Winning the Battle Within
“Winning the Battle Within”
Series: Set Free To Be Free (Galatians)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
Let me invite you to find your place in Galatians, chapter 5. I know I said in at least one of last week’s worship services that I could hardly wait for this Sunday so we could study this passage together.
My aim is never to just present some biblical teaching. In fact, I like to think of preaching as not so much a sermon, as a message—a message from God in His Word. This is theological truth that finds expression in the practical every day living. I so want us to get this teaching. I have been in prayer for us. I love you guys. I want God’s word to change us and make us more like Jesus. I am looking forward to this passage’s bringing freedom to so many of us.
Last week, we talked about gospel truth. We looked at verses 7 and following and noted three things about the gospel: the gospel must be preserved, the gospel leads to persecution, and the gospel changes our passions. And it is this last point—that the gospel changes our passions, our desires and affections—it is this truth from last time upon which we continue to build.
Most recently verse 13, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (the old self), but through love serve one another.” Don’t bite and devour one another, consuming one another, but love one another.
Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17 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.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
When we were studying through the Book of Romans several years ago we talked once about Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson’s captivating novel is a great example of Victorian morality literature and many scholars believe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was inspired by Stevenson’s reading of the New Testament.
Many of you know the story: Dr. Jekyll was the good doctor in London, England. And in his basement he experimented with science and developed a potion that turned him into a bad person named Mr. Hyde. Stevenson writes about the struggle of good and evil within each person. A significant point in the story occurs when Dr. Jekyll is returning home after a night of evil as Mr. Hyde. And usually the potion wore off by the time he got home, but this time it stayed with him longer. As he walked up the stairs to his bedroom, Dr. Jekyll catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. And Dr. Jekyll sees in the mirror the horrendous image of Mr. Hyde. And when he does, he says, “This, too, was myself.”
And if we can just leave Dr. Jekyll there for a moment looking into the mirror and seeing the image of himself as Mr. Hyde and freeze that frame, it may be helpful picture for us. We Christians are aware of this sinfulness within us. On the one hand we are like Dr. Jekyll, very much wanting to do good and be good and yet there is this part of us, down deep, the old us, the Mr. Hyde of us, and we are aware that, “This, too, is myself.”
Now, what’s going on here? Are we beyond help? Is this battle a battle between the physical and the spiritual? No, we’re not talking about the philosophy of dualism here. Nor is this a battle between equally good and equally bad desires. It’s not that, either.
We’re talking about a battle within the Christian, a battle that is part of our sinful nature. It is the “old us” within us. It’s the part of our heart that has not been completely renewed or restored just yet.
We mentioned again the helpful saying last time, a phrase I encourage you to memorize. For the Christian, “sin no longer reigns—as a dominating force—sin no longer reigns, but sin remains.” There is with us this sinful nature that is part of the “old us” that is dying a slow death as we grow in our love for Jesus and our walk in purity.
The gospel changes our passions, our desires, our affections. And we are growing in the embrace of these new passions. We’re going to be talking about these passions in the next couple weeks. Christians have both old and new passions, both old and new desires. Before we received Jesus as Lord and Savior our lives were dominated by wrong desires.
These desires were simply the natural byproduct of what Paul calls “the flesh.” We noted Paul was not talking about this skin that covers our bones. He’s talking about the “old us,” the “lower nature,” the part of us that is there because of the sin nature we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve. Though Christians are saved, they still have the old nature with them, an old nature that is dying a slow death. While sin’s presence remains, it’s power has been broken and the sin nature is dying.
Again the helpful phrase for the Christian: “sin no longer reigns—as a dominating force—sin no longer reigns, but sin remains.” There is with us this sinful nature that is part of the “old us.”
But let’s be clear: the Christian’s new nature outshines the old nature! The old nature no longer dominates. It cannot remain in a position of dominance or eclipse of the new nature. Everybody’s talking about the eclipse tomorrow, a total solar eclipse, a rare occurrence of the moon’s entirely covering the sun, making it like night for a few minutes. It’s going to be cool. When you watch the eclipse, think of the moon’s covering the sun as like the old nature trying to take control again. Think of the momentary darkness as like a fall back to the old sin nature of darkness and nature’s night.
And then, remember that for the true Christian, for the believer, because he is a new creation, that this rare occurrence of the eclipse should be as rare as the Christian’s giving in to his old nature, and that even when this occurs, the sin and darkness no longer reigns as the light of Christ, the brilliant, resplendent, coruscating light of Jesus Christ reigns and shines and dispels the darkness!
We are new creations! We have the Holy Spirit within us to defeat the old nature, to conquer the sinful desire that tries to rear its ugly head. And because God has changed us, AND BECAUSE GOD IS NOW IN US by way of His Spirit, we have new desires, new dominating passions evidenced by a love for Jesus Christ and a desire to bring glory to God!
So let’s re-read these three verses, verses 16 through 18, and note how each of these three verses corresponds to three statements of fact for the Christian. First, let’s note:
I. The Christian’s Conduct (16)
(Life in the Spirit)
Look again at verse 16: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
First and foremost let’s recall that spectacularly wonderful truth that the Holy Spirit is within us. If you are a Christian, God indwells you by way of the Spirit. Ephesians 1:13, “…having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…”
1 Corinthians 6:19, “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God..?”
God indwells you by way of His Spirit. He is in you. Okay, having reviewed that, Paul says in verse 16, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” In other words, “If you allow the Holy Spirit to have control, yielding to Him, voluntarily giving way to Him and allowing Him to have rightful reign within you, you will not sin by fulfilling the lust of the flesh.” You won’t end up doing what your sinful nature craves.
Remember that “flesh” in passages such as this is not the skin that covers your muscles and bones. That’s human anatomy flesh, epidermis flesh. In these kinds of passages, Paul is using the word “flesh” to denote that part of our heart that desires wrong stuff. It’s the part of our heart that has yet to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. It’s the “old us,” the people we used to be before we were saved. The old selfish, self-focused, self-obsessed us.
This may be helpful. Think of flesh as what it is when read backwards. It’s spelled F-L-E-S-H. So if we allow the H to stand for holiness. Remove the H because there is no holiness in the flesh. So remove the H and read the word backwards and what do you have? You have S-E-L-F, Self. The old us. Sin is largely allowing the old self to have his way.
Because we are new creations in Christ Jesus we have new desires, new passions. And these new desires and passions are stronger than the old passions because they flow from a renewed heart, a heart that is made new by the Holy Spirit. So throughout our Christian lives, the “old us” is dying and the “new us” is growing, the old sinful nature is dying out and the new, the new nature is growing in Christ.
This is why the old us, the old sin nature, can no longer reign. It remains. And when we see it we don’t like it. We’re like Dr. Jekyll seeing for the first time the Mr. Hyde within himself and saying, “This, too, is myself.” Yes, but not forever! The old us can never be in a position of control. It cannot remain forever, as a constant solar eclipse. The new nature outshines the old—and more so as we grow in Christ and as the old us dies out.
The fantastic truth about the state of glorification—that time when we are with our Lord in heaven—is that we will at that time enjoy a glorified body. There will be no sinful nature, whatsoever! There will be no longer a part of our hearts that still desires wrong stuff.
In the meantime, we are growing. Our hearts are growing in renewal and our old nature is slowly dying. We are getting stronger, becoming more like Jesus, more holy. This is called sanctification. We’re all of us—all of us who are Christians—we’re all of us experiencing various states of sanctification. And we’re all headed to that glorious state of glorification.
Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. The Christian’s conduct: life in the Spirit. Secondly note:
II. The Christian’s Conflict (17)
(Lusts against the Spirit)
The conflict is this battle within us, within Christians. There is a battle. I say battle because the war is already won. The war over sin was won by Jesus Christ who defeated sin, death, and the grave. He is risen and we live in the power of His resurrection. The war is won, but the battle, the daily skirmishes continue until we reach that final state of glorification. Until then, “sin no longer reigns, but remains.”
Verse 17: “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.”
So there is within the Christian an ongoing battle between the lusts, or the desires, of the flesh and the desires of the new nature. The flesh lusts “agains the Spirit,” against the new nature, being renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Some of the lusts of the flesh or “works of the flesh” are itemized by Paul in verses 19 and following: “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,” and so on. We’ll talk more about these next time, Lord willing.
For now understand this principle, this ongoing battle of the Christian’s, this conflict. When we are battling sin and temptation, what is happening is that the old self is rising up, rearing its ugly head, and “lusting against the Spirit.”
It’s a daily battle. When we sin we have yielded to the old nature, the old us, instead of yielding to the Holy Spirit and allowing our greater desires for Jesus to outshine the old. And make no mistake: because we are new creations, we have newer, far greater passions, desires, and affections. We want to do that which is right and we hate doing that which is wrong. Because we have a new nature, we do not want to—verse 13—use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.
This truth is inherent in verse 17. It’s so subtle you might read right over it without letting it grab you. But the second part of verse 17 is this phrase, “so you do not do the things that you wish.” See it?
The phrase: “so that you do not do the things that you wish” is proof positive that the true Christian does not want to continue in sin. Note it again: “so that you do not do the things that you wish.” The things that the Christian “wishes” or wants to do—namely, to find joy in the all-satisfying Christ—are contrary to the things the old sinful nature wants.
See that? The true believer wants, deep down wants, to live for Jesus and find all his joy, all her joy, in the all-satisfying Christ. The problem is that he gives-in to the pull of the old nature when he should be saying “No.” Remember Romans 6? Romans 6:11, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When we were in Romans we talked about the importance of, when tempted, saying: “I’m dead to that.” No, I’m not going to do that. I’m dead to that. If we don’t remember that we are dead to that temptation, we are more likely give-in to the temptation.
Christian, you were made to love Jesus, worship Jesus, find your joy in Jesus, satisfaction in Jesus. So when you are tempted to give-in to sin by giving your heart to something else, remember that this is something that “is not the thing you wish.” It is a false savior, “little s.” It’s a false-lord, “little l.” It’s a false god, “little g.”
Your heart wants something bigger, greater, more glorious than that thing, whatever that thing is and whatever form that thing takes—that shiny new something, that new relationship, a girl, a boy, that clothing that gives the false sense of identity, or popularity, or worth, that drink that gives the short-term pleasure of calm, that drug that brings a shadowy sense of temporary euphoria, that picture on the cover of the magazine that seems to wink at you, that inappropriate link on the internet that opens up the Pandora’s box of lewd and filthy images and so much social media texting of trash and messaging of muck—yes, every single one of these, categorically, is not really “the thing you wish.”
You really don’t want those things. Your heart was made for something bigger, greater, more spectacularly satisfyingly soul-rhapsodically wonderful!! Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Everyone say, “Jesus.” Jesus. “What a beautiful name it is, the name of Jesus Christ, my king.”
So when we sin, the truth is—at that very moment we give-in to the pull of the old nature—when we sin we are, in essence, saying, “Jesus, I don’t really trust Your goodness or care, or providence, or sufficiency. I talk about You, but I don’t really treasure You.” That’s what we’re saying when we sin. We are allowing our “old us” to be in charge. We are allowing our old “selves” to be our savior.
Maybe you never thought of it that way before. Sin is a way of saying, “I reject Jesus. I’m going to be my own savior. I can’t trust Jesus to be in charge, to meet my need, to be my joy. I’ll take care of my own wants, needs, and happiness. And the irony is that THAT is precisely the problem with our lives—unfulfilled wants, needs, joy. We’re walking around as little saviors of our selves, wholly incapable of salvation.
I hear St. Augustine again: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Until we allow our hearts to find their rest in Christ, we will allow our sinful hearts to lust against the Spirit in unfulfilled, life-robbing, sin-enslaving, soul-destroying ways.
The Christian’s conduct (life in the Spirit), the Christian’s conflict (lusts against the Spirit), thirdly and finally:
III. The Christian’s Correction (18)
(Led by the Spirit)
The key to living in victory, living in freedom, is to allow the Holy Spirit to have complete control, allowing Him to lead us, and endeavoring to follow Him as He leads. Verse 18: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Put another way: if you are being led by the Holy Spirit, your life will show that you are not under obligation to the law of Moses, you are not a slave to the law, not under that wrong usage of the law as a means of trying to earn God’s favor. You are free and your freedom is being used rightly. You are being led by the Spirit.
The verb tense implies an active, continual work of the Holy Sprit within us as we grow in our love for Jesus and allow our new passions, our new desires and affections, to outshine our old affections, our old nature, our old self.
Now we want to know how to do this, don’t we? Practically speaking, how can we be led by the Spirit? How do we win the daily battle within?
Well, we’ve touched on it a bit already when we recalled Romans 6:11: “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We reviewed the importance of, when tempted, to say—even out loud if necessary—“I’m dead to that.” No. I will not do that. It is a discipline that requires the ongoing use of our minds and our hearts.
Now we’ll get into this more in the weeks ahead, but I want to go ahead and call attention to verse 24 where Paul makes a similar point about the old us. He says in verse 24: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
If you are a Christian, when you came to faith in Jesus Christ, Paul says you, “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” You have crucified the old you, the old sinful nature, the old self. You did that when you placed your faith in Jesus and repented, turned away from the old sin and self. When you repented, you crucified the flesh, the old self, with its passions and desires.
Think of your old nature, the flesh, the old self, as crucified—because it is. Verse 24: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh…” That’s why you are dead to temptation to sin. You have crucified the old flesh, the old sinful nature.
Now this image of crucifixion is supremely helpful. In crucifixion, death does not occur immediately, but gradually. When a person is crucified, nailed to a Roman cross as was our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when a person is crucified, his death comes gradually, not immediately.
When you believed in Christ and repented from your sin, your old self, the flesh, the old nature—it has been nailed to the cross. You crucified it when you repented. But death does not come to the old nature immediately. It comes gradually.
So we’ll expand on this truth in the next couple weeks. For now, let’s consider a couple action points to conquer the battle within. Here are two things we must think about regularly. Remember how we noted before that, when it comes to battling temptation, rather than immediately praying a rather empty prayer, “God, take this temptation away,” that it would be better for us to slow down and think about some powerful, theological truth. In battling temptation we may need to do “less praying and more thinking.” Thinking about what? Well, here are two truths to think about in order to defeat temptation to do the “works of the flesh.”
**Two Action Points to THINK about:
1) Remember your “old self” is dying on the cross
Don’t take it down. Your flesh is there. John Stott: “Don’t finger the nails.”
2) Remember your “new self” is delighting in Christ
You will not sin so long as you keep your heart full of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. George Mueller called this, keeping his soul happy in the Lord. From his autobiography entitled “The Life of Trust,” Mueller writes about this breakthrough regarding how to live in victory each day. He was writing about the importance of beginning the day with a heart and soul happy in the Lord. He writes:
“…I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.”
He writes about how he used to pray first and how his mind would wander and so on. And then he slowed down and read a passage in the Bible slowly and began thinking about the truth of the Word. And this led to a greater sense of God’s presence and a greater joy in the Lord Jesus.
See that your “new self” continues to delight in Jesus! Delight in Christ! Get your heart and should happy in the Lord!
We’re going to sing our hymn of invitation and response. God is inviting us—every single one of us in the room—God is inviting us to respond to His Word.
Some of you want to join the church, or be baptized, you come during this time and I’ll meet you up front here. Others of you want to come for prayer or you want to follow Jesus and you have questions. Right after we pray, I’m inviting you to come.
Now stand and as we sing, you respond however the Lord is leading you.
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
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