Lately I've been blogging about the great American Civil War. But there's another great civil war raging these days. It's the pursuit of holiness by the believer. The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other. I base this on the passage I was studying this morning.
Gal. 5:16-25 is a picture of the great conflict that every Christian has within. As I said the other day, most of us would prefer not to engage in conflict. But in the matter of the pursuit of holiness, we are expected to know conflict. The civil war raging within demands our fullest attention. Heb. 12:14 says, "Make every effort ... to be holy." The ESV has "strive for ...." The CSB says "pursue...." The verb can mean to run something down. This is a serious matter. Instead of standing on the sidelines of sin, we are to confront it.
Note Paul's contrast between the works of the flesh and the produce of the Spirit:
By "flesh," Paul means more than our physical bodies. Paul seems to understand it as the ego within each one of us that constantly needs feeding. It's that me-myself-and-I attitude that constantly needs pampering, satisfying, indulging. It's like a hungry animal that has an endless appetite. These "works of the flesh" can all be characterized by the word "license." License is that part of us that tries to push beyond the boundaries, that tempts us to do whatever we want whenever we want to, that feeds our ego by law-breaking. And, says Paul, it shows itself in at least 16 ways. We all know how easy it is to go too far, to slip up in one of these areas, to say something or do something that makes us ashamed. "I've got to have that," we say. "I've got to do that." Yet Paul says, "Christian, you do not have to live by the flesh. When you say 'I can't,' what you really mean is 'I won't.' You can, and you must."
Interestingly enough, in light of my recent blogging about the American Civil War, Paul here seems to have the Old Testament exodus narrative in mind. He talks about slavery and about freedom. He talks about being led by the Spirit just as the Israelites of old were led by Moses out of bondage and into freedom. What better day than July 4th to think about our freedom in Christ? Yes, the battle is real, but the good news is that we're not alone. The Holy Spirit not only dwells within us, he is the one who produces his fruit in us. These 9 qualities are not self-generated. They are the "produce" of the Spirit. It's all about what the Spirit does within us. If love of ego marks out the flesh, love of others marks out the Spirit. Love of others displaces love of self. If discord and quarreling mark out the flesh, patience and longsuffering mark out the Spirit. And on and on it goes. This is true freedom. True freedom is not freedom from responsibility to God and others in order to live for ourselves. True freedom is freedom from ourselves in order to live for God and others.
In 1776, Americans issued a Declaration of Independence, a statement of freedom. Basically they declared, "We are free, and we will live as free men and women." On this day 217 years ago, in the face of opposition from the greatest army and navy the world knew at that time, Americans decided to fight for their freedom and eventually succeeded because of their determination. Are you and I just as determined to live as free and men and women? Will we take seriously the call to be holy?
Wow. Them's a lot of words. Suffice it to say that my time in Galatians this morning was very convicting. No man can die and rise with Christ and live without facing this internal battle every day of his life. The modern church member all too often takes the path of least resistance and lives in a truce with his flesh. Do you have any wounds to show that you have been in the battle? How have you struggled with your flesh that you wouldn't have if you hadn't been a Christian? Don't keep your Declaration of Independence from Sin under glass as is the American document.
Make it a living reality. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36)!