Praying the Deeds of the Flesh and Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25)
In the moment of any interaction with another human being, you and I experience all kinds of emotions – frustration, anger, fear, resentment, offense, encouragement, injury, and more. The entire spectrum of human emotion could be listed if I cared to take up the space on the page.
These are the ways we humans respond to things, events, and people. But it doesn’t happen like a slot machine, where you pull the lever and a random emotional response cha-chings into existence under the glass and pops out the slot, rather, it’s like a buffet, where we have a smorgasbord of options available to select from as we “feel” is fitting to the occasion.
It’s important to add that God gave us this multiple-choice menu of emotional responses. There is nothing inherently bad in any of them. Each has its appropriate use (like everything else in God’s created realm).
It truly is a beautiful thing that sets us apart from every other earthly creature, from monkeys to amoebas. The Bible calls it being “made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).
However (and you KNEW the “however” was coming, didn’t you?),
we are fallen creatures, under the influence of a power we call sin (Romans 7:9).
Add to that, that in cooperation with the power of sin, we’ve each developed our personalized version of sinful emotional and mental habits in order to manage life on this fallen planet according to our own self-focused dictates and preferences (Romans 7:19-20). We often refer to this as our “flesh” (Romans 7 and Galatians 6:16).
The final nail in our spiritual coffin is the reality of spiritual forces of wickedness that shove us in the direction of sinful responses to the circumstances and people we encounter in life (Ephesians 6:12).
Here we have a trio of seemingly overwhelming conquerors, custom-tailored to dominate us according to our individual bent.
But the dear Apostle Paul highlights a liberating reality for us… because of Jesus, we can experience freedom from that trio during this earthly life…
But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
THERE is the good news we’re all looking for!
Freedom from the power of sin, our particular manifestations of it, and the influence of our spiritual enemies is possible. But it requires that we do this thing called walking “by the Spirit.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “WALK BY THE SPIRIT?”
The idea for this post came into my head through a desire to highlight how we can “pray the fruit of the Spirit” for ourselves and others. I still plan to get there but feel that I can’t do so without first unpacking what it means to “walk by the Spirit,” as Paul says.
If I don’t do that, it would be the equivalent of telling you to solve an algebraic equation without knowing your multiplication tables. So here we go…
Paul’s phrase “walk by the Spirit” builds upon three things that Jesus accomplished – His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. To briefly connect the dots…
In His death Jesus served as our substitute, taking our rightfully-deserved punishment for sin (Romans 3:24-25). The fancy, Bible-word is that He served as our “propitiation.”
In His resurrection, Jesus overcame the penalty of sin (death) and lives to give us what the Apostle Peter refers to as “new birth” and a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). So it’s by the power of His resurrection that Jesus provides us new life, HIS life to live in and through us (Galatians 2:20).
At His ascension, (which means “His return to Heaven”) Jesus took His place of rulership at the right-hand of God the Father and received the Holy Spirit to give to those who trust in Him (Acts 2:33). As a result, the Holy Spirit literally lives in those who trust in Jesus as their Savior (Romans 8:9).
The phrase “walk by the Spirit” is Paul’s way of saying, “Live as the Spirit of God, who is IN you, leads and empowers you to live.”
Take a second to re-read that last sentence. It’s outrageous and fantastical, isn’t it?
The Bible teaches that we who trust in Jesus, REALLY DO have the Spirit of God living inside us, and that He engages with our spirit for the purpose of leading us in how to live and empowering us to live that way.
This is better than any superhero story. No radioactive spiders, super serums, or high-budget gadgets needed. And no superheor-sized ego and attitude is needed, either.
Jesus is the hero. He lived a perfect life. He gave everything He had to rescue us from that trio of of conquerors I mentioned earlier. He gives us the power to live each day free of them for the rest of our earthly lives, through His Holy Spirit, who lives in us. When we “walk by the Spirit” THAT is what we are doing (Galatians 5:16).
THE STRUGGLE TO WALK BY THE SPIRIT IS REAL
All that could make it sound like the actual “walking by the Spirit” is easy. It’s not.
The reason is that we are in the sinful habit of living life independent of God’s help. That means that mentally, emotionally, and even physically we’re hard-wired to live without the Spirit’s help. The Bible says that central to this “hard-wiring” (my term, to help you understand) is the presence of the power of sin in our earthly bodies.
Read through Romans chapter 7 if you want to understand this better.
As you do, pay close attention to the use of the word “flesh,” or in some translations the unfortunate phrase, “sinful nature” is used. Every time you see those words, know that the actual word used in the original language of the New Testament (Greek), is the word “sarx” which means “human flesh.”
It’s talking about our earthly bodies, not a “sinful nature.” What we find upon careful examination of how that word is used is that the power of sin resides in our human bodies for as long as we are on the planet. When we die, we will finally be 100% free of its influence.
That is why, as long as we live on planet earth, we still struggle against sin, not because we have a “sinful nature” existing alongside our “new nature.” Paul makes it super clear in Romans chapter 7 when he describes the ongoing struggle we have to obey God. I’m going to quote it below and include some parentheses of my own to amplify his meaning…
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (his earthly body). For I (the new Paul – his new creation self) have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (without God’s help). For I do not do the good I (his new creation self) want, but the evil I (his new creation self) do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I (his new creation self) do what I do not want, it is no longer I (his new creation self) who do it, but sin (the power of sin) that dwells within me (in his earthly body). So I find it to be a law that when I (his new creation self) want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I (his new creation self) delight in the law of God, in my inner being (his new creation self), but I see in my members (in his body) another law waging war against the law of my mind (what his new creation self wants) and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (his earthly body).
Don’t identify yourself according to your sin or your sinful struggle. It’s not biblical.
The truth is that YOU are a new creation through what Jesus has done for you (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul makes it very clear that the struggle is real, but that the REASON you struggle at all is because Jesus has given you new desires. You are a new creation in Jesus.
GAUGES ON YOUR SPIRITUAL DASHBOARD
Moving ahead in the Galatians passage, we find this back-and-forth struggle between the power of sin, expressed through our flesh, and our “new creation” self, described in detail. Paul lays it out like two opponents in a life and death struggle, each vying for its own agenda and dominance.
17 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 do not do the things that you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
To help us assess whether or not we are living out our new creation life at any given moment, Paul gives us the equivalent of a list of warning gauges on our spiritual dashboard. He calls the first set of gauges “the deeds of the flesh.” These are the lights that come on when we are living according to the dictates of the power of sin rather than according to our new creation identity, fueled by the Spirit of Jesus.
The Negative Dashboard
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, 21 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.
Look at that list. It’s pretty ugly. Look at each of them individually for a moment…
- sexual immorality
- outbursts of anger
- selfish ambition
You may not struggle with any given item on the list, but there’s no doubt that at least one of these is on your “commonly experienced” list. I suggest you make that particular issue (or issues – plural) a prayer project. Take it before the Lord in humble submission, asking Him to bring it to your attention in the moment so you can submit yourself more fully to the Spirit’s control when the temptation to manifest that “deed of the flesh” is strongest.
And you may not have noticed, but just in case he left anything out, Paul adds “and things like these” to his list.
In other words, this list is not exhaustive… it’s given to use so we have a general picture of what could be happening in our lives externally when we are not aligned with the Spirit of God internally.
The positive dashboard
The second set of gauges Paul supplies, he calls the “fruit of the Spirit,” and as you know, it’s a list of the kind of things we see happening externally when our internal life is aligned with the Spirit of God.
I especially appreciate that he calls these “fruit” — it makes me mindful of a healthy fruit tree that produces yummy-delicious fruit. Our lives are to be like that tree, producing things that bless others and bring glory to God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in step with the Spirit.
Again, let’s look individually at each…
And again, I should point out that you may see some of these qualities readily visible in your life now. Praise Jesus for that! He’s faithfully working in your life through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
But you likely also see things in your life that are not very evident, or are possibly a great struggle for you. For example, at a point in my life I found myself struggling greatly to be patient with people.
If you notice things on this list that you struggle to produce (as good fruit) then make them a prayer project. Ask Jesus consistently, daily, to make you aware of the Spirit’s desire to produce these in you, to show you when, in-the-moment you are responding contrary to the desired fruit you’re praying for. Ask the Spirit to produce that fruit more in your life as you humbly submit yourself to His power.
BUT PRAYER IS NOT JUST ABOUT YOU, IS IT?
Now we get to the idea that prompted me to write this post in the first place.
It’s not uncommon for us to fumble about when seeking to pray for others. What should we ask for? How do we know what God wants to do for them?
When reading a passage like Galatians 5:16-25 that God wants people to NOT live according to the “deeds of the flesh” and TO live according to the “fruit of the Spirit.”
So start here. Pray on behalf of others that they will NOT be prone to or control by the first list and will be controlled by or prone to the second list. Pray that they do NOT carry out the deeds of the flesh, but rather, walk by the Spirit.
Imagine the impact on your children if you prayed for them in this way, for the next 10 years. The next 20 years. What might God do in their lives simply because you took Him at His word and prayed for your children according to His will?
And don’t forget your enemies…
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus instructs Kingdom citizens (us) to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This is hard to do because of the feelings involved, but it’s not optional. It’s an expression of the “new creation” self that Paul describes in Galatians 5.
What miraculous things might God do in the lives of your enemies if you prayed for them appropriately, according to these two lists from Galatians chapter 5?
Friends, you and I get to be a part of God’s transformation of our enemies. It’s amazing.
Would you join me in this prayer?
Jesus, Your grace to us is truly amazing. We never want to take it for granted in a bad way.
Teach us to see the deeds of the flesh as they pop up in our lives, and to hate them, pray against them, and submit to the power of Your Holy Spirit to defeat them.
Help us to live out the fruit of Your Spirit, progressively more as we go thorugh life. Enable our families to see it and to be transformed by teh demonstration of Your work in us, desiring to have You work in their lives as a result.
And do this same work pertaining to the deeds of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit in the lives of our spouses, kids, and extended family. Make Yourself the hallmark of our family tree.
And transform our enemies and those who persecute us by aligning them with your will in regards to these two lists. Whether personal, known enemies, or long-distance influencers or leaders who oppose Your good work in ways that it effects us, transform them by Your grace in these areas.