James 1:8 describes a “double-minded” man who is unstable in all of his ways. This is a person who may be a Christian, but keeps falling into sin. Perhaps he or she professes a strong desire to do right, but just seems to be up and down all the time.
Galatians 5:16-18 gives more insight into the conflict involved and how to find victory.
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.”
Verse 17 speaks of the reality of spiritual warfare that goes on in the heart of every true child of God. It is something that all of us face every day because we retain the flesh and its carnal desires while being indwelt by the Spirit of God. This can be a very frustrating thing, even for the most mature servants of God.
Hudson Taylor, who founded the China Inland Mission and helped reach a continent for Christ penned the following words well into his ministry in a letter to his mother:
I cannot tell you how I am buffeted sometimes by temptation. I never knew how bad a heart I had! Yet I do know that I love God and love His work, and desire to serve Him only and in all things.”
So how can we have victory in our Christian lives? How can we find that spiritual equilibrium and avoid being the double-minded man – pulled first one way and then another? The answer and promise in Galatians 5:16 is “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”.
I remember fondly the days when my children were learning to walk. I would hold their hands and help them take their first wobbling steps. They were wholly dependent on my support, but they exerted their own effort too. Eventually, with repetition and exercise, they grew stronger and walking became easier. Now, they hardly think about walking — it has become a habit.
Learning to walk is a beautiful analogy for walking in the Spirit. In fact, walking is one of the most common analogies given in Scripture to describe the Christian life. It is the Holy Spirit that supports us and enables us to take our feeble spiritual steps. Eventually, though, faithfulness in the Christian life is built step-by-step into a habit. But although it takes practice, it isn’t just a matter of routine. Another aspect of the imagery of walking that this passage calls to mind is that of direction.
Spirit Controlled Direction
This is what Hudson Taylor was talking about when he said “Yet I do know that I love God and love His work, and desire to serve Him only and in all things. It is fleshed out in many related passages like Colossians 3:1 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above . . . ” Walking by the Spirit is not a passive, “Let go and let God.” It is the pursuit of something, a longing that the Spirit of God works in our heart. It is the pursuit of Christ, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings”, Paul says in Phil. 3:10 It is also the pursuit of holiness, as we see in this passage. We are to put off the works of the flesh and produce the fruit of the Spirit. How do we do this? By walking in the Spirit.
Spirit Controlled Decisions
One of my all-time favorite books I have read and re-read is Pilgrim’s Progress. One of the things that makes it so compelling is that we sense that the Christian life really is a journey of faith. It is a helpful way for us to think about our walk with the Lord. So if the Christian life is a journey, then individual steps on that journey would be what? If you answered “Individual decisions or choices every day,” you would be absolutely right.
That means if I’m walking in the Spirit, I am allowing every little decision I make to be controlled by the Spirit of God. Consciously choosing not what my flesh wants, but responding in obedience to the Spirit’s application of God’s word in my heart. For a young or immature Christian this takes a lot of hard work. You have to choose to put off a whole lot of baggage and put on the fruit of the Spirit. Watching my kids learn to walk was fascinating because they had to put so much effort and concentration into putting one foot in front of the other. Fortunately as we learn to walk in the Spirit we get better and better at it, and find our spiritual equilibrium. But the Christian life will always involve effort.
Death to Self
Galatians 5:24 goes on: “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” There are a couple of things in view here. 1 Peter 4:1 fits well here: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking . . .” On the bloody Cross, Christ dealt with sin seriously, and so since we are in Christ, we should too. Our sin was already nailed to the cross in Christ, and we should live that out by putting it to death in our own lives.
Martin Luther said this in his commentary on Galatians.
To resist the flesh by a walk in the spirit is to nail it to the Cross. Although the flesh is still alive it cannot very well act upon its desires because it is bound and nailed to the Cross.”
So there is hope for a victorious, Spirit-filled walk. We already have the indwelling Holy Spirit; we just need to allow it to control our direction, decisions and our death to self. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).