by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



I like what Adam Clarke (1760-1832) had to say about the inner turmoil caused by the clash between latent desires to do wrong and active desires to do right. He sees it as God’s continuous work in the Galatian congregations, notwithstanding their drifting away from the Gospel. It was His way of showing them how far they were from the cross and was seeking to draw them back to where they used to be with the Lord. Through His Holy Spirit, God attempts to excite them with the idea of returning to His embrace. But, unfortunately, their stubbornness got in the way. These Judaizers were persuading them to walk an old trail to salvation and assurance by teaching them outdated principles.

Regrettably, this kept them in a state of self-opposition and self-distraction, so that they were unable to do the things that might want to do. They believed that these false teachers were right, and they wanted to be obedient followers. They were abandoning the Gospel and the grace of Jesus the Anointed. In its place, they chose the Law and its ordinances to fill the void, hoping to try and do everything on their own. Unfortunately, neither the oral teachings nor the ceremonial laws gave them the power they needed to conquer their sinful tendencies. It was because of this that Apostle encourages them to walk on a spiritual level so they wouldn’t fulfill the desires of the flesh. They must become aware that without the grace of God, they could accomplish nothing.[1] Clarke then goes on to ask this rhetorical question:  Can you imagine Paul was saying this of mature Christians?

Pastor and Evangelist in the Congregational Church, Aaron Merritt Hills (1847-1935), in response to Paul’s statement about the flesh warring against the Spirit, starts by saying that planting of new seed may represent the work of regeneration. Soon the young flowering plants appear, but among them also are some weeds. The weed-seed was in the ground first. That may represent the “carnal nature,” “flesh,” “sinful tendencies,” that Paul speaks about so much. Now, water the flowers and hoe the ground and fertilize them, and they will grow. But in that same ground, and side by side with the flowers are the weeds. They, too, are keeping and deepening their hold upon the soil. They also want to be watered but not pulled out. The flower’s growth is impeded by the weeds. After all, flowers must already struggle to make it to maturity.

So, Hills asks, was not Paul teaching the same truth when he wrote to the Galatian Christians? “For our flesh wants attention just like our spirit and our spirit wants more attention than the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other.” And as Paul says here in verse seventeen, the flesh puts up a fight so that they do not do the things they should. The flowers cannot grow well in the middle of a weed infestation. However, the power of the gardener’s hand can pull up and utterly destroy those weeds. Then the flowers will get all the water and dew and strength of soil and sunshine and culture they need and will grow as never before.

For Hills, the eradication of the weeds is a picture of sanctification. The baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire “consumes,” “purges,” “cleanses,” “purifies,” the sinful tendencies that hide in us. It “crucifies the flesh with immoral passions,” as Paul wrote to the Galatians. Then, if the spirit within us is alive, let us live a spiritual life; let us walk on a spiritual level. “Dead to sin and alive to righteousness,” “living with our spirit in control,” and “walking with our spirit guiding us,” the “fruit of the spirit” will have a chance to grow and adorn the soul. Of course, our spirit is empowered and guided by God’s Spirit.

Hills goes on to say that spiritual growth is like addition and multiplication. Sanctification is God’s subtraction from man’s nature, the weeds that keep it from growing taller and more robust. Hill believes that Wesley’s idea of maturing in holiness is contrary to sound theology. Growth is a gradual process. The Bible always represents sanctification as an act. Growth is the work of man — life-long. The sanctifying “baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire” is an act of God, given as suddenly today as on the morning of Pentecost. The cleansing, purifying work of the Holy Spirit was brought about instantaneously in every case recorded in Scripture, says Hills.

It is evident that Hills is not in agreement with the initiation of sanctification at the new birth, and then, as a tree grows to bear fruit, it is pruned, so the believer grows in sanctification. He mentions that there is no such command or thought in the Bible as “become holy by degrees.” “It is idle to talk about unholiness growing into holiness. It is God that sanctifies, says Hills.[2] Any grace already in possession may increase through human instrumentality, but grace doesn’t begin there. God commands us to “grow in grace,” but He never commands us to grow into grace. We become divinely enveloped by grace and sanctification, and once we are in, we live spiritual lives argues, Hills.[3] It is these views of sanctification as an instant work of grace, and sanctification as a constant work of grace, that caused a dividing line between two early Pentecostal movements: the Assemblies of God (Springfield, MO) and the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), as well as some others. But thank God it did not keep them from growing in His grace.

Living on a spiritual level gives the believer options that are not available to those bound by the power and dictates of the flesh, to be under its command as obedient servants and slaves.  Whenever a believer encounters temptation, the Holy Spirit is always there to convict and caution them.  But it’s the believer who must make the choice of which to follow, the slave-master over their sinful-self, or the counselor guiding their spiritual oneness with the Anointed – the Holy Spirit. This continued work by the Holy Spirit is generally referred to as “Sanctification.”

Robert Gundry paraphrases what Paul writes here in verses sixteen through eighteen for further enlightenment. “I’m saying, walk around by the Spirit and by no means will you bring to completion the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit [lusts] against the flesh. For these oppose each other, lest you be doing these things, whatever [they are], that you’re wanting [to do]. But if you’re being led by the Spirit, you’re not under the law.” Gundry then explains: “To walk around by the Spirit is to behave as the Spirit leads and enables you to behave.” [4] By capitalizing Spirit, Gundry may leave the impression that we are led around by the Holy Spirit on a leash, but such an understanding would be a odds with what the Apostle is saying. I prefer using spirit since our spiritual nature is the one in charge with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, living on a spiritual level means that pleas from the flesh will be given little attention.

Gundry then adds that Paul’s command for us to walk around by the Spirit implies freedom of action and the personal responsibility that comes with it. He then gives us a two-fold reason why this works. First of all, our sinful tendencies are in a constant battle with the indwelling Spirit’s guidance and instruction. These tendencies use our moral weaknesses to produce in us a strong desire to transgress the ethical boundaries which our spirit strongly wishes for us to honor.  And secondly, the Holy Spirit desires to rid us of these sinful tendencies so that they don’t result in being catered to by our bodies.

No compromise is possible. Either your spiritual nature will keep you from giving in to these sinful tendencies that your body wants you to satisfy, or that your sinful tendencies end up preventing you from doing the good your spirit wants you to do. It means to let your sanctified spirit determine your behavior, indeed, to persuade you to behave in opposition to the lust of the flesh.[5] For Gundry, this does not take away one’s will but instead empowers one’s will to do what is right. By contrast, when one’s will be weak, then it is easy to lose the freedom that a spirit controlled will brings and fall back into existing under the direction of the Law. Indeed, this rang loud and clear with the Galatian believers who knew what it was to be bullied by the Law and beaten for any strictly prohibited wrongdoings.

 5:17b-18 Because the old sinful-self wants just the opposite of what your new spiritual oneness with the Anointed wants and your new spiritual oneness with the Anointed hates what the old sinful-self longs for. In other words, they are at war with each other, and you are caught in the middle. But you have the right to choose because you are no longer dictated to by the religious rituals and regulations you were subject to when you tried to get right with God on your own.

 As you may have already seen in English translations, the Greek verb peripateō, is often rendered as “walk.” It means to make one’s way, to progress, and as a figure of speech means to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self. In other words, the standard according to which a person governs their life. The Apostle Paul shares a similar message with the Roman believers.[6] He was telling them that their sinful tendencies should rule no one. Believers must not live the way their sinful tendencies want. He wrote the Romans; if you use your lives to do what your sinful tendencies wish for; you will die spiritually. But if you listen to your spirit’s urging to stop doing the wrong things you do with your body; you will have life more abundantly. The real children of God are those who let God’s Spirit lead their spirit.[7]

It all boils down to this, says Paul, don’t let immoral passions control the way you live; do not give in to your sinful tendencies.[8] In other words, you cannot control these sinful tendencies from being activated from time to time, but you can control how you respond. Just don’t give in![9] And to do this, we do not need to trust in or rely on our strength to resist. As Paul told the Corinthians, we have these promises from God.[10] So we should make ourselves pure – free from anything that makes our body or our soul unclean. Our respect for God should make us try to be completely holy in the way we live.[11]

Forget how you once lived when sinful tendencies dominated your thinking.[12] By being in union with Jesus the Anointed, you received a new mark of holiness other than the old Jewish rite of circumcision. Theirs affected their bodies; yours influences your heart.[13] That means you now have the opportunity to get rid of all those moral diseases that plagued your life as a sinner.[14] The Apostle Peter shouted out several big “Amens!” to what Paul is saying here.[15]

[1] Clarke, Adam: Commentary on Galatians, loc.cit.

[2] See Exodus 31:13

[3] Hills, A. M., Holiness and Power, op. cit., Part IV, Ch. 18, pp. 239-240

[4] Gundry Robert H., Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Romans 8:4-5

[7] Ibid. 8:12-14

[8] Ibid 6:12

[9] See ibid. 13:13

[10] See 2 Corinthians 6:12-18

[11] Ibid. 7:1

[12] Ephesians 2:3

[13] Colossians 2:11

[14] Ibid. 3:5-10

[15] 1 Peter 1:14; 2:11; 4:1-4, 16

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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