As Christians, we know there’s a right way to live and a wrong way to live. We know that God calls us to live holy lives and to avoid sin. But the truth is that apart from Him, this is an impossible task. The Law proved this fact in that no one could actually keep all of God’s commands… with the exception of Jesus, of course. All of humanity was enslaved by sin, yet Jesus made a way for us to be free. But He didn’t stop there. He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter and Teacher… to guide us into all truth and teach us how to live righteously. God’s Spirit lives within all of His children and is with us everywhere we go. This is why the Bible teaches us to live by the Spirit and to humble ourselves to His lead. But what does walking by the Spirit look like in action? How do we know if our lives truly reflect what God intended for us?
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The key to living righteously is walking by the Spirit.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. – Galatians 5:16-17
The Holy Spirit plays several roles in helping us to live godly lives. First of all, He is our Teacher. He teaches us right from wrong, and speaks to our hearts when we are unsure. The other day, my daughters were watching a show on TV when a commercial aired for an upcoming movie. Something inside of me knew that it wasn’t right. Something was off, and I immediately felt the need to change the channel. Have you ever experienced anything like that? Was there ever a time in your life when the Holy Spirit spoke to your heart about a specific matter?
Secondly, the Holy Spirit strengthens and empowers us. Our strength alone isn’t capable of standing against sin and temptation. But His strength is more than enough!
The proof is in your deeds.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:19-24
In these verses from his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives us a list of sins as well as a list of spiritual fruit. Now it would be easy to look at these sins and simply say to ourselves, “Try not to do these things, but rather strive to have the fruit.” But this is not what Paul is saying here. He isn’t giving us a list of things to strive for, but instead giving us a list of “symptoms.” In other words, he wants us to examine our lives.
Think of it this way. When you are sick and find yourself at the doctor’s office, what does the doctor want to know in order to make a proper diagnosis? He asks you for a list of symptoms. These symptoms then serve as clues as to what the real issue is.
In this passage, Paul is giving us a list of symptoms… If you are living by the flesh, you will see these things in your life. If you are living by the Spirit, you will see something entirely different. Your actions reflect what is going on inside and what is truly guiding your heart. This is why walking by the Spirit is essential to righteous living. You can’t try to be good. You will fail every time. But if you walk in Him, and focus on that first and foremost, you will naturally produce good deeds in your life. They will stem from your heart rather than your will.
There’s a difference between living and walking by the Spirit.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. – Galatians 5:25
If we live by the Spirit, shouldn’t we also be walking by the Spirit? Paul makes a clear distinction here. The Holy Spirit gives us life. When we are born again, we have been made alive in Christ. This truth cannot be taken away from us. But even though we are alive, we still have a choice to make. We can choose to walk by the Spirit or walk by our flesh. We can walk in our new life given to us by God, or we can allow the flesh (which Paul reminds us in verse 24 has been crucified with Christ). Every day we make this choice.
Since we live by the Spirit, shouldn’t we also be walking by the Spirit?
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.