Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
The NIV translates the original Greek verb here as “desires what is contrary.” The New American Standard Version uses “sets its desires against.” The Amplified Bible uses “opposed to.” The Kings James Version uses the most colorful and extreme language in its translation – “lusts.” Obviously, verse 17 drives home the reality of the sin nature and the Spirit being diametrically opposed. But the depth and seriousness of this conflict is lost a bit in the NIV’s choice of translation. As discussed in the earlier entries for Galatians Chapter 5, the Greek work that the NIV translates as “sinful nature” literally means “flesh,” and is translated as such in the KJV. “Flesh” is an earthy word, bordering on profanity in the Greek and Jewish cultures. It really means more than just the “sinful nature,” it implies everything that encompasses human weaknesses – some versions of the bible translate this as “human nature,” and that makes a little more sense here. It implies the depth of all human weakness – sin, yes, but also mortality, aging, sickness, pain, negative emotion etc. But it also includes that which is the “positive” side of humanity and human nature, that is, striving on our own, without God’s help. Thus, “flesh” or “sinful nature” really means the worst (or best) that a person can be or become in and of himself. Paul is making two things clear – because the flesh has nothing in common with the Spirit or God’s power, a person can live his life by the Spirit – that is, in a living relationship with God through Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, or live by the flesh – that is, live his live without any dependence on God. Galatians 5:16-18 makes it clear, you can’t have it both ways. Second, by stating “you do not do what you want,” he emphasizes the powerful nature of the conflict. This is discussed more fully in passages such as Romans 7: 15-23 and I Peter 2:11. Because we are born with a sin nature, this struggle will ensue all of our lives. It is only by living by the Spirit, in an intimate relationship with Jesus, that there is victory in this conflict.