Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Galatians 5:17

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
New American Standard Version
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Adam Clarke Commentary

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit - God still continues to strive with you, notwithstanding your apostasy, showing you whence you have fallen, and exciting you to return to him; but your own obstinacy renders all ineffectual; and through the influence of these different principles, you are kept in a state of self-opposition and self-distraction, so that you cannot do the things that ye would. You are convinced of what is right, and ye wish to do it; but, having abandoned the Gospel and the grace of Christ, the law and its ordinances which ye have chosen in their place afford you no power to conquer your evil propensities. It was on this ground that the apostle exhorted them, Galatians 5:16, to walk in the Spirit, that they might not fulfill the lust of the flesh; as without the grace of God they could do nothing. Who can suppose that he speaks this of adult Christians?

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/galatians-5.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit - The inclinations and desires of the flesh are contrary to those of the Spirit. They draw us away in an opposite direction, and while the Spirit of God would lead us one way, our carnal nature would lead us another, and thus produce the painful controversy which exists in our minds. The word “Spirit” here refers to the Spirit of God, and to his influences on the heart.

And these are contrary … - They are opposite in their nature. They never can harmonize; see Romans 8:6-7; compare below Galatians 5:19-23. The contrariety Paul has illustrated by showing what each produces; and they are as opposite as adultery, wrath, strife, murders, drunkenness, etc., are to love, joy, goodness, gentleness, and temperance.

So that ye cannot do the things that ye would - See this sentiment illustrated in the notes at Romans 7:15-19. The expression “cannot do” is stronger by far than the original, and it is doubted whether the original will bear this interpretation. The literal translation would be, “Lest what ye will, those things ye should do” ( ἵνα μὴ ὥ ἄν θέλητε , ταῦτα ποιῆτε hina mē hō an thelētetauta poiēte). It is rendered by Doddridge, “So that ye do not the things that ye would.” By Locke, “You do not the things that you propose to yourselves;” and Locke remarks on the passage, “Ours is the only translation that I knew which renders it cannot.” The Vulgate and the Syriac give a literal translation of the Greek, “So that you do not what you would.” This is undoubtedly the true rendering; and, in the original, there is no declaration about the possibility or the impossibility, the ability or the inability to do these things.

It is simply a statement of a fact, as it is in Romans 7:15, Romans 7:19. That statement is, that in the mind of a renewed man there is a contrariety in the two influences which bear on his soul - the Spirit of God inclining him in one direction, and the lusts of the flesh in another; that one of these influences is so great as in fact to restrain and control the mind, and prevent its doing what it would otherwise do; that when there is an inclination in one direction, there is a controlling and overpowering influence in another, producing a conflict, which prevents it, and which finally checks and restrains the mind. There is no reason for interpreting this, moreover, as seems always to be the case, of the overpowering tendency in the mind to evil, as if it taught that the Christian was desirous of doing good, but could not, on account of his indwelling corruption. So far as the language of Paul or the fact is concerned, it may be understood of just the opposite, and may mean, that such are the restraints and influences of the Holy Spirit on the heart, that the Christian does not the evil which he otherwise would, and to which his corrupt nature inclines him.

He (Paul) is exhorting them Galatians 5:16 to walk in the Spirit, and assures them that thus they would not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. To encourage them to this, he reminds them that there were contrary principles in their minds, the influences of the Spirit of God, and a carnal and downward tendency of the flesh. These are contrary one to the other; and such are, in fact, the influences of the Spirit on the mind, that the Christian does not do the things which he otherwise would. So understood, or understood in any fair interpretation of the original, it makes no assertion about the ability or inability of man to do right or wrong. It affirms as a fact, that where these opposite principles exist, a man does not do the things which otherwise he would do. If a man could not do otherwise than he actually does, he would not be to blame. Whether a Christian could not resist the influences of the Holy Spirit, and yield to the corrupt desires of the flesh; or whether he could not overcome these evil propensities and do right always, are points on which the apostle here makes no affirmation. His is the statement of a mere fact, that where these counteracting propensities exist in the mind, there is a conflict, and that the man does not do what he otherwise would do.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/galatians-5.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Galatians 5:17

For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.

Contest between flesh and spirit

Here is a battle--a struggle--described: one in which we must all fight. Our own corrupt and wilful hearts, and the Holy Spirit of God, are ever drawing us different ways; and we have to choose between them. This is the work of the will. God leaves us free. The Spirit draws, but does not drive: invites, not compels. There are four states in which we may be.

1. Before the struggle begins. The soul living utterly regardless of any will but his own, any law but his own desires; sin slumbering within him, lying hid and unknown; at peace with himself, and having no idea of his danger. Terrible condition; yet, alas! how many baptized Christians are in it.

2. The struggle going on. The sinner sees what God commands, and tries to obey. Then comes the difficulty. The mind approves one thing, but the flesh strives after another; and alas! how often the flesh comes off victorious.

3. The spirit subduing the flesh. Still a struggle, but by God’s grace the good is now conquering the evil, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart and making the will strong to persist in following the law of God. Oh, how happy, how blessed a state is this!

4. The struggle over. In the first state there was no struggle, because the evil held undisputed sway. In the second state there was a struggle, but it was the helplessness of the natural man striving in vain to fulfil the law of God. In the third state there is a struggle too, but now it is the grace and power of God striving in us against the rebellious nature which before held us captive, and that grace and power gain the victory. In the fourth state there is again no struggle. But it is because the battle has been fought, and the victory gained for ever. No more foes to oppose, no sins to do battle with. A state we may not look for in this life; but it shall be reached by all who persevere. A little while, and the last struggle will be over; and then--rest, peace, joy, glory, victory! (Bishop Walsham How.)

So that ye cannot do the things that ye would: The wrestle of humanity

The translation is wrong. The R.V. gives it correctly: “that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Here you have the flesh and the spirit personified: each has given to it intelligence, aim, purpose. Here is the man, the individual, the moral and spiritual personality--man with his moral capacity and power of volition, but volition is modified by influences from without. Here are two integral powers, standing on each side of the personality, and each of them is watching the action of the other as it may be, operating upon the human volition; when the spirit with its elevating thoughts, its intense desire, its strong aspirations, is operating upon the feeling and the soul, and when a man would act under that influence, then the flesh, watching its opportunity, comes with all its force and power, and endeavours to prevent it, so that “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, that the man may not do the things he would.” What is the remedy for that? Why, you, the central personality, take sides with one, that there may be two against one. Throw your moral power and affections upon one side, walk in the spirit, yield to the spirit, hold to the spirit, and then you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. You will then do the things that you would, under the spiritual influence of this gracious Agent. Hold, pray, strive, depend, look up with religious faith, and seek to have within you, strengthened continually, an intense repugnance to everything evil--to the influences and lusts operating upon you--and you will conquer. The flesh will be defeated, you will gain victory after victory; there will be sympathy after sympathy, strength after strength; and then it will come to pass that the flesh, and the devil in the flesh, will pass by you. (T. Binney.)

Self versus self

The Christian life is one of conflict between opposing forces designated respectively, the flesh and the spirit, i.e., between the old nature and the new; between Christians themselves usually so called, and that which is higher, stronger, holier, than themselves. It is a conflict, we may say, between Christ and anti-Christ: for the soul, on the battlefield of the soul. The old nature is strong and very active, and loses no opportunity of plying all the weapons of its deadly armoury against the new-born grace: the new nature, on the other hand, is ever on the watch to resist and destroy its enemy. Grace within us employs prayer and faith and hope to cast out evil All growing Christians are like men working under difficulties; like racers who must carry weights; like men rowing against wind and tide, yet compelled for dear life to row. This is not the popular conception of a Christian’s career. With some religious teachers Christianity is a mere sentiment; a given idea as to moral accountability, and as to escape through Jesus Christ, has to be fixed in the mind, and Presto! a man is “fully saved.” Such teaching is void of danger only when explained to mean that he who has seen his sinfulness, and rested upon his Saviour, has passed the strait gate and entered upon the narrow way. Men need salvation from their all but infinite conceits. There can be no salvation “unto the uttermost “ apart from character. Faith as a disposition must follow faith as an act.

1. A Christian’s life must be a battle from the nature of the case. Flesh and spirit are contrary as water and oil, as light and darkness, as good and evil; and so, to do the things they would and ought, Christians have to fight.

2. Because we gain immensely from fighting. All valuable discipline comes of difficulties faced and overcome. Better to fight and win than to obtain moral mastery without fighting. (J. S. Swan.)

Sins of infirmity

True faith is not shown here below in peace, but rather in conflict; and it is no proof that a man is not in a state of grace that he continually sins, provided such sins do not remain on him as permanent results, but are ever passing on into something beyond and unlike themselves, into truth and righteousness, As we gain happiness through suffering, so do we arrive at holiness through infirmity, because man’s very condition is a fallen one, and in passing out of the country of sin, he necessarily passes through it. This prevents holy men from regarding themselves with satisfaction, or resting in anything but Christ’s death as their ground of confidence. The following are some of the infirmities which, while they certainly beset those who are outcasts from God’s grace, are also possible in a state of acceptance, and do not necessarily imply absence of true faith.

1. Original sin. An evil principle within, dishonouring our best service. The old Adam, pride, profaneness, deceit, unbelief, selfishness, greediness, the inheritance of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; sin which the words of the serpent sowed in the hearts of our first parents, which sprang up and bore fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty, some an hundred, and which have been by carnal descent transmitted to us.

2. Sins arising from former evil habits, now abandoned. Sin once committed retains power over our souls; it has given a colour to our thoughts, words, works; and though, with many efforts, we would wash it out from us, yet this is not possible except gradually. Sloth, self-conceit, self-will, impurity, worldly-mindedness; sins such as these, though cast off, cling like a poisoned garment to the soul.

3. Sins arising from went of self-command; the conscience informed, but the governing principle weak. Difficult to do as one would wish--to govern the feelings, the tongue, the thoughts.

4. Sins which we fall into from being taken unawares.

5. Sins which rise from the devil’s temptations, inflaming the wounds and scars of past sins healed, or nearly so; exciting the memory, and hurrying us away; and thus making use of our former selves against our present selves contrary to our will.

6. Sins which rise from a deficiency of practical experience, or from ignorance how to perform duties which we set about. Men attempt to be munificent, and their acts are prodigal; they wish to be firm and zealous, and their acts are cruel; they wish to be benevolent, and are indulgent and weak; they do harm when they mean to do good; they engage in undertakings, or promote designs, or put forth opinions, or set a pattern, of which evil comes; they mistake falsehood for truth; they are zealous for false doctrines; they oppose the cause of God.

7. Unworthy motives, low views, mistakes in principle, false maxims.

8. Negligences and ignorances. Forgetfulness, heedlessness, want of seriousness, frivolity. All these infirmities may be and are found in persons living consciously sinful lives, and in them of course they only serve to heighten transgression and hasten judgment; but they are also to be found in persons free from wilful sin, and such persons need not despond, or be miserable on account of failings which in them are not destructive of faith or incompatible with grace. Who these are is only known for certain by God. He is able, amid the maze of contending motives and principles within us, to trace out the perfect work of righteousness steadily going on there, and the rudiments of a new world rising from out the chaos. He can discriminate between what is habitual and what is accidental; what is on the growth and what is in decay; what is a result and what is indeterminate; what is of us and what is in us. He estimates the difference between a will that is honestly devoted to Him, and one that is insincere. And where there is a willing mind He accepts it, “according to that a man hath, and net according to that he hath not.” In those whose wills are holy He is present for sanctification and acceptance; and, like the sun’s beams in some cave of the earth, His grace sheds light on every side, and consumes all mists and vapours as they rise. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

Involuntary transgression

The soul of man is intended to be a well-ordered polity, in which there are many powers and faculties, and each has its due place; and for these to exceed their limits is sin; yet they cannot he kept within them except by being governed, and we are unequal to this task of governing ourselves except after long habit. While we are learning to govern ourselves we are constantly exposed to the risk, or rather to the occurrence of numberless failures. We have failures by the “way though we triumph in the end; and thus the process of learning to obey God is, in one sense, a process of sinning, from the nature of the case. We are feeble-minded, excitable, effeminate, wayward, irritable, changeable, miserable. We have no lord over us, because we are but partially subject to the dominion of the true King of saints. Let us try to do right as much as we will, let us pray as earnestly, yet we do not, in a time of trial, come up even to our own notions of perfection, or rather we fall quite short of them, and do, perhaps, just the reverse of what we had hoped to do. While there is no external temptation present, our passions sleep, and we think all is well. Then we think and reflect and resolve what we will do; and we anticipate no difficulty in doing it. But when the temptation is come, where are we then? We are like Daniel in the lion’s den; and our passions are the lions; except that we have not Daniel’s grace to prevail with God for the shutting of the lions’ mouths lest they devour us. Then our reason is but like the miserable keeper of wild beasts, who in ordinary seasons is equal to them, but not when they are excited. Alas! Whatever the affection of mind may be, how miserable it is! It may be a dull, heavy sloth, or cowardice, which throws its huge limbs around us, binds us close, oppresses our breath, and makes us despise ourselves, while we are impotent to resist it; or it may be anger, or other baser passion, which, for the moment, escapes from our control after its prey, to our horror and our disgrace; but anyhow, what a miserable den of brute creatures does the soul then become, and we at the moment literally unable to help it! I am not, of course, speaking of deeds of evil, the fruits of wilfulness, malice, or revenge, or uncleanness, or intemperance, or violence, or robbery, or fraud; alas! the sinful heart often goes on to commit sins which hide from it at once the light of God’s countenance; but I am supposing what was Eve’s case, when she looked at the tree and saw that the fruit was good, but before she plucked it, when lust had conceived and was bringing forth sin, but ere sin was finished and had brought forth death. I am supposing that we do not exceed so far as to estrange God from us; that He mercifully, chains the lions at our cry, before they do more than frighten us by their moanings or their roar, before they fall on us to destroy us: yet at best, what misery, what pollution, what sacrilege, what a chaos is there then in that consecrated spot which is the temple of the Holy Ghost! How is it that the lamp of God does not go out in it at once, when the whole soul seems tending to hell, and hope is almost gone? Wonderful mercy indeed it is which bears so much! Incomprehensible patience in the Holy One, so to dwell, in such a wilderness, with the wild beasts! Exceeding and Divine virtue in the grace given us, that it is not stifled! Yet such is the promise, not to those who sin contentedly after they have received grace; there is no hope while they so sin; but where sin is not part of a course, while it is still sin, whether sin of our birth, or of habit’s formed long ago, or of want of self-command, which we are trying to gain, God mercifully allows and pardons it, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from it all … To know thus much, that infirmities are no necessary mark of reprobation, that God’s elect have infirmities, and that our own sins may possibly be no more than infirmities, this, surely, by itself, is a consolation. And to reflect that at least God continues us visibly in His Church; that He does not withdraw from us the ordinances of grace; that He gives us means of instruction, patterns of holiness, religious guidance, good books; that He allows us to frequent His house, and to present ourselves before Him in prayer and Holy Communion; that He gives us opportunities of private prayer; that He has given us a care for our souls; an anxiety to secure their salvation; a desire to be more strict and conscientious, more simple in faith, more full of love than we are; all this will tend to soothe and encourage, us when the sense of our infirmities makes us afraid. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

The traitor within

A garrison is not free from danger while it has an enemy lodged within. You may bolt all your doors and fasten all your windows; but if the thieves have placed even a little child within doors, who can draw the bolts for them, the house is still unprotected. All the sea outside a ship cannot do it damage till the water enters within and fills the hold. Hence, it is clear, our greatest danger is from within. All the devils in hell and tempters on earth could do us no injury if there were no corruption in our nature. The sparks will fall harmlessly if there is no tinder. Alas, our heart is our greatest enemy: this is the little home-born thief. Lord, save me from that evil man, myself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Continuance of natural depravity in Christians

In material fruit-trees the sour nature of the wild plants that are grafted upon still continues in the stock or root, and is not taken away by ingrafting; it is only restrained and kept under by the graft. The nature of the graft is predominant in the tree, and overrules in bringing forth fruits according to its own kind (although with some small degree of the sour nature of the stock mixed with it), and the two natures of the graft and stock continue mixed together as long as the tree lives. This is a similitude of the state of mystical fruit-trees, and shadows forth to us this proposition: That corrupt nature abides in believers as long as they live, and is but in part subdued by grace. We find by experience that after plant is ingrafted, both the graft and the stock will shoot forth, and if the graft grow vigorously and strongly, then the shoots of the stock are but weak; but if the shoots of the stock break out strongly then the graft grows but weakly; therefore the husbandman takes pains often to cut off the shoots that grow upon the stock, so that the graft may grow the better. This is another similitude of the state of mystical fruit-trees, and shadows forth to us this proposition: That while the spiritual part in us acts and grows strongly, the fleshly part acts but weakly; so also, if the flesh be strong, the spirit is weak. This should teach us often to take notice of the actings of our spirits, whether the stock or the graft bud the faster. If we were watchful daily, and took pains with our spirits to keep them up in a spiritual frame in communion with God, then (by degrees) the shoots and growths of the spiritual part would become strong, and the shoots of the flesh weak and feeble. (Austen.)

The Christian’s conflicts

The conflicts of the Christian, “the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh,” continue to the end of life, and may be compared to a conflagration which is opposed by engines, where the supply of water is scarcely equal to the demand, and not incessantly followed up. Sometimes the fire yields to the well-directed stream, and at other times it breaks forth with renewed fury, and seems to defy the efforts of those who would arrest its progress. (H. G. Salter.)

The believer’s struggle

The spirit and the flesh, grace and nature, heavenly and earthly influences, are sometimes so fairly balanced, that, like a ship with wind and tide acting on her with equal power but in opposite directions, the believer makes no progress in the Divine life. He loses headway. He does not become worse, but he grows no better; and it is all he can do to hold his own. Sometimes, indeed, he loses ground, falling into old sins. Temptation comes like a roaring sea-squall, and, finding him asleep at his post, drives him backward on his course; and, further now from heaven than once he was, he has to pray: Heal my backsliding, renew me graciously, love me freely. For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Conflict and conquest

I. The Fact Stated. “The flesh,” etc. Remnants of indwelling sin remain. “Flesh” does not mean “sinews,” “fibres,” etc., but carnal propensities. Fact stated shared by apostles. They no exception to general rule. Not by nature more saintly than ourselves. Indwelling sin affects all. Sinners not perfected in holiness here. Why?

1. To make us watchful. Common idea, “way to heaven easy.” Nature of sin misunderstood, so that men fly to it as moths to candle. But saints are taught another lesson. Sin is a deadly enemy. Truth is known, “flesh lusteth,” etc. This keeps them alive, watchful, safe. Sleep is fatal. The story is told that Satan once summoned his angels to inquire what they had been doing. One said, “ I saw a company of Christians crossing the desert, and I let loose the winds of heaven, and their bones are bleaching in the sun.” “What of that?” said Satan; “perhaps their souls are saved.” Another said, I saw a ship with missionaries on board, going to a heathen land, and I raised a storm and drowned them all.” “What of that?” said Satan; “perhaps their souls are saved.” And then came forward a subtle spirit, who said, “For fifteen years I have been trying to lull an old Christian to sleep, and I have just succeeded.” Whereupon there arose a shout of triumph, the bells of hell rang for joy, and Satan spoke approvingly. So the old nature is never made better, but a new one added. Always an enemy within.

2. That we may never mistake the grounds of our salvation. Works have no meritorious part. All of grace. Beginning (1 Corinthians 15:8-9), ending (Philippians 1:6). But only failures teach this. Past sins like past gales to the seaman--forgotten. Present sickness, distress, make us cling to friends. So indwelling sin and conflict bring the saint close to Christ.

II. The attitude of indwelling sin. Not dead or restful, quiet or submissive. Romans 7:23-24, describes a deadly feud, very unlike common idea of personal depravity. Never feud more deadly, not even the Wars of the Roses or the Indian Mutiny. Its nearness makes it so. If distant, less painful, less distressing. Near. I would press this. Saints contest every step. Bunyan’s description of Apollyon’s conflict with Christian graphically describes the state. Weapons vary, but enemy never. Pride, anger, lust, sloth, despair (Ephesians 6:11) “lusteth.”

III. The conquest. “So that ye,” etc. Not the flesh hindering grace. Vice versa. What a mercy! Shout of victory always follows cry of battle. Gospel purposes not accomplished when men, even Christians, are stationary. More glorious. Rich become liberal, godless godly, etc. (1 Corinthians 6:11). Not preach defeat. “Greater is He that is,” etc. Are you ready to despair? Think of the issue. Not always slaves or prisoners. Deliverance. Wait as Wellington behind the lines of Tortes Vedras. So you behind the grace of God. Then go forth to victory. (H. T. Cavell.)

The struggle of the flesh and the spirit

It is on this passage we offer the following reflections:--

1. Paul regards all the events that constitute the general course of the world, whether of private history or of public affairs, as the works of the flesh. As water cannot rise beyond its spring, so neither can life rise beyond its origin and inspiration. The natural life of man is “ animal.” The awful catalogue which is given of the “works of the flesh” (verse 19) is a condensed history of the weed of mankind in all latitudes and in all ages. There is a close alliance between man and the animal races. In this state the gospel finds mankind.

2. They that lead this animal life, under whatever form of civilization or barbarism, “cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).

3. But God, in His mercy, has provided redemption for man from his fleshly or animal condition--from sin and its consequences--by the Incarnation of the Divine Word, by the sacrifice of the Cross, by the Resurrection of Christ, and by His new creating Spirit. Christ is the new Head of life for mankind--the second Adam. Those who are not born twice will die twice.

4. But God affords His Spirit of renovation to dwell with all believers. The Spirit originates a struggle of forces within the nature of a Christian, the issue of which, as with the unborn Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:22-23), is that the elder serves the younger, the newer vanquishes the older man--the wild and shaggy animal Nature is subdued in the Israel of God by the civilizing power of Divine grace. We are surrounded on all sides in the creation by the struggle of rival forces; gravitation and muscular power; the vital powers and the chemical laws; the opposing forces which combine to send the earth along its nearly circular orbit. But there is no struggle in physical nature half so interesting or half so glorious as this inward contest between the flesh and the spirit. It is emphatically a war between heaven and earth in the body and soul of man. The condition of the contest is that God by His Spirit supplies a new power in supplying a new life. It is the part of man, as a living and intelligent will, to yield to the inspirations of the new power and life, and so to overcome the works of the flesh. God does not operate irresistibly, as upon dead matter, but intellectually and spiritually, as upon honest mind. He “worketh in us to will and to do,” but we must “work out our own salvation.”

5. How does the Holy Spirit accomplish the work of renewal in the Divine image? As it were by infusing a new blood into the system--a new life. What is this life-blood? It is the truth of Christ. “Sanctify them by Thy truth” The old corrupt humanity is cut down. The new vine now bears fruit unto God, the “fruit of the spirit” of life in Christ Jesus. There is a new motive in life. God has become real, and near, and dear in Jesus Christ. Here are revealed the secrets of power, the mystery of that supernatural “life in Christ Jesus “ which begins in the gift of God, and repentance from dead works is strengthened by the assurance of salvation from sin already visible, and will be perfected in the resurrection. (Edward White.)

The conflict in man’s nature

The flesh represents, in St. Paul’s terminology, the whole brood of lower faculties, or that part of our nature which constitutes us animals; and the spirit represents manhood, or that whole class of faculties by which we are exalted into the higher sphere, by which we become sons of God. In a figurative way, he represents these two as in conflict. It is as if there were two bands of soldiers quartered in one tenement, having an upper and a lower storey. On the ground-floor is a company of brawling, drunken, unruly, brutal, cruel men; and in the story above them is a company of soldiers that are gentlemanly, and courteous, and humane, and well disciplined. And there are three states of affairs which may exist. The brawling soldiers below may govern the house; and then they will have hard times upstairs, for their supplies will be cut off, and they will starve. Or, a part of the time the gentlemen upstairs may govern the house, and part of the time the coarse brutal fellows downstairs may govern it; and then there will be a terrible conflict. And between the attempts of those upstairs to maintain discipline, and the attempts of those below stairs to break down discipline, the place will be a perfect pandemonium. There will be no peace there. They will be quarrelling perpetually. And so the animal nature and the manhood, in man, quarrel. Sometimes it is the lower nature that is in the ascendency; and then whatever things are above it--conscience, faith, hope, all spiritual tendencies, and all supernal tendencies--are at a discount. The upper part of the mind is starved out because of the absolute ascendency of the appetites and passions--of pride and selfishness, and envy and lusts, and all manner of evil feelings. Then, by and by, there is the second state--the state of resistance and conflict. The spirit wars against the flesh, and refuses to be in subjection to it. And while this war continues, sometimes one predominates and sometimes the other. The men upstairs to-day have the best of it, and the men downstairs tomorrow have the best of it. Nothing is settled, nothing is continuous; all is subject to chance. There is many a half-formed man who has no fixed habits of life, and in whom sometimes one part of his nature gets momentum and comes into the ascendency, and sometimes the other part. Sometimes those faculties which are seeking to do good govern, and sometimes those which are seeking to do evil govern. And to a greater or less extent there is a state of conflict between the upper and the lower nature, between the manhood and the animal, in everyone of us. Then comes that state in which, by the power of God’s Spirit, and by the discipline of life, complete ascendency is gained by our supersensuous nature. And all the other parts of our being “are brought into obedience,” as it is said, “to the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or, if you choose to follow out the psychological figure, the superior faculties in our souls assume control. And then there is peace. Then there is rest. (H. W. Beecher.)

Opposite tendencies of flesh and spirit

As a fair and gentle wife, starlike and dovelike, is given to the guardianship of some rude, coarse, uncultured nature, who treads among her sweet feelings as the hoof and the snout deal with flowers in the garden, so it is in this strange husband and wife, the body and the soul; the soul full of sweetness and gentleness, purity and delicacy, and the coarse animal body full of despotism, and swayings and conflicts of cruel passions; and they fare but ill in their wedded life on earth. The body looks down and searches the ground for its delights; the soul looks up, and, like an astronomer, culls treasures from among the stars, and beyond. The body eats and drinks; the soul thinks and feels. The body lives in the world, for the world, and with the world; the soul reaches far away to some higher life whose need it feels--but all is vague, but the wish, but the need. Strange visions rise; but neither to-day does the soul know its origin, nor to-morrow. The picture of beauty and of purity that rose bright in the morning has faded out before night. To-morrow mocks the expectation of to-day. The soul is like a bird caged from the nest, that yet remembers something of its fellows in the forest of green leaves, and in summer days hears snatches of song from far-off fields, and yearns, with all its little life, for that liberty which it has never proved, for that companionship which it so early missed, and for those songs which it never learned to utter, though it strives in broken notes for them-. Once some adventurous hunters, from a ledge of rocks, robbed an eagle’s nest of an eaglet. Brought home, he was reared among fowls, that he might perform domestic duty. As he grew, he grew apart from the children of the dunghill, and sat moody in sullen dignity. As his wings secretly grew strong, they were clipped. When on a summer’s day, wild in the heaven the hawk screamed, every fowl in the yard ran cowering to shelter; he, with flashing eye and discordant scream, reared himself to fly, but alas! he could not rise. He fell sick. He would have died, if he might. They let him alone. His pinions grew again. They forgot him. He forgot not. The sky was his. The great round of air, without line or bound, was his. And when, one neglectful summer day, all were dozing, from afar up in the sky--so far that none could see, or see only a floating speck--there came down a cry so faint that no ear might hear it-none but an eagle’s. Then, with sudden force, all its life beating in its breast, it sprang up. Away from the yard, its fowls, its owners, over the rick and over the barn, over the trees and over the hills, round and round in growing circles, beaten with growing power of wing, the freed eagle sought its fellow, and found its liberty right under the sun! And such, of many and many a soul, sad in bondage, valiant in liberty, has been the history. (H. W. Beecher.)

The two natures in a Christian

A Christian lives in two worlds at one and the same time--the world of flesh, and the world of spirit. It is possible to do both. There are certain dangerous gases, which from their weight fall to the lower part of the place where they are, making it destructive for a dog to enter, but safe for a man who holds his head erect. A Christian, as living in the world of flesh, is constantly passing through these. Let him keep his head erect in the spiritual world, and he is safe. He does this so long as the Son of God is the fountain whence he draws his inspiration, his motives, encouragement, and strength. (George Philip.)

Spiritual conflict

This is one of those many passages in the Bible which, from some causes or other, men have taken away from their first and proper and comforting sense, and invested with a dark and stern meaning. For most men, when they read these words--understand them to mean that, by reason of indwelling sin, “we cannot do the good things which we desire to do.” Whereas, the real intention of it is exactly the reverse--that by reason of “the good,” that is in us, “we cannot do the bad things,” which, nevertheless, we wish to do. That this is the chief and true signification, the whole line of thought proves. No one who knows anything of human nature, or of his own heart, can doubt, for a moment, that the ninth article of our Church is thoroughly and literally true, and that “the infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, phronema sarkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God.” Nay, many could give painful testimony that the more they have striven to do what is right, the more they have been dragged back again! that the stronger the light, the deeper has been the shadow! that the presence of God in them seemed to serve only to stir up the violence of the wicked one! The fact is that the process of sanctification, in a man, is not exactly what almost all of us beforehand thought it would be. It is not in the main that evil gradually ceases, and good gradually takes its place. It is not the extirpation of sin at all--but it is the subjugation of sin. The Philistines are yet in the land, in their strongholds, though the land belong to the people of God. I am not sure that what is wrong in a man is at all diminished by his sanctification. It is rather (if I may so call it) the increase of grace than the decrease of nature. Imaginations--the wicked desires--are all there; and there they are in their strength, their tremendous strength! Do not doubt it. They are there to the very end! Witness the falls, the awful falls of Christian men--long after their conversion! Witness the fearful struggles which we all have passed through sometimes! Sin lives a subject, a slave, a rebel--but Christ reigns! Ah! brethren, what if there were not something by reason of which “we could not do the things that we would?” This, then, brings us to the immediate force of St. Paul’s words. The way to subdue sin is to introduce a master-power. You will never actually destroy the wrong will; but you must neutralize it by another will. You must bring in, and cultivate, and enlarge the prohibitive and preventive forces of the heart, till at last you have come to the state that “you cannot do the things that you would.” Let us look at this a little in detail. I will take one of you who is still much too fond of the world. The world exercises a particular fascination over that man. He is probably ashamed of the influence; and yet he is unable to resist it. At last, the fact is certain, that he goes more into the world than is good for his soul; and he knows that he does. Now, what shall we say to that man? No man can really and honestly live higher than his level. While the level of your heart--its tastes, and pleasures, and ideas--is the level of the world, into the world, of course, you will go. It would not do much good--it would not make you a better Christian--if you kept out of it. What you want is to raise your level. You want to taste pure pleasures--to have a higher ambition--to pursue more satisfying objects to live in a holier atmosphere--to get into an upper range. How shall you do this? You must accept the love of God--you must have more peace--you must have more real communion with God--more of the spiritual life, with all its deep, absorbing influences--more of the fellowship with God’s people--more work done for usefulness, and for the Church, and for Christ. As soon as ever you reach that point, those lesser things will descend in the scale; they will not be congenial to the new life; they will become insipid; they will be actually distasteful. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The conflict of the Christian life

I. Its feature.

1. The flesh has its desires, so has the spirit as acted upon by the Spirit of God; and both are strong, contradictory, and antagonistic.

2. The struggle between the two is a matter of the commonest Christian experience.

3. The Divine nature is imparted to us with all its love and longing that the flesh with its lusts may be overcome.

4. The nobler shall be victor over the meaner.

II. Its purpose.

1. That the antagonism of righteousness and unrighteousness may work out the highest good and accomplish the destiny of the faithful.

2. To prevent the Christian life becoming one of impulse, merely the doing simply as we would because we will it.

3. To force on us the task of deliberation and wise resolve; to make us choose as well as will, and determine as well as choose, and thus--

4. To add the steadfastness of Christian purpose to the eagerness of Christian passion. (A. Mackennal, B. A.)

I. The flesh desires ease, and thus comes into collision with the spirit, which requires us to fight the good fight of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

II. The flesh desires excitement, whereas the spirit requires us to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

III. The flesh desires distinction, whereas the spirit’s injunction is to humility (Philippians 2:3-4; Matthew 20:26; Romans 12:10).

IV. The flesh desires to make self supreme, whereas the spirit desires to make God supreme. (W. Landells, D. D.)

There are eight main incom-modities which the soul hath cause to complain of in her conjunction with the body.

1. The defilement of original sin.

2. A proneness to actual sin.

3. The difficulty of doing well.

4. The dulness of our understanding in the things of God.

5. Perpetual self-conflict.

6. Racking solicitude of cares.

7. Multiplicity of passions.

8. Retardation of our glory. (Bishop Hall.)

We must fight the flesh

You that carry flesh and blood about with you, and sinful natures, and do perceive the conflicts of the flesh against the spirit, weigh with yourselves what it is the flesh conflicts with you for: it is no less than for the immortal soul, as the Apostle Peter tells you, “I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” The flesh aims to damn the soul. It is in this con, flict, as Caesar said in the battle he had once in Africa with the children and partakers of Pompey, that, in other battles, he was wont to fight for glory, but there and then he was obliged to fight for his life. Remember thy precious soul lies at stake in this conflict. (Christopher Lowe.)

Evil thoughts perilous

A gossamer thread is attached to an arrow, and shot through the air unseen, over an impassable chasm. Fixed on the other side it is sufficient to draw over a cord. The cord draws over a rope, the rope draws over a bridge, by which a highway is opened to all comers. Thus is the gulf passed that lies between the goodly character of a youth fresh from his father’s family, and the daring heights of iniquity on which veteran libertines stand. “Out of the heart,” said He who knows it, “proceed evil thoughts.” Yes, but what come out next? “Murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” A horrible gang. How quickly they come on. Once the fountain were cleansed, the streams of life would be pure. So thought David, when, in an agony of grief, he cried, “ Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (W. Arnot, D. D.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Galatians 5:17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/galatians-5.html. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit,.... By "flesh" is meant, not the carnal or literal sense of the Scripture, which is Origen's gloss, as militating against the spiritual sense of it; nor the sensual part of man rebelling against his rational powers; but the corruption of nature, which still is in regenerate persons: and is so called because it is propagated by carnal generation; has for its object carnal things; its lusts and works are fleshly; and though it has its seat in the heart, it shows itself in the flesh or members of the body, which are yielded as instruments of unrighteousness; and it makes and denominates men carnal, even believers themselves so far as it prevails: by "the Spirit" is meant the internal principle of grace in a regenerate man, and is so called from the author of it, the Spirit of God, whose name it bears, because it is his workmanship; and from the seat and subject of it, the soul or spirit of man; and from the nature of it, it is spiritual, a new heart and a new Spirit; its objects are spiritual, and it minds, savours, and delights in spiritual things: and the meaning of the lusting of the one against the other, for it is reciprocal, hence it follows,

and the Spirit against the flesh, is that the one wills, chooses, desires, and affects what is contrary to the other; so the flesh, or the old man, the carnal I, in regenerate persons, wills, chooses, desires, and loves carnal things, which are contrary to the Spirit or principle of grace in the soul; and on the other hand, the Spirit or the new man, the spiritual I, wills, chooses, desire, approves, and loves spiritual things, such as are contrary to corrupt nature; and this sense is strengthened by the Oriental versions. The Syriac version reads, "for the flesh desires that" דנכא, "which hurts", or is contrary to "the Spirit"; and "the Spirit desires that which hurts", or is contrary to the "flesh"; and much in the same way the Arabic version renders it, "for the flesh desires that which militates against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires that which militates against the flesh"; to which the Ethiopic version agrees, reading it thus, "for the flesh desires what the Spirit would not, and the Spirit desires what the flesh would not"; the reason whereof is suggested in the next clause:

and these are contrary the one to the other; as light and darkness, fire and water, or any two opposites can be thought to be; they are contrary in their nature, actings, and effects; there is not only a repugnancy to each other, but a continued war, conflict, and combat, is maintained between them; the flesh is the law in the members or force of sin, which wars against the spirit, the law in the mind, or the force and power of the principle of grace; these are the company of two armies, to be seen in the Shulamite, fighting one against the other. So the Jews sayF23Tzeror, Hammor, fol. 15. 3. of the good imagination, and of the evil one, by which they mean the same as here, that they are like Abraham and Lot; and that

"though they are brethren, joined in one body, זה לזה הם אויבים, "they are enemies to one another";'

hence it follows,

so that ye cannot do the good that ye would which may be understood both of evil things and of good things. The former seems to be chiefly the apostle's sense; since the whole of this text is a reason given why those who walk spiritually shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, because they have a powerful governing principle in them, the Spirit, or grace; which though the flesh lusts against, and opposes itself unto, yet that also rises up against the flesh, and often hinders it from doing the works and lusts of it. There is in regenerate men a propensity and inclination to sin, a carnal I, that wills and desires sin, and wishes for an opportunity to do it, which when it offers, the flesh strongly solicits to it; but the Spirit, or the internal principle of grace, opposes the motion; and like another Joseph says, how can I commit this great wickedness and sin against a God of so much love and grace? it is a voice behind and even in a believer, which, when he is tempted to turn to the right hand or the left, says, this is the way, walk in it, and will not suffer him to go into crooked paths with the workers of iniquity; and so sin cannot have the dominion over him, because he is under grace as a reigning principle; and the old man cannot do the evil things he would, being under the restraints of mighty grace. This is the apostle's principal sense, and best suits with his reasoning in the context; but inasmuch as the lusting and opposition of these two principles are mutual and reciprocal, the other sense may also be taken in; as that oftentimes, by reason of the prevalence of corrupt nature, and power of indwelling sin, a regenerate man does the evil he would not, and cannot do the good he would; for he would always do good and nothing else, and even as the angels do it in heaven; but he cannot, because of this opposite principle, the flesh.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/galatians-5.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

For the i flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

(i) For the flesh dwells even in the regenerated man, but the Spirit reigns, even though not without great strife, as is largely set forth in (Romans 7:1-25).
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/galatians-5.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

For — the reason why walking by the Spirit will exclude fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, namely, their mutual contrariety.

the Spirit — not “lusteth,” but “tendeth (or some such word is to be supplied) against the flesh.”

so that ye cannot do the things that ye would — The Spirit strives against the flesh and its evil influence; the flesh against the Spirit and His good influence, so that neither the one nor the other can be fully carried out into action. “But” (Galatians 5:18) where “the Spirit” prevails, the issue of the struggle no longer continues doubtful (Romans 7:15-20) [Bengel]. The Greek is, “that ye may not do the things that ye would.” “The flesh and Spirit are contrary one to the other,” so that you must distinguish what proceeds from the Spirit, and what from the flesh; and you must not fulfil what you desire according to the carnal self, but what the Spirit within you desires [Neander]. But the antithesis of Galatians 5:18 (“But,” etc.), where the conflict is decided, shows, I think, that here Galatians 5:17 contemplates the inability both for fully accomplishing the good we “would,” owing to the opposition of the flesh, and for doing the evil our flesh would desire, owing to the opposition of the Spirit in the awakened man (such as the Galatians are assumed to be), until we yield ourselves wholly by the Spirit to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:18).

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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/galatians-5.html. 1871-8.

Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh.
When Paul declares that "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," he means to say that we are not to think, speak or do the things to which the flesh incites us. "I know," he says, "that the flesh courts sin. The thing for you to do is to resist the flesh by the Spirit. But if you abandon the leadership of the Spirit for that of the flesh, you are going to fulfill the lust of the flesh and die in your sins."

And these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
These two leaders, the flesh and the Spirit, are bitter opponents. Of this opposition the Apostle writes in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into the captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

The scholastics are at a loss to understand this confession of Paul and feel obliged to save his honor. That the chosen vessel of Christ should have had the law of sin in his members seems to them incredible and absurd. They circumvent the plain-spoken statement of the Apostle by saying that he was speaking for the wicked. But the wicked never complain of inner conflicts, or of the captivity of sin. Sin has its unrestricted way with them. This is Paul's very own complaint and the identical complaint of all believers.

Paul never denied that he felt the lust of the flesh. It is likely that at times he felt even the stirrings of carnal lust, but there is no doubt that he quickly suppressed them. And if at any time he felt angry or impatient, he resisted these feelings by the Spirit. We are not going to stand by idly and see such a comforting statement as this explained away. The scholastics, monks, and others of their ilk fought only against carnal lust and were proud of a victory which they never obtained. In the meanwhile they harbored within their breasts pride, hatred, disdain, self-trust, contempt of the Word of God, disloyalty, blasphemy, and other lusts of the flesh. Against these sins they never fought because they never took them for sins.

Christ alone can supply us with perfect righteousness. Therefore we must always believe and always hope in Christ. "Whosoever believeth shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:33.)

Do not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you cannot make it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all things without interference on the part of the flesh is impossible. You are doing all you can if you resist the flesh and do not fulfill its demands.

When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: "You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing." If at that time I had understood this passage, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," I could have spared myself many a day of self- torment. I would have said to myself: "Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh."

I remember how Doctor Staupitz used to say to me: "I have promised God a thousand times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God is merciful to me for Christ's sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be able to stand before Him." His was a God-pleasing despair. No true believer trusts in his own righteousness, but says with David, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." (Psalm 143:2) Again, "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Psalm 130:3.)

No man is to despair of salvation just because he is aware of the lust of the flesh. Let him be aware of it so long as he does not yield to it. The passion of lust, wrath, and other vices may shake him, but they are not to get him down. Sin may assail him, but he is not to welcome it. Yes, the better Christian a man is, the more he will experience the heat of the conflict. This explains the many expressions of regret in the Psalms and in the entire Bible.

Everybody is to determine his peculiar weakness and guard against it. Watch and wrestle in spirit against your weakness. Even if you cannot completely overcome it, at least you ought to fight against it.

According to this description a saint is not one who is made of wood and never feels any lusts or desires of the flesh. A true saint confesses his righteousness and prays that his sins may be forgiven. The whole Church prays for the forgiveness of sins and confesses that it believes in the forgiveness of sins. If our antagonists would read the Scriptures they would soon discover that they cannot judge rightly of anything, either of sin or of holiness.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website
Bibliographical Information
Luther, Martin. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/mlg/galatians-5.html. Zondervan. Gand Rapids, MI. 1939.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Lusteth against (επιτυμει καταepithumei kata). Like a tug of war. This use of σαρχsarx as opposed to the Spirit (Holy Spirit) personifies σαρχsarx Lightfoot argues that επιτυμειepithumei cannot be used with the Spirit and so some other verb must be supplied for it. But that is wholly needless, for the verb, like επιτυμιαepithumia does not mean evil desire, but simply to long for. Christ and Satan long for the possession of the city of Man Soul as Bunyan shows.

Are contrary the one to the other (αλληλοις αντικειταιallēlois antikeitai). Are lined up in conflict, face to face (αντιanti̇), a spiritual duel (cf. Christ‘s temptations), with dative case of personal interest (αλληλοιςallēlois).

That ye may not do (ινα μη ποιητεhina mē poiēte). “That ye may not keep on doing” (present active subjunctive of ποιεωpoieō).

That ye would (α εαν τελητεha ean thelēte). “Whatever ye wish” (indefinite relative with εανean and present subjunctive).

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/galatians-5.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Are contrary ( ἀντίκειται )

The verb means to lie opposite to; hence to oppose, withstand. The sentence these - to the other is not parenthetical.

So that ( ἵνα )

Connect with these are contrary, etc. Ἵνα does not express result, but purpose, to the end that, - the purpose of the two contending desires. The intent of each principle in opposing the other is to prevent man's doing what the other principle moves him to do.

Cannot do ( μὴ ποιῆτε )

A mistake, growing out of the misinterpretation of ἵνα noted above. Rather, each works to the end that ye may not do, etc.

The things that ye would ( ἃ ἐὰν θέλητε )

The things which you will to do under the influence of either of the two contending principles. There is a mutual conflict of two powers. If one wills to do good, he is opposed by the flesh: if to do evil, by the Spirit.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/galatians-5.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

For the flesh desireth against the Spirit — Nature desires what is quite contrary to the Spirit of God.

But the Spirit against the flesh- — But the Holy Spirit on his part opposes your evil nature.

These are contrary to each other — The flesh and the Spirit; there can be no agreement between them.

That ye may not do the things which ye would- — That, being thus strengthened by the Spirit, ye may not fulfil the desire of the flesh, as otherwise ye would do.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/galatians-5.html. 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Плоть желает противного духу. Павел предупреждает их о предстоящих трудностях, дабы они знали: духовная победа не обретается без борьбы. Трудность происходит от того, что наша природа противится духу. В толковании на Послание к Римлянам мы уже говорили, что словом «плоть» означается человеческая природа. Ибо мнение софистов, ограничивающих «плоть» низшими чувствованиями, опровергается многими местами из Писания. А приведенное апостолом противопоставление устраняет все сомнения. Ибо Дух означает здесь преображенную природу или благодать возрождения. Итак, что же еще означает плоть, кроме ветхого человека? Поелику вся человеческая природа враждебна и непокорна Духу Божию, следует прилагать усилия и серьезно бороться против плоти. Кроме того, нам должна быть дана сила повиноваться Духу. Поэтому начинать следует с отречения от самого себя. Здесь мы видим, как «хвалит» Бог нашу природу, говоря, что она не больше подходит праведности, чем огонь подходит воде. Какую же теперь каплю блага можно найти в свободной воле? Если только не назвать благом то, что противно божественному Духу. Это же апостол говорит в Послании к Римлянам, 8:7: плотские помышления суть вражда против Бога.

Что хотели бы. Это без сомнения относится к возрожденным. Ибо у плотских не происходит никакой борьбы с превратными вожделениями. В них нет никакого правого желания, воздыхающего по праведности Божией. Так что Павел обращается к верующим, где слово «хотеть» следует относить не к склонности природы, а к святым пожеланиям, которые Бог внушает нам по Своей благодати. Итак, Павел объявляет, что верные, как бы ни старались, не могут добиться того, чтобы в этой жизни служить Богу в совершенстве. Они желают и стремятся к этому, но не полностью обретают желаемое. Об этом подробнее говорится в Послании к Римлянам, 7:15.

 

 

 

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/galatians-5.html. 1840-57.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

THE CONFLICT WITH SIN

‘For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’

Galatians 5:17

Whoever knows anything of the nature of his own heart would expect that the presence and the claim of good would immediately stir up the opposition and the virulence of evil. The fact is, that until there is some good, there can be no conflict at all. The conflict is not an accident, but a necessity—not exceptional in your case, but an universal rule, that it is the very condition of a Christian’s calling, and a part of the Christian’s inheritance; it is the badge of discipleship, it is the fellowship of Jesus.

I. In this warfare, there is, at least for a long time, a singular balance. Look, for instance, at the exact intention of the text, ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh’—i.e. the natural or carnal part of a renewed man puts forth strong desires against the spiritual part, and the spiritual part puts forth strong desires against the natural and carnal part—and ‘these are contrary’—lie, as the original Greek word is—‘lie over against the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’ Which way? Cannot do the good things you would, because of the carnal part? Or, cannot do the evil things you would, because of the spiritual part? Which? Certainly both. Chiefly the latter. Do not extenuate the sin because of the grace, and do not disparage the grace because of the sin.

II. A double danger.—Here lies a double danger, and the path runs narrow between two precipices. A few say very presumptuously, and with awful speciousness, ‘Because of the grace that is in me, I am no longer a sinner; I must not pray as a sinner, I must not feel as a sinner.’ Very many more, with a most unfilial timidity, and a most unscriptural reason, say, ‘Because I have so much sin in me, there can be no grace; I cannot believe that, being what I find myself, I am a child of God.’ Admit both, confess to both, act upon both. There is a side—oh, how dark!—all blackness. That is earth’s side. Now turn the portrait, and see it under the falling of another light. ‘He that is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.’ Christ in me—and that Christ in me is my being, I own no other, ‘Christ in me the hope of glory.’ He stands very near, in Whom that warfare of yours is even now accomplished, and He says, ‘Be thou faithful unto the death, and I will give thee a crown of life!’

Rev. James Vaughan.

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/galatians-5.html. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

Ver. 17. For the flesh lusteth] Every new man is two men. What can a man see in the Shulamite, but as the appearance of two armies? Song of Solomon 6:13. These maintain civil broils within her, as the two babes did in Rebecea’s womb. All was jolly quiet at Ephesus, till Paul came thither; but then there arose no small stir about that way, Acts 19:23. So is there in the good soul.

So that ye cannot do the things, &c.] As ye cannot do the good that ye would, because of the flesh, {Romans 7:21, something lay at the fountain head, and stop it} so neither can ye do the evil that ye would, because of the Spirit. In which respect, setting the ingratitude aside, the sins of godly men are less than others, because the flesh cannot carry it without some counterbuffs.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/galatians-5.html. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Galatians 5:17

The Conflict of the Christian Life.

Observe:—

I. The nature of the conflict. The struggle of the watchful, ever-lusting flesh against the spirit is a matter of the commonest Christian experience. The sense of obligation rouses the spirit of revolt; the knowledge that a thing is forbidden makes us covet it the more. But is it not also a matter of Christian experience that the spirit lusteth against the flesh? Victories that have not been secured by many an hour of thought and watching have been made ours in a flush of enthusiasm. The revolt against command is checked by the passion for submission. They are not altogether sad words in our text, "Ye cannot do the things that ye would," for again and again, when men have resolved upon some wickedness, when they have silenced their scruples and put down conscience, even in the act of executing their sinful purpose, the unquenchable spirit has been known to speak, making them ashamed of their baseness and folly, sending them fleeing from their sin to their Saviour.

II. The purpose of the conflict. Our text is one of those passages on which much light has been thrown by the progress of Greek scholarship since the translation of the Bible into English. Almost all the best commentators are agreed that it should be rendered, not "so that ye cannot," but "in order that ye may not," do the things that ye would. The conjunction is one most forcibly expressive of design; the opposition between the flesh and the spirit is intended by God. He permits the flesh to lust against the spirit; He inspires the lust of the spirit against the flesh, in order that we may not do whatever we may wish, and simply because we wish it. The victory God is giving us is not of reason over natural temperament nor of heart over head; it is the victory of the spirit over the flesh. The new Divine nature, having subdued all lustfulness, reigns supreme by heart and head, by sanctity of thought and impulse, of passion and resolve.

A. Mackennal, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 264.


There are three senses in which these words may be taken (1) They may mean generally, There is a spirit in you ruling your whole mind and being; and to the sovereign power of that spirit you are in all things only a passive subject, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would; or (2) we may use them for humiliation and admonition. The nature which still remains in you is too strong to let you live up to all your higher aspirations: "so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Or (3) if you are a child of God, a Spirit, a Holy Ghost, is in you, and the Spirit is too active and too strong to suffer you to follow your own worst will, so that, though you wish it, you cannot do the things that you would. I believe the last to be the true construing.

I. No one who knows anything of human nature or of his own heart can doubt for a moment that the ninth article of our Church is thoroughly and literally true, and that "the infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek phronema sarkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God." The process of sanctification is not the extirpation of sin at all; it is the subjugation of sin. The Philistines are yet in the land, in their strongholds, though the land belong to the people of God.

II. The way to subdue sin is to introduce a master power. You will never actually destroy the wrong will; but you must neutralise it by another will. You must bring in and cultivate and enlarge the prohibitive and the preventive forces of the heart, till at last you would come to the state that "ye cannot do the things that ye would."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 212.


References: Galatians 5:17.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 754; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 259; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 601; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 360. Galatians 5:18.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 252. Galatians 5:20.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 10. Galatians 5:22.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 94; vol. iv., p. 124; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1582; vol. xxx., No. 1782; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 313; vol. xxxvi., p. 309; J. N. Norton, The King's Ferry Boat, p. 15.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/galatians-5.html.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Galatians 5:17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, &c.— As it is plain that by the flesh, which is the same with what the Apostle calls the body of sin and the old man (Romans 6:6.), we are to understand that natural corruption and depravity which is the ruling principle in a state of nature: so by the Spirit, which is here set in opposition to it, and is elsewhere expressed by the new man that is put on by such as are renewed in the Spirit of their mind (Ephesians 4:23-24.), we are to understand that supernatural principle of grace which is imparted from above to the renewed soul, to overcome the passions of the carnal mind, to set us free from the dominion of our lusts, and to inspire us with a love to holiness; which divine and heavenly principle being communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, has frequently the title of the Spirit given to it, as it is plainly the effect and fruit of it; for that which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit (John 3:6.).—And there is such a contrariety in these two principles, that, where they exist together, they are continually opposing one another in their desires and tendency; so that (as the Apostle adds) ye do not the things that ye would, (for so it is expressed in the original, and not, ye cannot do, &c.) ye do them not without doing violence to the opposite principle which would be drawing you another

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/galatians-5.html. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

These words are brought in as a special reason why Christians should walk in the Spirit, that is, after the motions and guidance of God's Holy Spirit: because otherwise the flesh will quickly prevail over them; for the flesh is continually lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; that is, the evil inclinations of corrupt nature are continually struggling with, and striving against, the good motions which the Holy Spirit of God stirreth up in us. And in like manner the Spirit, or renewed nature, opposes the motions of corrupt nature: for these two principles are contrary the one to the other; so that ye who are led by the Spirit, cannot act (with deliberation and consent) according to the flesh; nor can they that are led by the flesh, do the things which delight the Spirit.

Learn hence, 1. That there is a diversity of principles in a Christian flesh and spirit; there is a good principle, called spirit, because the Spirit of God is the author of it; and a bad principle in us, which is called flesh, by which we are inclined to that which is evil. This is called flesh, to denote its intimacy with us; it is as near to us as our flesh, to denote its nearness to us; it is as dear to us as our own flesh, as dear as a right hand or right eye; and to denote its continuance with us, as long as we carry flesh about us, so long will this principle of corrupt nature remain in us and continue with us.

Learn, 2. That the motions and inclinations in our nature to sin, do ever conflict and combat with, oppose and war against the motions of God's Holy Spirit, exciting and inclining us to good: though contraries cannot be together in the same subject in an intense, yet they may be together in a remiss, degree.

Learn, 3. The consequence and issue of this combat: We cannot do the things that we would, nor any thing as we would; we cannot perform any holy duty perfectly in this life. As soon may an imperfect father beget a perfect child, as we, in our state of imperfection, perform any duty free from sin.

O, what need, what great need then, have the best of saints of the mediation and intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ, when they present any performed duty unto God!

And what need also to watch our own hearts when we are upon our knees, to fortify them against the incursions and disturbances of the flesh; seeing, after all our care and vigilance in duty, we can none of us do the things that we would, nor any thing as we should!

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/galatians-5.html. 1700-1703.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

17.] Substantiation of the preceding,—that if ye walk by the Spirit, ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. The second γάρ (see var. readd.) gives a reason for the continual ἐπιθυμεῖν of these two against one another: viz., that they are opposites.

ἵνα] not ‘so that:’—this is the result: but more is expressed by ἵνα. Winer gives the meaning well: “Atque hujus luctæ hoc est consilium, ut &c. Scil. τὸ πν. impedit vos, quo minus perficiatis τὰ τῆς σαρκός (ea, quæ ἡ σάρξ perficere cupit), contra ἡ σάρξ adversatur vobis ubi τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος peragere studetis;” and Bengel: “Spiritus obnititur carni et actioni malæ: caro, Spiritui et action! bonæ, ut ( ἵνα) neque illa neque hæc peragatur.” The necessity of supposing an ecbatic meaning for ἵνα in theology is obviated by remembering, that with God, results are all purposed.

See this verse expanded in Romans 7:8. as above: in Romans 7:20 we have nearly the same words, and the same construction.

It is true that θέλειν there applies only to one side, the better will, striving after good: whereas here it must be taken ‘sensu communi,’ for ‘will’ in general, to whichever way inclined. So that our verse requires expansion, both in the direction of Romans 7:15-20,—and in the other direction, οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω (after the natural man) ποιῶ κακόν· ἀλλʼ ὃ οὐ θέλω ἀγαθόν, τοῦτο ποιῶ,—to make it logically complete.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/galatians-5.html. 1863-1878.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

DISCOURSE: 2083

THE PRINCIPLES OF FLESH AND SPIRIT CONSIDERED

Galatians 5:17. The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

IT might be naturally imagined, that, from the moment of our conversion to God, the transformation of the soul into the Divine image should proceed so rapidly, as soon to extirpate sin altogether. But God has not seen fit so to carry on his work in his people’s hearts. The Canaanites were not rooted out of the land at once, but “by little and little [Note: Deuteronomy 7:22. with Numb. 23:55.]:” and so it is with our spiritual enemies: they have strong-holds, from which they cannot be expelled, but by means of a long-protracted warfare. They remain, to be “thorns in our eyes and in our sides;” and ultimately in a more conspicuous manner to subserve the glory of God in their final extirpation. The best of men have yet within them two contrary and contending principles; the one being used by Satan as an instrument for the defeating of God’s gracious purposes towards them; the other being employed by God for the furthering and securing of their eternal welfare. To what an extent the conflict between the two is sometimes carried, may be seen in the Galatian converts, many of whom betrayed by their contentious dispositions how great an ascendant the evil principle yet retained over them, notwithstanding all the professions of piety which they made, and the distinguished advantages they enjoyed. The Apostle did not mean to extenuate, and much less to excuse, the sinfulness of their instable and contentious conduct; but he exhorts them to walk more entirely under the influence of the Holy Spirit, as the only means of securing them against the evil propensities which they had manifested, and of carrying on unto perfection the good work that had been begun in them [Note: ver. 16.].

In speaking of the two principles mentioned in our text, we shall notice,

I. Their united existence—

There yet remains in God’s people an evil principle, which is here designated by the name of “flesh”—

[Man, since the fall of our first parents, is born into the world a corrupt creature: for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” He is depraved in all the members of his body, and in all the faculties of his soul: there is no part which is not defiled and debased by sin; the understanding is become dark; the will perverse; the affections sensual; the conscience seared; the memory retentive only of things that are gratifying to the carnal mind. However this depravity may be checked by grace, it is not extirpated: it remains like the infection in the leprous house, and will remain till the house itself is levelled with the ground.]

But there is also in them a new heaven-born principle, which is called “spirit”—

[This is spoken of by our blessed Lord as contradistinguished from the other, and in precisely the same terms: “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit [Note: John 3:6.].” Under the term “flesh,” he includes all that we bring into the world with us, and all that characterizes us as men: but the “spirit” is that which makes and designates us new men, or “new creatures in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, it is called “the new man,” as the other is “the old man;” and is “a renewal in the spirit of our mind,” after the “very image of our God, in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.].” This new principle is infused into the soul at the time of our regeneration; and it is, if I may so speak, the seminal principle of our conversion. At the instant of its infusion into the soul, we are “quickened from the dead,” and “pass from death unto life.” Previously to the communication of it to us from above, we are like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision: we may have the form of men, but we are not living men: it is not till we have received that, that “Christ liveth in us;” but then “Christ himself becomes our life [Note: Galatians 2:20; Galatians 4:19 and Colossians 3:4.].” Now this principle co-exists with the former: it does not at once expel the former; nor is itself barred out by the former: but it enters into, and occupies, the whole man, even as the former did; and, according to the measure in which it is imparted, it communicates light to the understanding, submission to the will, heavenliness to the affections, tenderness to the conscience, and to the memory a tenacious apprehension of all that is good. From the time of its existence in the soul, it becomes a second self, a spiritual self as distinguished from the carnal self; agreeably to what the Apostle has repeatedly said for the purpose of distinguishing the more fully the actings of the two contrary principles: “It is no more I that do this evil, but sin that dwelleth in me [Note: Romans 7:17; Romans 7:20.].”]

Both these principles being strong and active in the soul, we will consider,

II. Their contrary operations—

The flesh is always striving to regain its former ascendency over us—

[The members of our bodies are but its agents and instruments: the chief seat of its residence is the soul; in every faculty of which it works, to “bring forth fruit unto death.” In the understanding, it suggests proud reasonings against the revealed will of God, prompting us to dispute the authority of his precepts, the truth of his promises, the justice of his threatenings, and the wisdom of that mysterious plan of redemption which he has devised for the recovery of fallen man. In the will, it stirs up rebellion against him, and a determination to follow “its own corrupt and deceitful lusts.” In the affections, it magnifies the things of time and sense, so as to make them, if not the only, at least the chief, objects of its pursuit. In the conscience, it produces such blindness and partiality, as to force from it a sentence of condemnation or acquittal, not according to truth, but according to its own predominant habits and inclinations. Nor does the memory escape its baneful influence, being filled by it with all manner of corrupt images, which from time to time it presents to the imagination, as the means of corrupting the heart, and enslaving the soul.

The better principle, on the other hand, protests against all the workings of the flesh, and presents to the mind such considerations as are calculated to awaken the tempted soul to a sense of its guilt and danger. Especially it reminds the soul of the obligations it owes to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ for all the wonders of redeeming love; and provokes it to high and heavenly pursuits. What is said of the Holy Spirit may also be said of this divine principle which is formed in the soul; namely, that “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit lifts up a standard against him.” The standard of the cross especially is that by which it calls forth into activity all the powers of the soul, and unites them in the service of their God. The reflux of a tide may not unfitly illustrate its operation on the soul. The flesh, like a majestic river, runs with irresistible impetuosity towards the ocean, till the tide begins to flow; and then, from an invisible but mighty influence, its waves are staid, till by degrees its current is turned back again towards the source from whence it emanated. This in the material world is but the process of a few hours; but in the spiritual world it is the work of the whole life. The dominance of the flesh is exhibited in the progress of the river to the ocean; the conflicts and triumphs of the spirit are depicted in the reversal of its course, and the progress towards the fountain-head.]

In this however the illustration fails, that when the tide has once overcome the resistance of the river, the conflict ceases: but it is not so with the Christian’s conflicts: they continue to the end; and may perhaps be better compared with a conflagration which is opposed by engines, where the supply of water is scarcely equal to the demand: sometimes the fire yields to the well-directed stream; and at other times it breaks forth with renewed fury, and seems to defy the efforts of those who would arrest its progress. This, I say, will place in the justest view the operations of the two principles within us, and enable us to comprehend,

III. Their combined effects—

Acting always in opposition the one to the other, they prevent us from following either to the extent that we should, if there were but one principle within us. Through the simultaneous actings of each,

1. We do not serve sin as we did

[We did follow it with constancy and alacrity, and without remorse. But not so now. The better principle will not admit of it. Like the angel that was sent to Balaam, it presents itself in our way to obstruct our course; and, if we overcome it on one occasion, it will meet us again, and renew its opposition till it has prevailed. Nor can we now so easily run into evil. Sin now appears to he sin, and consequently to be an object of aversion and dread: and, though its solicitations may prevail, we yield to them rather as a captive that is dragged against his will, than as persons following the bent and inclination of their own hearts. Now too we can no longer wipe our mouth, like the adulteress, and say, What evil have I done [Note: Proverbs 30:20.]? Remorse and shame are now the followers of transgression: and an evil thought now occasions more pain in the soul, than formerly the perpetration of the act. Thus the corrupt principle, though not extirpated, is obstructed, and ceases to maintain an undisputed sway.]

2. Nor do we serve God as we would

[The renewed soul pants after universal holiness: it would be pure as God is pure, and perfect as God is perfect. It would believe every word of God without the smallest hesitation or doubt: but unbelief creeps in, and weakens the energy of our faith. We would love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength; but the contracted soul cannot expand itself to the occasion. We would draw nigh to him in prayer and praise, and hold most intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son; but the heart “starts aside as a deceitful bow,” and, like a bird entangled in a snare, is incapable of executing its most ardent desires. In a word, the renewed soul would be satisfied with no exertions, however great; no services, however eminent; no enjoyment of God, however intimate: it aspires after absolute perfection, and a total transformation into the Divine image. But, alas! its attainments fall infinitely short of its desires, and it is constrained to cry, “O that I had wings like a dove! then would I flee away and be at rest!”

That this is no false representation of the Christian’s state, may be seen from the account which St. Paul himself gives of his own experience. Of the united existence of these two principles, and of their contrary operations within him, and of their combined effects, he speaks at large in the seventh chapter to the Romans: “He had a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which was in his members:” “When he would do good, evil was present with him;” so that “the good which he would, he did not, and the evil which he would not, that he did.” “To will indeed was present with him; but how to perform that which was good, he found not.” Hence, feeling himself like a poor captive chained to a putrid corpse, which he was compelled to drag about with him to the latest period of his existence, he brake forth into this mournful complaint, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death [Note: Romans 7:14-24.]?”]

From this subject we may draw many important lessons.—It is of use,

1. For instruction—

[How shall I know whether I am a Christian indeed? Shall I know it by a freedom from all anxieties, or by a deliverance from all sin? No; but by an earnest anxiety about the soul, and an incessant conflict with sin and Satan. A body, when dead, is insensible, whatever be the state to which it is reduced: and, if the soul be insensible of its state, it is a proof that it is dead also. A living soul trembles at the Divine judgments; labours to obtain a well-founded hope of peace with God; flees to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge, and cleaves to him with full purpose of heart. Being united unto Christ by faith, the believer enlists under his banners, and, as a good soldier, heartily engages in a conflict with all his enemies. Never for a moment will he turn his back; he may be wounded, but he will not yield; he may be beaten down, but he will rise again to renew the combat: he will never put off his armour, till he is crowned with victory, and beholds “Satan himself bruised under his feet.”

Now, if we will ascertain our real state before God, let us inquire, what we know of this spiritual warfare? Is it begun? Is it carried on vet daily? Are we like soldiers in a camp, watching with all care, withstanding firmly the assaults of our enemies, and in our turn vigorously pursuing them to their strong-holds, and suffering none to approach us with impunity? Yes, verily, if we are Christians indeed, we are “warring a good warfare,” and “fighting the good fight of faith.” There may be, as in earthly campaigns, short seasons of comparative ease: but if we truly belong to Christ, this is our one business, our one employment, to walk in the Spirit, and to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Galatians 5:24-25.].]

2. For consolation—

[No man can be engaged in this warfare without feeling deeply humbled on account of the strength and number of his corruptions. Many will be his sighs, his tears, his groans: yes, “even they who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even they will groan within themselves,” will “groan, I say, being burthened [Note: Romans 8:23.],” longing to get rid of their corruptions, and to have “mortality, with all its attendant evils, swallowed up of life [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:4.].” But, if sin be our burthen, it is at least a comfort to us to reflect, that we are enabled to feel it a burthen: for there was a time, when it was harboured and indulged without remorse. This too is a source of comfort, that, in this struggle within us, the younger shall prevail [Note: Genesis 25:23. Romans 5:12.]; “however sin may have abounded, grace shall much more abound; and as sin has formerly reigned unto death, so shall grace ultimately reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Romans 5:20-21.].” Doubtless the conflicts will be painful to flesh and blood: but by them shall the soul be trained for heaven, and be made “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” Go on then, stripling as thou art, believer, against the Goliath that menaces thy existence: and know that thou mayest enter into the combat, singing, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”]

3. For direction—

[Whatever your attainments be, “walk humbly with God.” Were you as perfect as Job, it would still become you, on account of your remaining corruptions, to acknowledge yourselves “vile,” and to “repent and abhor yourselves in dust and ashes.” — — — Be watchful too against your spiritual enemies. With hearts so deceitful and corrupt as yours, and in the midst of an ensnaring world, surrounded too by myriads of evil spirits, whose devices none but God can understand, how can you hope to maintain your steadfastness, if you stand not upon your watch-tower, and guard against every motion of your corrupt nature? — — — And never for a moment turn away your eyes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Where can you wash away your past iniquities, but in the fountain of his blood? Or where can you obtain grace sufficient for your daily necessities, but out of the fulness which is treasured up for you in him? — — — Lastly, continue instant in prayer. Nothing can come to you but in answer to prayer; (for “if you ask not, neither will you have;”) nor shall any thing be wanting to you, if only you ask it of God for Christ’s sake. Examine your own hearts, or inquire of others what their experience has been, and you will find it invariably true, that your victories or defeats have been proportioned to your urgency in prayer, or your remissness in that holy duty. As in the days of old, whilst Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed; but when his hands hanged down, success was transferred to Amalek; so it is in every age, with every saint. Watch therefore unto prayer; continue instant in prayer: “give unto your God no rest day or night:” plead with him: wrestle with him as Jacob did: and you shall find “your inward man renewed day by day,” till the work of grace that has been begun in you is perfected, and consummated in glory.]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/galatians-5.html. 1832.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Galatians 5:17. γὰρ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα κατὰ τ. σάρκος] The foregoing exhortation, with its promise, is elucidated by the remark that the flesh and the Spirit are contrary to one another in their desires, so that the two cannot together influence the conduct.

As here also τὸ πνεῦμα is not the moral nature of man (see on Galatians 5:16), but the Holy Spirit,(238) a comparison has to some extent incorrectly been made with the variance between the νοῦς and the σάρξ (Romans 7:18 ff.) in the still unregenerate man, in whom the moral will is subject to the flesh, along with its parallels in Greek and Roman authors (Xen. Cyr. vi. 1. 21; Arrian. Epict. ii. 26; Porphyr. de abst. i. 56; Cic. Tusc. ii. 21, et al.), and Rabbins (see Schoettgen, Hor. p. 1178 ff.). Here the subject spoken of is the conflict between the fleshly and the divine principle in the regenerate. The relation is therefore different, although the conflict in itself has some similarity. Bengel in the comparison cautiously adds, “quodammodo.”

ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντίκειται] As to the reading γάρ, see the critical notes. It introduces a pertinent further illustration of what has just been said. In order to obviate an alleged tautology, Rückert and Schott have placed ταῦτα γ. ἀλλ. ἀντίκ. in a parenthesis (see also Grotius), and taken it in the sense: “for they are in their nature opposed to one another.” A gratuitous insertion; in that case Paul must have written: φύσει γὰρ ταῦτα ἀλλ. ἀντίκ., for the bare ἀντίκειται after what precedes can only be understood as referring to the actually existing conflict.

ἵνα ΄ή κ. τ. λ.] is not (with Grotius, Semler, Moldenhauer, Rückert, and Schott) to be joined to the first half of the verse,—a connection which is forbidden by the right view of the ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλ. ἀντίκ. as not parenthetical—but to the latter. ἵνα expresses the purpose, and that not the purpose of God in the conflict mentioned—which, when the will is directed towards that which is good, would amount to an ungodly (immoral) purpose—but the purpose of those powers contending with one another in this conflict, in their mutual relation to the moral attitude of man’s will, which even in the regenerate may receive a twofold determination (comp. Weiss, bibl. Theol. p. 361 f.). In this conflict both have the purpose that the man should not do that very thing ( ταῦτα with emphasis) which in the respective cases ( ἄν) he would. If he would do what is good, the flesh, striving against the Spirit, is opposed to this; if he would do what is evil, the Spirit, striving against the flesh, is opposed to that. All the one-sided explanations of ἂν θέλητε, whether the words be referred to the moral will which is hindered by the flesh (Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Estius, Morus, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Usteri, Rückert, Schott, de Wette; also Baumgarten-Crusius, Holsten, and others), or to the sensual will, which is hindered by the Spirit (Chrysostom, Theodoret, Beza, Grotius, Neander),(239) are set aside by the fact that ἵνα μή κ. τ. λ. is connected with the preceding ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλ. ἀντίκ., and this comprehends the mutual conflict of two powers.(240) Winer has what is, on the whole, the correct interpretation: “ τὸ πνεῦμα impedit vos (rather impedire vos cupit), quo minus perficiatis τὰ τῆς σαρκός (ea, quae σὰρξ perficere cupit), contra σὰρξ adversatur vobis, ubi τὰ τοῦ πνεύ΄ατος peragere studetis;” and so in substance Ambrose, Oecumenius, Bengel, Zachariae, Koppe, Matthies, Reithmayr, and others; Wieseler most accurately. This more precise statement of the conflict ( ταῦτα ταῦτα ποιῆτε) might indeed in itself be dispensed with, since it was in substance already contained in the first half of the verse; but it bears the stamp of an emphatic and indeed solemn exposition, that it might be more carefully considered and laid to heart. In Hofmann’s view, ἵνα ΄ὴ κ. τ. λ. is intended to express, as the aim of the conflict, that the action of the Christian is not to be self-willed (“springing from himself in virtue of his own self-determination”); and this, because he cannot attain to rest otherwise than by allowing his conduct to be determined by the Spirit. But setting aside the fact that the latter idea is not to be found in the text, the conception of, and emphasis upon, the self-willed, which with the whole stress laid on the being self-determined would form the point of the thought, are arbitrarily introduced, just as if Paul had written: ἵνα μὴ ἂν αὐτοὶ (or αὐτοὶ ὑ΄εῖς, Romans 7:25, or αὐθαίρετοι, or αὐτογνώ΄ονες, αὐτόνο΄οι, αὐτόβουλοι, or the like).

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/galatians-5.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Galatians 5:17. τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα) and, on the other hand, the Spirit against the flesh. The word ἐπιθυμεῖ itself, or, inasmuch as that word is taken in a bad sense, another analogous to it [not lusteth, but desireth, tendeth] is to be supplied. There is certainly an elegance in the ellipsis or zeugma [use of ἐπιθυμεῖ in the double sense].— ἀντίκειται, are contrary) ἀντιπραγίᾳ, in a mutual serious contest.— ἂν, whatsoever) Carnal men do whatsoever they will; although sometimes the flesh wars with the flesh. In regard to those who repent, their condition is different, and that too a wonderful condition; for the Spirit strives against the flesh, and its bad course of action: the flesh against the Spirit, and its good course of action; so that ( ἵνα) neither the one nor the other can be fully carried out. In such a state, as being doubtful, many bad and many good actions are prevented; but where the Spirit conquers, Galatians 5:18, the issue of the conflict is decided. This more summary statement in some measure corresponds to those things, which are fully explained, Romans 7:14, etc.; although, in the present case, the state presupposed is rather one already spiritual.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/galatians-5.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

By the flesh and

the Spirit, we cannot so much understand the sensitive and rational appetite; for these two appetites are not so contrary, but that in many things they agree well enough; and we are enemies not only in our sensitive part, to spiritual things, but en th dianoia, in our mind and rational part also, Colossians 1:21. And some of the works of the flesh, which are afterward mentioned, Galatians 5:19-21, (such as idolatry, heresies, & c.), cannot be referred to the sensitive part. But by these terms are either to be understood the unregenerate part of man; or rather, that carnal concupiscence which we derived from Adam, and is seated in our rational as well as sensitive appetite; which opposeth itself to the Divine rule, and to the dictates and motions of the Spirit of God.

The flesh lusteth against the Spirit; this concupiscence moveth strongly against the directions of the Spirit.

And the Spirit against the flesh; and the Holy Spirit of God, dwelling in the saints, moveth us potently against the propensions and inclinations of the flesh.

And these are contrary the one to the other; for they are two contrary principles, and work contrarily in their motions and inclinations.

So that ye cannot do the things that ye would; so that even the best of God’s people cannot at all times do either what they should do, (according to the precept of the word), or what they would do, according to the bent of their regenerate part.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/galatians-5.html. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

друг другу противятся Плоть противится работе Духа и ведет верующего к греховному поведению, которое он совсем не желает (см. пояснения к Рим. 17:14-25).

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/galatians-5.html.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Lusteth against; strongly desires what the Holy Spirit forbids.

The Spirit against the flesh; the Holy Spirit and all that is right in Christians oppose the indulgence of sinful desires. Hence a warfare in the soul, and thus they do not the good they otherwise would, and which they desire to do. Compare Romans 7:15-25.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Family Bible New Testament". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/galatians-5.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

John Eadie's Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians

Galatians 5:17. ῾η γὰρ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα κατὰ τῆς σαρκός—“For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” The reason or ground of the previous statement is assigned- γάρ. The flesh and spirit are powers in one and the same person. The same verb ἐπιθυμεῖ, as a vox media, is used of both, to mark the reflex antagonism. There is no zeugma (Bengel), and no similar verb needs to be supplied, as is done by Prof. Lightfoot. The verb is often followed by the genitive, accusative, or infinitive; but here by κατά, as marking the direction of the ἐπιθυμία,-a hostile direction being implied- Matthew 10:35; Matthew 27:1; Acts 6:13; 1 Corinthians 4:6, etc.-though not overtly stated, as by ἀντί. The flesh longs and wrestles for its former predominance; it is ever in the position of lusting against the spirit, and the spirit is always and unweariedly beating back and resisting the impulses and yearnings of the flesh. According to Meyer, Wieseler, and others, it is wholly or partially wrong to compare this mutual struggle with that depicted in Romans 7 which in their opinion characterizes the unrenewed, as in such the struggle is between σάρξ and νοῦς. See Hodge in loc. Flesh and the spirit are ever so opposed, that to walk by the spirit is to preclude the fulfilment of the lust of the flesh. This inner warfare is not unknown to classical writers; it is in some aspects a matter of daily experience with all men. Euripides, Medea, 1077; Arrian, Epictetus, 2.26; Xenophon, Cyro. 6.1, 41; Cicero, Tusc. 2.21; Ovid, Metam. 7.19; Seneca, Ep. 25. See Wetstein in loc. and Schoettgen, vol. i. p. 1178.

ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντίκειται—“for these are opposed the one to the other.” The order of the Received Text is found only in K, L, א, some versions and fathers. But its δέ is supported by A, C, D3, K, L, א3, etc., and is accepted by Tischendorf, 7th ed.; while γάρ is found in B, D1, F, א1, the Latin versions and fathers, and is preferred by Lachmann. The evidence is pretty fairly balanced. But it may be said on one side, δέ may have been inserted by copyists to avoid the repetition of γάρ; on the other, that γάρ was inserted to prevent the repetition of δέ. The recurrence of δέ, however, would not be so strongly felt as that of γάρ, and would less likely lead to change; moreover, γάρ repeated is a characteristic of the apostle's style. Were the sentence a repetition of the preceding, δέ, as De Wette argues, would be the more appropriate; but it explains, or rather assigns a reason for the reciprocal hostility—“for they are contrary the one to the other.” The pronoun ταῦτα is not the τὸ ἐπιθυμεῖν τὴν σάρκα τὸ πνεῦμα (Baumgarten-Crusius, Gwynne), a mere truism, but πνεῦμα and σάρξ themselves. They maintain this reflex warfare, and they cannot coalesce, for they are contrary the one to the other. There is no use in making the clause an explanatory paraphrase (Rückert and Schott), and giving it this sense—“for they are in their nature opposed to one another.” But there is at the same time no tautology, and the apostle is describing an actual contest.

῞ινα μὴ ἃ ἂν θέλητε ταῦτα ποιῆτε—“that ye may not do those things whatsoever ye may wish.” For the use of ἄν, see Winer, § 42, 3, b; Kühner, § 428, a. ῞ινα is not to be explained ecbatically, or as denoting simply event- ὥστε μή, as in our version, “so that,” and by Luther, Usteri, Baumgarten-Crusius, De Wette, Bisping, Brown, Gwynne, Prof. Lightfoot, and several others. The conjunction is therefore to be taken in its full telic force-the constant mutual contest has this in view- ἵνα. The emphatic ἀλλήλοις of the previous clause governs the interpretation. On either side is the will influenced and counteracted. It is therefore one-sided, on the one part, to give this meaning only in reference to the second clause of the verse; that is, by the struggle of the spirit ye may not do what things your fleshly will would prompt you to do. Such is the view of Chrysostom—“that you may not permit the soul to proceed in its evil desires.” He is followed by Theodoret, OEcumenius in one of his explanations, Grotius, Beza, Bull, Neander. Though θέλω may refer to the carnal will in John 8:44 and in 1 Timothy 5:11, there is no reason to impose such a sense upon it in this place. Dr. Brown, in vindication of the same view, argues that the clause is an illustration of the statement, “If they walked by the spirit, they would not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” But this is to forget the vital connection of the two clauses. Bagge holds the same view, adding, “How any other sense than this is to be extracted from the words of the apostle, I do not comprehend.” And it is as one-sided, on the other part, to give the opposite meaning in sole reference to the first clause of the verse; that is, that by the struggle of the flesh ye may not do what the spirit prompts you to do. Such is the opinion of Luther, Calvin, Estius, Usteri, Schott, De Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Bisping, and virtually Prof. Lightfoot. θέλω points indeed, in Romans 7:15, etc., which Lightfoot calls “the parallel passage,” to the will in its direction toward good, as the context very plainly shows; but there is no such contextual guidance found in this place. Both these interpretations are therefore wrong; for the words are used of actual contest, not of decided mastery on either side. The phrase ἀλλήλοις ἀντίκειται describes not only actual antagonism, but undecided result. It is true in the case of all who are born again, that the conflict ends in the victory of the spirit; but the apostle here does not include the issue, he speaks only of the contest. So that the exegesis is preferable which includes both sides of the statement: “The spirit wrestles against your doing the things which ye would on the impulse of the flesh, and the flesh struggles against your doing the things which ye would on the impulse of the spirit.” In this case no inferred ethical notion is attached to θέλητε, and the clause describes the nature of the contest between the flesh and the spirit. Thus OEcumenius in one of his interpretations, Bengel, Meyer, and Winer, who has, scil. τὸ πν. impedit vos quo minus perficiatis τὰ τῆς σαρκός, contra ἡ σάρξ adversatur vobis ubi τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, peragere studetis. The idea of Wieseler is somewhat different, and amounts to this, that the man does not do the thing, τοῦτο, which in each particular case he would do. If he wills to do good, he cannot do it; if he wills to do evil, he cannot do it: whatever he does is in opposition to his will. But this view is too precise and definite for the more general picture which the apostle presents. Hofmann's notion is, that the object of the willing is not to be thought of, whether good, or bad, or both; but that, while the contest lasts, your deed is not one of your self-willing, and that when the contest ends, you come to peace when you walk by the Spirit of God. This is true; but it is rather an inference from the statement than a reproduction of the statement itself. The apostle depicts the inner warfare of renewed men, especially in the earlier stages of faith, when the old nature has not been beaten back and conquered, and the new nature has not risen up to the fulness of mastery-when the feebleness of a partial sanctification is unable to work out its purposes, through the many temptations and hindrances yet lurking in the heart. He states a general principle which every one acknowledges as verified in his own experience. The soul in which dwells the Spirit of God is unable to realize its own ideal on the one hand, though it is still approaching it; and on the other hand, it is kept not from sinning, but from falling into many sins to which the power of former habit most especially exposes it. The Galatians were in such a distressing condition at that moment, recurring at the same time to carnal ordinances instead of giving His own place and pre-eminence to the Spirit; going back from their higher experiences to lower and legal institutions. See under Galatians 3:3. Gwynne says somewhat inconsistently, that the experience of Galatians 5:17 is not “of the regenerate character;” but in whom else than a regenerate man does the Spirit of God so dwell? He admits that the experience of the persons spoken of, though it do not belong to the regenerate character, may apply to such as are “babes in Christ;” but the “babe” is surely the child of the new birth.

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Eadie, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". John Eadie's Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/jec/galatians-5.html.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

This verse does not present two natures fighting each other inside the Christian. The conflicting entities are God"s Holy Spirit within the believer and the believer"s sinful human nature (cf. Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:29; Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:22; Galatians 5:25; Romans 8:4-6; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:13). We experience conflict whether we side with the Spirit against the flesh or with the flesh against the Spirit. The "things that you please" may be good or evil. It is impossible for us to remain neutral; we either follow one or the other. Note, too, that we cannot blame Satan and his demons for all the conflicts we experience. Our own sinful nature is responsible for many of them.

"So long as we remain in this present life, we never outgrow or transcend the spiritual conflict Paul was describing in this passage. There is no spiritual technique or second blessing that can propel the believer onto a higher plane of Christian living where this battle must no longer be fought." [Note: George, pp387-88.]

The conflict described in this verse and in Galatians 5:16-23 is not the same as that presented in Romans 7:13-24. The opponents of the sinful nature are different. In Galatians it is the Holy Spirit, but in Romans it is the whole regenerated individual. The condition of the believer is also different. In Galatians Paul saw him as under law or grace, but in Romans he viewed him as under law only. Furthermore, the results of the conflict are different. In Galatians there may be defeat or victory, but in Romans defeat is inevitable. Finally, the nature of the conflict is different. In Galatians it is normal Christian experience, but in Romans it is abnormal. [Note: See Stanley D. Toussaint, "The Contrast between the Spiritual Conflict in Romans 7 and Galatians 5," Bibliotheca Sacra123:492 (October-December1966):310-14.]

The Christian"s Conflicts

Galatians 5:16-23

Romans 7:13-24

Opponent of flesh

The Holy Spirit

The reborn person

Condition of believer

Under law or grace

Under law

Result of conflict

Defeat or victory

Defeat

Nature of conflict

Normal Christian experience

Abnormal Christian experience

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/galatians-5.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Galatians 5:17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit (strives) against the flesh. There is a conflict between reason and appetite, between conscience and depravity, between the higher and lower aspirations, between heaven and hell, going on in every man who is roused to a sense of duty and responsibility; but this conflict becomes most serious under the awakening influence of the Holy Spirit (who is meant here), and results in the triumph of one principle and the defeat of the other. Comp. Romans 7:4 ff. ‘The strife of the Spirit against the flesh is an infallible token of regeneration and a state of grace, and is distinguished from the strife of the mere powers of reason in this that the former always wins the victory’ (Starke). ‘The state of the believer is conflict, but with final victory’ (Ellicott.) The natural man may acquire a Stoic virtue, and achieve a conquest over his lower appetites, but not over his pride, which rises all the more powerful on the ruin of vulgar passions.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/galatians-5.html. 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Galatians 5:17. . All the various motives which operate on the mind and will to prompt intention and action are comprehended under one of the two categories, spirit and flesh. The line of division between them corresponds to that drawn in 1 Corinthians 2:14 between the natural man ( ) and the spiritual. The spirit of man owes its original existence to the quickening inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and depends for its continued life on the constant supply of his life-giving power: its impulses are therefore purely spiritual. In the term flesh are included all other desires of the natural man, not only the appetites and passions which he inherits in common with the animal creation, but all the desires that he conceives for the satisfaction of heart or mind.— . This is a neutral term equally applicable to the good desires of the spirit and the evil lusts of the flesh. . . After the coexistence of two conflicting forces, spirit and flesh, in the heart of man has been definitely affirmed, it is here added that these are set (sc. by divine appointment) in mutual antagonism to each other for the express purpose of due control over the human will. Both alike derive their being from the same Creator, though one belongs to the natural, the other to the spiritual, creation: both alike continue by His will to fulfil their several parts in the scheme of Christian life. It is beside the purpose of the Epistle to analyse the functions of the flesh in the economy of nature, or to affirm the absolute dependence of the human will on the spontaneous action of its desires for vital force and energy: enough that by the will of God they too form an essential element in Christian life: the Epistle deals not with their beneficial action, but with their liability to perversion. For their indiscriminate craving for indulgence renders them constantly liable to become ministers of sin. The mind of the flesh, if left without a check, issues in enmity to God and death (cf.Romans 8:6-7). Wholesome restraint is therefore a condition essential to their healthy action. In every community this is to a certain extent provided by the discipline of education, by social order and law. But in true Christians a far more effective control is maintained by the spirit, since it is capable of combating every wrong desire within the heart before it issues in sinful action, and so by constantly checking any wrong indulgence it gradually neutralises the power of selfish appetites, and establishes an habitual supremacy over the whole mind and will, until in the ideal Christian it brings them into perfect harmony with the mind of Christ.

 

 

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/galatians-5.html. 1897-1910.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

So that you (1) do not the things that you would. He does not say, so that you cannot do, as others falsely translate; as if men were under an absolute necessity of sinning, or doing ill; which is also contradictory to the foregoing words, walk by the spirit, and you will not accomplish the works of the flesh. (Witham) --- Here some suppose, says St. Augustine, that the apostle denieth that we have free liberty of will: not understanding that this is said to them, if they will not hold fast the grace of faith conceived, by which only they can walk in the spirit, and not accomplish the lusts of the flesh. (St. Augustine, in chap. v. Gal.)

Ver 19-21. Uncleanness, immodesty, luxury. In the Greek there are but two vices named; luxury is not mentioned; and, perhaps, the Latin interpreter put two words to explain one Greek word. (Witham) --- St. Augustine here sheweth that there are other damnable sins besides infidelity.

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[BIBLIOGRAPHY]

Ita ut non quæcunque vultis, illa faciatis; Greek: ina me a an thelete tauta poiete. Dr. Wells, in his correction to the Protestant translation, leaves out cannot.

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/galatians-5.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

against. Greek. kata. App-104.

and. The texts read "for".

are contrary. Greek. antikeimai. See 2 Corinthians 16:9.

so that = in order that, Greek. hina.

cannot = may not (Greek. me).

would. Gr thelo. App-102.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/galatians-5.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

For - the reason why walking by the Spirit will exclude fulfilling the lasts of the flesh; namely, their mutual contrariety.

The Spirit - not "lusteth," but 'tendeth (or, some such word) against the flesh.'

So that ye cannot do (so as to be an obstacle to your doing) the things that ye would. The Spirit (in the beginning stage of one's repentance) strives against the flesh and its evil influence; the flesh against the Spirit and His good influence; so that neither the one nor the other can be fully carried out into action. "But" (Galatians 5:18) where "the Spirit" prevails, the struggle no longer continues doubtful (Romans 7:15-20). The Greek is, 'that ye may not do whatsoever things ye would.' 'The flesh and Spirit are contrary one to the other,' so that you must not fulfill what you desire according to the carnal self, but what the Spirit within you desires (Neander). But the antithesis of Galatians 5:18 ("But," etc.), where the conflict is decided, shows, I think, that Galatians 5:17 contemplates the inability both for fully accomplishing the good we "would," owing to the opposition of the flesh, and for doing the evil our flesh would desire, owing to the opposition of the Spirit in the awakened man (such as the Galatians are assumed to be), until we yield ourselves wholly by the Spirit to 'walk by the Spirit' (Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:18).

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/galatians-5.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(17) For the flesh . . .—In this verse we have brought out most distinctly the antithesis between the flesh and the Spirit, which is one of the root ideas in the psychology of St. Paul. It does not amount to dualism, for the body, as such, is not regarded as evil. There is nothing to show that St. Paul considered matter in itself evil. But the body becomes the seat of evil; from it arise those carnal impulses which are the origin of sin. And it is the body, looked at in this light, which is designated as “the flesh.” The flesh is the body, as animated by an evil principle. It thus becomes opposed to the good principle: whether the good principle in itself—the Spirit of God, or that organ in which the good principle resides—the spirit in man.

So that ye cannot do the things that ye would.—The opposition between the flesh and the Spirit, each pulling a different way, prevents the will from acting freely. For a full comment on this, see Romans 7:15-23; Romans 7:25.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/galatians-5.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
the flesh
Psalms 19:12,13; 51:1-5,10-12; 65:3; 119:5,20,24,25,32,35,40,133,159; Psalms 119:176; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 6:5; Matthew 16:17,23; 26:41; John 3:6; Romans 7:18,21-25; 8:5,6,13; James 4:5,6
and these
3:21; Matthew 12:30; Romans 7:7,8,10-14; 8:5-8
so
Psalms 119:4-6; 130:3; Matthew 5:6; Luke 22:33,46,54-61; Romans 7:15-23; Philippians 3:12-16; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8-10
Reciprocal: Genesis 6:3 - My;  Numbers 4:23 - to perform the service;  2 Samuel 3:1 - between;  Song of Solomon 6:13 - two armies;  Matthew 7:18 - cannot;  Mark 14:38 - The spirit;  Romans 7:5 - in the flesh;  Romans 7:23 - another;  Romans 7:25 - So then;  Romans 13:14 - and;  Galatians 5:19 - the works;  James 4:1 - in;  1 Peter 2:11 - war;  1 John 2:16 - the lust of the flesh;  1 John 3:9 - and he

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/galatians-5.html.

Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible

Galatians 5:17

"For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh—and these are contrary the one to the other—so that you cannot do the things that you would." Galatians 5:17

The Holy Spirit is especially tender of his own work upon the soul. He originally formed it—it is his own spiritual offspring; and as a mother watches over her babe, so the blessed Spirit watches over the spirit of his own creating. It is the counterpart of himself, for it is the spirit that he has raised up in the soul by his own almighty power. Hebrews, therefore, acts upon it, breathes into it fresh life and power, and communicates grace out of the inexhaustible fullness of the Son of God, thus enabling the spirit to breathe and Acts, struggle and fight against the flesh, so that the latter cannot have all its own way, but must submit and yield. For the spirit can fight as well as the flesh; can act as well as the flesh; and can desire good as well as the flesh can desire evil.

What a mercy for us it is that there are those heavenly breathings in our soul, of the spirit against the flesh, cryings out to God against it; and that the spirit within us thus takes hold of the arm of Omnipotence outside us, seeks help from the Lord God Almighty, and by strength thus communicated fights against the flesh, and gains at times a most blessed victory over it. For what can the flesh do against the spirit when animated by divine power? What are sin, Satan, and the world when they have to oppose a Triune God in arms? This makes the victory sure, that our friends are stronger than our foes, and the work of God upon our soul greater than anything sin, Satan, or the world can bring against it. This made the Apostle say, after he had been describing the inward conflict, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" ( Romans 7:25). And when he had enumerated the opposition that the Christian has to endure on every side, he cries out, as if in holy triumph, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" ( Romans 8:37).

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Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/jcp/galatians-5.html.

Stanley Derickson - Notes on Selected Books

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

All of the verbs in this verse are present tenses for your reading enjoyment.

The facts:

a. The flesh lusteth against the Spirit

b. The Spirit lusteth against the flesh

c. The Spirit and the flesh are opposites

d. Result, you can"t do the things ye would

Okay, there you have it folks "The Devil made me do it." is a valid reason for sinning. You just can"t do what you really want to do because he wins out all the time.

Now, consider that one. The Devil wins over the Spirit of God! I don"t think so. God will win against the flesh or the Devil in any match you want to set up, thus the passage needs a different interpretation than "We can"t win against the Devil."

Isn"t "We can"t loose to the Devil with the Spirit on our side." a little more to the proper understanding of the text? I think so, I think very definitely so.

Isn"t it obvious that the phrase "so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." means that we can"t sin and enjoy the things that we desire? I think that fits the text quite well.

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Derickson, Stanley. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Stanley Derickson - Notes on Selected Books". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/sdn/galatians-5.html.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

17.For—Reason for the need of so walking. We now have a passage similar to Romans 7:14-25, describing the struggle alike of a low religious life and a state of unregenerate conviction, from which a self-surrendry to the Spirit delivers us.

The Spirit against the flesh—The verb lusteth does not bear to be repeated after Spirit; but some other verb, as stirreth, should be supplied.

And—Greek, for.

So that—More expressively, the Greek is, in order that. That is, the Spirit impels you one way in order that you may not do the evil you would, and the flesh impels you the other way in order that you may not do the good you would.

Ye cannot—Greek, ye may not.

Ye would—Your resolutions for good and your plans of sin are alike upset. You enjoy neither religion nor the world. The Lord does not allow you ease in sin, the world does not allow you enjoyment in God. You are a miserable whiffler both ways. What is the remedy? St. Paul has already given it.

Walk in the Spirit—That Spirit is already doing all for you he can. By his aids you must do for yourself what he will not do for you. Your selfhood—your self as a free agent—must exert its energies and put forth the decisive act by which you commit yourself to the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. It is this free selfhood that Calvinism ignores, and expects that the Spirit, by securing power, will fix the result, and thus it destroys the very foundations of free agency, probation, and responsibility. One man is saved because the Spirit secures his assent and salvation; another man is damned, because the Spirit does not secure his salvation. The present passage clearly shows that between the Spirit doing all he will, and the flesh doing all it can, it is the free agent, by aid of the Spirit, who decides his own destiny. The Spirit urges and enables, but does not secure.

 

 

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/galatians-5.html. 1874-1909.

The Bible Study New Testament

17. Is opposed. “The evil desires of our human nature (Galatians 5:20-21)are in conflict with what the Spirit wants us to do (Galatians 5:22-23).” This means. “If you are to live your life in the Spirit, you cannot please yourself and do everything you are tempted to do.”

 

 

 

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/galatians-5.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

17.For the flesh lusteth. The spiritual life maintained without a struggle. We are here informed of the nature of the difficulty, which arises from our natural inclinations being opposed to the Spirit. The word flesh, as we had occasion to observe, in expounding the Epistle to the Romans, denotes the nature of man; for the limited application of it, which the sophists make to the lower senses, as they are called, is refuted by various passages; and the contrast between the two words puts an end to all doubt. The Spirit denotes the renewed nature, or the grace of regeneration; and what else does the flesh mean, but “the old man?” (Romans 6:6, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9.) Disobedience and rebellion against the Spirit of God pervade the whole nature of man. If we would obey the Spirit, we must labor, and fight, and apply our utmost energy; and we must begin with self-denial. The compliment paid by our Lord to the natural inclinations of men, amounts to this, — that there is no greater agreement between them and righteousness, than between fire and water. Where, then, shall we find a drop of goodness in man’s free will? unless we pronounce that to be good which is contrary to the Spirit of God;

“because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
(
Romans 8:7.)

All the thoughts of the flesh are acts of enmity against God.

So that ye cannot do the things that ye would. This refers, unquestionably, to the regenerate. Carnal men have no battle with depraved lusts, no proper desire to attain to the righteousness of God. Paul is addressing believers. The things that ye would must mean, not our natural inclinations, but the holy affections which God bestows upon us by his grace. Paul therefore declares, that believers, so long as they are in this life, whatever may be the earnestness of their endeavors, do not obtain such a measure of success as to serve God in a perfect manner. The highest result does not correspond to their wishes and desires. I must again refer the reader, for a more extended view of my sentiments on this subject, to the Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, (See Calvin on Romans 7:15.)

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Galatians 5:17". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/galatians-5.html. 1840-57.