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The Internal Struggle The Flesh vs. Spirit


James E. Haynes, Jr.

Christianity is not for sissies and it is not for girlie-men. It is a war and you are a soldier on the battlefield. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to, "...wage the good warfare". He told the Ephesian church, "take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day" (Eph. 6:13). We are in the Lord's army now let us fight.

The enemy of our eternal soul is Satan. Some may doubt his existence; however, the Bible informs us that he is real; he is active; and he is our archenemy (1 Pet. 5:8). He wants us to fall in defeat, just like Goliath! He wants us to turn and run, just like Demas (2 Tim. 4:10). He wants us to yield to temptation, just like the Apostle Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3). Satan is active and he wants to win.

Some of the most intense fighting can be found in the human heart between the flesh and the spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote, "...the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Gal. 5:17). Satan wants us to fulfill our own fleshly desires by immersing ourselves in the "works of the flesh", not so with the Lord; he wants us to imbibe in the "fruit of the Spirit".

In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul writes down 17 specific examples of the "works of the flesh". All of them are readily available for Satan's employment and deployment. He has and will use each one of them to tempt an unsuspecting, ill-prepared Christian. Do not let that Christian be you. Warn others. Remember, Satan is a relentless foe! Be on guard always!

For the sake of space, I am going to break down Paul's list into three different categories. The first category is sexual sins: adultery, fornication, uncleanness (impurities), and lasciviousness (lewdness, debauchery, licentiousness). God is the Creator of the sexual union. He approves of sex but only within a God approved marriage (Heb. 13:4). Therefore, impure minds, filthy actions, and lustful out of control behavior are not authorized by God's word. In fact, that kind of behavior will cause a Christian man or woman to lose his or her soul (c.f. Matt. 5:28).

The next category deals specifically with misguided allegiance: idolatry, witchcraft (or sorcery), instances of drunkenness, and revelries (or orgies). God's word teaches us that our complete mind and body must be used in the service of God. We were made to glorify God (Is. 43:7).

Frequently, Paul and others described themselves as bondservants of God and Christ. In serving God, there is not time to serve such sinful passions as just mentioned. Yet, it is amazing to see how many are earnestly contending for such sinful passions as social drinking and the like.

Finally, the last category deals with personal relationships: hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, heresies (or factions), envy, and murders. The church is composed of individual Christians who must work together in the greatest cause on Earth; there is not time for bickering or fighting in the ranks of God's army. Paul wrote, " But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another (Gal. 5:15)!"

The Christian must be on guard against the "works of the flesh" and faithfully engaged in developing and demonstrating the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23). The word fruit in that passage is singular. Therefore, the picture in our mind should not be a wide assortment of different fruits laid out on a countertop so pick and choose which one you want. Instead, it is a picture of a fruit basket so you must take them all. God expects us to develop and demonstrate each one in our lives!

Again, the Christian is a soldier and he is in a battle; however, he is not a brute, roughneck. He or she is to be like Jesus Christ. Every single characteristic or demeanor found in the "fruit of the Spirit" was actively demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ. He did so perfectly! Let us all follow the Lord's example!

Heading the list of the "fruit of the Spirit" is agape love. Agape love is the type of love that seeks the highest good of others. This is the type of love demonstrated by God and by Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:14). In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul helps us understand what agape love is all about! I encourage you to read it carefully noticing the mindset of a loving Christian.

The "fruit of the Spirit" also includes joy and peace. Sometimes Christians get depressed. We are human too! Jesus was in the midst of despair (Luke 22:43). However, we do not need to stay in that state of mind. The Apostle Paul found himself in the midst of distress; however, it did not hinder him from doing God's will (c.f. Acts 18:9). The Christian in the midst of depression and distress will always have before her a constant reminder of God's love, grace, and mercy. The difficulty may still be present, however, joy and peace will radiate outward into a dark and dismal world.

The remaining six characteristics that make up our fruit basket I have divided into two categories. The first category has to do with our interactions with other people: longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, and gentleness. Many of the problems generally associated with people would be avoided if each party demonstrated those characteristics in dealing with others. Of course, a dose of agape love would also be beneficial! Do you remember the "works of the flesh" that stand in direct opposition to these characteristics? They were hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, heresies (or factions), envy, and murders. That is an incredible contrast!

The last category has to do once again with our allegiance to God. Every Christian must be completely faithful to God. There is no room for divided allegiance. A slave cannot serve two different masters (Matt. 6:24). It is imperative that we build our faith by listening carefully to what God has to say in His word (2 Cor. 5:7). Upon hearing His word we must be actively engaged in applying it to our lives (James 1:22).

Applying the word of God is not always easy. Satan is actively trying to tempt us into listening to his demands. He wants us to follow his will and do his bidding. Therefore, the child of God, the soldier will need to exercise some self-control. Self-control is needed in every aspect of life. If one truly wants to lose weight, it will require self-control. If one wants to complete her education self-control is required. If one wants to win the battle between the flesh and the Spirit self-control is necessary.

Christians are involved in the greatest battle on Earth. Satan is the enemy. He wants Christians to practice the "works of the flesh" while God wants us to eliminate the "works of the flesh" completely from our hearts and minds. The battle between the flesh and the spirit is a difficult one; however, God is able to help us. Let us all strive to eliminate and discard the "works of the flesh" and develop the "fruit of the Spirit".


Mabank Church of Christ
P.O. Box 1386
Mabank, Texas 75147


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