It’s a simple equation with a guaranteed end result. Walk in the spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. As Christians living in an "anything goes" world, this straightforward statement can be easily overlooked and even ignored. Among the many challenges we face today, being like everyone else is among the most subtle temptations of our human nature. We experience subtle social pressure in our workplace, at school, with friends, family and neighbors. Combine all of that with the never-ending online influence of social media to conform or else be negatively labeled, and we experience an unrelenting onslaught of pressure to conform or suffer. How do we as Christians learn to identify - and then overcome - all that is wrong so we can truly follow all that is right?
The Apostle Paul was concerned.
The Christians in Galatia were struggling with worldly influences coming in among them from several sources. First, there were Christians who came from a Jewish background and believed that all Christians were bound to follow the Jewish Law. Then there were the Christians who came from blatantly Pagan backgrounds. They had to be taught how to live up to Christian standards while flatly rejecting their old ways of life. Christian discipleship has no room for any of this.
The bad list and the good list.
In chapter 5 verse 16 of his letter to the Galatians, Paul takes a deep dive into these issues. He begins with a simple statement, “Walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” He then goes on to list the "deeds of the flesh." This was no simple list, as it consisted of 15 different internal and external behaviors for Christians to avoid. Looking closely at this list, we see it is broken down into five basic categories of fleshly deeds.
We might expect that such a comprehensive list of the deeds of the flesh would begin with making sure God is always first. Though idolatry seems to be the most widely pointed out sin in the Bible, it is not at the top of Paul's list. He chose instead to begin with sins of human desire. His first three fleshly deeds to avoid were immorality, impurity and sensuality. When we step back and look at how human nature works, we can really begin to grasp why Paul begins with these difficult aspects of life.
Check out our November 7, 2022 podcast, “Do I Walk in the Spirit or the Lusts of My Human Nature? (Part I)” for more. We put this whole subject into its appropriate context. We then examine the "human desire" category, as well as the "putting God first" category. As we go through these difficult issues, we also draw on the fruit of the spirit that Paul wisely lists right after these negative behaviors. This multiple-part series will closely examine all of these deeds of the flesh as well as the fruit of the spirit. Our objective is to walk only in the spirit and always away from any deeds of sin.