No Compromising the Flesh and the Spirit
I’ve quoted him before, but I will do it again. Speaking of the necessity of Christians to mortify the flesh, John Owen wrote: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work: Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (emphasis added; J. Owen, WJO 6:9). John Owen was a seventeenth century English Puritan, those people who took sin seriously—like the Apostle Paul did. And here, the Apostle, having warned us not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, informs us why we shouldn’t: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for they are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Remember that the word, “flesh,” in this place means, “sinful nature,” that which we carry about us from our birth as our just reward for the Fall. And Paul would have us know that the distance between the desires of our fallen and unregenerate nature and the desires of the Holy Spirit who has given us a new and regenerate nature cannot be equivocated, bridged, brought together, or compromised in any way, shape, or form. To live according to the one is to reject the other, which means that to walk according to the flesh is to reject life in the Spirit—and that’s a horrifying thought!
So Paul tells us, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Again he speaks to the mutual exclusivity between the two. And the good news is that as we walk according to the Spirit that we shall de facto not be walking according to the flesh. So the secret to mortifying (killing) the flesh (sinful nature) is NOT to focus on the flesh, wondering how we can stop committing certain sins or focusing on addictions and sinful habits that need to be broken. No. The way to mortify the flesh is to live according to the Spirit. It’s the same with the law. The way the Christian keeps from breaking the law is not by obsessing over the law but by focusing on God’s grace and mercy. So if we are led by the Spirit we are not under the law and free from the flesh, or at least as free as we can be on this side of eternity.
The next few days, we shall discuss the works of the flesh, not to obsess over them but to recognize and understand them. After that we shall discuss what it means to live according to the Spirit. And we must remember that we walk not alone but that the Spirit lives within us as born again believers being refashioned after the image of God; that is, we have an inner and heavenly desire that reminds us that we are of the Spirit.