Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Walk by the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Gal 5:16 NASB)

Since we live by the Spirit, we should also keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:25, my translation)

"Walk" is a metaphor for living with purpose. "Walk" is a command in verse 16. Verse 25 uses a different word in a different form, but the idea is parallel. The statements concerning the Spirit from vv. 16, 25 introduce and conclude a distinct section of teaching, from Gal 5:16-26.

"You will not [Greek: ou mē] carry out the desire of the flesh" is a promise. There is a necessary connection here. Walking by the Spirit yields a life that is characterized not by fleshly desires, but by the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19ff. contains a list of "the works of the flesh." As clear from this list, "flesh" is used as a broad term for the old, unregenerate nature. In principle, the flesh has been crucified with Christ (as in 5:24, cf. Gal 2:20). In practice, we must be putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom 8:13), keeping in step with the Spirit.

Though not in the imperative form, the subjunctive form for the word translated "keep in step," found in verse 25, indicates a moral imperative: we should keep in step with the Spirit. "Keep in step" is translated from a form of a verb that "has as its basic meaning the idea of 'stand in a row'" [Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary (Nelson Reference and Electronic, 1990), 265], which may be a military term; the word carries the meaning of a deliberative action in walking (it could be translated "march"). One either walks by the Spirit or carries out fleshly desires. These activities are mutually exclusive. If we do not walk by the Spirit, we are living contrary to a clear biblical command. If we do not keep in step with the Spirit, it indicates moral failure on our part.

Our motivation for walking by the Spirit is that He has given us life. "Believers have already been translated from an old mode of existence to a new one" [Moisés Silva, Interpreting Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 183]. The Holy Spirit is the origin of the believer's life, and He is the instrumental means by which we are empowered to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

In this section of Galatians, the command to walk by the Spirit is specifically contrasted with "the desire of the flesh" on the one hand and being "under the law" (5:18) on the other.

What does it mean to "walk by the Spirit"? How does a believer "walk by the Spirit"?

 To walk by the Spirit is:

- To live in accordance with our new identity in Christ;
- To love neighbor as self;
- To strive after sanctification;
- To depend on the Holy Spirit;

To live in accordance with our new identity in ChristSince we live by the Spirit, we should also keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25, my translation). Earlier in Galatians, the Apostle had written, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20a NASB). In this section (5:16-26), Paul writes, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24 NASB). Our flesh has been killed: it has been dealt a mortal blow with the death of Christ on the Cross. We have died to the law (Gal 2:19): legalism is prohibited. To walk by the Spirit is to live as if the desire of the flesh and temptations to legalism have no power over us. Because, due to the Cross of Christ, the power of the flesh and the curse of the law have indeed been broken.

To love neighbor as self. When the Apostle gives the command "walk by the Spirit," it comes in the midst of his teaching concerning the relationship of the believer to the law. The curse of the law has been broken. If we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law (Gal 5:18). Yet there is a real sense in which the blessed man still delights in the law of the Lord (Psa 1:2). Lawlessness cannot characterize the Christian life, for sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and Christ has saved us from sin.

Jesus summarizes God's moral law in terms of loving God heart, soul, and mind, and loving neighbor as self. The Judaizers in Galatia, against whom Paul was writing, would have agreed (in theory) that one should love God whole-heartedly. They may have even given verbal assent to the idea that one should love neighbor as self. One of the Apostle's goals in writing Galatians (as seen in Gal 5:1-15) was to demonstrate that the Judaizers were acting in an unloving way, trying to place an impossible burden upon those who have been set free by Christ. Through acting in such an unloving manner, the Judaizers (who claimed to love God's law) were actually violating the principle that fulfills the law: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:14).

Jesus is God. God is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, as we live in accordance with our new identity in Christ, our lives will be characterized by love. This love will be grounded in gospel truth.

The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity most identified (according to the divine economy) with love between the Father and the Son, the application of divine love to elect sinners, and shining forth God's love to others. Believers in Christ are indwelt by the Spirit (John 7:38-39). Therefore, as we "keep in step with the Spirit," our lives will be characterized by love.

To strive after sanctification. There is a view of the Christian life that teaches, "Let go and let God." This view is largely identified with the Keswick movement. A key problem with this teaching is that it largely defines the Christian life in passive terms. This may be a problem with some sides of a recent debate on sanctification as well: some participants in the debate seemed (at least) to identify virtually any activity on our part (other than a mere mental consideration of what Jesus has done in our justification) with legalism. But "walk," in Galatians 5:16, is an active verb. That activity is required by this command is expressed even more clearly in the re-iteration of the principle found in Galatians 5:25, where we are told to "keep in step" with the Spirit. In the last chapter of Galatians, we see further evidence of the believer's activity regarding the Spirit when the Apostle writes of "the one who sows to the Spirit" (Gal 6:8 ESV). [Thanks to John Shrewsbury-Sunday School Director at New Georgia Baptist Church for pointing out Gal 6:8 to me in this connection.] A person cannot sow passively.

What kind of activity is involved if we are to "walk by the Spirit"? One verse that may be helpful in this consideration is Jude 20, where the Spirit-inspired author writes of "praying in the Holy Spirit." [Thanks to Jerry Dorris for pointing out Jude 20 to me in this connection.] Ceaseless prayer (1 Thess 5:17) in the Holy Spirit--characterized by faith and focus on Christ (Jude 20-21), directed toward God with no consideration of impressing others (Matt 6:5-8)--is a major part of what it means to walk by the Spirit.

Along with prayer, we should consider the other "acts of righteousness" that Jesus mentions in Matthew 6:1-18. Namely: giving to the needy and fasting. Obviously the commands of Christ concerning the Christian life can in no way be divorced from the command of the Apostle that we "walk by the Spirit."

Other God-appointed means of sanctification may be included as well. Obviously (for example) we cannot "walk by the Spirit" if we neglect evangelism, as we will be failing to take our part in the Lord's commission to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). In fact, one might argue that all of the spiritual disciplines for the Christian life are included in the command to "walk by the Spirit."

To depend on the Holy Spirit. If the above consideration is correct, then the single command "walk by the Spirit" may be rightly understood to involve all of the spiritual disciplines. This may seem to be bad news. We may feel overwhelmed at the thought of performing all the disciplines. We may feel discouraged considering how often we neglect various disciplines. This is why we must walk by the Spirit. As indicated by Galatians 5:18, we must be "led by the Spirit." The power for sanctification comes from Him, not us. Our focus is on Christ, whom the Spirit consistently glorifies, not on ourselves.

Depending on the Holy Spirit (focusing on Him) also points to the fact that there is a certain priority in the spiritual disciplines. Jesus certainly expects His disciples to fast, but He doesn't expect us to starve ourselves to death by fasting every single day. Jesus certainly expects His disciples to give to the needy, but He doesn't expect us to give ourselves into destitution. But He does expect us to pray without ceasing (to pray daily): "praying in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 20). He also expects us to meditate on the Word of God and to keep His Word on our lips (Acts 4:23-31). These are the most basic spiritual disciplines: maintaining a conversation with God, which is expanded into our conversation with others (including our words and actions), all the while depending on the Holy Spirit.

[The above blogpost was originally published here on 5/28 and 6/2/2014.]

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