How to Walk in the Spirit

In a recent conversation, a friend said, “I want to grow in walking in the Spirit” a couple of times.  It’s a Biblical phrase for sure, and one you hear in my part of the US quite a lot, but I started thinking, “what does that mean?”  And I wanted to write out a few thoughts.

First, here’s what I think people mean (at least here in the Southern part of the US, you tell me if it applies in your context) when they say, “walk in the Spirit.”  I think they mean a kind of relationship with the Holy Spirit that is marked by an ongoing input from the Spirit, particularly as it pertains to what that person should be doing at a given moment.  Said another way, walking in the Spirit is often meant to communicate a Spirit directed life, especially through responding to inner promptings that the person feels/experiences throughout the day.  Does that sound like what you’re hearing as well?

After reflecting on that, I thought, “Is that what the Bible means by walking in the Spirit?”  So, I went to the Word.   Here are the 3 places in the New Testament where walking in the Spirit might be understood.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

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.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
You’ll notice that the first is actually walking in the comfort of the Spirit, so that idea’s a little different.  It could mean that you are experiencing comfort that the Spirit is applying to your life OR it could mean that you are experiencing comfort because the Spirit is bringing to mind all the spiritual blessings that belong to us in Christ.  The first is saying that the Spirit is making you feel comforted, the second is that the Spirit is bringing God’s truth to light and that you are being comforted by that truth.  It’s easy to assume the first, but I actually think that, when the Spirit is involved, the second is much more likely.  I’ll say why later on.
In the other two passages, walking in (literally: by or according to) the Spirit is contrasted with walking according to the flesh, which Galatians defines as walking to “gratify the desires of the flesh.”
In context, the Romans passage seems to be saying that if you are born again, you are set free from slavery to sin and the flesh.  Therefore, walk not in the flesh, that is: not in sin, but walk in the Spirit, that is: in holiness, as those that are born again.  In no sense does this seem to say that if we listen closely enough with our hearts throughout the day, then the Spirit will give you promptings as to what to do in a given situation.  No, this passage seems to say: Walking in the Spirit means, simply, walking in obedience to God.
Likewise, Galatians pits walking in the Spirit against gratifying the desires of the flesh.  Paul here, in the wider context, also uses language like “led by the Spirit,” and “live by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit,” but each time he clarifies what he means by the examples and instructions he gives.  Here’s what it looks like:
  • 4.16 Walk by the Spirit – the result will be that you won’t gratify the desires of the flesh.
  • 4.18 Be led by the Spirit – the result will be that you won’t perform the deeds of the flesh (listed in vv 19-21), but instead you’ll produce the fruit of the Spirit (vv 22-23) because you have “crucified the flesh along with its passions and desires” (v 24).
  • 4.25-26 – Live by the Spirit/Keep in Step with the Spirit – the result will be that we won’t “become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

Every example seems to be saying that walking with/in the Spirit is a Biblical phrase that means walking obediently or living holy lives.  That’s easier said that done!  I do think Piper has been helpful on how the Spirit’s work empowers that.  You can listen here.  So, where do we get the idea of the Spirit giving us real time, internal promptings/instructions as a way of living that we should aspire to.  Perhaps it’s in the Bible but just not in these passages?  That’s my next step of inquiry.  Stay tuned AND let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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