16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
walk (v.16) — the whole span of activities of our lives
Spirit (v.16) — as in Galatians 5:5, Romans 8:11
fulfill (v.16) = complete or end
When the Spirit is in control, His power will not fail (v.16). This verse isn’t a command but an assurance.
lust (v.16) — great desire. Greek word epithumeo can be good or bad depending on context.
flesh (v.17) — human body and human spirit — our human Adamic nature
against (v.17) — has the idea of supression
contrary (v.17) — set in opposition to — mutually antagonistic and impossible to reconcile.
to one another (v.17) — reciprocity of antagonism
you do not do (v.17) — should be “may not do”
Verse 18 — Romans 6:14: For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
led (v.18) — willingly and intelligently
not under the law (v.18) — neither as a way of life or a means of justification, nor as a rule of conduct
The law is a provoker of transgression. The Judaizers claimed that if one didn’t obey the law, he would fall into sin. Paul says that if one walks in the Spirit, he won’t fall into sin.
Romans 6:14 is closely parallel. The believer is assured that the lordship of sin over him is no longer of necessity, inasmuch as he is no longer under law, which demands obedience, but which cannot supply the power without which obedience is not possible. On the contrary, he is under grace, where inherent weakness is met by sufficient and instantly available strength (Ephesians 3:16) — Vine, page 246.
With the Spirit, we have the power to not do the sins our flesh desires. But the conflict is constant and the flesh is ready to step in whenever we stop yielding to the Spirit.
The evil nature is not eradicated. Its power over the believer is broken, and the believer need not obey it. But it is there, constantly attempting to control the believer as it did before salvation wrought its work in his being. — Wuest, page 153.
The will of the person has been liberated from the enslavement to sin which it experienced before salvation, and is free now to choose the right and refuse the wrong. The Holy Spirit has been given him as the Agent to counteract the evil nature, but He does that for the saint when that saint puts himself under His control, and by an act of his free will, says a point-blank NO to sin. In other words, there must be a cooperation of the saint with the Holy Spirit in His work of sanctifying the life. The Holy Spirit is not a perpetual motion machine which operates automatically in the life of the believer. He is a divine Person waiting to be depended upon for His ministry, and expecting the saint to cooperate with Him in it. Thus the choice lies with the believer as to whether he is going to yield to the Holy Spirit or obey the evil nature. The Spirit is always there to give him victory over that nature as the saint says a point-blank NO to sin and at the same time trusts the Spirit to give him victory over it. —Wuest, page 154.
The Galatian Christians had up to the time of the Judaizers’ entry into their churches, lived their Christian lives in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the teaching of the apostle Paul. The Power of the sinful nature had been broken, the divine nature had been implanted, and the Spirit had entered their hearts to take up His permanent residence. The conflict spoken of in verse 17 had been going on in them, and the result had been that they were living victorious lives over sin (4:19). But now a new factor had entered, the law, and with it, their dependence upon self effort to obey that law. The Galatians were still trying to live Christian lives, but they were going about it in the wrong way, with the result that they were failing. The entrance of these new factors meant that the Spirit had no opportunity to minister to their spiritual lives. The mechanical set-up of spiritual machinery which God had installed, had become ineffective by reason of the monkey-wrench of self-dependence which the Galatians had thrown into it.
Paul here presents to them a third way of life, distinct from that of a person under law, and also from that of a person who, because he is not under the restraining influences of law anymore, thinks that that leaves him without restraint of any kind, and thus yields to the impulses of the evil nature. That third way is not a middle road between the these two, but a highway above them. It is a highway of freedom from statutes and from the sinful nature, a highway which is a faith way, a dependence upon the Spirit.
The exhortation is therefore, to be led by the Spirit. The assurance is given those who do so, that they will not be living their lives on the principle of legalism. The Spirit and the law are here contrasted, and are shown to be methods of living a Christian life that are diametrically opposed to one another. The law is not only no safeguard against the flesh, but rather provokes it to more sin. Therefore, the believer who would renounce the flesh, must renounce the law also. Thus, the flesh and the law are closely allied, whereas the flesh and the Spirit are diametrically opposed to one another.
Again, the law finds nothing to condemn in the life of the person who is led by the Spirit, for that person checks every wrong desire which is brought to him by the evil nature, and so he fulfills the law. This is the blessed moral freedom of the person who is led by the Spirit. He is in such a condition of moral and spiritual life that the law has no power to censure, condemn, or punish him. This is the true moral freedom from the law to which Paul refers (Romans 8:1-4). — Wuest, page 155-156.