Summary: Walking under the guidance of God's Spirit is the only sure way to be successful in God's work.
WALKING BY THE SPIRIT
Doctors continually tell us how important it is that we get exercise. We are told that we need about thirty minutes each day. There are different types of exercise we can do to stimulate different parts of our body. There are numerous exercise machines we can purchase or use to exercise the various parts of our body. Gyms and other establishments are busy with people working their bodies. Yet doctors tell us that the best exercise we can get comes through walking. A good brisk walk on an exercise machine or outside is very good for the heart. Because of technology, more and more jobs require less physical exercise, so it is now necessary that we get it through other means other than at work. As walking is a key to good health, so walking by the Spirit is the key to spiritual maturity and a good witness for Christ.
Each child of God is involved in the sanctification process. That is a word we sometimes shy away from, but it simply means we are growing in our spiritual maturity. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, this process begins. It is a lifelong process that will end in glorification when we are at home with the Lord. In these verses, Paul begins to talk about walking in the Spirit.
I. IT IS A COMMNAD
Paul says that when we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. We have already discussed the meaning of flesh. It refers to old patterns of behavior that were learned before we came to Christ. If we walk by the Spirit, as commanded, we will not carry out our sinful desires because the Spirit of God, as our inward guide, will keep us on the paths of righteousness.
As we have seen, the book of Galatians is a contrast of living by the law and grace. The Jews of the Old Testament lived by the law of God, or at least tried to, and found that they could never live up to God's commands. Paul introduced the Galatians to the grace of Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the law of God, and by a relationship with him we can live up to God's standards through his strength. We do not need the ceremonies and traditions of the Old Testament system because we have experienced the grace of Jesus. All we need to live a holy and acceptable life before God is the Holy Spirit. God gives him the moment we believe.
Many believers in Galatia were trying to live up to God's standards in their own strength. The Judaizers gave them an outward list of rules and regulations whereby they might earn their salvation. How foolish they were to try to do what was impossible. They did not need such an outward list but only to obey their inward guide, the Holy Spirit. Paul tells them and us that we simply need to walk by the Spirit.
Walk, as Paul uses it, speaks of a continuous and regular action. Walking by the Spirit is to be habitual for the Christian. Neither is walking by the Spirit an option but a command. This walking implies progress. While the Spirit is the source of our success in Christian living, it is up to us to walk. God will not drag us along in the spiritual growth process. It is up to us to walk, thereby allowing him to lead us. Paul is teaching that Christian living is more than passive submission. It involves action. Our will must be active in the sanctifying process of the Holy Spirit. We do not sit on the sidelines and watch the Spirit do battle for us. We must involve ourselves in the process.
When we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. The two are mutually exclusive. The life walked in the Spirit is a Christlike life. We saturate our thoughts and actions with truth, love and glory to God. We desire to be like our Lord in every way. It is letting Christ richly dwell in us. When we do not walk by the Spirit, the opposite will be true.
We can imagine the one who stands on the sidelines yelling at a football game. They contribute nothing significant to the ball game, other than maybe pumping up the players. The coach is calling the plays, and the players are obeying his rules. It does not matter what those on the sidelines are saying. They have no significant bearing on the outcome of that particular game. The Christian cannot do this. We must walk by the Spirit which implies that we put forth effort as God's works in us through his Spirit. We have a part in our spiritual maturity.