The Big Fight

  • Jeff Crotts
Knight in Armor with a shield and sword

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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 keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”(Galatians 5:16-26)

This is a very familiar and deeply personal section of Scripture.  Though beautiful and almost poetic, when read aloud, these ten verses represent “The Big Fight.”  The internal struggle every Christian is facing, whether he or she recognizes and admits this or not.  This ongoing civil war is being waged on the battleground of the heart and is between the Christian’s flesh and the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul, who penned the letter of Galatians, wrote what is perhaps the best-known sections of New Testament Scripture.  Paul cuts a dividing line by drawing a dramatically stark contrast between a person’s “flesh” and the “Spirit”.  Both are at work all the time!  Every Christian who is being honest knows he or she lives in two spheres at once.  He or she is in union with Jesus Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit while at the same time living life in a body constantly feeling the residual effects of sin.  All while engaging a world still under the curse of sin.

As a believer, you rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is in the process to make you holy.  The Spirit is your Sanctifier.  He is the only One who empowers you to please God.  In fact, the Lord never intended for Christians to rely on their own resources but only His.  Think about when God saved you.  You were brought to life by God’s will and work, not your own.  In the same way, the Spirit is making you holy, this too by God’s will and work, not your own. 

Often our expectation for personal holiness is so high we become easily discouraged when our guard drops.  When an old sin pattern reals its ugly but familiar head.  Times like these are when we need to be realistic about our growth trajectory.  You may think your Christian life should be marked by one spiritual triumph after another, free from sin, freely living by the Spirit, filled with selflessness and love.  Experience tells us, “We know better!”  Christians regularly suffer bitter spiritual defeats.

Reformers like Martin Luther and John Bunyan openly confessed this contradicting dilemma.  Despite all attempts to live a godly life, temptations to sin led to defeat.  Both heroes of the faith (as with may others) confessed that their flesh triggered doubts as to the veracity of their conversion.  Many true believers readily admit to similar doubts.

Luther’s forerunner, Augustine (the Bishop of Hippo) used to pray, “Lord, deliver me from that evil man, myself.”

We know we have this battle between two opposing forces, two contrary powers, the Spirit and the enemy within.  They will never agree – they are “against” each other.  The flesh, our unredeemed humanness, is exceedingly powerful.  It is amazing to conceive how this “flesh” actually fights against the Holy Spirit inside each one of us!  You feel pulled like being the rope in a massive game of tug-of-war.  Two contrary directions, dragged downward by the flesh, while drawn upward by the Spirit.

Spurgeon described this dynamic:

“All the fire that that the devil can bring from hell could do us little harm if we did not have so much fuel in our nature…It is the powder in the magazine of the old man that is our perpetual danger.”

Still, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit means there is hope for holiness.  The Holy Spirit constantly authors all our desires for holiness, so we fight back.  We are both called and enabled to combat the seductive ways of your former self.  Adam’s instincts are dethroned but are not yet eliminated, so we fight from the high ground.  We make it our life-long determination to seek and destroy these contrary instincts. 

The good news is that we are never fighting a losing battle.  In fact, we should regularly refortify our confidence in the victory promised when we are glorified! (cf. Rom. 8:30).  The battle lines are clear and obvious – not mysterious – we know our enemy!  What you must kill is not operating covertly!  Likewise, the Holy Spirit is always readily accessible.  We are not left floundering around in the dark trying to find God for help.  No!  Yielding yourself to the Spirit is all it takes!  All you have to do is ask for help.  Finally, do not forget that every Christian is meant to and promised to grow while they wage battle against their flesh.  You might not want to fight against your sins but ask yourself, “Do I still want to grow?”

So how shall you fight?  First, establish that you cannot fight this battle with the devil’s weapons.  It is not possible to co-mingle fleshly power with the Spirit’s power.  You cannot fight your flesh by the sheer force of will, obeying the Law in your strength.  Neither can you fight your flesh by ignoring it altogether, through license.  Raw legalism and lawlessness are both equally condemned by Paul throughout the New Testament.

C.H. Spurgeon said, “If you think you can get help from God by getting angry, you make a great mistake.” 

Christians sometimes claim to have more of the Holy Spirit through passive submission.  This is the theology of quietism claiming they can “let go, and let God.”  This is a smokescreen to not fight as “a good soldier of Christ engaged in active service” or as an “athlete who ‘runs in such a way that they might win’” (2 Tim. 2:3-4; 1 Cor. 9:24). 

We need to fight this fight in faith through the biblical balance described in Galatians 5:16-26.  Count how many times the “Spirit” is named in these ten verses.  Seven times.  This section is filled with the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier.  He alone subdues our flesh, (what J.B. Phillips calls our “lower nature”), opening the path for you to engage this Big Fight.  Do not let up or let go this summer!  Your battle must still be waged against your sin and temptation especially during this unique and quirky season!  Do not give up!  There is too much to lose.  Rely on the Spirit and enter your arena to fight for God’s glory.