Die to self. Live to God.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
There is a grittiness every Christian needs. But this grittiness isn’t self-made. It’s God-given. The gospel puts steel in our bones, giving us an invincibility against the flesh that once killed us with every breath. We need this ruggedness because we daily face an internal conflict. The desires of the flesh cry out to be satisfied while the Holy Spirit calls out to be obeyed. Moment by moment, we have a choice. Will we obey the Lord or our flesh?
In the battle, the gospel is comforting, reminding us of forgiveness in the face of our sin. But it is also a call to holiness, commanding us to wage war on our sin. As Jesus comforts us with his grace, he calls us to stand tall next to him in combat. He leads us, and he arms us. Will we walk by the Spirit or will we gratify the desires of the flesh? We can’t do both.
What have we been doing? Our lives bear witness. The flesh leads to enslavement. Our desires show up in how we treat our bodies and one another. Is our sexuality out of control? Is our heart following idols of selfishness? Are our relationships strained and divided? If so, our story these past few days, months, or years has been one living under the passions of the flesh. Now is our moment to repent and trust Jesus for a better way. In our new birth, God gave us the Holy Spirit. He gave us gospel grit.
Gospel grit means we obey God in the face of our flesh crying out for satisfaction. It means we look to him for strength, knowing, in the end, he will give us more joy than the fleeting pleasures of this world. We don’t run from the battle. We face the enemy within and slay him.
We all experience this war inside. At the intellectual level, we understand the strategy. But at the heart level, we struggle to follow orders. We struggle not only with the big things. We struggle in the little moments. We can’t keep ourselves clean. We slack off on exercise. We sleep in and miss opportunities. We pause on the Instagram photo a little too long. We refuse to rejoice with a brother over good news he received. It’s the little things, moment by moment, that give way to a life drifting from Jesus.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The Holy Spirit has been planted in our heart, and if we will listen to him, follow him, and let him lead us, we will find that his fruit will begin to grow. Our whole life could change. We could find more joy than we’ve ever experienced, more freedom than we knew was available, more peace than we could ever understand.
So, what’s the path forward? Paul tells us in verses 24-25. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” There are two things. First, we are to crucify the flesh. Second, we are to keep in step with the Spirit. Die to self. Live to God.
The Christian life is not easy. It’s messy, bloody, sacrificial. It is a constant walking our sin toward the cross, offering the flesh, nailing it to the wood, and leaving it until it suffocates. It’s horrifyingly ugly and breathtakingly beautiful because it’s the same path that Jesus walked. What he did for us, he’s calling us to do for his sake. As he said in his own words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
We need gospel grit because the flesh doesn’t die all at once. It dies day by day, moment by moment. As John Brown says, “Crucifixion…produced death not suddenly but gradually…True Christians…do not succeed in completely destroying it while here below; but they have fixed it to the cross and they are determined to keep it there till it expire.”
We will never witness the complete crucifixion of all our sin in this life. But by God’s grace, keeping in step with the Spirit, we can crucify it little by little over the course of our life. Before we will take that step, however, we must see sin as destructive as it truly is. We can’t play with it. It’s not a harmless friend. It’s an enemy of joy. It is not what makes life interesting. It’s what takes life away. As Jackie Hill Perry says, “You won’t put to death what you believe is keeping you alive.”
John Stott shows us that rejection of our old nature is to be pitiless, painful, and decisive.
“So, Paul says, if we crucified the flesh, we must leave it there to die. We must renew every day this attitude towards sin of ruthless and uncompromising rejection…The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and the decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.”
So, we crucify our flesh, day by day, moment by moment. But we also keep in step with the Spirit. In our relationship, God takes the initiative. He’s asking us to nail our sin to the cross, but he’s showing us that he did it first. By his Spirit, he’s giving us a view into the saving work of Christ, and through his Spirit, he’s giving us the power to follow. All we must do is walk with him. We don’t have to know the way. We don’t have to understand the path. We don’t have to know the future. All we must know is that he’s better than every alternative. Like a sheep that trusts his shepherd, we must trust our Good Shepherd and follow him even through the valley of the shadow of death.