The War Against the Flesh

Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2

woman on hill at dawn (drop shadow)

Getting the passions under control, that is we control the passions and not the passions controlling us, is the highest goal of the spiritual life.  This is a life-long journey that requires awareness and steadfastness to our spiritual life and working with an excellent spiritual guide.  Frequent confession is another tool that we have at our disposal to aid us in this fight, and I do mean fight, against the passions.

Why does the Christian need to get the passions under control?  Because the passions are irrational and cause us to do silly things, yes all of the passions are irrational.  This may sound complicated but if we trust in God, pray for guidance, work with a spiritual guide, slowly progress can be made.

In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul outlines the fruits, or gifts, of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are the gifts given to all of us by the Holy Spirit and as gifts can be honed to assist us in our lives.  In contrast to the gifts, St. Paul lays out what we need to work on if we are to walk in the Spirit. “Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”

So what is this “flesh” that St. Paul is making reference too?  He is not speaking of the body, but he is using the word flesh in a general way for all evil actions.  By these he is speaking of the depraved will, the earthly mind, the slothful and careless soul, things that are under one’s control and not part of the human nature.  This is the flesh that St. Paul is saying needs to be crucified with Christ.  In short it is our will, the will that we think is better than the will of God.

In our spirituality, we need to turn our focus to the fruits of the Spirit as an aid to help us overcome those “fleshy” parts of our life.  I mentioned frequent confession already, and part of this is forgiveness.  After the recent shooting in Charleston South Carolina, the families of those murdered publically forgave the man who killed the members of their families.  This forgiveness was not done for him it was given to them.  If we hold on to our anger, it transforms into bitterness and hate that leads to destruction.  I do not know what drove this young man to do what he did, but I am sure it was hate.

Forgiveness is a frequent theme in Scripture on purpose; it is central to our spiritual life.  Forgiveness is the key, I believe, in being able to gain control over the other passions.  St. Paul tells us that we are to have no self-conceit.  We should not think that we are better than others, and we need to put the concerns of others, in some cases, before our own.  This is the fruit of love and the love of neighbor.

St. Paul goes on to say that we should not provoke one another.  I am guilty of this.  Sometimes in discussions, especially in online forums, discussions can get heated and out of control.  I have removed several posts from my wall on Facebook due to them becoming heated and then lead us to all sorts of bad behavior.  We have the responsibility to not lead our brothers and sisters to sin, and if our behavior is causing scandal, then we need to modify that behavior not for our sake but for that of others.

In his letter, St. James writes about leading another person away from sin and back toward glory as being the highest honor one can do for another.  He says that this is the ultimate expression of love for our neighbor.  However, he also cautions us not to be the cause of someone straying from that glory and that we need to be on guard against this.  This is a difficult place to be, but it calls us to a sense of mindfulness and awareness of our actions.  Like forgiveness, this is difficult.

St. Paul also says that we should have no envy of one another.  This is covered in the Commandments of God by not coveting what others have.  If someone has more than us, or if they get a promotion before we do, or their life seems so much better than ours, we should rejoice in that person’s blessings but we should not fall into the trap of becoming envious of them and what they have.  This can lead to all sorts of wrong behavior and is not good for us.

All of this may seem insurmountable and for humans it certainly is but with God all things are possible.  Having an excellent spiritual guide is a significant step in getting on, and staying on the right path.

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