The constant struggle between surrendering yourself to sinful desires and following after the Spirit of God, is a struggle that every Christian faces. This tension is what John writes about in 1 John 2:1, “Sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” On one hand there is a clear command to not sin, but that does not negate the reality that we still are not perfectly transformed into a sinless being. Paul would say that we are still bound to our flesh and the struggle will continue until we are separated from our flesh.
Seeing that the struggle goes on and on, it would almost be natural to develop a defeatist mentality of “I will never be able to fully win, I might as well give up.” This is a wholly fallacious way of viewing things. This perspective assumes that the only victory to be had is final victory, and unless you can achieve final victory over sin right this moment it’s not worth the fight. To answer this, Paul writes in Galatians 5:24, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But what does that have anything to do with victory over sin?
Any who would say that victory must be a total or final victory or it is no victory at all have apparently never understood how warfare works. Every major war, the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hundred Years War, the American War for Independence, the Napoleonic Wars, The Civil War, World War I, and World War II, all were fought over a number of years, often even decades, with the warfare happening one battle at a time. Each of these major conflicts had a final resolution, a victor, who often was foreseen and indicated by the progress of each of the battles. The individual battles did not necessarily determine the final outcome, but they typically were a good indication of how the war was going to turn out.
Similarly, the final outcome and victory for Christians is sure, even though in the day to day, each believer faces constant battles. We will have ultimate victory over sin. To illustrate this struggle, the Apostle Peter uses the imagery of warfare when he writes 1 Peter 2:11, “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” This is a constant thing; the fight is a daily one.
And just as the battles in any other war indicate what the final outcome is, the battles in spiritual warfare serve as a great indication of a person’s spiritual condition. A person who moves through life with a defeatist mentality and with no effort or striving to gain victory over their flesh, but rather seems to feed the flesh and allow the flesh to have the victory, I would be surprised if the final outcome for that person truly is victory. Similarly, a person who has the assurance of final victory, John argues in 1 John 3, that this person will strive to defeat the flesh and the sinful desires through the Spirit. The war is won, but the battles indicate the reality of the outcome for each person. If one side in the battle never fights, the war is always a loss. Similarly, in spiritual warfare, it is almost unfathomable that those who do not fight against the flesh can somehow expect final and total victory.
But how can we have victory over fleshly desires? This is why Paul says the word “crucified” in verse 24. It is past tense. Paul says that in Christ’s crucifixion, the elements of the flesh – sinful affections and lusts, are already defeated foes. They have been crucified with Christ. They are not masters to my soul, their final outcome is secured – they will be destroyed. Now, day to day, I can fulfill the call of the Spirit. I can live life walking in line with what the Spirit directs me to do or be from the Word of God. Each battle can be won. And if one is lost, even today, I know that I can keep fighting, and trusting in victory offered through Christ. I am no longer a slave to my sinful flesh, now I can war, and Christ can bring the victory. No, Christ has already brought the victory.
Food for Thought: In warfare, what is a good indication of the outcome of the war?