Monday, September 06, 2021

Anonymous Asks (161)

“What does ‘walking in the Spirit’ involve, and what do I do when I don’t feel like it?”

Walking by the Spirit is mentioned explicitly in two NT verses, Galatians 5:16 and Romans 8:4:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

“... in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

The first is a command, the second is merely descriptive; it tells us what constitutes a normal state of being for Christians, that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”.

Walking by the Spirit

Nevertheless, the Romans passage is useful because it sets up an instructive contrast. Walking by (or according to) the Spirit is the opposite of walking according to the flesh, something that we recognize as universally bad. Walking according to the flesh is living by your impulses, doing whatever the body and imagination want to do, without limit or restraint. The results of that sort of chaos are obvious, and Paul spells them out in the Galatians passage; things like sexual immorality, enmity, envy, fits of anger, and so on. Paul also warns in Romans that “if you live [walk] according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Negatively, then, walking by the Spirit involves characteristically exercising self-control and refusing to be led around by my natural impulses and old habits. The Christian is to “put to death the deeds of the body” and make no allowance for selfish impulses.

Positively, walking by the Spirit means allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work in my life, fostering in me the character qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. A Christian walking by the Spirit pays attention to opportunities to testify to Christ, to encourage fellow believers and do good to others.

What It Looks Like in Action

How does walking by the Spirit work? Well, in the first century, walking by the Spirit involved listening to and obeying the Spirit’s voice, which at the time came through the apostles’ doctrine, the teaching of the Old Testament, the letters of Paul and others, the teaching of Christ passed on verbally, the word of New Testament prophets, and by way of the use of other miraculous first century gifts through which the Spirit often spoke directly to the people of God, such as the word of wisdom and word of knowledge, tongues and their interpretation, and the ability to distinguish between spirits. These unusual means of communication were necessary among God’s people because scripture had yet to be completed, a topic discussed in greater detail here.

Since the completion of the New Testament at the end of the first century, walking by the Spirit continues to involve listening to and obeying the Spirit’s voice, which now comes exclusively through the written word of God, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”. No other source of the Spirit’s direction is to be expected, and none is needed. The Spirit, who wrote the word of God, never directs the Christian in ways that are inconsistent with what he has written.

What to Do When We Don’t Feel Like It

It is important to recognize that walking by the Spirit is not some mystical activity involving being led by voices in our head, nor is it some higher level of Christian performance achieved by only a select few. Walking by the Spirit is the very ordinary, day-to-day, characteristic pattern of a normal Christian life.

The contrast Paul sets up between walking according to the flesh and walking by the Spirit leaves us no room to conjecture a hypothetical lower level of Christian living between flesh and spirit which might be a little more “comfortable” when we are feeling spiritually lazy. There is no fence on which the Christian can conveniently sit where he is neither led by the Spirit nor led by his flesh. It will always be one or the other. The alternative to walking by the Spirit is disobedience to God. That road leads to death. Genuine Christians who are not walking by the Spirit for any length of time are pretty much guaranteed to encounter God’s discipline. If we don’t, it’s an indication we may not truly be indwelt by God’s Spirit at all.

The flesh is real, and it is powerful. Every Christian will have days when he doesn’t “feel” like making the effort required to live for Christ. But when we are truly children of God, there is another voice there as well, seeking to make himself heard by means of the scriptures with which we are familiar, and encouraging us to do what we know in our hearts to be pleasing to God.

Which of these voices we listen to is very much up to us. If we want the Spirit to speak more clearly to us, the thing to do is read his word more often, more carefully and more prayerfully.

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