This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.…
We must not suppose, however, that the love which God gives us as our liberty can work out its will without experiencing opposition. Opposition we know it will meet in the world of selfish men; but Paul here points out the antagonism it meets within our own personalities. The flesh antagonizes the Spirit. Love does not get its own sweet way as often as we would. Self becomes a battle-ground, and God contends with the flesh for the supremacy of the soul. So violent is the contention that the flesh is actually "crucified with its affections and lusts." We are introduced, therefore, to the law of Christian progress which, because of our sinful nature, has to be through antagonizing the sinful tendencies in the interest of love. Observe -
I. SIN LEADS MAN TO FALL OUT WITH HIMSELF. (Ver. 17.) As Ullmann has beautifully said, "Man forms a unity, which is, however, only the foundation of that higher unity which is to be brought about in him, as a being made in the Divine image, by means of communion with God. Now, sin does not merely obstruct this unity, but sets up in its place that which is its direct opposite. He who has fallen away from God by sin, does, as a necessary consequence, fall out both with himself and with all mankind. True unity in man is possible only when that which is Godlike in him - that is, the mind - acquiesces in the Divine order of life, and governs the whole being in conformity therewith. But when he has once severed himself from the true centre of his being, that is, from God, then also does that element of his being, his mind, which is akin to God, and which was intended to be the connecting and all-deciding centre of his personal life, lose its central and dominant position; he ceases to be lord of himself and of his own nature; the various powers which make up his complex nature begin to carry on, each for itself, an independent existence; the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit wages a fruitless war with the flesh (ver. 17); sinful desire becomes dominant, and while the man seems to be in the enjoyment of all imaginable liberty, he has lost the only true liberty and has become a slave to himself; for ' whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin' (John 8:34; Romans 6:16-23). He is the dependent of self; and being thus the slave of self, he is also the slave of pleasure, and of all those objects which it requires for its satisfaction." Man becomes thus a distracted manifold, instead of a God-centred unity.
II. THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST ANTAGONIZES THE DISTRACTING TENDENCIES AND REDUCES MAN TO A UNITY AGAIN. The way in which we are united in heart and being is by having Jesus Christ pressed resistlessly upon our attention. Faith realizes in Christ not only a perfect personal Ideal, but also a Saviour on whom man may evermore depend. "The Christ of Christendom is not simply a Master to be loved and revered; he is a Saviour to be leaned upon. His followers are to have that profound sense of their own weakness and sinfulness which renders them sensitive to the purifying and reforming influences that radiate from the personality of Jesus. Without this, their love for the ideal would lead to no practical results; it would be merely an aesthetic sentiment, expending itself in a vague and fruitless admiration. But combine the two and you have the most effective reforming influence that the world has ever known." Christ is not only the unifying element in Church life, but in the individual life as well. He fuses all the distracted faculties into a glorious unity, and makes man his own master instead of his own slave. Hence, to quote the writer last referred to, "Christianity alone among all religions maintains a constant antagonism to the special tendency which controls the nature of its followers."
III. BUT POSITIVE FRUIT IS PRODUCED BY THE ANTAGONIZING SPIRIT AS A GLORIOUS SET-OFF TO THE WORKS OF THE FLESH WHICH HE DESTROYS. (Vers. 19-24.) Religion is not to be regarded as a negative thing, contenting itself with antagonisms, but has positive and most important fruits. It is not a system of severe repressions, but a system full of stimulus towards a better and fuller life. It does not merely forbid "fornication, uncleanness," etc., under the penalty of exclusion from the kingdom of God, but it produces "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. What a catalogue of virtues! What a contrast to the works of the flesh! Thus is man restored to something like his true and better self. The gospel of Christ is not a weary round of prohibitions, but is a glorious system of positive attainment, in a Divine life, which is loving, joyful, peaceful, and humane to its deepest depths.
IV. AGAINST SUCH SPIRITUALLY MINDED ONES THERE CAN BE NO LAW OF CONDEMNATION. (Vers. 18-23.) Law, when translated into love, becomes light. God's commandments are not grievous to the loving soul. In the keeping of them there is a great reward. Hence the Law presses heavily and hardly upon no loving spirit. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). It is to such a blissful experience we arc asked to come. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.