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How Can We Battle ‘Works of the Flesh’ (Galatians 5:19-20)?

  • Chad Napier Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 30, 2022
How Can We Battle ‘Works of the Flesh’ (Galatians 5:19-20)?

Paul taught that our physical desires can hinder our spirituality. He specifically identified these ‘works of the flesh’ as “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies.” (Galatians 5:19-20, ESV)

Even though the believer’s soul and heart are cleansed by salvation through Jesus Christ, the flesh and mind remain susceptible to carnal desires and continue to yearn for earthly satisfaction.

You should anticipate that yout salvation can change everything - even your desires to follow the flesh. Our battle with the flesh is initiated by the application of the sacrificial blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. We become united in the Spirit of God when we are saved.

As Paul noted in Galatians 5:24-25: “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

The fruits, or the results, of our salvation reflect a changing of our desires.   Here are 6 ways you can win the battle against the works of the flesh and have victory over sinful desires. 

1. Put on the Full Armor of God to Battle the Works of the Flesh

In the book of Ephesians, Paul outlined what believers need to fight against the “schemes of the devil.” These temptations are not fights against another in “flesh and blood, but against the rules against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Paul taught the believer to be fully and wholly armed by God. These defenses protect each bodily area of the believer. We are to fight these desires with a “fastened belt of truth” and a “breastplate of righteousness.” Our feet are to be covered with shoes for “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” As defensive measures, we are to yield a “shield of faith” and don a “helmet of salvation.” Offensively we are to possess “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”   

2. Follow the Holy Spirit’s Leading

We are to live according to the “spirit” when we receive the gift of its presence. In Romans 8:5, we are taught that “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

The Spirit directs us unto life and peace, while a mindset focused on the flesh is destined for death and a life “hostile to God.” 

In Romans 13:14, Paul preached to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Our world and society emphasizes a compromise where moderation in any fleshly satisfaction is allowable. Paul did not hold such a compromise to be productive in the life of the Christian.

In Ephesians 2, he reasoned that prior to our salvation, we “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The believer is reborn to be a peculiar or different person.

3. Acknowledge that the Saved Soul and Lost Flesh Remain in Conflict

Paul understood the never-ending conflict between the saved soul and the lost flesh. In Romans 7:23, he said, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members.”

Charles Spurgeon preached that our spiritual “regeneration brings into us a new and higher principle which is ultimately to destroy the sinful nature, but the old principle still remains and labors to retain its power.” No matter our level of holiness or sanctification, our “old principle” or flesh will always be at enmity against God. It will never be reconciled to God.

Spurgeon went on to explain that our “old nature is of the earth, earthy, and must be crucified with Christ and buried with Him, for it is altogether too bad for mending.” However, the strengthening and growth of the “holy principle” minimize the power of the flesh.

4. Recall Past Battles - Both Victories and Batttle Scars Against the Flesh

In a fight against the “works of the flesh,” we must always remember our past battles with the flesh. It is important to not only recall the victories, but also the times in which we fell short. Psalm 38 is entitled “A Psalm of David to bring remembrance.” In the third verse, David admitted, “because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones of my sin.”

We carry forth the scars that we received from these conflicts. The scars aren’t localized to only a small area of scar tissue. The prophet Isaiah at 1:6, declared, “from the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness – only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.”

The only cure for these spiritual wounds caused by flesh is the application of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 1:17-19, we are told to have a certain fear when are in a “time of exile.” However, we are to always call upon him as the Father “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”    

5. Don’t Be Held Captive by Sin's Work

The believer should always be in anticipation of conflict with our flesh. When we have an expectation and a realization that the conflict is never-ending, we can anticipate the modes and motives of our adversary. There is no dispute of the pleasure in sin for the sinner. However, as Paul noted, sin captivates the Christian. We first have a feeling as if our spirituality might be losing the battle against our “old principles.”

When we find ourselves in a state of captivity, our spiritual joy is extinguished because of the momentary pleasure of the flesh. The believer is unable to successfully ward off this internal attack by conventional worldly means. Spurgeon beckoned the old cry, “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling.”

6. Claim Victory through the Cross

In a fight against the flesh, the believer must claim the cross. For it is at the cross, we can claim our victory through Christ over ills of the flesh and its accompanying desires.

The cross set into motion the victory over all of the sins of mankind.      

bio pic Chad NapierChad Napier is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his golf devotion par3sixteen.com. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Bulat Silvia