What does it mean to Walk in the Spirit? (Galatians 5:16)
The Bible says that we should “walk by the Spirit”, but what does it mean?
Galatians 5:16 says: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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.
When the Bible mentions the word “flesh” or “sin nature” it usually refers to man’s natural inclination to rebel or sin against God. Galatians 5:19-21 refers to the works or characteristics of the flesh as the following: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It’s the above listed characteristics of the flesh which Paul says are contrary to the desires of the Spirit.
The works of the flesh do not glorify God. Instead such characteristics oppose God’s word and value systems. To live in accordance to the flesh is to live in rebellion against God.
However, instead of living in the flesh, we are encouraged to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) or to “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
What does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”?
Just as there are characteristics that reveal that a person is walking in the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), there are also characteristics which reflect if a person is walking in the Spirit.
We walk in the Spirit when we live our daily lives in accordance with the 9 fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
The fruit of the Spirit reveals the nature and character of God. Walking in the Spirit means that when we yield to the Holy Spirit and obey His word, the 9 virtues mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 will be practically expressed and nurtured in our daily life.
So a Christian who is walking in the Spirit is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These virtues are sourced from the Holy Spirit who enables us to express godliness whilst resisting the sinful desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:24 says: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Walking in the Spirit reveals that we are no longer slaves to sin. Instead we have the Helper, the Holy Spirit who helps us to overcome the sinful impulses of the flesh that once controlled us before we became saved.
Scripture emphasizes that we cannot walk in the flesh and walk in the Spirit simultaneously. The flesh and the Spirit are constantly opposed to each other (Galatians 5:17). So we only have one choice: to either live by the flesh or live by the Spirit.
The consequences of living according to the works of the flesh are detrimental. Soon after listing the characteristics of the flesh, in Galatians 5:21 Paul states: “…I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Romans 8:7-8 says: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
However, if the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us, then we will grow in our desire to please God and be more like Jesus Christ in our character and nature. The more we walk in the Spirit, the more the 9 fruits or virtues of the Holy Spirit become evident in our life. As we walk in the Spirit, God will continue to put His desires inside of us.
Walking in the Spirit also means that we desire to obey God’s word. The Holy Spirit will never influence a person to disobey the Bible. The Holy Spirit will always seek to glorify God and to reveal the truth.
Jesus says in John 16:13-15: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own but will tell you what He has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring Me glory by telling you whatever He receives from Me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is Mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever He receives from Me.’”
Therefore every Christian believer must seek the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every believer should desire to walk by the Spirit.