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Walking by the Spirit, Part 2

Galatians 5:19-21 July 7, 1974 1669


A. The Christian Walk Defined

Galatians 5:16-25 is the primary passage in Scripture on walking by the Spirit, a basic concept of the Christian life. The word walk is often used in the New Testament to refer to the practical daily life of a believer. If you wanted to use a contemporary synonym for walk, you could use the word life-style.

B. The Christian Walk Delineated

1. Humility

Our life-style is to be characterized by humility. Ephesians 4:2-3 says, "With all lowliness and meekness, with long- suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." There's only one thing that produces unity and that's love--and love is the product of humility.

2. Purity

The New Testament also exhorts the believer to have a pure life-style. Romans 13:13 says, "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy" (NIV). Paul exhorts us to walk in purity.

3. Contentment

First Corinthians 7:17 says, "As God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk." The context of the passage deals with marital status. If a person is saved but is married to an unsaved spouse, that is no grounds to dissolve the marriage. Rather, that person is to be content to walk in the way that God has called him. Don't end a marriage with a spiritual excuse; be content. God knows your situation and has allowed it to work out the way it has. Marriage is just one way in which we are to walk in contentment.

4. Faith

Second Corinthians 5:7 says, "We walk by faith, not by sight." The believer is not to evaluate things that are happening by what he actually sees, but in terms of his faith in God. He should interpret everything from a heavenly perspective. He sees God at work in spite of the circumstances.

5. Good works

Colossians 1:10 says, "Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work." Ephesians 2:10 says, "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

6. Transformation

Ephesians 4:17-23 tells us that Christians are to walk differently from unbelievers. Verse 17 says, "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind." The Christian is not to live like those in the world do. His transformed life should be different. Verses 18-23 contrast the old walk of an unbeliever with the new walk of a Christian.

a) Christ-centeredness

The old walk of "the vanity of [the] mind" was self- centered. But Christians "have not so learned Christ" (v. 20). The new walk is a Christ-centered walk.

b) Enlightenment

The old walk was characterized by ignorance. Verse 18 describes unbelievers as "having [their] understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." However, the new walk is characterized by knowledge. Verse 21 says, "If so be that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus." Christians have been been taught the truth of Christ through His Spirit.

c) Sensitivity to sin

The conscience of unbelievers is insensitive to sin. Verse 19 says that "being past feeling, [unbelievers] have given themselves over unto lasciviousness." In contrast to unbelievers who shamelessly pursue uncleanness, the new walk of believers is characterized by a sensitivity to sin. Verse 22 says, "Put off concerning the former manner of life the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."

d) A renewed mind

Our old walk was directed by a reprobate mind that was completely given over "to work all uncleanness with greediness" (v. 19). It knew no limits. However, the believer is "renewed in the spirit of [his] mind" (v. 23). The old walk and the new walk are diametrically opposed.

7. Separation

We are to separate ourselves not only from the world, but also from sinning Christians. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul said, "We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received of us. For ye yourselves know how ye ought to follow us; for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you .... For we hear that there are some who walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies" (vv. 6-7, 11). We are to separate ourselves from Christians living in sin.

8. Love

Ephesians 5:2 says, "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God." We are to express the kind of love that sacrifices itself for the benefit of others. The world thinks of love in a physical, self-serving sense, but that is nothing more than "fornication, and all uncleanness" (v. 3). We are to love as Christ loved--sacrificially.

9. Light

Ephesians 5:8 says, "Ye were once darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light."

10. Wisdom

Ephesians 5:15-16 says, "See, then, that ye walk circumspectly [carefully], not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because days are evil" (cf. Col. 4:5).

11. Truth

Third John 3-4 says, "I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no Greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." If you're a teacher or a discipler of others, you can understand the joy in finding your students or disciples living by the truths you have taught them. The greatest disappointment is to find out they are not.


Everything becomes ultimately possible in the Christian walk because the Spirit of God is in us as we take each step. All we need to do is walk in His power and He will conform us to Christ. You can legalistically grunt and groan in your own power as you try to be like Christ, but that will never happen. Paul has been telling us that you cannot attain through legalism in your life the righteousness that God demands. The law can't save or sanctify you. It is the Spirit of God who saves you, secures you by His sealing, and sanctifies you. You were saved by grace and continue to stand by grace (cf. Rom. 5:1-2). You don't need to live by external works of the law to be accepted by God, which is what the Judaizers tried to teach. You don't need outward rituals when you have God dwelling within you (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19).

The immediate context of Galatians is Paul's reaction to the Judaizers. He has told the Galatians that the Christian doesn't need to live under a legal system. The Judaizers believed that the penalty of the law restrained people from sinning. With Paul's message of Christian liberty, they were afraid that without the law, there would be no restraint for sin. But Paul tells the Galatians that the restraint has become internal: The Holy Spirit has become our conscience and enables us to live godly lives.

I. THE COMMAND (v. 16)

A. The Meaning of the Walk 

Walking by the Spirit implies daily progress and effort on our part as well as power and direction on God's part. Since this concept is somewhat abstract, the Holy Spirit accommodates our thinking by repeatedly making a comparison for us in the New Testament.

1. The means compared

a) The filling of the Spirit

Ephesians 5:18 says, "Be not drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." The Greek text implies that the filling of the Spirit is a continuous exercise. In a more literal sense the verse would read, "Be being kept filled with the Spirit." The filling of Spirit is the same thing as walking by the Spirit, which involves yielding control of your life to the indwelling Spirit of God. The command "be filled" conveys the idea of wind filling a ship's sail so that it carries the ship along. Paul might as well have said, "Open the sail of your will in submission and be carried along by the Spirit."

Notice the results of being Spirit-filled: You'll be "speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (v. 19). A Spirit-filled person expresses his joy by singing--even if he can't carry a tune. He also gives thanks (v. 20) and submits to others (v. 21). Spirit-filled wives submit to their husbands (v. 22), Spirit-filled husbands love their wives (v. 25), Spirit-filled children obey their parents (6:1), Spirit-filled parents do not provoke their children to anger (6:4), Spirit-filled servants are obedient to their masters (6:5), and Spirit-filled masters are fair to their servants (6:9).

b) The indwelling of the Word

The results found in Colossians 3:16--4:1 are almost identical to those listed above that result from the filling of the Spirit. Colossians 3:16 says, "In all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God." The following verses speak of the submission of wives (v. 18), husbands (v. 19), children (v. 20), fathers (v. 21), servants (v. 22), and masters or employers (4:1). These same results, however, are said to be the product of letting "the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (3:16). Therefore, whatever it means to be filled with the Spirit is related to letting "the word of Christ dwell in you richly." Being Spirit- filled means taking the Bible and studying about Christ until He saturates your being.

2. The mediators compared

a) The replacement for Christ

It may sound like that is confusing Christ with the Holy Spirit, but they are of the same essence as co-equal members of the Trinity. Jesus told His disciples that when He ascended to heaven, the Father would send "another Comforter" (John 14:16). The Greek word allos ("another of the same kind") was used rather than heteros ("another of a different kind"). Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, who is exactly the same essence as He is. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of Christ" (Rom. 8:9).

Living a Spirit-filled life or filling your mind with Scripture will cause your thought patterns to be directed by the Spirit. I used to enjoy sinning, but I don't enjoy it anymore. I can't even get five seconds into a sin without thinking of fifteen convicting Bible verses! I have studied so many Bible verses that sin is no fun anymore. I feel guilty even before I actually commit the sin. Having your mind saturated by the things of Christ will allow your life to be easily borne along by the Spirit.

b)The walk in Christ

In Galatians 5:16 Paul exhorts us to "walk [by] the Spirit," but in Colossians 2:6 he says, "As ye have, therefore, received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." You may wonder whom you should walk by: the Spirit or the Lord Jesus Christ. Both. That's just the point. Walking by the Spirit and walking by Christ are the same thing. Walking by the Spirit involves patterning your life after Christ. All you need to do is open your Bible and study for the rest of your life about His work and His person. Your whole life should be centered on Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit's work to point to Christ. Therefore, if you are walking by the Spirit, you are automatically focusing on Christ.

B. The Misunderstanding About the Walk 


II. THE CONFLICT (vv. 17-18)

A. Stated (v. 17)

Walking by the Spirit, however, is not an easy task. Just as soon as you begin to walk by the Spirit, there's an enemy that will oppose you: the flesh. It is the weak, self-oriented nature of man. That's where temptation strikes.

B. Solved (v. 18)

1. The role of the law 

2. The release from the law

a) Stated 

Paul tells us that those who are led by the Spirit have been released from the law. Since all Christians are led by the Spirit, they are therefore not under the law.

b) Supported 

c) Specified

There are three shades of meaning about the nature of our release from the law.

(1) Its presence

As a Christian, I don't need the law to externally motivate me to obey God. If I'm led by the Spirit, the law is superfluous. Romans 13 teaches that the whole law is fulfilled in my life as the Spirit produces a love in me for my neighbor.

(2) Its power

For an unbeliever the only thing that can prevent sin is the law. However, it is an ineffective restrainer because it cannot change a man's nature. According to Romans 7:13, it reveals sin as a failure to keep God's standard. A man under the law futilely tries to keep it in his flesh. But a Christian does not try to overcome his fleshly desires in his own power; he overcomes them in the power of the Spirit.

(3) Its penalty

The law has no claim on you because Christ died for you to pay the penalty our sin deserves. As long as you walk in the Spirit, there's going to be ultimate victory. Even though there is a conflict we may occasionally lose, the law has no claim on us.


III. THE CONTRAST (vv. 19-23)

Paul contrasts the different results of living by the Spirit and living by the flesh. One reason he makes that contrast is to motivate Christians to walk by the Spirit. The works of the flesh are described in verses 19-21. The result of walking by the Spirit is found in verses 22-23. Paul strengthens his case for walking in the Spirit by showing what each produces. The Judaizers should have taken note of that. If they had carefully examined the Galatian churches, they would have seen the fruit of the Spirit and realized how pointless it was to introduce law. Once they introduced law, they would have seen the works of the flesh and recognized their error if they had been sensitive.

A. The Works of the Flesh (vv. 19-21)

The works of the flesh do not merely include the various misuses of sex. It is a much wider concept, including all the sinful desires of man's fallen nature. This particular list is not exhaustive, but only suggestive.

Who is to blame: you or your environment?

In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus spoke about the nature of original sin: "That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." Did you know that it is not the environment that messes up man; rather, it's man that messes up the environment? There's basically two anthropological explanations for man's condition: Either man is corrupted by a dirty environment, or man corrupts the environment because he is dirty himself. If you take the latter view, which is the biblical one, you'll discover that man's environment does not ultimately affect man's heart. Better housing, transportation, jobs, income, welfare, and hospitalization will not make a lasting or significant change of mankind itself. Whatever man's environment is, he will foul it up because his flesh produces the vile things that adversely affect his environment.

1. The categories (vv. 19-21a)

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, factions, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and the like."

By saying that "the works of the flesh are manifest," Paul is appealing to common knowledge. He divided the fleshly pursuits in the normal life of mankind into four categories.

a) Sex

(1) Fornication

Since the word adultery does not appear in the most reliable Greek manuscripts, we'll skip that specific sexual sin and consider the more general word for any illicit sexual immorality. The Greek word for fornication is porneia, which some believe is derived from pernemi, referring to intercourse with a prostitute for a fee. Fornication refers to any kind of sexual vice. It is one of the things that the flesh produces when left to itself.

(a) 1 Corinthians 5:1--"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife." Paul condemned the incestuous relationship one Corinthian was having with his stepmother.

(b) 1 Corinthians 6:13, 18--"Foods for the body, and the body for foods; but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.... Flee from fornication."

(c) 1 Corinthians 7:1-2--"Now concerning the things about which ye wrote unto me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."

(d) 1 Thessalonians 4:3--"This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication."

(e) Ephesians 5:3--"But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints."

The Christian is to run from all forms of sexual sin, many of which have become commonplace in our society.

(2) Uncleanness

This word means "impurity." It was used in other ancient writings to refer to pus that oozed from an unclean wound. The root of the Greek word translated uncleanness (akatharsia) is katharos (from which we get catharsis = "purification"), and it means "pure." It was used to speak of the ceremonial cleanliness that entitled a person to approach his god. Conversely the negative form of that word referred to the soiled life of one who was unable to approach his god. Being a broader term in meaning than fornication, which emphasizes the deed, uncleanness also includes the attitude that led to the deed.

(3) Lasciviousness

Lasciviousness, or wantonness, are archaic words that refer to a complete lack of restraint, a common characterization of much of our society. The Greek word aselgeia conveys the idea of someone who has gone so far in lust, he doesn't even care what anyone else thinks.

The flesh produces those sinful qualities. They marked Paul's day and mark our own as well. Man hasn't changed.

b) Religion

Whenever it is based on self effort, religion can be just as much a work of the flesh as sex. There are basically two systems of religion: One is based on human achievement and the other is based on divine grace. If a person isn't depending on divine grace, which is unique to Christianity, he is ultimately depending on what he himself can accomplish to merit salvation. In many cases, a religious system of works is more insidious than sexual perversions.

(1) Idolatry

Idolatry means worshiping an image or god. It encompasses any false religion.

(2) Sorcery

The Greek word for sorcery, pharmakeia (from which we get pharmacy) always refers to drugs, which were commonly associated with false religions. Although many people think drugs were invented twenty-five years ago, they have actually been around for centuries. Drugs were used in the practice of occultic sorcery.

If you were to read a description of the Baal worship of the Canaanites, you would find many similarities with what is going on in Satan worship today. Little has changed. Drugs, sex, and black magic are still a part of religious perversion. Prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel and ancient writers like Aristotle and Polybius speak of the relationship between witchcraft and drugs. In the end times, the religion of Satan will be associated with sorcery (Rev. 9:21). Drugs today are a big part of stimulating Satanic religious experience. When faith in magic replaces trust in God, the result is idolatry.

The flesh not only defiles man's relationship to himself through sexual sin, his relationship to God through religious sin, but it also devastates his relationship with others.

c) Relationships

(1) Hatred

Hatred is the opposite of love. It is the expression of enmity or hostility toward others.

(2) Strife

This word includes fighting or quarreling. Whereas hatred is the attitude, strife is the action.

(3) Jealousy

This is the anger produced by your desire to have what someone else has.

(4) Wrath

Wrath is the outburst of hostile feelings, the product of an uncontrolled temper. Like strife, it points to the action that is produced in comparison to hatred and jealousy, which emphasize the attitudes that motivate the actions. Where there is hatred, there is going to be strife. Where there is jealousy, there is going to be an outburst of temper. Human relationships are destroyed by the flesh.

(5) Factions

Once hatred and strife are in operation, people start lining up on different sides, creating terrible factions. We see people organizing for causes to fight against others throughout the world.

(6) Seditions

This refers to divisions.

(7) Heresies

This would involve a group standing for their false doctrine.

(8) Envyings

Some Greek manuscripts include murder as a climax in the list of fleshly works that destroy human relationships.

d) Alcohol

(1) Drunkenness

(2) Revelings

This refers to drinking parties. It is easy for a person living in the flesh to let himself be controlled by inanimate objects. Public orgies were common in Baal worship among the Canaanites. When the Romans came to Palestine, they built a temple to Bacchus, the god of wine, and wild orgies took place there. Some of those temples still stand today and are identified by the grape vines on the facade of the buildings. Drunken orgies were characteristic of pagan life and are reflected in many of the parties people have today.

2. The Consequence (v. 21b)

"Of which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

Some people wonder if that verse means a Christian can lose his salvation if he has ever done any of those things. Although the Authorized Version says "they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God," the Greek word for do is prasso, which means "to practice." It is a verb that speaks of habitual practice rather than occasional doing. Thus, the verse refers to those who habitually practice such things as an expression of their characters. The word of God bases its evaluation of a person's character not on his infrequent actions, but on his habitual actions, for they demonstrate his true character. The people who habitually perform the works of the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom because they are not God's people.

Some Christians may do some of those things infrequently, but that doesn't mean they will forfeit the full salvation of the Kingdom of God. Rather they will receive divine discipline now and forfeit some of their heavenly rewards. The reason Christians do not habitually do the works of the flesh is that the Spirit of God has effected a change in their lives. Kingdom people led by the Spirit are characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. Christians will sin, but the course of their life will be different. You may say, "I know a guy who claims to be a Christian and he sins frequently." In that case I doubt he is a Christian because in the believer the flesh is restrained while in the unbeliever it is not.

If you fit in the category with those who practice any of the works of the flesh, you better reevaluate whether you are really a Christian. You may say, "I've never actually committed fornication, even though I think about it all the time." Jesus said, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). Remember that it's out of the vileness of your thoughts that evil deeds come (Mark 7:15). When you get into the right circumstances, your defiled thoughts will express themselves. You won't be much more vile by committing a sin if it has already conquered your mind. If your life is characterized by any of the works of the flesh, I am convinced you don't know Christ. You'll never inherit the Kingdom. However, if you're a Christian, the Spirit is restraining sin in you. Christians are different because they walk by the Spirit.

Focusing on the Facts

1. How is the word walk used in reference to Christianity? What is a contemporary synonym for it?

2. What does the unity of the Spirit produce, according to Ephesians 4:2-3?

3. If one marriage partner becomes a Christian while the other remains an unbeliever, what should the Christian do (1 Cor. 7:17)?

4. How should a believer interpret the circumstances of daily life (2 Cor. 5:7)?

5. Explain how the walk of the new man is different from that of the old man (Eph. 4:17-23).

6. Who does Paul instruct us to separate ourselves from in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7?

7. Describe the kind of love we are to express as Christians.

8. What is a cause for joy if you are a teacher or a discipler of others?

9. How does a Christian become filled with the Spirit? What idea does the command "be filled" convey (Eph. 5:18)?

10. What can one conclude from comparing the results of being filled with the Spirit and letting the Word of Christ dwell in you?

11. Walking by the Spirit involves ________ your life after ________. How does a Christian do that?

12. Why is the law an ineffective restrainer for sin?

13. Why are Christians free from the penalty of the law?

14. In a general sense, what do the works of the flesh refer to?

15. What did Jesus attribute the defilement of man to in Mark 7:20-23?

16. Besides the misuse of sex, what other categories are includes in the works of the flesh?

17. What have drugs commonly been associated with?

18. What works of the flesh result in factions?

19. Who are the ones who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, according to the proper understanding of the Greek word prasso in Galatians 5:21?

20. What does the Word of God base the evaluation of a person's character on?

Pondering the Principles

1. Read 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Philippians 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 6:6-8, and Hebrews 13:5. Have you learned how to be content in any situation? Contentment is an important attitude to develop because when you have mastered it, you don't have to be controlled by your situation. God is not saying that we cannot work toward bettering our current situation (cf. 1 Cor. 7:21). However, it is important that we always keep our relationship to Christ as our life's most important objective (Phil. 3:8), and that we do not become "servants of men" (1 Cor. 7:23) in pursuit of the passing material things of this temporal world (1 Tim. 6:7-8). We need to be free from the anxiety that discontentment brings (1 Cor. 7:21), realizing that God will provide the necessary grace in any situation so that we can concentrate on serving Him (2 Cor. 9:8-10).

2. Walking by the Spirit is achieved when we pattern our lives after Jesus Christ. Paul said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16). John said, "The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:6; NASB). How are you currently letting the Word dwell within you? Are you responding the way Christ would in each situation? The more familiar you become with the life of Christ by studying His life and how He desires us to live, the more you will be led by the Spirit in becoming more like Christ.

3. Many people in society blame their problems on their environment. It's always much easier to blame someone or something else for your problems than to humbly admit you were wrong (cf. Gen. 3:11-13). Notice David's confession in Psalm 51:2-4. Are you quick to confess your sin to God and those you have wronged, or do you let pride prevent you from being spiritually cleansed? Being responsible for our actions is not a very popular concept, but we must recognize that the wickedness of our hearts (Jer. 17:9) is the source of our spiritual and sociological problems. Understanding that will make us more effective witnesses for Christ because we can focus on the cause of man's problems: sin.