I’m sure you’ve heard the idea of living and walking by the Spirit before. But, what does it really mean? Why should Christians even care about walking by the Spirit? How can we live and walk by the Spirit in our everyday lives? How does walking by the Spirit transform us? I’ll give you a hint: it is one of the most important aspects of our Christianity. If we’re not living and walking by the Spirit, our Christian journey will be a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” It’s one of my favorite verses of scripture. Walking with the Spirit, or keeping in step with the Spirit, is the simple antidote to many of the struggles with sin and temptation we experience as Christians. Walking by the Spirit does not mean we won’t be tempted but the Spirit gives us the power to choose Christ rather than submitting to our temptations. If your Christian walk feels impossible, take a moment to read this article and be reminded of how submitting to the Spirit can bring so much freedom and peace into your life.
Who is the Holy Spirit? Why do we need him in our lives?
Before I get into what it means to live and walk by the Spirit, I want to remind you of the significance of the Holy Spirit in our world and in our lives. We know that the Spirit was poured out to believers on the day of Pentecost. The early believers began to speak in other tongues and observers nearby heard them praising God and proclaiming the gospel in their own languages. But how did we get to Pentecost? What came before?
God gave his people the law through Moses. The law was meant to instruct them and teach them about the character of God. However, their hearts were not in the place to obey the law and they consistently failed. The thing is though, trusting and obeying God is a huge part of one’s relationship with the Lord. 1 John 2:3 tells us that we can have certainty that we know the Lord when we keep his commandments. So, how can people who do not have hearts to love and obey the Lord change? Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
A New Heart and New Spirit
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV
God promised to give his people a new heart and a new spirit and put his own Spirit within them. The Spirit of God would empower them to obey the Lord. They would no longer struggle to keep the law and fail miserably all the time. Instead, the Spirit would direct their lives and their choices and empower them to obey God as they should.
The event that took place on the day of Pentecost was the fulfillment of this prophecy spoken through Ezekiel and many others. God poured out his Spirit and began to dwell within his people.
The Situation of Galatians
There was a very specific issue in the Roman province of Galatia that prompted Paul to write about keeping in step with the Spirit. Certain people from Jerusalem came to Galatia and told the Gentile believers that in order to be right with God, they needed to be circumcised according to the Jewish law. This was literally anthetical to the gospel. Becoming in right standing with God comes through Christ and then the Spirit enables us to live righteously.
This is perhaps why Paul emphasizes freedom in Galatians 5. Christ set his people free from the curse of the law. The law does not bring justification, only Jesus does. Now, the question that must have risen in their minds is, “How do we make sure that we’re living righteously?” Paul’s answer is simply by the Spirit.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:16-17 ESV
If the Israelites couldn’t obey God without the Spirit, why do we think we can? Every aspect of our lives should be led and directed by the Spirit. It isn’t easy, I know, but there’s no other way to live. If we try to do life without the Spirit, it might appear to go well for a while but our endeavors will eventually fail.
Related: Why “Good” People Need the Gospel
What does it even mean to walk by the Spirit?
Walking by the Spirit means following the Spirit’s lead. Stoichōmen is the Greek word translated as “let us walk in step.” It refers to marching in rank or conforming to virtue and piety. In ancient Judaism, the term “walk” referred to the way in which one conducts their life. Walking was often associated with the law. So Paul flips this around and instead of calling believers to conduct their lives according to the law, he tells them to conduct their lives according to the Spirit.
Think about being on a tour or marching in line with someone else. When you’re on a tour, you go exactly where the tour guide goes. They have experience in the area they are taking you through while you do not. The best way to avoid getting lost is to follow them closely.
Likewise, since the Holy Spirit is God, he knows God’s ways pretty well. Sure, you can try to navigate your relationship with God without the Spirit but you would only get lost. Instead, if you follow the Spirit closely, you’ll stay on the right track.
Related: How to Actively Pursue God
The works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit
Paul goes on to tell us about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh include sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, envy, drunkenness, and orgies. (Galatians 5:19-21) However, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
When we walk by the Spirit, we do not end up living out the works of the flesh. Instead, the fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in our lives. Walking by the Spirit means looking to Jesus for our direction. It is a daily journey of asking ourselves, “What does the Lord want me to do today? What will honor and please him?” It involves examining our lives and if we recognize the works of the flesh within us, we repent and ask for the Spirit’s help.
Fighting against sin and temptation is futile without the Spirit. Attempting to live a godly life without God is legalism. The Mosaic law was good but it wasn’t enough to keep people from succumbing to the works of the flesh. Likewise, you might have many methods that you’re using to help you live a godly life. Some of those methods can be good. But without the Spirit, they are worthless. Only the Spirit of God can lead us into godliness.
Living Lives Controlled by the Holy Spirit
I want to end with this: our lives should be ordered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. We should be wholly submitted to him. All of our decisions and choices should be led by the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord lives inside you. He teaches you how to live. But it’s important to take time to listen. Sit in prayer and spend time in the word. Listen for his still, small voice.
Walking by the Spirit makes us more like Christ. Isn’t this our goal? We want to become like the One we behold. We cannot become more like Christ through the law, our own morality, or rules that we set up for ourselves. It has to be through the Holy Spirit, always.
May we earnestly pray, “Spirit lead me” and commit to going wherever he leads.