What Does It Mean to Walk by the Spirit?

by Mike Ratliff

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 ESV)

In my research yesterday into Spiritual Formation and Contemplative Spirituality I became amazed at the ease with which the Emergent writers would take passages from Sacred Scripture out of context and attempt to force them to support their mystical paradigm. There was a lot of emphasis on Christian Authenticity and what that means as well as becoming Christlike or like Christ. While I write about those things quite a bit I was a bit surprised to see them take the passages from God’s Word I use to teach believers to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow Jesus to mean something quite different.

Another site I went to, but did not stay very long, was called The Website of Unknowing.This site was actually a feeder to other sites that promoted the concept of Christians being “formed, by the Holy Spirit, through Christ, in the image and likeness of God.” Man, that sounds just like what I teach here most of the time, however, what they are selling is something quite different from what Christ and the Apostles wrote of in the New Testament. The main difference is that the Bible actually teaches Christians to learn about God, to learn His truth and apply it to their lives, to know His sound doctrine and through that, be made free to walk by the Spirit. On the other hand, the proponents of Spiritual Formation teach that only those who profess to know nothing with certainty are truly following Christ. Those, like me, who teach sound doctrine with certainty, are merely arrogant. Spiritual Formation is not Christian, but a melding of christian mysticism  with Quakerism and Eastern Mysticism. The Contemplative Spirituality they are selling teaches professing believers to use meditation techniques that are unbiblical. In fact, they are all about centering prayer with the use of mantras, the continual repetition of phrases or words in order to open up the subconscious to communicate with the Spirit world.

This is not the same way our Lord taught us to pray nor is it how we are to meditate on Sacred Scripture. Instead, we are to pray with the glory of God at the forefront of our minds. We do not put our minds into neutral as we do this, but are actively seeking His will and the deeper we immerse ourselves into God’s Word, the more God will use that which is hidden in our hearts to give us what we need, be that direction or edification or encouragement. The contemplative prayer techniques do not do this. Instead, they are very dangerous and can only lead to further deception by our enemy who is preying on these people pretending to be the Lord, guiding them into even deeper darkness. Let us look at a biblical example of spiritual maturing.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 ESV)

16λεγω δε πνευματι περιπατειτε και επιθυμιαν σαρκος ου μη τελεσητε (Galatians 5:16 WHNU)

I say but, in spirit walk around and desire of flesh not not you might complete. (Galatians 5:16 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

What is the focus here? We are called as Christians to walk in repentance. However, most believers are enslaved to the their flesh. However, Paul tells us what it takes to break those bonds of slavery. The word translated here as walk by or walk around is περιπατειτε. This word speaks of how we deport ourselves in our daily walk before the face of God. We can do this according to the flesh (σαρκος) or according to the Spirit (πνευματι). The New Testament usage of σαρκος in this context always refers to the fallen human nature with all of its moral frailties. When we walk by the Spirit (πνευματι περιπατειτε), what are we doing? This is walking through each day down the narrow path (direction) in the power of the Holy Spirit (empowerment). If we are walking this way then we are being guided by the Holy Spirit in our decisions and then we at within the spiritual power that He gives us to do so.

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 5:17-18 ESV)

17η γαρ σαρξ επιθυμει κατα του πνευματος το δε πνευμα κατα της σαρκος ταυτα γαρ αλληλοις αντικειται ινα μη α εαν θελητε ταυτα ποιητε  18ει δε πνευματι αγεσθε ουκ εστε υπο νομον (Galatians 5:17-18 WHNU)

The for flesh desires against the spirit, the but spirit against the flesh, these for one another lie against, that not what if you might want these you might do. If but in spirit you are led, not you are under the law. (Galatians 5:17-18 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

What does this mean? The first part is self-explanatory. All of us know that God did not kill our flesh when He saved us. We still have this enemy within and this old nature battles with our new nature, which is of the Spirit. If we walk in self-focus and temporal-focus then we are not walking in the Spirit and this means that we are not being empowered by the Holy Spirit nor are we listening to His guidance. This means that we make stupid, selfish decisions here that are actually motivated by our pride. On the other hand, if we are led by the Spirit (πνευματι αγεσθε), this is proof that we are no longer under the law. What does this mean? It means that all in Christ have been made free from the pre-Christian system of keeping God’s Law. Instead, they are under grace. We can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) to seek help from God in forgiveness as we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) or to implore Him to give us wisdom and discernment to know how to proceed and not sin.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

19φανερα δε εστιν τα εργα της σαρκος ατινα εστιν πορνεια ακαθαρσια ασελγεια  20ειδωλολατρια φαρμακεια εχθραι ερις ζηλος θυμοι εριθειαι διχοστασιαι αιρεσεις  21φθονοι μεθαι κωμοι και τα ομοια τουτοις α προλεγω υμιν καθως προειπον οτι οι τα τοιαυτα πρασσοντες βασιλειαν θεου ου κληρονομησουσιν (Galatians 5:19-21 WHNU)

Evident but are the works of the flesh, which is sexual immorality, uncleanness, debauchery, idol service, magic, hostilities, strife, jealousy, furies, selfish ambitions, divisions, sects, envies, drunkenness, carousings and the like these, that I say before to you, just as I said before that the ones the such practicing kingdom of God not will inherit. (Galatians 5:19-21 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

These works of the flesh (σαρκος) are evidences of one being unregenerate (v21). This is so because these sins are all bound up in self-focus, self-promotion, self-affirmation, self-aggrandizement, et cetera. When we are controlled by our pride then these sins will take over and control us. We become enslaved to them. The key to understanding this is that Paul is not saying that Christians do not sin, but that those who practice them as a way of life or a way of walking (πρασσοντες) are giving evidence of not being genuine Christians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 ESV)

22ο δε καρπος του πνευματος εστιν αγαπη χαρα ειρηνη μακροθυμια χρηστοτης αγαθωσυνη πιστις  23πραυτης εγκρατεια κατα των τοιουτων ουκ εστιν νομος  24οι δε του χριστου ιησου την σαρκα εσταυρωσαν συν τοις παθημασιν και ταις επιθυμιαις  25ει ζωμεν πνευματι πνευματι και στοιχωμεν (Galatians 5:22-25 WHNU)

The but fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-temper, kindness, goodness, trust, gentleness, inner strength; against the such not there is law. The ones but of the Christ Jesus the flesh crucified with the sufferings and the desires. If we live in spirit, in spirit also we might walk. (Galatians 5:22-25 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

Do you see the contrast my brethren? If the walk of the professing Christian is marked by the first list of sins then it is evidence that they are not genuine. On the other hand, the genuine Christian, though not perfect, will walk with the second list as the markers in their character that give evidence of a growing Christlikeness. Paul even goes on to say that genuine Christians (οι δε του χριστου ιησου) have crucified the flesh (σαρκα εσταυρωσαν) with its passions and desires. This means that genuine Christians have died with Christ to sin (Romans 6:4-6). This is the result of walking in the Spirit as these Christians assign these passions and desires to the dung heap. They view them as worthless and can do this because their focus is not in the temporal nor is it on the self all wrapped up in pride. No, instead, it is on God and His glory. Their focus is eternal and when they are walking this way, their flesh is denied and has no power to ensnare them and get them off of the narrow path.

Is this the same thing as Spiritual Formation? Will practicing a form of transcendental meditation cause the believer to walk by the Spirit? No, for this requires an active walking in repentance and praying continually in the Spirit. The mind is not put in neutral, but is fully engaged with God. This is why it is imperative for Biblical literacy to be a top priority in the Church. This is what the Spirit uses to renew our minds so that we can be transformed into the Spirit-led believers described above (Romans 12:1-2).

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Walk by the Spirit?

  1. Hi Mike,
    This was very good! As you said, the one walking by the Spirit is Christ focused and cross centered…living with gratitude for the Redeemer Who saves and has no need to “experience” God or meditate to try to “get into the presence of God.” He knows God is ever present and with him always, never to leave nor forsake. We receive the beautiful peace of Christ by faith which He gives.
    I think it must be so sad to be always trying to seek and meditate and try this new thing or that new prayer.etc. Such a focus on self and not Christ, although they are deceived into thinking the opposite and rather look down on anyone not up to their high standards. I have been on that receiving end.
    Thanks again, Mike…digging out of over a foot of snow! 🙂


  2. Thank you Diane! I agree completely. We got just a dusting of snow here, but the wind is pretty stout and the temperature is just now getting up to 12 degrees. They say it will get below 0 tonight. I think I would rather have the snow. 🙂

    In any case, thanks for your comment my sister.


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