Sometimes it is possible to so over-spiritualize something that we risk making it unattainable. We place it out of reach and we excuse ourselves for not trying. This is the danger with this next verse. Last week we looked at the same verse as today’s post, but we focused on the battle with our flesh. Today, we look at the way to win that battle.
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. (Gal 5:16, 17)
“Walk by the Spirit,” even though this may sound easy, it is something many of us still struggle to make practical. I know that walking means taking steps. So walking by the Spirit means being in step with the Spirit. So walking in the Spirit should entail keeping in step with the gospel of truth; reminding myself of what the gospel really is; what Jesus did and the implications of that sacrifice. If I keep that ever forefront in my thinking, then surely I would be aligning myself with everything the Spirit was sent to show me (see John 14-17). It is certainly easier to meditate on the merits of Christ than to vaguely think about how to “walk.”
Paul didn’t say “walk with the Spirit” or “in the Spirit” or “next to the Spirit” or any other preposition, he said “by”. Now it is starting to make sense. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to point us to Jesus. “Walking by” may simply mean taking our cue from Him to look for and at Jesus; taking our direction from the Spirit as we plumb the depths of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This seems much more practical and consistent with the rest of the letter and with the whole of the Scripture. So the focus isn’t “how am I walking by the Spirit” but “how am I seeing Jesus today.”
It seems to me that this principle to walk by the Spirit is just another way of saying to stay close to Jesus, to spend the time to draw near to Him; to align our thoughts and actions with His thoughts and actions. Here some other Scriptures that encourage us to do that.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)
The bottom line is that walking by the Spirit is no more mysterious or mystical than spending time in Worship – focusing on Him, prayer – talking to Him and Scripture – reading about who He is. These are the fundamental practices that Christians have engaged in for two thousand years. It is something every Christian can do from the youngest to the oldest. It doesn’t take great spirituality or great “faith.” It is simply saying to the Holy Spirit, “Show me Jesus.” And He will.
The struggle with the flesh that we are engaged in is a struggle to keep our focus on Him and off of us. It’s really no more complicated than that. The flesh leads to death (Romans 8) because it is looking away from the life-giver. The result of following the gaze of the Spirit as He points to Jesus is that we will look more and more like Him. And as we look more and more like Him, the desires of the flesh will look less and less attractive. We win!