Do you desire the same things God desires? That’s one of the questions asked in a new book I’m reading called What Does Your Soul Love? It’s written by Alan and Gem Fadling, and it’ll be available for purchase September 17th. I’m about halfway through right now and it’s given me quite a bit to think about. One thing I really like is the way they explain how our resistance to living a godly way of life is connected to Paul’s discussion of flesh versus spirit.
Our desires lie at the root of why we act the way we do. But even when we line-up the things we say we want with the things God wants, we might still find ourselves in the same position Paul was in his letter to Rome. He said he delights “in God’s law after the inward person,” but still finds “the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice” (Rom. 7:14-25). When we try to follow God, we encounter resistance from within ourselves as well as from without.
The resistance from outside is usually easier to identify and counter, at least to a certain extent. But what about the resistance inside? What can we do about that?
What Is “The Flesh”?
Just a couple weeks ago, I shared a 2-part post about Galatians. It’s on my mind again now since that letter seems particularly relevant to today’s discussion. If we’re going to talk about how our flesh resists living in the spirit, the last two chapters of Galatians are crucial. But first, let’s clear up a potential misunderstanding.
“The flesh here is not the physical body, but a way of life we’ve grown used to living in a world that does not recognize the reality of God and his kingdom. It is a dynamic within whereby we grab for what we need, not trusting (or knowing of) God’s generosity to provide. It is an ‘I can do it myself’ approach to living that presumes the absence of the loving God” — Alan and Gem Fadling
I’d also add that “flesh” includes an attitude of “I can decide right and wrong for myself” that presumes to know better than God or to think that He doesn’t really care. When we look at Paul’s description of the flesh, it includes following desires and taking actions that God has said are wrong. To keep doing those things when we should be walking in the spirit is to disregard our Creator and Savior’s wishes (Gal. 5:16-21).
Choose The Spirit
Paul wrote Galatians to address issues of legalism in the church. It’s important for us to remember that even though walking in the spirit leads to doing good instead of evil, we don’t begin living a spirit-filled life by following the law (Gal. 3:2-3). God is the one who initiates and continues the work of the spirit in us.
To quote the Fadlings again, “We do not generate life but express life in the good that we do. Life is a gift, not a paycheck.” You can’t make yourself good enough to deserve eternal life. But as we talked about in “Crash Course In Galatians,” God’s gift is supposed to transform us to be like Him and imitate His righteousness.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” … But I say, live by the Spirit, and you will never carry out the desire of the flesh. (Gal. 5:13-14, 16, LEB)
Walking with God means we need to leave behind the parts of ourselves that resist Him and His ways. He won’t have petulant, disobedient people who refuse to submit to Him in His kingdom. We need to think about the long-term, even eternal, consequences of the choices we make.
Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. (Gal. 6:7-9, WEB)
Living by the flesh and thinking we’ll get a spiritual reward is mocking God. We don’t find real life by pursuing our own desires or giving in to the ways we resist God’s good work in us. In reality, living “for human pleasure, human power, human purpose, and human priorities alone” never leads to “sustainability, or lasting vitality, or growing joy, or deep peace and meaning. Those are only found in God” (Alan and Gem Fadling).
This whole thing is a lifelong process. We don’t just profess commitment to God once and are magically guaranteed eternal life. We’re invited into a relationship with God, and that involves walking in His spirit and being transformed in His image over the course of our entire earthly lives.
We won’t have eternity with Him if we don’t commit to walking in His spirit now, in this life. We need to recognize, identify, and get rid of the things inside us that resist living with God. The good news is that we don’t have to try and do this on our own. We can be “confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, WEB). We don’t have to worry about making ourselves perfect. We just have to walk with God and cooperate with His work in us.
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