For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other…
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.