Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit..”
Paul’s understanding of the Christian life is that it is lived, it can only be lived from, by, and according to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the fountainhead of Christian worship, ethics, relationships and ministry. Paul asserted that the Spirit alone is entirely sufficient and totally adequate to accomplish God’s purposes in and among His people. He therefore prescribed attitudes, postures, and behaviors toward and with the Spirit – imperatives. The believer has the opportunity (responsibility) to rely on and conform to the influence of the Spirit. This is not striving or laborious. Our part is to choose (say yes), to believe (confidently anticipate and trust in His power and results), and to give thanks.
Walk by the Spirit
The second imperative we will consider (the first one was “be filled”) is Paul’s urging to the Galatian Church that they “walk by the Spirit.” In the letter, Paul has implored the Galatians to live in the freedom Christ has secured for them, free from the obligation (and curse) of the law, and free from the tyranny of the flesh. Neither are life-giving. Both are replaced and displaced by the power of the Spirit.
Walk by the Spirit, Paul says, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Note here that Paul is describing (prescribing) opposite directions. He is not presenting two parallel tracks – one pristine and other problematic – between which we might hop back and forth on life’s journey. No. He is saying, in effect, if you walk north, you will not walk south. Period.
We need not confabulate what Paul has in mind by “the flesh.” Rather than strictly define “the flesh,” Paul describes its influence in vv. 19-21. Walk by the Spirit and you will not indulge in or engage in any of that kind of stuff. It is worth emphasizing that Paul says, “You will not.” He doesn’t suggest that walking by the Spirit will “aid in your avoidance” or will help you “ease up on this stuff” or even “keep you from doing it as often.” The Spirit’s empowering influence is entirely sufficient to ensure that you will NOT. Wow. Those who seek to comfort the consciences of saints by telling them there’s no real way to live free, but just to do their darndest, might should reconsider Paul’s perspective of the Spirit’s power. That, I think, is the problem. Too many believers struggle on their own, leaning on methods, on accountability partners, or adopting rules to avoid or abstain from certain things, but never becoming free. Freedom does not, cannot come from doing our darndest. It flows from the empowering, gracious, personal influence of the Holy Spirit of God. Freedom comes as we relax and rely on the Holy Spirit. Paul’s prescription for freedom, for victorious Christian living, is singular: walk by the Holy Spirit.
This word means “to tread all around.” To walk (present tense) implies the continual actions of everyday life, one’s way of life and manner of living. The whole of our life is to be immersed under the gracious influence of the Spirit. Not only is this Paul’s antidote to the influence of the flesh, but it is a summary of Paul’s view of the whole of Christian life. We live, and therefore walk, by the Spirit (v. 25). In v.16 Paul says to “walk” by the Spirit in terms of our whole way of living, and in v.25 he says to “keep in step” with the Spirit, which to me implies yielding to the Spirit, following Him, in all the decisions and details of life – every step.
Learning to Walk
Paul doesn’t follow the imperative with an instruction manual. He seems content to point us to the Spirit and say, “He is enough. Trust Him.” Walking by the Spirit isn’t about a set of rules or a list of things to do, it is a relationship. Relationships require vulnerability and trust. This is how we walk by the Spirit. We trust Him. It seems to me that the simpler we make learning to walk by the Spirit, the closer to Paul’s intent we are.
Because this is an imperative, it begins with a choice. I decide. I choose to submerge my will beneath the life-giving waters of the Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, I yield to you. I choose your Lordship over my life, and my steps, today.
I believe He is fully present. I practice an awareness of His abiding, surrounding presence. Think about Him. Be confident that He abides. Honor Him. Delight in Him. Walk with Him.
I believe He is working. I believe that He is not passively present, but actively influencing me. He, in full power, is working in and through my life, now. Wow. Selah. Don’t move on too quickly from this thought. It’s a doozy.
I believe His work is working. Paul has informed me what kind of results to anticipate (v.16, vv.22-26) from the Holy Spirit’s work in me. I believe His work is working – now. I trust Him. I rely upon Him. I know that He will produce these good results in my life. He is right now.
What if I blow it? What if I demonstrate all kinds of behavior that Paul ascribes to the flesh? I have two choices: One, I can beat myself up and pout in my failure for as long as it takes for me to get tired of it (and be no better off whatsoever). Or, I can trust more in the Presence and Working of the Spirit than in myself. I do not accept a failure on my part as evidence of His incapability. Stumbling doesn’t mean you give up walking. Just keep walking.
Paul inspires our hopes, our expectations. He points us to an ideal. He helps focus our thoughts and affections and values on these qualities and outcomes (16, 22-26). Abandon yourself to absolute hope in the total sufficiency of the Spirit to accomplish all of God’s purposes in your life. He is enough. Trust Him. Believe He is present, that He is working, and that His work is working. And, overflow with thanksgiving for it. Freedom lies in the next step as we walk by the Spirit.
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