So I say, Walk By The Spirit
Keep In Step With The Spirit
Key Verse 5:25
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
“So I say, walk [or live] by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” What a magnificent truth this is. Walk by the Spirit, and you will most assuredly not gratify the desires of your sinful nature. These words are like heavenly sunshine to young Christians who seem to be in a continuous struggle (battle) with their sinful nature. You see, there is a war going on in the Christian soul, a war that according to the Scriptures, has already been won, but where the battlefield is so fresh that the young believer thinks that it’s too good to be true! But why does the young Christian think so? Because he knows he is still battling with his sinful desires on a daily basis, and can’t seem to see the dawn of the day when the battle is over and he’s truly been a victor in every sense of the word. Yet he’s a victor not because he himself is able to win a battle of this magnitude and claim victory on his own, but because the head of the enemy has already been severed by Christ, and now all that remains for the young believer is dodging the spasms of the defeated enemy. These spasms can really seem so powerful at times that the believer might think that the enemy is still alive and has a chance to win. But the truth is that the dragon has been slain, and the victory is assured.
In the last passage we talked about the nature of the battle within; that is, the desires of the Spirit who lives in the believer’s heart are contrary to the desires of his flesh or sinful nature. But Paul tells us that we have won. We have won because Christ died for us, and delivered us from this enemy, and has liberated us from the sinful nature. And Paul also tells us how to live out the new lives— or the new nature— given to us by Jesus when we are born again. We have the Spirit of God, and we must “walk [keep in step with] by the Spirit” of God. And if we do that, we will bear the fruits of the Spirit, which every true Christian young and old long to see happen in their life. That is what Paul wants to assure us of.
We also looked at how we can “walk by the Spirit” that we might bear the fruit of the Spirit, and thereby not gratify the desires of the sinful nature— that dragon inside us who seems to still be kicking in his death throes and causing us to fall at times. “Walk by the Spirit”, Paul says, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. To “walk by the Spirit” then, we saw that we must live by faith and believe and trust and hold on to the word of God. It sounds simplistic or too good to be true! “You’re telling me to just live by faith, and trust and believe the word of God, and I will not gratify the desires of my flesh; that I would be victorious in my Christian walk — isn’t that a bit too naïve?” “Shouldn’t I be doing something to make sure that I do not sin anymore? Shouldn’t I be doing something— some exercise or some rigorous spiritual discipline to help me control that sinful nature? Shouldn’t I be doing something to battle those unholy urges that seem to surface here and there?” And the answer is “no”! There was nothing you could do before you became a Christian— it was all by his own work through his grace, by faith! And there is nothing you could do now that you have received Christ into your heart. What is needed is to “walk by the spirit” meaning that you ought to trust the Holy Spirit in this battle within and walk with him step by step, until he is done with you. And you do that by living by faith, trusting him, holding his hand, and remaining in his word— as he sanctifies you and works in you to make you more Christ-like. It was his work— his grace, it is his work— his grace, and it will always be his work— his grace. The sooner you get this into your heart, the sooner you will escape your long and painful struggle with the sinful nature, and come to understand and rest in the glories and privileges of this new life God has given you in Christ.
The passage we are looking at today is very interesting and deserves a few words first before we get into it. But here is a danger that we must be wary of as we explore the virtues and vices Paul lists in this section. We will call the “the acts of the sinful nature” vices, and we will call the “fruits of the Spirit” virtues. So, here is the danger I am talking about when looking at this section here. Take the 10 commandments for example. Suppose I try to keep them because the Bible tells me that I am morally depraved and I need to keep them because in my sinful nature I don’t know better … so I keep these commandments and laws. What’s wrong with that? Nothing— if I know that keeping them won’t save me or make me righteous or earn me merits and credit with God. But it becomes wrong when I feel good that I’m keeping them and I feel justified that I’m doing the right thing and I look down on you because you break them all the time. Now I’ve become a self righteous person who relies on the law for being right with God. But if I say to myself: “well God sacrificed his Son to deliver me from sin and that’s the only thing that makes me righteous so I’m putting my faith in Jesus and his blood washes my sins— then I’m righteous not because I am keeping them, but I am righteous by virtue of Jesus’ sacrifice and the faith I have in him. So, now if I follow the 10 commandments, I do so because I’m justified by his grace and now have a new nature; And this new nature compels me to abide by these commandments because the Spirit in me (and the new nature God has given me) is naturally drawn to God’s law and works in me to obey them willingly from my heart. Now I’m no longer exerting effort or “working” to obey the 10 commandments, but the Spirit in me produces the fruit of obedience and draws me to these good and holy teachings. Now I can’t look down on you nor feel holy on account of that because it is not me obeying the commandments but the Spirit of God in me bearing that fruit.
Now here’s the danger I was talking about earlier. Look at the danger of taking the commandments in this passage (kindness, gentleness, self control) and making them a law that I must strive to achieve or obey! Can you see the danger of taking these virtues and trying to hold them not by the work of the Spirit but by my own effort? Now, also, I can feel good about myself, and look down on you when you break them. For example, I am trying my best to be patient and you you’re losing your temper all too quickly! Or I am able to control my lust and you fall to it so often! So I can feel holy and righteous. Now my faith had shifted from relying on the grace of God, and the work of the Spirit, to relying on these fine Christian commandments, especially the ones I think I am keeping. Here is an example. I look at these virtues and I say “wow” these are great virtues, let me try to achieve them. let me try to be patient, so I begin to try to be patient. Soon, I either fall and condemn myself thinking something is terribly wrong with my Christianity and faith, and think that perhaps I should try harder and pray harder than ever. But God won’t listen to me— he’s already condemned the old man in me and declared him unfit for patience and crucified him in Christ. So when I try harder, its like I’m asking God to reform that old man in me, and God will not do it, because the old man cannot be reformed, he is depraved; what God has done is not to reform him, but to crucify him, and give me a new life to live by the Spirit. That is the danger of Christians looking to make these vices and virtues laws to follow, commandments to obey. What happens when I am able to follow a virtue or avoid a vice, is that I am feeding my self righteousness, and my pride. Suddenly these very virtues I am keeping and the vices I am avoiding have become a snare to me. I am not walking by the Spirit anymore. What the Spirit wants is not a reformation of the old man and nature, but a total transformation on the inside, a transformation by the Spirit of God, a transformation that allows me to being to walk by the Spirit and to bear the fruits of the Spirit. Paul wants us to absolutely look at these not as laws to follow or things to avoid, but to understand that when I walk by the Spirit, these vices of the old man die out, and these virtues of the new man in his new nature will bud and blossom like fruit in our lives, as the Spirit works to sanctify us to be more like Jesus. We need to only walk by the Spirit, live by faith, trust God, rely on his mercy, hold dearly to his word. As I said, the sooner we understand this principle of Christian life, the sooner we will get along in our Christian walk in the Spirit, bearing the fruit that we all long to manifest in our lives.
Paul is very much aware of this serious problem that we have, and let us be certain that he is not giving us a set of new laws and behaviors to replace the old laws and behaviors. As I said, what we need is not a new law to live by but what we really need is a total transformation on the inside— the kind of transformation that only the Spirit can produce in me such that I am like a tree that bears good fruit all on its own because it is exactly what it was created to do. The mistake Christians make is to try to rid themselves of their sinful behavior rather than seeking a total transformation on the inside through the work of the Spirit. What the gospel does for us, what the Spirit of God does for us, is to transform us on the inside such that we will abhor everything to do with old nature— the sinful nature we were delivered from, and then naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit— love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. He says in verse 23 that against these things there is no law. They are not to be treated as laws, but the work of the Spirit who loves us and is working in our hearts to transform us into the image of the One we Love, our Lord Jesus. As it was a matter of faith that saved us, so also it is a matter of faith that sanctifies us and bears fruits in us. Trust that God is doing so, and your whole Christian struggle will take a whole new horizon and perspective. It is liberating. As Paul says, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Paul clearly spells out the acts of the sinful nature as well as the fruits of the Spirit so that we might clearly recognize what it is to live by that sinful nature and to live by the Spirit. No one can ever say “I don’t know if I am living by the sinful nature— or I can’t tell what the Spirit is urging me towards.” He spells it out in order to tells us what it is to live by the sinful nature and what it is to live by the Spirit. In other words, the products of the sinful nature versus the product of the Spirit in our lives. But notice the way that he words the products of each; this is very important. He says: “the works of the flesh” (sinful nature) and he says, “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Read verses 19-21. What are the “works of the flesh (sinful nature)”? We can say that the sinful nature works to “gratify itself and its own desires.” It works for itself— for its own. It is self oriented. Everyone else owes it something, and is owed it everything in this life. And it will demand everything from others in an effort to gratify its own desires. Why does it do that? Because it is sick and depraved. And it cannot see anything as being fair or just to it. So it demands its own justice. And that’s when it works out its venom on others. When it lusts it wants to satisfy its desires. And it doesn’t care if its desires are base and ignoble or if it is hurting others in the process. When it desires, it will even steal. If it cannot steal it will envy and feel jealous of those who have what it does not have, whether it’s talent or money or ability they desire. It will give in to those vices because it sits supreme on a self-throne. Its lusts are insatiable. It is never fulfilled. Never happy, even if it gets what it wants, it wants more, never satisfied. Because it is sick with itself. Human beings are rotten at heart. That is the reality of our situation. They are greedy for more. They express anger when they think they are wronged. They retaliate when someone insults them or hurts their feelings. The sinful nature, never imagines that it has wronged others, but that it itself is wronged. People are impatient and mean when they are not getting what they want. They are unhappy, always unhappy! Always angry and complaining! Always others need to change but never themselves. I have always thought that my wife needed to change, and it did not cross my mind that I am the one who needed the changing. It’s the way of the sinful nature, and my wife is keener on such spiritual issues! The sinful nature marries for itself and when the other does not fulfill its desires or does not seem to have anymore to give, it finds some excuse to terminate the commitment. The sinful nature knows a form of love, but the love is worldly— of the self— ever so conditional. Even parental love is conditional, expecting gratitude from their children, and when gratitude is withheld, it is hurt and becomes vindictive. That is the expression of the sinful nature, the works of the flesh. If the sinful nature gets education, it studies not because education is admirable, but because it gains them a place in this competitive world. The sinful nature, the flesh is envious of those who seem brighter and have greater privileges than itself. It wants it. It wants it all. The sinful nature thinks it deserve it all. People think that the world owes them. And they are not happy. This is what the old nature— the sinful nature— the flesh, is like. It is sick and corrupt. It is selfish and self centered. Its works are terrible, even its most noble of works are terribly self motivated. The works of the flesh are such things that proceed from the sickness of the heart and soul. What that nature needs is to be crucified not reformed.
So many people do not understand why Jesus died on the cross. They think he died to redeem the sinner, the thief, the murderer, the drug addict. But they never see how sick they themselves are, with their greed, and their selfishness, and their self love, and their complaints against God and man alike. They never see how sick the works of their flesh are which insists it is unjustly treated and given less than what it deserves. It works at getting what it thinks it belongs to it. They think they deserve more. But they do not see their own sickness.
But Jesus died because our very nature— the inside of us— is corrupt and would demands God’s eternal condemnation. Jesus died for us all. He died to put that nature to death because with that corrupt nature not one of us can come into the presence of God nor make it out of the grave— only to go to hell. We needed a new nature. We needed a new birth, a whole new self that is recreated by the Spirit of God. That is why Jesus died. He died to set us free from ourselves— from the sinful nature, the flesh that is corrupt and beyond healing. It just cannot be repaired. Some Christians have it wrong. They are seeking self help books, and self improvement teachings, and teachings on how to better oneself, better one’s attitude, better their life, their situation, their moral and spiritual aptitudes. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith tells us that we cannot better ourselves. Jesus died so that the penalty for my sins might be paid for in full. Look at verse 24. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” He died so that my sinful nature with its passions and desires might be put to death with him, so that it no longer has the power to work in and through me to hurt God and man. He died to set me and you free from that terrible nature, and to provide us with a new nature and new life that can live for God and can live with God— a new nature that is growing in the image of Jesus, and fulfilling the purpose for which it was created to bear fruit for God.
Through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God gave us his Spirit, to live in us and to nurture and guide the new nature and life he gave birth to in us when we believed in Jesus. That is why he said the “Fruits of the spirit”. The fruits of the spirit, because we cannot work for this fruit nor can we work it out on our own. It is the Spirit that works from within us to produce the Fruits that are of the Spirit. Read verses 22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The flesh, the sinful nature knows nothing of grace. It never thinks of what God has given to all of us in his great mercy and grace. It never stops to say thank you Lord for the air that I breath, for the water from heaven that brings about life, for my life which is given me freely by your handiwork. But the new life given us by God’s grace and mercy through Jesus, recognizes all of God’s grace deeply. It relies on God for all his mercies and privileges and blessings. The new nature in us gravitates us towards love and joy and goodness and all. It is God’s nature which works in us to make us like our Lord who has purchased us with his blood, and who has set us on a course to eternal life and the kingdom of God. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Who are those who belong to Christ Jesus? They are those who have realized their great need for salvation, their great need to put to death the sinful nature, so that they might live for Christ and his glory. They are those who humble themselves before the grace and mercy of the Lord and have received Christ Jesus’ sacrifice, and have been crucified with him no longer to live but for Christ to live in them and through them to the glory and honor of the Father. Those who belong to Christ are those who know that their lives now are marked by the Spirit of Christ, who lives in them. They trust the Spirit by faith to sanctify them. They abhor the sinful nature and earnestly fall on God’s grace to produce in them the fruit of the Spirit. When they fall, they get up again and throw themselves at the mercy of God by faith, and rely on the Spirit. They ever believe ever hope that the God who begun his good work in them will carry it on to completion. (Philippians 1:6)
Verse 25 confirms this: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” As we have come alive by the work of the Spirit— born again through the work of the Spirit, so also must we keep in step with the Spirit, or walk by the Spirit. This is the only thing that Paul tells us that we can do. If we are looking to find out what must we do, here it is. Keep in step with the Spirit. And even that, is given us by the gracious God who answers our prayers, when we ask him to “please help me walk by the Spirit from day to day Lord”. God loves to answer such prayers.
Read verse 26. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Paul saw conceit, pride, the arrogance of the old nature, the ego as a threat to believers. We must watch out for conceit. We can do that best when we seek no honor or glory for ourselves for anything that is due the work of God. It is when we think we are achieving something in our Christian walk that we fall into conceit. But when we remember the grace of God from day to day, living not for the approval or recognition of others, but solely the approval and recognition of God, that we can escape this most terrible danger of conceit and false pride. It is fitting that Paul ends this discourse with this warning, recognizing that conceit, pride and self ego can cause havoc among believers who should not be comparing themselves with themselves which leads to envy and such, but ever looking to Christ and walking by the Spirit, forever thankful for the grace by which they stand.