“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18 ESV).
Yesterday we looked at the question of Paul, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Galatians 3:3 ESV)? If indeed we have come to faith in Christ, having received salvation as a gift (Ephesians 2:9), are we trying now to earn that salvation by trying hard to be better?
I want to look a little more closely at what it means to walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and live according to the Spirit. I don’t profess to be a theologian extraordinaire, and I don’t believe that I’ve done much more than scratch the surface of being led by the Spirit in my own life. But I do desire to ever be moving in that direction.
Our key text serves as an introduction to two lists: the first documents “the works of the flesh”, and the second the fruit of the Spirit. The tendency is to view these lists as a bunch of do’s and don’ts, more Law. And while the first list is a list of don’ts, the second list–the important one–is a list of attitudes and character traits.
I’m an admitted chocoholic and sugar addict (I hope never to recover from the first, but I want to overcome the second!). I can tell you that if I focus on not bingeing on sweets, then I am far more likely to fail. If, however, I focus my attention on eating healthful foods, and make them readily available, I do a much better job of controlling my sugar habit.
Verse 18 above says that “if [we] are led by the Spirit, [we] are not under the law.” That renders the list of “the works of the flesh” less powerful, and the list of the fruit of the Spirit so much more powerful.
But the fruit of the Spirit, I’m sure by design, are not things you can check off. Under the Law, we could go down the list and say, “I haven’t murdered anyone…check. I haven’t practiced sorcery…check.” But you can’t go out and mark love or faithfulness as done!
Being led by the Spirit is a second-by-second adventure of learning from Him how to make love and faithfulness (and the other fruit of the Spirit) a part of who you are, and not something that you do!
It is mindful discipleship. When we walk with an awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, and ask Him to lead us and alert us to situations where we can learn to live out the fruit of the Spirit, He will be faithful to teach us. But we must be mindful, and, when and where and how He leads, we must be obedient, trusting that He has our best interests at heart.
May God richly bless your weekend! Commit to learning to walk by the Spirit.