“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Galatians 5:16-18
We are not saved by our works under the Law of God but through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again on the third day. Through the preaching of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit has brought us to trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sins of all and thus has justified us and given us forgiveness for all our sins and eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle Paul wrote, earlier in his epistle to the Galatians (2:16): “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
But, as those justified by faith and regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit, we continue to walk by faith and by the power of God’s Holy Spirit and not in the power of our own sin-corrupted flesh; for, until we die and are raised up again on the Last Day, our sinful flesh continues in its rebellion against God and His Word. It does not submit to God’s will and would lead us into all sorts of sin and error.
In fact, there is a struggle going on within us right now. On the one hand, God’s Spirit, working through the Word and Sacraments, strengthens and keeps us in the faith and moves us to walk in accord with God’s perfect will which is revealed to us in His Word. But, on the other hand, the desires of our sinful flesh are contrary to God’s Word and His commandments. Our sinful flesh would lead us back into sin and disobedience to God and bring about our eternal ruin (cf. Gal. 5:17ff.; Rom. 6:23).
And look at God’s warning: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Indeed, to walk according to the desires of the flesh takes us right back into sin and the condemnation of God’s holy Law.
Rather, we who have come to faith in Christ by the Spirit’s gracious working through Word and Sacrament cannot continue in the power of our flesh but need to continue in the Spirit, making use of God’s Word and the Sacraments that the Holy Spirit might move us to continue in daily contrition and repentance and then preserve and strengthen our faith in the redemption accomplished for us by Christ Jesus when He fulfilled all righteousness for us and suffered and died on the cross to atone for our sins and failures to keep God’s commandments.
And, when we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law and its condemnation. We have been redeemed from its curse and have God’s pardon, forgiveness and eternal life (Gal. 3:10,13).
And the Holy Spirit, working through God’s means, produces in us the fruits of faith — “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24-25).
O gracious and merciful God, by Your Holy Spirit, grant that we hold fast to the promises of the Gospel and receive Your pardon and forgiveness for the sake of Your Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And grant that we do not walk in accord with our old sinful flesh but in the power of Your Spirit’s working in us through Word and Sacrament. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]