“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16)
The original Greek word for walk means, in a metaphorical sense, habitual conduct. The phrase in the Spirit means by the Spirit as a rule of conduct. The New Living Translation says, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.“
If you have been living in spiritual defeat, powerless and fruitless, wondering if there is any validity to the Christian life, there is hope for you. What greater promise could Christ offer to the Christian than the assurance that he can walk daily in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and experience an abundant and fruitful life of purpose and adventure?
The Christian life, properly understood, is not complex, nor is it difficult. Rather, the Christian life is very simple. It is so simple that we stumble over the very simplicity of it, and yet it is so difficult that no one can live it. Why the paradox? It’s because the Christian life is a supernatural life. The only one who can help us live this abundant life is the Lord Jesus Christ, who empowers us with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can help you to be more consistent in your walk with God, and to be more effective in your witness for Jesus.
The moment you invited Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, you experienced a spiritual birth. You became a child of God, and you were filled with the Holy Spirit. God forgave your sins, all of them, past, present and future, making you righteous, holy and acceptable in the sight of the Father. You were given the power to live a holy life.
When you try to control your own behavior through shear willpower, you fail. You go from one emotional experience to another, living most of your life as a worldly Christian, frustrated and fruitless. If you try to live the Christian life by your own fleshly effort, it becomes complex, difficult, even impossible. But when you invite the Holy Spirit to walk with you and direct your life, you become empowered to live the abundant life Christ wants you to live.
This is not simply a matter of positive thinking. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Remember that the Holy Spirit already dwells within you. You do not have to ask Him to come into your life. He is already indwelling you. Your body became a temple of God from the moment you became a Christian. So you simply say to the Holy Spirit, “I surrender my life to You, and by faith I claim Your fullness and power.”
Whatever happens, do not depend upon your feelings. Tied as they are to your ever-changing circumstances, feelings are unreliable in evaluating your relationship with God. In fact, your emotions will lie to you. The unchanging promises of God’s Word, not your feelings, should be the authority in your life. You need to live by faith, believing in the trustworthiness of God and His Word.
If your new life in Christ began by the Spirit, then your life from that day forward should be carried out by the Spirit. (See Gal. 3:1-5) To walk by the Spirit means to do what you do each day by the Spirit. You should live your life, in all its details from waking up in the morning until going to sleep at night, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:17 tells us, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you would.” In other words, the flesh produces one kind of desires, and the Spirit produces another kind, and they are opposed to each other.
Walking by the Spirit is what you do when the desires produced by the Spirit are stronger than the desires produced by the flesh. This means that walking by the Spirit is not something you do in order to get help from the Holy Spirit. Rather, just as the phrase implies, it is something you do by the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, all the good inclinations or preferences or desires you have are given by the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit, you are mere flesh. In Romans 7:18 Paul said, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” Apart from the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, none of your inclinations or desires are holy or good. Romans 8:7 tells us, “For the mind of the flesh is hostile to God’s law and does not submit to it because it cannot.” At the time of your new birth, the Holy Spirit seeks to create a whole new array of desires and loves and yearnings and longings. When these desires are stronger than the opposing desires of the flesh, you are walking by the Spirit.
Galatians 5:19–24 describes a contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The opposite of doing the works of the flesh is bearing the fruit of the Spirit. (See v. 16.) If you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. What pleases God is walking by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian, you are not to learn the right thing to do, but how to do the right thing. The problem is not to discover what love looks like, but how to love by the Spirit.
For Paul it is absolutely crucial that, if you came to life by the free and sovereign work of the Spirit, you need to learn to walk by the free and sovereign work of the Spirit. As a believer, you have the Spirit of Christ, the hope of glory within you. (See Col. 1:27) If you walk in the Spirit, you will show forth daily moment-by-moment holiness. This is brought about by consciously choosing by faith to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you in thought, word, and deed. (See Rom. 6:11-14) Failure to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance will result in not living up to the calling and standing that salvation provides.
You can know that you are walking in the Spirit if your life shows the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Gal. 5:22-23) Being filled with the Spirit is the same as allowing the Word of Christ to richly dwell in you. (See Col. 3:16)
The result is thankfulness, singing, and joy. Children of God will be led by the Spirit of God. (See Rom. 8:14) To walk in the Spirit is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is essentially to walk with the Spirit, allowing Him to guide your steps and conform your mind. Invite the Holy Spirit to walk with you in your journey every day until you are taken to heaven. Until the day you hear the Lord say to you, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”