16 But I say, vwalk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify wthe desires of the flesh. 17 For xthe desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, yto keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are zled by the Spirit, ayou are not under the law.
This love is not optional. It is commanded. And it is very radical: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, we are called in our freedom to desire and seek the happiness of others with the same zeal that we seek our own. But if you take this command seriously, it is so contrary to our natural inclinations that it seems utterly impossible. That I should get up in the morning and feel as much concern for your needs as for my own seems utterly beyond my power. If this is the Christian life — caring for others as I care for myself — then it is hard, indeed, and I feel hopeless to ever live it out.
Paul’s answer to this discouragement is found in Galatians 5:16–18. The secret is in learning to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16). If the Christian life looks too hard, we must remember that we are not called to live it by ourselves. We must live it by the Spirit of God. The command of love is not a new legalistic burden laid on our back; it is what happens freely when we walk by the Spirit. People who try to love without relying on God’s Spirit always wind up trying to fill their own emptiness rather than sharing their fullness. And so love ceases to be love. Love is not easy for us. But the good news is that it is not primarily our work but God’s. We must simply learn to “walk by the Spirit.”
So I want to build today’s message around three questions: What? Why? And, how? What is this “walking by the Spirit”? Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? And, how, very practically, can we walk by the Spirit?
What Is Walking by the Spirit?
First, what is this “walking by the Spirit”? There are two other images in the context which shed light on the meaning of “walk by the Spirit.” The first is in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” If Paul had said, “If you follow the Spirit you are not under law,” it would have been true, but in using the passive voice (“If you are led”) he emphasizes the Spirit’s work, not ours. The Spirit is not a leader like the pace car in the “Daytona 500.” He is a leader like a locomotive on a train. We do not follow in our strength. We are led by his power. So “walk by the Spirit” means stay hooked up to the divine source of power and go wherever he leads.
The second image of our walk in the Spirit is in verse 22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.” If our Christian walk is to be a walk of love and joy and peace, then “walk by the Spirit” must mean “bear the fruit of the Spirit.” But again, the Spirit’s work is emphasized, not ours. He bears the fruit. Perhaps Paul got this image from Jesus. You recall John 15:4–5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So “walk by the Spirit” means “abide in the vine.” Keep yourself securely united to the living Christ. Don’t cut yourself off from the flow of the Spirit.
So in answer to our first question, What is this walking by the Spirit? we answer: It is “being led by the Spirit” and it is “bearing the fruit of the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit is emphasized, yet the command is for us to do something. Our wills are deeply involved. We must want to be coupled to the locomotive. We must want to abide in the vine. And there are some things we can do to keep ourselves attached to the flow of God’s power. But before we ask how to walk by the Spirit let’s ask . . .
Why Is It Crucial to Walk by the Spirit?
Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? The text gives two reasons, one in verse 16 and one in verse 18. In verse 16 the incentive for walking by the Spirit is that when you do this, you will not gratify the desire of the flesh. The RSV here is wrong when it makes the second part of verse 16 a command instead of a promise and says, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” All the other major versions are right to make it a promise because this particular Greek construction has that meaning everywhere else in Paul. The verse should be translated, for example with the NASB, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So the first reason we should walk by the Spirit is that when we do, the desires of our flesh are overcome.
In recent messages I’ve tried to define the flesh as Paul uses it. Most of the time (though not always, see below) it does not simply refer to the physical part of you. (Paul does not regard the body as evil in itself.) The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness and uses the resources in its own power to try to fill it. Flesh is the “I” who tries to satisfy me with anything but God’s mercy. Notice Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now compare with this Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In 2:20, “flesh” is used in its less usual meaning referring to ordinary bodily existence, which is not in itself evil (“I now live in the flesh”).
But the important thing to notice is that in 5:24 the “flesh“ is crucified and in 2:20 “I” am crucified. This is why I define the flesh in its negative usage as an expression of the “I” or the “ego.” And notice in 2:20 that since the old fleshly ego is crucified, a new “I” lives, and the peculiar thing about this new “I” is that it lives by faith. “The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness but loathes the idea of satisfying it by faith, i.e., by depending on the mercy of God in Christ. Instead, the flesh prefers to use the legalistic or licentious resources in its own power to fill its emptiness. As Romans 8:7 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law.” The basic mark of the flesh is that it is unsubmissive. It does not want to submit to God’s absolute authority or rely on God’s absolute mercy. Flesh says, like the old TV commercial, “I’d rather do it myself.”
It is not surprising, then, that in verse 17 there is a war between our flesh and God’s Spirit. It is a problem at first glance that there is a lively war between flesh and Spirit in the Christian, according to verse 17, but the flesh is crucified in the Christian, according to verse 24. We’ll talk more about the sense in which our flesh is crucified when we get to verse 24. For now, let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume that both are somehow true, and focus on this war within: our flesh versus God’s Spirit.
God’s Spirit Conquers Our Flesh
Verse 17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would.” The main thing to learn from this verse is that Christians experience a struggle within. If you said to yourself when I was describing the flesh, “Well, I have a lot of that still left in me,” it does not necessarily mean you aren’t a Christian. A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit.
Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!
But when you take verses 16 and 17 together, the main point is not war, but victory for the Spirit. Verse 16 says that when you walk by the Spirit, you will not let those bad desires come to maturity. When you walk by the Spirit, you nip the desires of the flesh in the bud. New God-centered desires crowd out old man-centered desires. Verse 16 promises victory over the desires of the flesh — not that there won’t be a war, but that the winner of that war will be the Spirit.
In fact, I think what Paul means in verse 24, when he says the flesh has been crucified, is that the decisive battle has been fought and won by the Spirit. The Spirit has captured the capital and broken the back of the resistance movement. The flesh is as good as dead. Its doom is sure. But there are outlying pockets of resistance. The guerrillas of the flesh will not lay down their arms, and must be fought back daily. The only way to do it is by the Spirit, and that’s what it means to walk by the Spirit — so live that he gives victory over the dwindling resistance movement of the flesh. So the first reason why we must walk by the Spirit is that, when we do, the flesh is conquered.
God’s Spirit Creates Law-Fulfilling Fruit
The second reason to walk by the Spirit or be led by the Spirit is found in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” This does not mean you don’t have to fulfill God’s law. You do. That’s what verses 13 and 14 said, “Through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And Romans 8:3–4 say, “God condemned sin in the flesh in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Therefore, not being under law does not mean we don’t have to fulfill the law. It means that, when we are led by the locomotive of the Spirit, we cruise on the railroad track of the law as a joyful way of life and are not left to climb it like a ladder in our own strength from underneath. When we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the punishment or the oppression of the law because what the law requires the Spirit produces; namely, love. Notice verse 22: the first and all-encompassing fruit of the Spirit is love, which verse 14 says fulfills the whole law.
And to confirm that this is just how Paul is thinking, he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit in verse 23 with the words, “against such there is no law.” In other words, how can you be under the oppression or punishment of the law when the very things the law requires are popping out like fruit on the branches of your life? So the second reason to walk by the Spirit is really the same as the first. Verse 16 says, do it because you get victory over the flesh when you walk by the Spirit. You nip temptation in the bud. Verse 18 says, do it because then you are free from the oppression and punishment of the law, because the fruit the Spirit produces fulfills the law. The Spirit is the fullness that overflows in love. Therefore it conquers the emptiness that drives the flesh, and it spills out in acts of love which fulfill the law.
How Do You Walk by the Spirit?
But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, “Let the Spirit lead you,” or, “Allow the Spirit to control you,” and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way,You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.
Here’s the fivefold evidence from Galatians. First, Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Genuine faith always produces love, because faith pushes out guilt, fear, and greed and gives us an appetite to enjoy God’s power. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith — a happy resting in the promises of God is the pipeline of the Spirit.
Second, notice Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” How do you wait for Jesus “through the Spirit”? “By faith!” When you keep your heart happy in God and resting in his promises, you are waiting through the Spirit and walking by the Spirit.
Third, look at Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law.” The coming of faith liberates a person from being under law. But what does 5:18 say? “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” How, then, shall we seek to be led by the Spirit? By faith. By meditating on the trustworthiness and preciousness of God’s promises until our hearts are free of all fretting and guilt and greed. This is how the Holy Spirit fills and leads.
Fourth, see Galatians 3:5, the clearest of all: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?” The Spirit does his mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to hear the delectable promises of God and trust them, delight in them, rest in them.
Finally, consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Who is the Christ who lives in Paul? He is the Spirit. As 4:6 says: The Spirit of God’s Son has been sent into our hearts. And how, according to 2:20, does the life of the Son produce itself in Paul? How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God, frees his life from guilt and fear and greed, and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We stop trying to fill the emptiness of our lives with a hundred pieces of the world, and put our souls at rest in God. The Spirit will work the miracle of renewal in your life when you start meditating on his unspeakable promises day and night and resting in them. (See also Romans 15:13, 2 Peter 1:4, and Isaiah 64:4.)
The Secret of Walking by the Spirit
Yesterday at 5:30 a.m. I was in Pasadena, California, standing in the kitchen of my beloved teacher Daniel Fuller talking to his wife Ruth. One of the things I will never forget about that kitchen is that over the sink are taped four tremendous promises of God typed on little pieces of paper. Ruth puts them there to meditate on while she works. That’s how you walk by the Spirit.
I keep a little scrap paper by my prayer bench, and whenever I read a promise that can lure me away from my guilt and fear and greed, I write it down. Then in dry spells I have a pile of promises to soak my soul in. The fight of faith is fought with the promises of God. And the fight of faith is the same as the fight to walk by the Spirit. He works when we are resting in his promises. George Müller wrote (Autobiography, pp. 152–4):
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God.
George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises.
Hudson Taylor had learned it too. He received word one day of rioting near one of the inland mission stations. In a few moments George Nichol, one of his evangelists, overheard Taylor whistling his favorite hymn, “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting in the Joy of What Thou Art.” Hudson Taylor “had learned that for him, only one life was possible — just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while he dealt with the difficulties inward and outward, great and small” (Spiritual Secret, p. 209).
I say to you, brothers and sisters, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. You will have victory over temptation and know the guidance of the Lord if you keep your heart happy in God by resting in his promises.
What if, for one day, Jesus were to become you? What if, for twenty-four hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, assumes your schedule? Your boss becomes His boss, your mother becomes His mother, your pains become His pains? With one exception, nothing about your life changes. Your health doesn’t change. Your circumstances don’t change. Your schedule isn’t altered. Your problems aren’t solved. Only one change occurs.
What if, for one day and one night, Jesus lives your life with His heart?
Your heart gets the day off, and your life is led by the heart of Christ. His priorities govern your actions. His passions drive your decisions. His love directs your behavior.
What would you be like? Would people notice a change? Your family – would they see something new? Your coworkers – would they sense a difference? What about the less fortunate? Would you treat them the same? And your friends? Would they detect more joy? How about your enemies? Would they receive more mercy from Christ’s heart than from yours?
And you? How would you feel? What alterations would this transplant have on your stress level? Your mood swings? Your temper? Would you sleep better? Would you see sunsets differently? Death differently? Taxes differently? Any chance you’d need fewer aspirin or sedatives? How about your reaction to traffic delays? (Ouch, that touched a nerve.) Would you still dread what you are dreading? Better yet, would you still do what you are doing?
Would you still do what you had planned to do for the next twenty-four hours?
Pause and think about your schedule. Obligations. Engagements. Outings. Appointments. With Jesus taking over your heart, would anything change?
Keep working on this for a moment. Adjust the lens of your imagination until you have a clear picture of Jesus leading your life, then snap the shutter and frame the image. What you see is what God wants. He wants you to “think and act like Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
God’s plan for you is nothing short of a new heart.
“You were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God – made to be truly good and holy” (Ephesians 4:23-24).
God wants you to be just like Jesus. He wants you to have a heart like His.
I’m going to risk something here. It’s dangerous to sum up grand truths in one statement, but I’m going to try. If a sentence or two could capture God’s desire for each of us, it might read like this:
God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.
If you think His love for you would be stronger if your faith were, you are wrong. If you think His love would be deeper if your thoughts were, wrong again. Don’t confuse God’s love with the love of people. The love of people often increases with performance and decreases with mistakes. Not so with God’s love. He loves you right where you are. To quote my wife’s favorite author:
God’s love never ceases. Never. Though we spurn Him. Ignore Him. Reject Him. Despise Him. Disobey Him. He will not change.
Our evil cannot diminish His love. Our goodness cannot increase it. Our faith does not earn it any more than our stupidity jeopardizes it. God doesn’t love us less if we fail or more if we succeed.
When my daughter Parris was a toddler, I used to take her to a park not far from our home. One day as she was playing in a sandbox, an ice-cream salesman approached us. I purchased her a treat, and when I turned to give it to her, I saw her mouth was full of sand. Where I intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt.
Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way. I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth. Why? Because I love her.
God does the same for us. He holds us over the fountain. “Spit out the dirt, honey,” our Father urges. “I’ve got something better for you.” And so He cleanses us of filth: immorality, dishonesty, prejudice, bitterness, greed. We don’t enjoy the cleansing; sometimes we even opt for the dirt over the ice cream. “I can eat dirt if I want to!” we pout and proclaim. Which is true – we can. But if we do, the loss is ours. God has a better offer. He wants us to be just like Jesus.
Isn’t that good news? You aren’t stuck with today’s personality. You aren’t condemned to “grumpydom.” You are tweakable. Even if you’ve worried each day of your life, you needn’t worry the rest of your life. So what if you were born a bigot? You don’t have to die one.
Where did we get the idea we can’t change? Jesus can change our hearts. He wants us to have a heart like his. Can you imagine a better offer?
The Heart of Christ
The heart of Jesus was pure. The Savior was adored by thousands, yet content to live a simple life. He was cared for by women (Luke 8:1-3) yet never accused of lustful thoughts, scorned by His own creation but willing to forgive them before they even requested His mercy. Peter, who traveled with Jesus for three and a half years, described Him as a “lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19). After spending the same amount of time with Jesus, John concluded, “And in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
Jesus’ heart was peaceful. The disciples fretted over the need to feed the thousands, but not Jesus. He thanked God for the problem. The disciples shouted for fear in the storm, but not Jesus. He slept through it. Peter drew his sword to fight the soldiers, but not Jesus. He lifted His hand to heal. His heart was at peace. When His disciples abandoned Him, did He pout and go home? When Peter denied Him, did Jesus lose His temper? When the soldiers spit in His face, did He breathe fire in theirs? Far from it. He was at peace. He forgave them. He refused to be guided by vengeance.
He also refused to be guided by anything other than His high call. His heart was purposeful. Most lives aim at nothing in particular and achieve it. Jesus aimed at one goal – to save humanity from its sin. He could summarize His life with one sentence: “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Jesus was so focused on His task that he knew when to say, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4) and when to say, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But he was not so focused on his goal that he was unpleasant.
Quite the contrary. How pleasant were His thoughts! Children couldn’t resist Jesus. He could find beauty in lilies, joy in worship, and possibilities in problems. He would spend days with multitudes of sick people and still feel sorry for them. He spent more than three decades wading through the muck and mire of our sin yet still saw enough beauty in us to die for our mistakes.
But the crowning attribute of Christ was this: His heart was spiritual. His thoughts reflected His intimate relationship with the Father. “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me,” he stated (John 14:11). His first recorded sermon begins with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18). He was “led by the Spirit” (Matthew 4:1) and “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). He returned from the desert “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
Jesus took his instructions from God. It was His habit to go to worship (Luke 4:16). It was His practice to memorize scripture (Luke 4:4). Luke says Jesus “often slipped away to be alone so He could pray” (Luke 5:16). His times of prayer guided Him. He once returned from prayer and announced it was time to move to another city (Mark 1:38). Another time of prayer resulted in the selection of the disciples (Luke 6:12-13). Jesus was led by an unseen hand: “The Son does whatever the Father does” (John 5:19). In the same chapter He stated, “I can do nothing alone. I judge only the way I am told” (John 5:30).
The Heart of Humanity
Our hearts seem so far from His. He is pure; we are greedy. He is peaceful; we are hassled. He is purposeful; we are distracted. He is pleasant; we are cranky. He is spiritual; we are earthbound. The distance between our hearts and His seems so immense. How could we ever hope to have the heart of Jesus?
Ready for a surprise? You already do. You already have the heart of Christ. Why are you looking at me that way? Would I kid you? If you are in Christ, you already have the heart of Christ.
One of the supreme yet unrealized promises of God is simply this: if you have given your life to Jesus, Jesus has given Himself to you. He has made your heart His home. It would be hard to say it more succinctly than Paul did: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
He has moved in and unpacked His bags and is ready to change you “into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul explained it with these words: “Strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
If I have the mind of Jesus, why do I still think so much like me?
Part of the answer is illustrated in a story about a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal.
The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.
Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?”
“Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
She’s tapped in to the power but doesn’t use it. Her house is connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake? We, too – with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged – are connected but not altered. Trusting Christ for salvation but resisting transformation. We occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows.
What would happen if we left the light on? What would happen if we not only flipped the switch but lived in the light? What changes would occur if we set about the task of dwelling in the radiance of Christ?
No doubt about it: God has ambitious plans for us. The same one who saved your soul longs to remake your heart. His plan is nothing short of a total transformation:
He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son. – Romans 8:29
You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. –Colossians 3:10
God is willing to change us into the likeness of the Savior.
Shall we accept His offer?
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What about you? Are you willing to let God have His way in changing you from the inside out into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about gaining a heart like Jesus’! ~ Devotionals Daily-Are you a tabernacle?-click to view…
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Message (MSG)
24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.
26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”
Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”
Who is your favorite wrestler?
Today’s television wrestlers are professional entertainers — athletes who have captured the imagination of Americans of all generations. Though their names change from generation to generation television wrestlers, complete with costumes, gimmicks, rippling muscles and a lot of hype has an unparalleled following around the world.
Perhaps the most famous is Hulk Hogan, who has had cartoon shows, records, comic books and television shows based on his wrestling persona. Others familiar names of our time include: ’The Rock’, ’Kurt Angle’, ’Triple H’, The Undertaker’ and others. Each combine entertainment and wrestling skills to thrill audiences everywhere.
The stronger and the cleverer of the two wrestlers usually win.
But suppose you had to wrestle God, who do you think would win?
Unlikely as it may seem there are many people who wrestle with God everyday. Some win and some lose. Those who win arise from their experience with a stronger, fuller, faith. Those who choose to refuse God’s will in their lives, walk away as losers.
As Christians we can reflect on Ephesians 6:12 which reminds us that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities, against powers, against rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
As we wrestle with this we should resolve that we will not leave the ring until we are victorious and receive our blessing from God.
I. Our text first considers Jacob as returns home after being away for 21 years. He managed the herds of his uncle Laban during this time and had become wealthy.
Jacob is noted for his frequent tendency to cheat, deceive or take advantage of others. He is often remembered for his boyhood act of cheating his brother out of his divine inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup. That caused a great division in his family and prompted him too leave 21 years earlier. This text finds Jacob returning home a wealthier man, but one who still possessed the same old habits and traits that caused him to leave. After 21 years of tricking and being tricked, Jacob decided it was time to go home.
As he drew close to home Jacob sent messengers to his brother, Esau, to inform him that he was coming home and that he wanted to make up for the wrongs he had done. The messenger returned to announce that Esau was coming to meet him but he was bringing 400 men with him.
Jacob was disturbed and afraid for his life because he thought his brother was coming to avenge his bad deeds. The night before his return home, Jacob pondered his fate and considered his options and it was to the point he had his third encounter with the Lord. His first encounter came when God spoke to him in a dream and told him to go home (Gen.31: 13). As he returned home he met angels of the Lord along the way (Gen. 32:1-2) and had his second encounter with Lord. Now in his moment of indecision the Lord seized him bodily and spiritually as Jacob wrestled to decide whether to go home or flee.
Without a doubt this was a fixed fight. The outcome of this match was a part of God’s divine plan. Jacob would win this match despite his mortality facing the invincible, indestructible, immortal power of God by simply deciding to go back home. To remind Jacob of the power God could have unleashed against him, the Lord simply touched his thigh and it was weak as a limb for the rest of his life.
Jacob’s decision to go home, but there was something else he needed from God, a changed heart. His plea for spiritual blessings was I can’t go home like this! I have cattle, riches, and fame, but I can’t go home like this! Jacob wanted a blessing from God and he received it. The Lord changed his name from Jacob to Israel, which means: You wrestled with God and won!
Jacob had wrestled with men and won! But now he had wrestled with God and won!
There are many today that have prevailed in their struggle with life’s forces. They have wrestled with men and won. Many have defeated struggles of racism, poverty and sexism to rise high in their professions and to acquire a reasonable level of comfortable living. Though their lives at times appeared to be down for the final count they have risen victorious!
Are you among those who wrestled with men and won? Are you able to keep food on your table, wear decent clothing, and get a few of the creature comforts of this life? If so, you have wrestled with men and won!
Jacob acquired his material by abandoning most stayed away from home for 21 years seeking his fortune and won! Today, there are millions who placed their active service in the kingdom of God on the back burner as they wrestle with men. Many are so completely consumed with making a dollar that they have little time left for prayer, bible study, worship or service to their fellow man in the Kingdom of God.
Sooner or later, no matter who you are, the Lord is going to speak to you. Perhaps he comes in the silence of the night. Perhaps his words leap from the pages of a manuscript and embrace you or they simply ring in your ears. The call is for every child of God to “come home!”
When Jacob asked the Lord for a blessing before he went home, he wasn’t asking for a material blessing because he already had that, what he wanted was the confidence of knowing that God’s spirit was with him. In essence he said I’m going home, “but I can’t go home like this,” without your presence in my life!
There’s somebody reading this who has wrestled with life and won and is now wrestling with a decision about coming home to the Lord!
Their prayer is “Lord, I want to come home’ because you’ve been good to me! But I’m afraid of what’s out there! I’m afraid of making that first step!
I’m not leaving this place until you bless me with your Holy Ghost!
I can’t go home like this!
When the Holy Ghost leads you:
Mountains seem to be a little lower!
Dark clouds seem to be a little brighter!
Burdens seem to be a little brighter!
Fears are a little less frightening!
Troubles seem more bearable!
No wonder the songwriter would write: ’Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me, make me, mold me, fill me, break me, spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me!’
II. When Jacob set out the next day on his way home, he had a limp in his walk but there was no fear in his heart because he had the Lord with him! He was going home, but he wasn’t the same man!
When he left home he was self-centered but as he returned he was willing to share with others!
When he left home he was filled with pride, but as he returned his pride turned to humility.
When he left home he was accustomed to using people, but as he returned he was willing to be used by the Lord!
His brother Esau met him surrounded by 400 men, but what Jacob expected to be an upraised fist turned out to be outstretched hand!
The two embraced each other and wept!
There are good things in store for those who come home! Jacob realized that there is unspeakable joy when you come home!
Every child of God knows how Jacob felt because every child of God is on his way home!
We’re going home, but not to a physical address in the mosquito ridden, humid bayous of the Louisiana Delta. We’re going to place where we have a house not built by hands!
I heard a songwriter said: “I’m going home to live with Jesus, since I laid my burdens down!”
I HEARD Jesus say “In my father’s house there are many mansions!’
Over yonder, in my fathers house:
Every day will be Sunday, always howdy and never good bye!
Every mountain shall be made low!
Every valley shall be exalted!
The wicked shall cease from troubling!
The weary shall be at rest!
Come and go with me to my Fathers house there is joy, joy, and unspeakable joy!
The Fight with the Flesh
Tonight I have a desire that is stronger than love. I want to be in the arms of my God. My feelings are mixed with wanting to do His will and do what I want. I want to be closer to God as to allow me the protection I so desparately need to be kept safe from myself. The cry of my heart is Lord please give me more of you at this very moment God. My flesh is weak, but my inner man is thirsty for you. I don’t want to break fellowship with you. Rap me in your arms Father.
Have you ever felt like everything is a struggle with the flesh and the spirit? Have you ever really felt the heat of wanting to feel good outside of your creator? I am in His presence when I face everything that is coming against me and I yield my desires over to Him. Learning to walk in the spirit is a humbling experience. God tears and shreads your being to nothing to accomplish this evolution.
Having been blessed with all the provisions you need but your flesh still longs for more. Having a roof over your head that you are not even paying for, the very electricity you are using is God’s. The food you are eating is God’s provision. The clean cloths you wear are God’s provision, The water you use is God’s provision, but your flesh says: I want more, I want to be in control of my own destiny. I want what I want, not God’s provison. Can you see the pride in the attack? How come we fall to these practices without noticing the enemies deceptive practices? The alarm is wanting to gratify self. Thank you Lord for allowing me to see my need to be in the secret place tonight where I am safe in your arms.
We get the opportunity to choose before we fall. If we would be hungry to please God and let the holy spirit fully convict us of moving out of His will we would always come back to our spirit mind and kill the flesh. We are always stewards of all God gives. Kill the flesh by beating your body as Paul mentions in his gospel.
Just because we have been saved by Christ doesn’t mean Christians don’t struggle with sin.
In fact, the reality is, we find ourselves living by a superior standard of life. Our spirit has been set apart by God but our minds continue to have the pattern of the old way of thinking.
So, even though our spirit is secure in Christ we still experience a battle in our mind, will and emotions. We want to leave the old patterns of living and embrace the new life in Christ but the flesh constantly wants to have its own way.
Subject: What I’m talking about is The Fight with the Flesh.
Compliment: How Can We Overcome Sin Tendencies in our life?
In Romans 7:14-25 98% of the text describes Paul the Apostles struggle with sin. Instead of depressing us this should encourage us because Paul faced the same daily battle in his mind, will and emotions that you and I face – and he was used to write 2/3 or the N.T.!
The remaining 2% of Paul’s descriptive struggle gives us the answer we need to overcome the sin tendencies in life.
t.s. We’ll first have to understand the problem each and every one of us struggles with each and every day – Our Flesh.
[Body – Understanding What’s the Problem]
Everyone has Flesh.
Flesh is our nature while here on Earth. It is developed within us by the ways we tried to meet our needs out of our own resources
Often, as Christians, when we think of “the flesh” we think in terms of the Results of living after the flesh.
Going to Galations 5:19-21, the Bible lists some of the results of living a life geared toward fulfilling the flesh. The list includes:
Sexual immorality, impurity, hatred, bitterness, anger, selfish ambition, factions, divisions, envy and others…
But included in the Apostle Paul’s definition of his flesh were his status, education, religious zeal and commitment. (Phillipians 3:3-6)
In his book “Lifetime Guarantee” Dr. Billy Graham describes the flesh in this way:
Flesh refers to the old patterns by which we have attempted to get all our needs supplied instead of seeking Christ first and trusting Him to meet all our needs.
A Christian then can still live “after the flesh” attempting to meet his needs through his old ways of living.
To Sum up what the flesh is:
It is all of the habit patterns that we have developed over the years to meet our needs out of our own resources. It is the Self-Life.
[What did it mean to Paul?]
Sometimes we forget the humanity of great men and women in the Bible – they were people just like us.
Listen to how Paul described his battle with his own flesh:
· (v15 NLT) “ I don’t understand myself at all!”
· (v16 NLT) “I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong.”
· (v17 NLT) “ I can’t help myself”
· (v18 NLT) “ I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned”
· (v18 NLT) “ No matter which way I turn – I can’t make myself do right”
· (v21 NLT) “When I do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.”
· (v24 NLT) “ What a miserable person I am.”
In the above 7 statements Paul describes the Christians fight with the flesh that each one of us, if you’re a Christian, can identify with. This is why Paul went to great lengths.
He uses hyperbole overstating and exaggerating something to make a point.
His Point? We are all locked into this battle – this fight- of the old habit patterns that we have developed over the years. This Self-Life that wants to live life – As Frank Sinartra once sang…”To do it My Way!”
[Belief] – Now Why is this such a Problem?
The non-Christian is not engaged in this fight with the flesh because the only option the non-Christian has is to live after the flesh – after the old habits and patterns developed over the years.
But since Jesus Christ lives in the Christian. We have all of Jesus’ resources available to us – Victory, Deliverance, Freedom…these are available to conquer fleshly habits.
Unfortonately, most Christians have now learned how to rely on Christ
· Often we do not allow Jesus to actually, experientially be in control of our life
Perhaps this is the very dilemma you are facing at this point in your life?
What does it mean to “live by the Flesh?”
To live according to our flesh means to live unrenewed – it is to live and act sinfully
The Corinthian Church had this problem and were immature in the Lord and self-serving. Paul had to correct the church’s fleshly living by writing two letters to them.
The Ephesian Church had to be reminded not to think according to the Flesh. In 4:17 Paul begins:
17 _ With the Lord’s authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly£ do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They don’t care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed.
20But that isn’t what you were taught when you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, 22 _ throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. 23Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. 24You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness—righteous, holy, and true.
[application] You see…living by the flesh can be summed up by a mind-set in which we choose to live by our own independent habit patterns to meet our needs – our learned independence from God – instead of trusting Jesus first.
Paul would later say in chapter 8 of Romans that those who live by the flesh “cannot please God”.
Now, What does this mean to me?
As Paul described here in Romans 7, it means that My Flesh is difficult to deal with.
All of us have developed patterns to help us cope with life, deal with our problems, succeed, relate to others and escape intolerable situations.
[personal illustration] One pattern of mine – I’ll admit- is the struggle I have to be self-dependant rather then God dependant. If a problem develops before me – immediately my ingrained fleshly habit is to find a practical solution – control the situation – secure the problem and then solve the problem in a logical manner.
God seems to constantly try and break that self dependant pattern in my life by allowing me to face difficulties in which I have no control. The result – I must become God-dependant and learn trust by walking with God in faith.
Our flesh is difficult to deal with because we have ingrained patterns that we have learned since childhood.
The truth is that the older in age one becomes – the more difficult it becomes to change those patterns in the area of our thinking, our emotional ties to those patterns and even our will to want to change.
So what should I do in light of this?
Paul asked the same question in verse 24
“Who will free me from this life dominated by sin?”
Then he gives the answer in the next verse – “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
How do we fight the flesh and overcome sin tendencies in our life?
By seeking the one who defeated death. He and He alone has the power to help us overcome our fleshly desires.