Christians (even Pastors) don’t always act like we think Christians should act. This is very clearly seen when there is a church conflict, a political debate, or when there is a family inheritance to divide. Such inconsistency is something we all battle.
If a Christian walks in the Spirit, he/she is held accountable to maintain self-control and not revert to old, sinful patterns.
Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 5, tells us walking in the Spirit is:
- Living by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16),
- Being led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:18),
- And bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). 1
Galatians 5:16-18 Using Liberty to Walk in Holy Living.
Simply put, Paul wrote that if we walk in the Spirit (instead of trying to live by the law), we naturally will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. The believer is commanded to walk in the Spirit and be led by the Spirit.2
The fear of the legalist that walking in the Spirit gives license to sin, and that only legalism can keep us holy – is just plain wrong.
Paul describes a life of self-sacrifice lived out in response to God’s love for us. And Paul points to the only source of power and wisdom beyond ourselves: the Holy Spirit of God. He revealed earlier in this letter that the Spirit comes to live in the hearts of every one of God’s sons and daughters (Galatians 4:6). Paul tells us to use this freedom in Christ to access the power of God’s Spirit in our hearts in our everyday lives. He tells us, literally, to walk, and keep on walking, by the Spirit’s power and guidance.
The walk in the Spirit is a way of life, not a short stroll. “Walk” then means “live.” The Greek tense indicates that we are to keep on walking in the Spirit as a course of life. We are to order our manner of life by the Holy Spirit and not by the law. God wants our walk with Him to be permeated and dominated by the Spirit of God.
Righteousness before God comes through Jesus alone. The experience of righteousness in our daily walk comes through the obedience of faith.
“Walk” is also a command. The Holy Spirit will not automatically work in our lives; we must invite Him to control us. Walking in the Spirit is no option for the believer. Spirituality is not passivity, but it involves volition. There is an onus on us to depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and power in the Christian life.
Walking in the Spirit enables us to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh and keeps us from enslavement to legalism (Galatians 5:16-18; Romans 8:14). 2
Walking presumes activity; it is not a defensive stand. We enter actively into God’s will by resting in the power of the Holy Spirit. We rest in His sufficiency. The Christian does not attempt to walk; he walks. He maintains a manner of reliance on the Holy Spirit. He lives daily to the glory of God.
Sin struggles against the Spirit. The sin nature is contrary to the Spirit and beyond the control of the person (Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:7-25). Sin is death to the human (Romans 8:7, 8) and an offense to God (Romans 8:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 15:50). 3
The Spirit-filled life is not self-effort but a counteraction to sin by allowing the Holy Spirit to control us.
There is a difference between walking in the Spirit and having the Spirit. Every Christian has the Spirit, but the Spirit does not have every Christian. A non-Christian has a conscience but can stretch and bend their conscience according to his personal desires. A Christian has someone who cannot blend with the trends, cauterized according to their wishes. Non-Christians can sear their conscience with a hot iron of personal desire so that it will never murmur or complain again.
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11).
To walk in the Spirit means:
- First that the Holy Spirit lives in you.
- Second, it means to be open and sensitive to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
- Third, it means to pattern your life after the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Learning to walk in the Spirit should be as common a function as learning to walk physically. A physical walk is an incipient fall. With each step, we fall until our other foot catches the fall. Thus, walking in the Spirit depends on a repeated succession of faith steps. A faith step, for example, would apply a principle of Scripture to a specific temptation by faith.
We can tell if someone walks in the Spirit because they will look a lot like Jesus. Jesus told us that the mission of the Holy Spirit would be to promote and speak of Him (John 14:16-17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15). When someone walks in the Spirit, they listen to what the Holy Spirit says as He guides us in the path and nature of Jesus.
“Life by the Spirit is neither legalism nor license – nor a middle way between them. It is a life of faith and love that is above all of these false ways.” 4
Walking in the flesh and the Spirit are mutually exclusive. There is no way anyone can fulfill the lust of the flesh as they walk in the Spirit. We cannot do both at the same time. The two simply don’t go together. We are either Spirit-filled, or we are not.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t move in us to gratify our fallen desires and passions, but to teach us about Jesus and to guide us in the path of Jesus. This is the key to righteous living – walking in the Spirit, not living under the domination of the law.
Again, the picture Paul paints is about setting aside our own power and relying on God’s. In the same way, we cannot fulfill the law by our own effort, Paul tells us to quit trying to serve each other in love on our own. The Spirit of God in us is available and willing to help.
We as Christians do not measure up spirituality by how many prayers, witnessing, or service we do but by dependence on the Spirit. We cannot live the Spirit-filled life by suppression of sin or by eradicating sin but by the counteracting power of being filled with the Spirit – walking in the Spirit. Victory does not come by self but by the Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit, we are spiritual and produce the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit comes from the Holy Spirit, not from our deeds lived in the power of self (Ephesians 3:16; 5:18).
Galatians 5 Vs. 16, 17: The Sinful Nature
According to our sinful nature, we can live any way we please except in obedience to God’s commands. That’s how opposed the flesh and the Spirit are. The sinful nature will let you do anything you want with one exception—it will not let you obey God.
Christians (even Pastors) don’t always act like we think Christians should act. This is very clearly seen when there is a church conflict, a political debate, or when there is a family inheritance to divide. Inconsistency is something we all battle.
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Galatians 5:16 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (NASB)
Galatians 5:16 spells out the work of the Holy Spirit and we are promised that if we do follow His example, we “not carry out the desire of the flesh.” We are “led by the Spirit” and bear “the fruit of the Spirit, [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).” Living by the Spirit means that the life of Christ is reproduced in us. The Holy Spirit empowers us to bear the burdens of life and be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
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- , pg. 478.
- Henry C. Thiessen (revised by Vernon D. Doerksen), Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), pg. 256.
- Stanley M. Horton, general editor, Systematic Theology (Springfield, MO: Legion Press, 1994), pg. 278
- James M. Boice, Galatians/Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pg. 76