“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (flesh). For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18 TNIV).

In this passage, we note that Paul was addressing believers. Although believers are born again and have become the “new man”, the sinful nature of the “old man” is still present and its desires are contrary to the Spirit. This sinful nature is sometimes referred to as “indwelling sin”. In reality, the believer is no longer subject to the dominion of sin; but the sinful nature present still continues to influence (in different degrees) the Christian and drive him to entertain the desires of the sinful nature. The devil is constantly working to ‘arouse’ the sinful nature (the flesh) either directly, or using the negative influence of the world and sinful individuals to cause the believer to ‘give in’. The “new man” however has a new nature which delights in pleasing God the heavenly Father, and which longs for holiness and godliness; the Holy Spirit who dwells within the believer helps the believer to work out his/her salvation by working from within the believer, enabling the Christian to ‘will and to work’ the desires of God. The work of the Spirit requires the believer to cooperate by putting to death (mortification) the sinful deeds of the flesh by His enabling, and ‘to put on’ the new self by walking in step with the Spirit and by the Spirit (Eph. 3:16-17; 4:22-24; Philip. 2:12-13).

When the Holy Spirit changes and renews the heart by instilling in us a recognition of Christ’s reality and by uniting us to Him in His risen life, our way of thinking is at once altered (instead of alienation from God to grateful love to Him). Yet the sinful dynamics of our fallen makeup (the flesh) still operates within us and incessantly pulls against the God-trusting, God-loving, God-serving disposition and motivation that the Spirit has implanted – hence Paul describes the result in Galatians 5:16-18.

Sometimes our knowledge of what we should do is overwhelmed by the desire to do something else; and repeatedly, we do the right thing in a resentful, apathetic, self-seeking way, not caring for the glory of God or the good of others. This happens not because godly motivation is lacking or never there but because the down-drag of sin in our system (indwelling sin) has , for the time- being swamped it. We constantly need therefore to be asking God to enable us to do the right things in the right way; only the Holy Spirit who indwells us can bring that about.

To lack the Spirit’s powerful working in our lives and in a church’s life is therefore by biblical standards unnatural, just as heresy is; and this unnatural state of affairs can be accounted for only in terms of human failure. We may quench the Spirit by resisting or undervaluing His work, and by declining to yield to His influence (ACTS 7:51; HEB. 10:29). When the Spirit has been quenched, it is beyond man’s power to undo the damage he has done; he can only cry to God in repentance to revive His work.

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to change people, making them more like Christ. In this process, the Spirit operates intellectually by imparting understanding of Christ and of all the Scriptures as witness to Him, and motivationally, by engendering trust in Christ and sustaining within us a purpose of cleaving to revealed truth, and in addition behaviourally by inducing the Christlike pattern of action that flows from this state of the soul. To overcome the sinful nature, we need the ministry of the Spirit and the application of God’s Word in our Christian lives; this implies understanding of Scriptures and grace-enabled effort to continue to walk by faith in God and His ways. All that God allows in our lives (including sufferings, setbacks, spiritual battles) are designed to mould us into the image of the Son; it is God’s discipline from a heart of LOVE, and never from negative intentions in any way. It takes faith (trust in Him no matter what) despite the circumstances which seem to point otherwise.