16But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. 17For the lusts of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these things are opposed, in order to prevent you from doing the things that you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecency, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, bursts of rage, rivalries, dissension, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and such the like. I am warning you just as I warned you before, that those who practice these things will not share in the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24Now those of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us walk with conformity with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Paul has made a cogent argument about the freedom in which Christians are supposed to walk. Now he frames that “freedom walk” as a function of the Spirit, as opposed to the flesh. In so doing, he is setting up the central problem of legalism as a “lust of the flesh,” as he mentions in 16. The subsequent list of vices that he enumerates would have been abhorrent to the Judaizers, and he is lumping “legalism” right there with them. The central point of this pericope is that believers are indwelt by the Spirit, and hence the promised gift of the age to come is now theirs. And yet the present evil age has not passed away (Schreiner 343). A stand must be taken, for the Spirit and the flesh stand in opposition to each other, so neither the desires of the flesh nor the desires of the Spirit are actualized. What follows is a typically Pauline list of sinful vices—or, as he calls them here, “lusts of the flesh”—and some care should be taken as we interpret this. Such lists are not to be considered exhaustive; there are thousands of lusts of the flesh that do not appear in a biblical list, but are no less sinful. The idea that we must mainly keep an eye on “these” sins is a product of the faulty hamartiology that teaches that we are sinners because we sin, rather than the other way around. Like the list he employs in Romans 1, Paul starts his list with some very obvious sins, but ends his list with some vices that don’t seem like they should rank in taxonomy with the previous ones. To God, they are all alike: a failure to walk in the Spirit. In verse 19, the first three vices mentioned are sexual; in fact, ἀσελγεια (“indecency”) emphasizes lack of restraint and unbridled passion of sexual license. It is the tendency to throw off all restraint and flaunt itself. The two sins mentioned in verse 20 are both examples of a refusal to worship the one true God. They are φαρμακεια (“pharmacea,” sometimes used for “drug abuse” and “sorcery”) and θυμοι (“fits of rage”). The former is committed when, instead of trusting in God, people try to manipulate circumstances to bring about the end they desire—it is a turn from trusting in God to a dependence on other sources. This is the very essence of substance abuse—a form of escape that refuses to trust God in the midst of pain. The latter describes savage flashes of anger that are poured out on others. Again, a lack of trust in God is in view, since such a person is wallowing in the anger of perceived injustice and acting on it rather than trust the God Who preserves us. All of these “lusts of the flesh” are placed in direct contrast with the “fruits of the Spirit,” which will be the result of walking in the Spirit. And as always seems to be the case, lack of spiritual gifts seems to be connected to a lack of love, as is taught in 1 Corinthians (22).
While we are fallen and depraved in our natural state, we have been rescued by Christ, and therefore have been given the power to walk in the Spirit. Because of this, we can be described as having “crucified the flesh with its passions and lust.” This doesn’t mean that we no longer strive against such temptation; rather, it means that this battle has already been won by the Savior, and we are being given the choice to walk in conformity with His doing. The Greek verb used in verse 25 is στοιχωμεν, and it means “walk in conformity.” We have the opportunity to cooperate with what the Spirit is doing inside of us. Over time, these lusts of the flesh are being starved out. That’s also why Paul describes Christians in 1 Corinthians as “we who are being saved.”
You are going to walk in conformity with someone today. Will it be yourself? Or will it be the Spirit? Though you were born depraved, God has granted you, by His grace, the power to walk in conformity with His Spirit. You now have a choice that you didn’t have at birth. If you choose to walk in conformity with yourself, you will produce the lusts of the flesh that are mentioned here or elsewhere. This makes you no better than the legalists of whom this book has largely been about. If you choose to walk in conformity with the Spirit, you will produce the fruits mentioned here and elsewhere. This process will give you a healthier, more positive outlook on the nature of sin in others—since you will have been involved deeply in that struggle yourself. The legalist cannot abide the existence of what he deems sin in someone else because he thinks his fight is over due to his superior obedience skills. The fruit of his walk is a “devouring” of others. The true Christian has more grace toward others, and the fruit of such a walk is evident from this text.
So…with Whom are you walking today?