by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Jakob Arminius (1560-1609), wants us to consider what Paul says here,[1] with what he wrote to the Romans.[2] It appears that the result of the contest between the Spirit and the flesh is generally this: the spiritual-nature departs from the battlefield a conqueror over the sinful-nature, especially, in the seventh chapter to the Romans, we perceive a contrary result described and deplored. But only if we are spiritually-minded in grace, not legally-minded under the Law? We can also interpret Paul’s exhortation in verse sixteen in two different ways because of the ambiguity of the Greek verb teleō. It can either be “fulfill not” or “not fulfill.”

If “fulfill not” is adopted, then the appeal consists of two parts. One teaches what we should include, and the other what we must omit; that is, we must let our reborn Spirit guide us so that the desires of the flesh remain unfulfilled. But if the clause is rendered “not fulfill,” then the sixteenth verse contains a request in these words: “Be spiritually minded;” and joined to the urging in these words: “And you will not fulfill the desires or lusts of the flesh.” When reading it this way, the passage fits more into the Apostle’s way of thinking. Previously, in the thirteenth verse, he appealed to the Galatians not to abuse their Christian liberty for the sake of an immoral and lavish lifestyle. But now, in the sixteenth verse, he produces a remedy, by which they will be able to restrain and curb the assaults and the power of the flesh, and which is, if they live on a spiritual level, it will then come to pass, that they will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.[3]

Jewish writer Tom Hegg gives us an excellent breakdown of the desires of the flesh and their generally accepted meaning:[4]

Greek English Definition
porneia Immoral living Used particularly of prostitution and of all sexual misconduct – pornography.
akatharsia Impurity A general word for a state of impurity, both physical and moral. Likely of sexual immorality, which would include all manner of sexual sins.
aselgeia Sensuality Also, “depravity,” which could include “malicious violence” or “disrespect.” Connected with the two former terms, it probably means “sexual excess.”
eidololatria Idolatry Worship of idols is linked together, often in Jewish sources, as well as in the Tanakh, sexual sin, and idolatry.
pharmakeia Sorcery From this, we get our English word “pharmacy” because while performing magic and sorcery, various drugs were employed. Attempting to contact spirits through drug inducement was common in Hellenistic culture.
echthrai Enmities “Hostile feelings and actions.” Used of the hostility between God and sinner (Romans 7:7), between Jew and Gentile (Luke 23:12; Ephesus 2:14).
eris Strife It indicates rivalry, attempting to take sides and win over the other.
zelos Jealousy Here is used a spiteful sense; zealous for one’s lifestyle without regard for one’s neighbor.
thumon Angry outbursts Losing one’s temper; an open display of fury; the flare-up that comes in heated arguments.
eritheiai disputes Selfish ambitions, the fuel for the recent outbursts of anger, which results in division and contrary spirits.
dichostasiai dissension No doubt used to strengthen disputes; divisions between those who should be united
haireseis factions The word that eventually came to mean “heresies,” the divisions or sects which occur as a result of selfish ambitions.
phthonoi envyings “A begrudging spirit that cannot bear to contemplate someone else’s prosperity” (Dunn, Galatians, p. 306)
methai drunken-ness A life surrendered to the abuse of substances that alter one’s grip on reality.
komoi carousing Excessive feasting, characteristic of the wealthy Roman society.

The main point Paul tries to get across to the Galatians, who were influenced by the Judaizer’s philosophy, is when religious rituals and regulations control a person’s spiritual life. These, then, become the efforts an individual feels obligated to perform to compensate for their faults and failures. But these sacrifices and observances do not subdue the sinful-self and make it submissive; it gives you an excuse to allow that sinful-self to remain alive and active. However, when one’s spiritual oneness with the Anointed, influenced by the Holy Spirit, harnesses the sinful-self. Such faults and failures become inactive. So, you may encounter a fellow believer who is worried that if by doing something wrong, or saying something bad, or thinking something dishonest, they will lose their salvation. That believer is in the spiritual/immoral battle of their lives and appears to have no joy or peace that can come with a transformed mind.

Paul also wants the Galatians to remember the Gospel he preached to them.  God does not pick you up, clean you up, straighten you up, and then send you out on your own to face the world and the devil.  God will lead you by His Word; His Son will be your intercessor, and His Spirit will be your guide.  However, it’s not like they are assisting a blind person. The Gospel opens a believer’s spiritual eyes.  Nonetheless, the need for being led suggests that a Christian does need assistance in getting to where God wants them to go.

Believe it or not, there are many Christians who have not moved much beyond where they were after sitting down in the pew following their new birth. They are still stuck on reading their daily devotional guide, praying over meals, before going to bed, and attending church regularly. They don’t feel secure enough to move beyond this state because they’re afraid they may fail or that their weaknesses will be exposed. So, they become attached to church religious rituals and regulations to get them through just like the Galatians. As such, their battle with their sinful-self is a constant threat and hindrance to growing stronger in the Anointed.

Early church scholar Marius Victorinus offers a notable concept here of the dual between the flesh and the Spirit. The actions of the flesh and the will of the Spirit are at war. The fact that the body has its movements and powers of sense-perception is what drives this. It sees things one way while the Spirit sees the same things another way. The human body seeks its satisfaction while the Spirit aspires to satisfy the soul. One is focused on things here and now while the other is looking at things yet to come. For instance, water has its motivation and its powers. That includes its taste, its motion, its quality, or its quantity. And since the human body is 65% water, it’s quite natural that it desires the things of the earth.[5] In other words, all of the things Paul lists here as the actions of the flesh are standard inclinations that only become aggravated when denied access by the believer’s spiritual nature.

John Calvin gives the Reformed churches understanding of the fight between the flesh and the Spirit. He maintains that one’s spiritual life cannot sustain a balance without a struggle, like a tightrope walker. That’s why Paul takes the time to inform the Galatians that this problem arises from their natural inclinations as opposed to the Spirit’s desires. The word “flesh” denotes human nature, for some of the Greek and Roman philosophers believe that this only involves our five senses. But this is refuted by various passages of Scripture. Contrasting the flesh with the Spirit removes all doubt that they are only bodily urges. For Calvin, the word “spirit” used by Paul here denotes the reborn spiritual nature – “the new man,” or the grace of regeneration. And what else could the flesh mean but “the old self?”’ [6]

 Disobedience and rebellion against the Spirit of God pervade the whole nature of man, says Calvin. If we would obey the Spirit, we must labor, and fight, and apply all our energy to that effect. We must also begin with self-denial. The compliment paid by our Lord to the natural inclinations of humanity amounts to this – that there is no firmer agreement between disobedience and righteousness than there is between fire and water. Where, then, can we find a single drop of goodness in man’s free will? Unless we pronounce that to be good, as they see it, is contrary to the Spirit of God. It’s quite clear, the sinful tendencies of humankind are hostile to God’s Spirit, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be.[7] [8]

English Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) mentions that Luther has an expression in his comment on verse seventeen concerning the transformation of the affliction placed upon humanity because of sin, into a blessing. God is then proven, through His Spirit, to be a mighty worker and a fantastic Creator, transforming sadness into joy, discomfort into comfort, unrighteousness into righteousness, everlasting death into eternal life.

This means, says Burroughs, that He brings light out of the darkness. It was by God’s prerogative and mighty creative power that He commanded the existence of light to dispel the darkness. Now a Christian is partaker of the divine nature, so the Scripture says; grace is part of the divine nature, and, being part of the divine nature, it has an impression of God’s omnipotent power, that is, to create light in the darkness, to find good in evil. By this, a Christian comes to be content. God gave Christian such power that they can turn afflictions into mercies, can turn ignorance into understanding.

If any person possessed the power that the Anointed displayed when at the wedding in Cana when He ordered servants to fill the pots with water, that person could, by a word, turn the water into wine. So, if we as believers have nothing but ordinary everyday life-water to drink, let us use the power given to us by the indwelling Spirit of the Anointed and turn that water into the new wine of spiritual living. Indeed, Christians received this power from God, to work such a miracle. It is the nature of grace to turn water into wine, that is, to turn the water of your affliction, into the wine of heavenly consolation.[9]

[1] Galatians 3:16-18

[2] Romans 7:22-23

[3] Arminius, Jakob, The Works of: op. cit., Vol. 2, A Dissertation of true and Genuine Sense of the Seventh Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Private Disputations, First Part, pp. 308-309

[4] Hegg, Tom: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 243 [p. 202]

[5] Victorinus, Marius: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] See Romans 6:6 Ephesians 4:22 Colossians 3:9

[7] Romans 8:7

[8] Calvin, John: op. cit.

[9] Burroughs, Jeremiah: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, The Mystery of Contentment, pp. 33-34

About drbob76

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