The Christian life is an empowered life. That’s why the New Testament writers remind us so often to be filled with and led by the Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit, God continually transforms us, and we become mature Christians.
In Paul’s letters, particularly in Galatians 5:16-25, he contrasts the desires of the flesh (human nature driven by sinful inclinations) with the fruit of the Spirit (characteristics that come from being filled with the Holy Spirit). “Walking in the Spirit” essentially means living in accordance with the guidance, promptings, and power of the Holy Spirit. This involves:
Submission to God:
Walking in the Spirit involves submitting one’s will to God and seeking to align one’s actions, thoughts, and decisions with God’s will.
The Holy Spirit helps believers to overcome the desires of the flesh and develop godly characteristics such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are often referred to as the “fruit of the Spirit.”
Guidance and Direction:
Walking in the Spirit means seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making choices, seeking wisdom, and discerning God’s plan for one’s life.
Believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life that reflects Christ’s teachings and values, which can be challenging to achieve through human effort alone.
Freedom from Legalism:
Paul emphasizes that living by the Spirit is a way of freedom from the burden of trying to earn salvation through legalistic adherence to rules and regulations.
Victory over Sin:
Walking in the Spirit helps believers overcome the power of sin in their lives, as the Holy Spirit enables them to resist temptations and make choices that honor God.
Relationship with God:
Walking in the Spirit fosters a deeper connection with God and a reliance on His presence in everyday life.
But how do we accomplish that, and how do we instruct others to do the same?
Here are four signs that you’re walking in the Spirit:
1. You’re pursuing Jesus
There are a lot of ways we can spend our energy, but the first and foremost needs to be abiding in Christ:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:5-6, New International Version).
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:9-12, NIV).
We abide in Christ by following his commands:
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).
To stretch Jesus’ analogy, as we remain in the vine, we are energized by the Spirit, which fills and empowers us to produce fruit (which we’ll look at in a moment). In order to walk in the Spirit, we need to ensure that we’re not severed from the vine.
We need to make sure that we’re keeping his commands and maintaining our connection through prayer, trust, and submission. As John reminds us:
“The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24, NIV).
2. You’re not focused on what the flesh desires
When we’re walking in the Spirit, we’ll find that our interest in many of the appetites and negative behaviors that tempt us naturally fades. Paul explains this to the church at Galatia:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want” (Galatians 5:16-17, NIV).
Relying upon the Spirit to empower and guide us leaves little room in our lives for the things that are contrary to the Spirit. Here, Paul shows us that these negative tendencies aren’t removed by an act of sheer will, but are replaced by pursuing and abiding in Christ.
When you see the attraction of these behaviors diminishing, that’s a good sign that you’re walking in the Spirit.
3. Your mind is set on what the Spirit desires
Not only does walking in the Spirit decrease the pull of our worldly desires, it also helps us understand and experience the will of God:
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8, NIV).
By following the Spirit, all the energy that used to go into chasing things to pacify, amuse, and entertain us is replaced by spiritual desires. As long as we’re chasing our fleshly appetites, we cannot please God; but walking in the Spirit gives us life and peace.
As you walk in the Spirit, you will find that you have a greater sense of well being and a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
4. You’re producing good fruit
In the seventh chapter of Matthew, Jesus warns the disciples about false prophets. He tells them that they will know these wolves in sheep’s clothing by the fruit they produce. As we saw earlier, abiding in Christ is the key to producing good fruit.
We need to be aware of the fruit our lives are producing because it directly corresponds to whether we’re walking in the Spirit or gratifying the flesh.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:19-26, NIV).
If our lives are consistently displaying things like selfish ambition, jealousy, and discord, we need to take a serious look at whether we’re walking in the Spirit.
You are under the Spirit’s influence
While we are in the world, we are going to struggle with the desires of the flesh. But as we’re walking in the Spirit, we’re no longer under the tyranny of the desires of our flesh (Galatians 5:16). The Christian spiritual life is about growing in our dependence upon the Spirit-our source of power for godly living.