“Walk by the Spirit, not the flesh.”
That phrase is something I hear often within the Christian world. It is guidance for us, but I wanted to know more about what the Flesh and Spirit are, why it is important to favor one over the other, and specifically, how to actually do it hour by hour. I’m one of those people who want step by step instructions preferably with a copious number of clear diagrams and maybe even a YouTube video. So, I dug deeper. I started with the very basics, Galatians 5:16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
The instruction is direct. Walk like this, not like that. I wanted to know how important that is, and Galatians 5:17 makes that crystal clear. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
This is explained further in Romans 8:6-8: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Being how I am, I wanted to know how they are in opposition to one another? Well, this is explained clearly in Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Let’s compare it to the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”
It seems that we have two options to choose from: the Spirit or the Flesh. For the purpose of this article I am taking a clue from Romans 8:6 and referring to that part of us that chooses which to walk in, the Mind. It could also be considered our consciousness, our self-awareness, even our soul.
I’ve defined those three items below:
- Flesh: Greek word Our old sinful nature. This is our yearning for physical or mental pleasure or fleeing from danger, perceived or real. Our old sinful nature does not recognize God, right or wrong. You might consider this our animal nature, as we do reside in bodies of flesh and blood. Animals have no morals, no understanding of right or wrong, good or evil. They seek pleasure and avoidance of pain. They compete for survival, for food, for safety, for pleasure. Our Flesh is flawed as it is separated from God.
- Spirit: Greek word Pneumati and in this case based on the context pertains to the Holy Spirit. As born-again believers in Jesus Christ, God lives within us in the form of the Holy Spirit to be our counselor, advocate, comforter and guide.
- Mind: Greek word Phronēma. This is our human consciousness, our decision-making self. The mind receives input from the flesh and the spirit and must decide which to listen to.
Examples of how the Flesh controls us.
- The flesh is primitive and Godless and will always insist on an action geared toward pleasure or avoidance of pain, without any rational thought. In any situation, these thoughts can be very strong mentally or physically. For instance, think of physical lust. All of us, especially when we were in our teens or 20’s, can remember how physically strong those desires were. Our Mind listens to the physical actions of the body, such as the pain of stepping on a nail or the growling of our stomachs when we are hungry. So, it listens to the physical reactions of our body when we feel sexual, physical lust. Our Mind then wants to act based on those fleshly desires.
- Another example might be a driver on the road cutting you off, refusing to allow you to merge into traffic. The Flesh will react with anger that can be felt physically as well as mentally. The Flesh is trying to protect us, defend us and compete for survival. How do you feel when you are in a rage? It is a physical reaction that your Mind must decide to act on or not. Shooting that driver the “finger”, screaming out your window at him/her, or worse, trying to cut that driver off, are actions of the Flesh, not the Spirit. See Galatians 5:22-23.
- At your job, school or other social environment, someone speaks poorly of another person, spreading malicious gossip. By later sharing that gossip with others the Flesh feels a sense of power. Power equates to security, survival, perhaps even pleasure.
- Ingesting unnecessary food, drugs, alcohol or other stimulants. The Flesh seeks pleasure and the absence of any type of physical or mental pain or discomfort. Thus, it may desire to over indulge in items that may be harmful to us long term. Our Flesh only considers the immediate instant, it does not have the capability to consider anything beyond the moment. This could be taking illegal and harmful drugs or it could be a second slice of chocolate cake when your stomach is clearly indicating it is way past the point of being full.
Examples of how the Holy Spirit controls us.
- There are none.
- The Holy Spirit will never violate your Free Will. The Holy Spirit will never pressure you in any way, mentally or physically. The Holy Spirit won’t even force you to know it’s desires for you.
- We must actively seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. A metaphor might be the Holy Spirit broadcasting like a radio station, on a specific frequency. Guidance on any situation is continuously available to our Minds, but we must tune into the correct frequency, increase the volume and then consider the message.
- If we are walking in the Flesh, we are not tuning to the Holy Spirit, we are listening to the Flesh. Every decision we make is based on what the Flesh desires.
The fact is, almost every single decision we make, from driving through an yellow traffic light turning red, to watching cable news, is a decision. Granted, there may be decisions that have little to no significance, such as purchasing a green couch instead of brown if all other factors were identical. But if you were to pay close attention to your moment-by-moment daily life, you would be surprised at the number of decisions you make.
Since the Flesh screams at us and the Holy Spirit is that quiet voice deep down within us, we need to make a big decision. How do we teach ourselves to tune into the Holy Spirit’s frequency all of the time, and then actually accept the guidance and act accordingly? We know one is against God and the other honors God, so this is extremely important.
The following steps are what I use, and it seems to help me. Maybe they will help you too.
- We need to acknowledge that we are not separate from God, that the Holy Spirit resides within us, continuously. Not just when we pray, not just when we are in church. But every micro-second of our lives after we accept Christ. That means when we are driving, when we are watching movies, even forgive me, when we are in the bathroom. God the Holy Spirit is a part of us always. We can choose to ignore the Holy Spirit, but that does not remove Him from our presence. So, be aware that the Holy Spirit is always in our presence.
- Start and end every day with prayer. As short or long as you desire, but the point is to humble ourselves and acknowledge God. The first thing you do in the morning should be praying to God. The last thing you should do before going to sleep is prayer.
- Formal daily prayer. At some point during your day make it a habit to sit down and pray for others. Then pray for yourself. Ask for God’s guidance.
- Read and study the Bible daily. This can be an hour long reading or five minutes. But putting your eyes on verses in the Bible is important, One must continue to grow in knowledge of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Expand and grow your knowledge of the Spiritual Life through reading, watching lectures or online bible study. The more doctrine we have in our minds the more fuel the Holy Spirit has to assist you.
- Assemble with other like-minded Christians. In person such as a church or a virtual assembly. But somehow, connect with other Christians to encourage one another.
- Say a silent prayer, grace, before any meal or even a snack. You don’t need your hands together, your head bowed and your deep voice belting out a long-involved prayer. A silent brief prayer acknowledging that without God you would not even have that food, is sufficient. Even at a busy restaurant most people should never notice it. You aren’t doing this to impress them, but to simply acknowledge God.
- Monitor your input from the world. Radio and music, movies, TV shows, websites and apps, news articles, pleasure reading, literally everything. If you can’t imagine yourself sitting on a park bench with Jesus Christ doing it together, don’t! We can easily be influence by the world. Music is good. You don’t have to listen to Christian music, just don’t listen to music that speaks to your flesh instead of your spirit. Don’t live like a monk, but don’t live in a manner that is against the Holy Spirit. That will dull your ability to hear His guidance. The Spiritual Life is like a beautiful flower garden. It needs the weeds removed, water and sunshine. So, take care of your Spiritual Garden within you.
- Become accustomed to seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance in every situation. Every situation! You will immediately feel the desires of the Flesh, loud and clear. But remember, you have to develop an ear for the Holy Spirit. The more you do it, the easier it will become.
- Capture every thought and hold it up to the Holy Spirit. Is it a worthy thought? Is it a thought that might honor God? If so, go with it. If not, kick it out of your mind! This means thoughts of anger, fear, jealousy, lust, and envy. It also means unnecessary fearful or worrisome thoughts. You are the King of your Mind, so do not allow every thought access. Put up a border to verify each and every thought.
- Daily acknowledge to God your mistakes, your errors, your sins. When you make a wrong decision, you are tuning out the frequency of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit cannot be in your mind if your mind is sinning. So, you need to pray to God that you acknowledge your mistake, and thank Him for Jesus Christ, who forgives every mistake you ever make or ever will make. This is not about salvation, but staying in fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Consistency and persistence. The more we are linked to the Holy Spirit, the stronger the connection will become. It will not be easy. The first week you may forget evening or morning prayers. You may have ten decisions one day and only nine of them you remember to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. That is normal. The more you do this though, the easier it will become. So be persistent and patient.
The key is to be always aware that you are in the presence of God. To always be tuned to the Holy Spirit’s frequency. These daily routines and exercises are training our system and strengthening the connection with God.
Eventually, walking in the spirit will become easier.