Galatians 5:16 teaches, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." What does it mean to walk by or in the Spirit?
Romans 8:3-5 helps to answer this question, stating, "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 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. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (emphasis added). In contrast with those who live by the flesh or human sinful nature, believers are called to live by the Spirit and the ways of God.
Part of the idea of walking in the Spirit is to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. This includes ending sinful practices (Romans 8:13), being led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14), knowing the Father through Jesus (Romans 8:15), and prayer (Romans 8:26). A person committed to holy living, fellowship with God, and an intimate prayer life is the kind of person who is walking in the Spirit.
Again, Galatians 5:16 contrasts walking by the Spirit with gratifying the desires of the flesh. To walk by the Spirit, then, is to turn from sin and walk with God in holy living. There is a clear command to turn from the flesh and to pursue the fruit of the Spirit. This includes, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Further, walking in the Spirit involves "keep[ing] in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25). This includes, "Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another" (Galatians 5:26). In other words, an additional mark of walking in the Spirit is loving others. Instead of conceit, provoking, and envy, we are called to humility, encouragement, and love.
In fact, the first verse of the next chapter reveals the extent to which this love must grow: "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1-2). Walking in the Spirit involves loving others to the extent of helping other people out of sin. This includes carefully watching one's own life to avoid falling to temptation.
Finally, in Galatians 6:16 Paul notes, "And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." He called for peace and mercy upon those who would walk according to God's ways. We are to walk in the Spirit, helping others in need, and receive peace and mercy in the process.
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