Galatians 5:16-18: Freedom and Cravings

Today’s post was written by Meredith Bowman. Thanks for your hard work!

…live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful naure…. Galatians 5:16

I have spent the last 21 years of my Christian life having no idea what this verse means. I drank coffee out of a mug with “Live by the Spirit” printed on it. I’ve read books that have told me the answer is to just “live by the Spirit.” Always sounded great, but I had no idea what that would actually look like in real life.
Does the Holy Spirit levitate me around the room, moving my arms and legs to do God’s will? (Don’t laugh, I’ve actually wondered that!) Or does simply obeying God’s commands mean that I’m living by the Spirit?
Freed by Jesus. It’s no accident that this verse is written at the end of Galatians. Paul knew that until we understood how God sees us (perfect in Jesus) no matter how we perform, we could never attempt to live by the Spirit. It would create further bondage. Our quest to “live by the Spirit” is in response to our freedom, not to gain it. That changes everything.
Tim Keller’s commentary broke this verse down for me in a way that I could understand and tangibly apply. Here’s what I learned:
Paul uses the word “epithumia” to describe our sinful desires. Keller says these sinful desires we have are more literally translated as “over-desires” or “inordinate desires.” Something that is an all-controlling drive and longing. That thing we want has become so necessary for us to have we are willing to disobey God to get it. We no longer believe that God can give us the pleasure (or satisfaction, peace – fill in the blank) we are seeking. We need to go get it for ourselves.
Free to crave…Him! Once we have identified what we want and why we want it, that is where we now need to “live by the Spirit.” We need to allow God to fully satisfy us, not that thing we think we need. And the way we do that is not by “…an intellectual exercise. We must worship Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, adoring Him until our hearts find Him more beautiful than the object we felt we had to have.” ~ Keller
This is not about denying our flesh so we will not gratify the desires of our sinful nature. This is about satisfying our flesh with God Himself, and allowing Him to give us the pleasure (or fill in the blank) that we are seeking. Our desires aren’t what’s wrong. It’s that we want them in a way God hasn’t intended to give them to us.
Understanding this has been life changing for me. God has promised to lavish pleasure, joy, satisfaction, peace, etc., on me as I “live by the Spirit.”  And by doing so I will no longer feel the need to gratify the desires of my sinful nature.
Now where did I put that coffee mug…?

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