by Brian G. Bettes
We are admonished by the apostle Paul to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). I have read this and other verses talking about our spiritual walk for years, but the meaning of the concept never really “clicked” with me like it did during a recent study on the subject.
Paul talks about being led by the Spirit in two ways. First, he says that those who are led by the Spirit, they are the sons of God (Romans 8:14). But just before that, he talks about putting to death (mortifying) the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit (Romans 8:12-13). So being led by the Spirit is stated in the context of putting to death the deeds of the flesh.
Second, he says that those who are led by the Spirit, they are not under the law (Galatians 5:18). This statement is given by Paul just before he talks about the works of the flesh, then he repeats the concept after delineating the fruits of the Spirit, but in connection with crucifying the flesh along with its passions and lusts (Galatians 5:24-25).
What I began to notice in this recent study is that the Holy Spirit is a tool that we should be using to overcome the flesh. In other words, there is a partnership that is created between us and God, and the Holy Spirit is the instrument of change that is given to us to help us put away the old man and take on the new.
Having God’s Holy Spirit does not mean we are going to automatically do the right thing. Quite the opposite in fact. There is a struggle, or a war, going on in our flesh that fights against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). We must be led by His Holy Spirit. That means, when a wrong thought or idea comes into our head (James 1:14-15), and we get that “notion” that we should not follow through on it, instead of blowing past that notion, we should stop and follow it.
God will, through His Spirit, lead us if we are willing. But we have to be willing to listen to what He is trying to tell us through His Spirit, not push it aside. I think we all understand what I am saying, that the “notion” I am talking about is usually something that is brought to our mind by the Holy Spirit, bringing something to us from the Word of God (John 14:26).
I am most certainly not talking about some emotional urging, and that we should be led around by our feelings. We all know what I am talking about because it has happened to all of us. Normally, the wrong thought or idea is some emotional impulse that will make us feel good, and the notion is God’s Spirit trying to lead us back toward Him through His Word.
There is a battle going on between our ears for the captivity of our most precious resources—our hearts and our minds (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:5). These two verses represent the two forces working in our hearts and our minds in the war we are involved in. One is aggressively trying to take over, while the other has to be yielded to for it progressively consume our thinking. One has to be confronted, resisted, and punished (Ephesians 6:11, 13; 2 Corinthians 10:6), while the other has to be allowed to exist and grow within us (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit is a clear confirmation that we must yield to it in order for it to grow and become more dominant in our lives.
This relationship, and our part in it, is perfectly exemplified in James 4:7. It is our responsibility to submit ourselves to God, and it is also our responsibility to resist the devil. Only after we have done our part is the promise from God realized that He alone can make happen—that the devil will flee from us.
It is interesting that the words Paul chose to use in Galatians 5:16 and Galatians 5:25 are different from each other.
First of all, in verse 16, when he says to “walk in the Spirit,” for the word “walk” he uses a Greek word that means to tread around, or to walk around at large. This gives the flavor of being something that involves everything we do.
Next, in verse 25, when he says, “if we live in the Spirit,” for the word “live” he uses a Greek word that means to live life. Again, this gives the sense of being a part of everything we do.
But what is interesting is, still in verse 25, when he says, “let us also walk in the Spirit,” the translators used the same word “walk” as they used in verse 16. However, the Greek word that Paul used was different from word he used in verse 16 that was also translated into English as “walk.” This would lead the reader to believe that Paul was saying the same thing as in verse 16, when in fact, he was not.
The Greek word translated “walk” in verse 25 means to march, like in a military rank, and to keep in step. Figuratively it means to conform to a specific value system and walk orderly while doing so. This gives more of the sense that we are to not just follow the lead of the Spirit as we go about our daily lives, but that we are to also do so with focused purpose. It indicates that we are to confront the devil, his evil influences, and the human nature of the old man within us with purpose. It shows that we are to be using the armor of God for protection, and the power of the Holy Spirit as our instrument of change as we let it lead us, marching into battle against these enemies.
Paul is clearly talking about being ready to both defensively repel an attack, but also going on the offensive and taking the battle to the enemy. This is what it means to mortify, that is aggressively attack, the deeds of the flesh. If we go back and read through all of the writings of the apostles, we will see this theme, one of aggressively going after the devil, his influence, and the nature of the old man that keeps trying to rise up within us, using the Holy Spirit to repel and put them to death as we follow its lead. This is what it means, at least in part, to live and walk in the Spirit.