The War of the Heart

It’s sad, but true. If we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves and instead bite and devour one another, we will be consumed (Gal. 5:14-15). You have seen this in your relationships with family and friends. You have witnessed this between children fighting over a toy. You have observed this between married couples. The very things that we do, or the words that we speak, in order to hurt another person actually harm us too.  

The War of the Heart

Paul’s exhortation, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16), warns us that theres a war within our hearts. There are two desires within us, those of the flesh and those of the Spirit, and both cannot win. Although the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2), these fleshly desires are so strong that we often succumb to them. Thankfully, there is hope. Gods power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). The truth that there are two opposing desires within you may seem daunting, but don’t let it be debilitating. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our hearts to empower us to fight the battle with the Word of God and prayer. 

The Works of the Flesh

You will know if the flesh is winning the war of your heart, or your loved ones heart, because works of the flesh are obvious. Paul gives us some examples—sexual immorality, idolatry, strife, anger, and envy (Gal. 5:19-21). Sadly, several of these sins are acceptable today, even in the church. But Paul gives a sober warning, those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). Paul is not speaking here about the Christian person who commits a sin like anger, confesses it to the Lord, then strives to turn away from it. Every true believer will inherit the kingdom of God (Rom. 8:28-30). But this warning should still lead us to carefully examine our hearts. If we are indulging in works of the flesh on a regular basis, we need to evaluate our relationship with the Lord.

The Way of the Spirit

The person who has repented of their sin and trusted in Christ alone for salvation will display the fruit of saving faith. When the Spirit converts us, He takes up residence in our hearts and begins to transform us. Paul gives us examples of what the Spirit produces in our hearts, such as love, joy and peace (Gal. 5:22-23). There is no law against such godly attributes because they don’t need to be restrained. Let’s look briefly at the fruit of the Spirit Paul mentions.      

               Love. We display our love for God when we obey His will. We display our love for one another when we lay down our lives in selfless service, being God-oriented and others-oriented instead of self-oriented (see Matt. 22:37-39; John 15:9-10, 13-14).

               Joy. When we abide in Christs love by obeying His commandments we will be filled with joy. Such joy is a witness to others of our great love for our Lord and Savior (John 15:11; 1 Pet. 1:8).

               Peace. In light of the truth that Jesus reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God in one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16), we are to extend peace and reconciliation to others.  

               Patience. Since the Lord is compassionate and merciful, we are to be patient in suffering, and patient with others, not grumbling against them but remaining steadfast in the Lords purposes.

               Kindness. The Lord has shown His kindness to us by accomplishing our redemption. Therefore, we are to be kind to others, pointing them to the Redeemer with gracious words and works.

               Goodness. The goodness of the Lord has to do with His uprightness, righteousness and justice (Ps. 33:4-5). So we are to be concerned with good character and good works.

               Faithfulness. Because the Lord is faithful to keep us from stumbling and to present us blameless on the last day (Jude 24), we are to remain faithful to him, even unto death (Rev. 2:10). Whether under persecution, at the neighborhood park or pool, or among co-workers who may not respect our beliefs, we are to remain a bold witness for Christ.  

               Gentleness. Jesus declared “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). As we rest in Him, the Spirit will transform our hearts with the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in Gods sight (1 Pet. 3:4).                               Self-control. Jesus perfectly submitted to His Fathers will, even unto death on the cross. The Holy Spirit strengthened Him when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), and it is the Holy Spirit who strengthens us against temptation, giving us self-control, so that we can live a godly life.

               Since this is the fruit of the Spirit, what part do we play? The answer is found in Galatians 5:24, And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (italics mine). By the Spirit’s power, we must take our sin and put it to death by partaking of the means of grace. Dear Christian, sit underneath gospel-centered preaching on the Lord’s Day. Read and study Scripture everyday. Partake of the Lords Supper. Pray regularly. And enjoy fellowship with other believers who will encourage you toward godliness. The war of the heart is only won by way of the Spirit.   

Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit


Sarah Ivill