The Battle Within

Walking in the Spirit: A Study in Galatians

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Walking in the Spirit graphic

Galatians 5:17
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.

In Galatians 5 Paul is seeking to emphasize that walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works.

The Battle Within

In our lives, various hindrances constantly resist our growth into Christlikeness. The scriptures reveal that we do, in fact, face different foes in this life.

1 Peter 5:8–9
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

1 John 2:15–16
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Galatians 5:17
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.

Of these three, one poses a consistent threat to us, and it is the one Paul is dealing with in Galatians 5—the flesh. Throughout this passage and the rest of the New Testament, the flesh is frequently referenced. But what is the flesh? Though this may seem like a side road in our study, understanding the flesh is crucial to understanding what it means to walk in the Spirit. So let’s take a deeper look at this difficult enemy of the believer.

The Flesh

In Romans 6, Paul speaks of something that is removed from the believer at the point of salvation.

Romans 6:6
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

What Paul is referring to is the fact that believers have been once and for all delivered out of a position (or standing) that all men have. All men were born sinners in Adam. When we are born again, our standing is no longer in Adam. It is in Christ.

Though the old man is removed, there is something that is still hanging around—a sinful nature (the flesh). In Christ, you are freed from the penalty of sin and delivered from the power of sin over your life; however, you are not immediately delivered from the presence of sin in your life. That will not take place until you are finally in the presence of your Lord. In the meantime, the flesh is alive and well, and according to Galatians 5:16, it has desires or lusts. So as a redeemed person, you still live in the context of the flesh. And since this sinful nature is still present, understanding how it is operating and how we, as ones who are “in Christ,” are to respond to it is important.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know how often we face temptations in our lives.

James 1:14
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.


Drawn away—dragged out of


Lust—a longing; a craving

Enticed—lured, as in catching fish with bait or hunting with traps

Now, in light of verse 14, think about your recent temptations and your responses to them. Why would you say it is that you are tempted?

A key word here is entice—a word that is best understood in terms of fishing. Just think of a lure on the end of a line and how it works in relation to a fish in the water. When a fish sees the worm dangling in the water, what is it within the fish that draws it away from safety and entices it to bite the bait?

Contrary to some excuses, the Devil doesn’t make us do it. It’s hard to admit, but we are a lot worse off than we’d like to think. And the reason is that we all have the flesh; therefore, we all struggle with corrupt, sinful desires that are appealing to our fallen nature. When we sin, we are simply going after what our fallen, sinful nature (flesh) wants.

On the inside we have the flesh; on the outside, temptations entice our flesh. For a moment, consider the word own (unique). Some have described our flesh as having personalized or customized lusts. Just as trout would be attracted by certain bait and catfish would be enticed by something completely different, it may be said that you have your own lusts that entice you in ways that may not entice someone else.

With that in mind, take some time to consider and even write down your own lust. What is it that your flesh seems to be drawn away by most often? Be willing to think in specific terms. Be willing even to go beyond the general action and get down to the deeper motivation.

Notice that in this progression of James 1:14–15 conception takes place. We all understand what conception is—a man and woman come together in relationship and a baby is conceived. Simply stated, it takes two in order to have conception.

We really could describe sin as the result of the will of man yielding to the corrupt desires of his flesh. So play this out in your own life.

We must understand that our having been saved does not mean the flesh is not at work. It is a very real enemy the believer faces daily. However, we don’t have to face the flesh on our own. If we did, we would utterly fail.

The Spirit

As stated before, a battle is raging within the life of the believer with two natures at war: the flesh and the Spirit.

Titus 3:3
For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.

Ephesians 2:1–3
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Romans 6:20
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

Before you were saved, there was no battle. Your will was enslaved by your lust. All you could do was follow the fleshly desires. So what does salvation bring? It brings a deliverance of the will from the bondage of the fleshly lusts, and that freedom is found in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. (See Rom. 8:2.)

The good news of the Gospel is that the indwelling Spirit of God is at work enabling you as a believer to actually overcome fleshly desires. And when those desires are overcome, lust cannot conceive, and sin is never birthed.

The reality of the Spirit within you is greater than the reality of the flesh within you. And when you learn that and it begins to make sense—what a freedom! You are not free from evil desires, but you are no longer enslaved by them. You are free to follow a different master.

A Greater Law

Maybe we could illustrate this principle by looking at the law of gravity versus the law of aerodynamics. It is a fact that the law of gravity is always in place. You will never eliminate gravity on this earth. But when you get on an airplane, a greater law takes effect. This greater law of aerodynamics overcomes the law of gravity. The Wright brothers didn’t eradicate gravity with their flying machine—they simply rendered it inoperative. Now, if that greater law ever stops working (e.g., the engine goes out, a wing is damaged), the plane will tumble to the ground because gravity still exists.

The law of God’s Spirit within us is what enables us to overcome the law of sin. This is the civil war of the soul. The desires of the Spirit are mutually opposite to the desires of the flesh, and they are in perpetual conflict with one another. And that conflict will stay within you all the days of your life. However, if we are walking in the Spirit, we will not bring to fulfillment the desires of the flesh.

And this is the way it works . . . and the only way it works!

Listen to Dr. Pettit’s chapel message on Walking in the Spirit and The Battle Within:

Join us for chapel every Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m. EST.


Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.