The process of laying aside the self and walking in the spirit is a requirement for those of us that follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:38, 16:24, Luke 9:23-24, Ephesians 4:22-24, Galatians 5:16-26). Within these scriptures works of the flesh are revealed that we may know to recognise and avoid them.
“ I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16-26)
However, when going about daily interactions we are unlikely to consciously classify our behaviour in such a way that we would see these flaws before making the mistake of letting them spill out and affect others. So how can we recognise, before failing, when the flesh may be exerting its control and preventing us from reacting to situations in a more spiritual manner?
The process of learning to walk in the spirit, which is evidence of our maturity in Christ and glorifies God (Matthew 7:17-18, John 15:8), can be likened to choosing to take part in athletic events. Most people are aware that, when taking part in a physically demanding activity, after a while it can start to become painful (dubbed the pain barrier) but if you were to carry on, your metabolism adapts to start using a different type of fuel (switching from burning “easy” glucose to more complex carbohydrates) and you become able to carry on the activity with less strain and discomfort.
The opportunities to choose to walk in the spirit are made more tangible whenever there is a situation in which you feel like behaving in a certain way, although it may not be the way of acting/reacting that Jesus would have done or liked. Likewise, the flesh is evident when we become aware of something nice we could do but, for whatever reason, we choose not to. We have our instructions and guidance in the bible, which tells us to love and value others, so why is it that doing things that would be better for others than yourself can seem so difficult at times?
Usually our reasons for not choosing the more Christ like behaviour can be traced back to some sort of pride or perceived protection of the self. However, by being presented with opportunities that stretch our capacity to love and show love, we are given the chance to push through our own personal “pain barriers” which only give the appearance of protecting the self by telling you things like “you shouldn’t have to do that”.
Forsaking the more spiritual path for the sake of your ego/pride would limiting your own progress. For while the fleshy reaction may feel like it’s protecting you, by restricting your own growth by refusing to seize your opportunities to seek and demonstrate growth, you are doing yourself more harm than good and are keeping yourself shackled to your old man.
It is only when we push through our own barriers, and go on to do the things which we know to be more righteous, that we gain our second wind and begin walking in the spirit. Like physical exercise, repeated pushing of our own limits builds strength, endurance and stamina. So let us determine to be prize spiritual athletes who refuse to quit our training whenever it doesn’t feel nice for a while, so when our time here is through, we can confidently echo the words of Paul and say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
The works of the flesh and fruits of the spirit are listed in Galatians 5:16-26:
Works of the flesh:
- Adultery – Being unfaithful to a marriage partner
- Fornication – promiscuity
- Uncleanness – morally impure/foul lifestyles
- Lewdness – obscene behaviour
- Idolatry – excessive devotion/worship of person/things
- Sorcery – the practice of evil powers/black magic
- Hatred – strongly disliking, or ill will towards, others
- Contentions – arguments
- Jealousies – the envying of others
- Outbursts of wrath – passionate, uncontrolled and extreme anger
- Selfish ambitions – the strong desire to succeed for the self, rather than others
- Dissensions – disagreements leading to quarrels
- Heresies – beliefs contrary to those established
- Envy – resentment and desire of the possessions or abilities of another
- Provoking others – tendency to cause anger or resentment in others
- Murders – the intentional and premeditated taking of other lives
- Drunkenness – excessive alcohol intake
- Revelries – unrestrained merrymaking.
Fruits of the Spirit:
- Love – a strong devotion/sense of goodwill/attachment and deep and tender affection towards others
- Joy – great pleasure, delight and happiness
- Peace – calm, quiet tranquility and absence of troubles/worry
- Longsuffering – the lasting and patient endurance of insults, difficulties or mistreatment
- Kindness – the habit of being kind/generous to others
- Goodness – the state of being good, exhibited through virtue/excellence/benevolence etc
- Faithfulness – full of faith/loyal/reliable and maintains allegiance
- Gentleness – Humility, serenity and patience. Not forceful.
- Self-control – controlling ones impulses