“The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak”
We all face the struggle of dealing with our flesh. Paul said, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God...” (Romans 8:6-7) Imagine it! Hostile to God!
We all have a flesh and it does not magically vanish when a person becomes a believer. Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The flesh is our old, carnal nature. It must be dealt with. Think of it as the weak-willed man within us. Our fallen nature has a side to it that has no character, no resolve, no backbone, and no self-control.
The Bible says that the flesh is a slave to impurity and lasciviousness (Romans 6:19), serves the law of sin (Romans 7:25), has passions and desires (Galatians 5:24), brings corruption (Galatians 6:8), has its own wisdom (II Corinthians 1:12), wages war against the soul (I Peter 2:11) and has nothing good in it (Romans 7:18). It is the flesh that desires and generates immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, and carousing. (Galatians 5:19-21) It is the weak-willed man inside us.
When we speak of the flesh, or the carnal nature, keep in mind that we are primarily referring to a mind-set, a way of thinking. It is the insanity which keeps us bound up in sin that we know (when we are in our right minds) is destroying us.
For the man struggling with the powerful pull of sexual temptation, the conflict between the flesh and spirit becomes an even more relevant issue in life. Paul said, I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 NKJV)
Herein is the key to overcoming life-dominating habits: to walk in the Spirit. After 19 years of dealing with Christian men in sexual sin (including many ministers), I have never found any evidence to dispute this statement. Childhood traumas, frigid wives, availability of pornography, seductive women, or lack of accountability notwithstanding, I have never seen a man in sexual sin who was walking in the Spirit. Every man I have ever dealt with has had one thing in common: not one of them emphasized the need to crucify the flesh (as Paul later mentions in the passage) and to walk in the Spirit.
You can spend years on the psychologist’s couch, regularly attend support group meetings, go to a world famous clinic for sexual addicts, have experiences of a memory being healed, be slain in the Spirit, or even have demons cast out of you. However, if you want to overcome habitual sin, you must learn to walk in the Spirit.
Spiritual Change Over Time
This process is a lifelong daily battle. After telling his readers to walk in the Spirit, Paul goes on to say, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17) In this verse, we see the daily battle raging inside every believer who wants to please God and yet finds that part of him simply wants to indulge in pleasure and sin.
Everyday we make choices about which spirit will be in control. We can choose to give in to the flesh: vent our anger on others, be sarcastic, indulge in sexual thinking, and be wrapped up in ourselves. We can sit in front of a television, listen to carnal music, or read worldly magazines. Or, we can choose to shield ourselves from the sensualities of the media, control our minds, bridle our tongues, and show kindness to others. Minute by minute, throughout the rest of our lives, we will face choices as to our behavior.
This is where the typical Christian gets bogged down and discouraged. It seems that change will never come, that they are bound to live in defeat. This is not God’s desire for His children. While it is true that one aspect of the spirit vs. flesh war occurs in our daily lives, equally true is that the person who strives after righteousness, struggles against the desires of the flesh, and pursues a course of holiness, gradually gains ground in the contest. This process takes time and requires the believer to diligently cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work. The sincere seeker soon discovers a previously unknown strength forming within him. He will notice that temptations no longer grip him with overwhelming power. His intimacy with God increases, in turn producing a power not present early on in his faith to overcome temptation. Before long, this man will come to know what it means to become a mature saint: to truly walk in the Spirit.
This spiritual growth and development is not automatic. A person does not mature into godliness simply because his salvation experience happened a long time ago. He grows into the likeness of Christ only by daily cooperating with God’s work in his inner man.
Subjecting More Than Just Our Sex Problem
One of the first things he must learn is bringing his flesh under subjection. Many sexual addicts plead with God for help to overcome sexual addiction but resist Him when He begins to require change in other areas of their lives. They want Him to come into their inside world and clean out the red light district but leave the movie houses, gambling halls, and comedy clubs.
When men come into the Pure Life Residential Program, they quickly find out that God is not looking to simply help them overcome “one little problem.” Rather, He is looking to overhaul their entire lives. These men’s lives can be compared to an old, dilapidated shack. God wants to dismantle the old dump and build a palace, but many shriek in terror when they see Him show up with the hammer and crow bar. They feel like they will die if He takes it down. Instead of allowing the Lord to destroy it, they go out and nail a few boards on it, give it a fresh coat of paint and try to convince Him that it is now a worthy dwelling. There’s nothing more pathetic than a well-painted shack! This is precisely what Jesus was referring to when He said, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22) How can the Lord get us out of the slums of defeat if we refuse to allow Him?
As we rid ourselves of the old nature, God replaces the void with the mind, thinking, and behavior of Christ. As we allow Jesus to have more of the territory in our kingdom, we will find that our inside world becomes better managed and more clean and orderly. As we permit God to empty our old self-nature, we find Him filling us with His Holy Spirit. Thus, a defeated life is gradually replaced with a victorious life. It is not overstating it to say that we desperately need Him to spiritually invade and take over our inside world. As God captures our hearts, conquers our wills, and fill us with His Spirit, we will experience the victorious life we are promised. This is what the Lord desires for us and expects from us.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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