result in corruption or spiritual death! On the other hand, if one chooses to walk according to the Spirit and surrenders himself to this divine and supernatural aid, he will live or experience eternal life! Which way of life do you want? What kind of character are you cultivating? What destiny do you want? These sections of Scripture show us how to do this!

I challenge you to turn away from the sin of the world and of the flesh today and surrender yourself to the Spirit’s way in your heart and life. Turn from the characteristics or deeds of the flesh, and surrender yourself to the Spirit’s supernatural working in your life. This is the only rational, logical, reasonable, and spiritual thing to do! It is a matter of either pleasing the self and the flesh or pleasing God and Christ according to the Holy Spirit! The choice is clear!

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