"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." Galatians 5:16-18
Every believer has an earthly nature and a heavenly nature. Paul says in Col. 3:5;
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature."
Why should we put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature? Paul says that in response to the fact that every believer has been joined to Christ and is seated in the heavenly realms with Him (Eph. 2:6). Further he says,
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." Col. 3:1-3
Death to self
In what way has the believer died? Paul says,
"And he (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Cor. 5:15
The death we have died is a death to self and a death to living for our own selfish desires.
Now that we are born again as a new creation in Christ with a heavenly nature, we are called to live according to our new nature and no longer live according to our old, selfish and self-centred nature.
We are to move from self-consciousness to God-consciousness.
Self-consciousness vs God-consciousness
Self-consciousness means we are primarily concerned with ourselves and what our selfish nature desires. God-consciousness means we are primarily aware of God and what He desires. Living in response to our selfish nature is idolatry. Living in response to God is to fear God - to honour God and respond to His presence.
The fear of the Lord
Believers who live in "the fear of the Lord" are people who carry an awareness of God's presence in them, with them and around them wherever they are. Because of their God-consciousness, they are sensitive to what grieves Him. They don't live their lives according to principles and rules but rather out of relationship with the Father who dwells in them and with them by His Spirit.
When the believer begins to change his behaviour and desires because of God he begins to live according to the Spirit of God or "by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16).
We have a choice. Either we choose to live according to what we want or what God wants. Either we behave according to our old, selfish nature or we behave according to our new nature in Christ.
"Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Romans 8:12-14
Sons of God live according to what God desires.
Why do so many Christians struggle to put the earthly nature to death?
One of the main reasons is that we try to overcome the flesh in our own strength. We try to put a stop to the behaviour that is according to our selfish and sinful desires by prohibiting certain behaviour or actions. The problem with that is that we bring ourselves under law and consequently we break the self-made law because we cannot keep the law.
"..the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Romans 8:7
Romans chapter 7 describes this "law of sin and death" that we cannot overcome in our own strength. That is why Paul says we must "put to death the misdeeds of the body" by the Spirit.
How do we do that?
We need to replace our sinful desires by becoming more aware of God's presence - God-consciousness. If I am faced with a situation where my flesh desires what is contrary to what I know is God's will, I don't try to stop the flesh but simply direct my attention to God: "on things above" (Col. 3:1-3). The more I become aware of God's loving presence, the less I want to do my own thing. The more God-conscious I become, the more I see how ugly my selfish desires are and the Spirit begins to change my desires from wanting to please myself to wanting to please my Father.
How do I know if I am living by the Spirit?
It's very simple. Since the believer's life is "now hidden with Christ in God" and he is joined to God, the normal state of every believer should be "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23). The fruit of the Spirit is the nature of God and so when the believer dwells or abides in God, he abides in the heavenly nature. Because God dwells in us and we in Him, it is our right to remain in Him and in our heavenly nature. The world, the flesh and the Devil want to "draw us out" of our new and now, normal, heavenly state. We must choose to remain in God and not allow anything to "move us out" of our heavenly nature. When we allow anything to disrupt our new nature, we are not living according to the Spirit.
For example, let's take "peace." Since I am joined to Christ who is my Peace (Eph. 2:14) and who is the Prince of Peace, I expect to be in a constant state of peace if I am abiding in Him or living by the Spirit.
"..the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:6
As soon as my peace is unsettled, I immediately check what is the cause of the disturbance. It is my right to abide in peace, since I am joined to Peace. If it is disturbed, I must check what the cause is. I immediately ask the Holy Spirit what is going on.
Some common disturbances are:
- Sin - if I disobey the Lord and grieve Him, I lose my peace. The Holy Spirit will always expose anything I am doing or have done that has grieved Him - not to condemn me but to bring me back to absolute intimacy with Him (see James 1:5).
- Attacks of the Enemy - if I cannot pinpoint why I don't have peace, it usually is the enemy trying to oppress me. The enemy tends to be vague but the Holy Spirit is clear. If I am being oppressed, I simply take authority over the feelings and reclaim my right to live in peace.
- Lies of the Enemy. Sometimes I can receive communication that I misinterpret or is simply not true. These thoughts can disturb my peace because I am believing a lie. The lie must be exposed and made obedient to what I know is the truth (see 2 Cor. 10:3-5).
- Worry. Worrying comes from not trusting God. When I am tempted to worry, I direct my attention to God and reflect on His ability to do immeasurably more than I can ask or think (Eph. 3:20) and I remind myself that God's grace is sufficient for me in every circumstance. God knows!
Living by the Spirit is living in God
John says the same when he writes,
"God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him." 1 John 4:16
I want to encourage you to spend time simply reflecting on the truth that you are in God and God is in you (1 John 4:15). Become aware of His presence in you and with you. Acknowledge God's presence wherever you are, especially when you are likely to be tempted or are being tempted to "move out" of the Spirit (see Proverbs 3:6).
"Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.....Let us keep in step with the Spirit." Gal. 5:16,25