Building on what we read in vv.13-15, Paul now continues on how to best use the liberty we have in Christ in vv.16-18.
“But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”.
The answer to the infighting, the licentious use of liberty, and to using freedom as an opportunity for the flesh is, as Paul writes, to live by the Spirit. This results in us not carrying out the desires of the flesh (v.16). Yes, you are still human and you have a human nature and therefore will feel the pull of fleshly desires, but, as Donald K. Campbell Writes,
“…while no believer will ever be entirely free in this life from the evil desires that stem from his fallen human nature, he need not capitulate to them, but may experience victory by the Spirit’s help.”
Paul builds on this idea that the Spirit is the answer to the question of how to use our freedom in Christ well. He says that if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (v.18). The way of life lived in the flesh and the way of life lived in the Spirit are fundamentally opposed (v.17), and Paul goes so far as to say that the desires of the flesh will try and keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Just as the Galatians needed to know that they would never achieve justification by works, they also needed to know that the next stage of the process – their sanctification, the progressively more Christlike lifestyle they were living – was also not going to come from carrying out the desires of the flesh, it would come from being led by the Spirit.
The same is true for you and for me. We’ve accepted that we are never going to work our way into God’s good books, so to speak. We’ve accepted that our acceptance comes by grace alone through faith alone. Now then, what are we to do with the remainder of our days?
Now we have come to put hope and faith and trust in Jesus and have been born again (John 3.5-8), we have a new nature, and a new and genuine connection with God (2 Peter 1.4). This produces in us new desires, the things you want to do, as Paul writes.
By choosing daily to walk in the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, we are asking Him to actively work in our lives to quench the desires of the flesh, this is living by the Spirit. We then are freed to do what you want: worship, love, focus on others, pray as we ought, commune with God, and generally make progress down the path of progressive sanctification that we are all on.
Today then, a wonderful prayer for you to pray would be for the Lord to help you live by the Spirit, to ask Him through the Spirit to quench the desires of the flesh, and to free you to do what you want to do in your new creation nature.