Keep Up with the Spirit

Walking in the Spirit: A Study in Galatians

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Walking in the Spirit graphic

Galatians 5:24–26
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Throughout the last nine lessons, we have been exploring Paul’s section of Galatians 5 about the importance and results of walking in the Spirit. Remember, thought, the context is actually Christian liberty. The liberty that we have in Christ is a result of the Gospel that has freed us from the law as a means of justification and sanctification. Yet this liberty comes with responsibilities. Christian liberty is in no way a freedom to do what we want; it is a freedom from our own sinful corruption, the flesh. This, too, is a result of the Gospel that liberates us from the domination of sin. (See Titus 2:14.)

True Christian liberty is the balance between legalism and license. And the whole message of Galatians is about discovering the truth of the Gospel that does away with both extremes. So freedom in Christ, when rightly understood and enjoyed, produces a joyful transformation into the likeness of Christ. However, if abused, it leads to a life of frustrating defeat. The emphasis of Galatians 5 is that this liberty can only be properly lived out when we are walking in the Spirit.

The Big Question

Walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works! Okay. So the big question is, “What does it look like to walk in the Spirit?”

While Paul does not lay it out in a simple formula, he is going to tell us that living the Christian life is not any different from entering into the Christian life. The principle is essentially the same. Walking in the Spirit is simply living out what happened to us at conversion.

The Crucifixion

Living out our salvation experience begins with a crucifixion.

Galatians 5:24
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

Now, the following explanation may seem a bit technical, however, it is important if we are going to grasp what Paul is saying. The Greek phrase have crucified is an aorist active verb. The aorist is a tense used to indicate an action that happened at a specific point in time. In other words, there was a time in the life of a believer when a crucifixion actually took place. Paul says that the flesh, with its inward cravings called lusts and its outward passions called affections, was crucified.

Though you did not fully understand it all when you got saved, when you came to Christ there was a struggle of sorts. In coming to Christ as Savior and Lord, you were leaving the old life of sin and rebellion to God. That old life was, in a sense, put on a cross and crucified.

But notice also the verb is in the active voice. That simply means this is not something that is done to you but something that is done by you.

Luke 9:23
And he [Christ] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Believers are the agents of this crucifixion; we crucify the old life that was all about selfish, fleshly lusts. This is a graphic description of the true nature of repentance.

Someone has said that Christian living is getting up on the cross and dying. However, that is not really an accurate statement. Christian living is not ever coming off the cross on which you died when you got saved. That means repentance, though necessary for salvation, is not just a one-time event. Repentance is a way of life with a daily dying to self. So here’s the question: Did you die to yourself today? At all? In other words, did you live in light of the reality that your flesh has been crucified with its affections and lusts? Walking in the Spirit begins as day by day, moment by moment, we die to ourselves (our flesh).

Romans 8:13
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

Romans 6:11–13
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

Colossians 3:5
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:


The reign of sin has ended! A crucifixion has taken place, and now spiritual growth comes as we live in light of this crucifixion in our daily choices by living in daily repentance and mortifying (putting to death) the lusts of our flesh.

When a man was crucified, he did not die quickly. He could actually linger for days before expiring. In the same way, the flesh does not die quickly. The flesh, crucified at salvation, desires to get off the cross and be nurtured back to life. We have to treat the flesh the same way Jesus was treated at Calvary, and put it to death. Mortify your flesh! Don’t come down from the cross! Drive the nails in deeper and stay fastened!

Dying to self is not an easy, one-two-three quick fix. You must endure the slow, painful process of putting to death all the desires and manifestations of the flesh. This life is a constant struggle between the flesh and the Spirit; however, victory is assured through the life of the indwelling Spirit.

Romans 8:13
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

The Resurrection

So many people today are emphasizing a gospel-centered life, which is a wonderful and necessary thing. However, if our understanding of the Gospel focuses only on the death of Jesus, we do not have a complete understanding of the Gospel. We cannot fail to miss the key factor of the resurrection! Just as Jesus died, He also rose again. So then we, as those who are “in Christ,” have not just died to sin; we have been raised to new life in Christ.

Romans 7:4–6
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

Galatians 2:19
For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

1 Peter 2:24
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

This is the power of the resurrection: you are not just dead to your flesh; you are alive to God. Therefore, you can say no to what your flesh wants, and as one who is alive to God, you can say yes to the Spirit. This is where Galatians 5:25 points our attention.

Notice that the phrase “walk in the Spirit” is used again in Galatians 5. In English, the phrase looks identical to verse 16. However, the two Greek phrases Paul uses are different.

Galatians 5:16—Walk is in reference to a daily walk as a student with his teacher or a disciple with his rabbi.

Galatians 5:25—Walk is in reference to marching in line or keeping in step as a soldier falls into formation and follows his leader.

This walk in verse 25 is a walk that is ordered by the Spirit, and we, as His followers, are to keep in step with that. At the point of salvation, the Spirit of God comes into our lives and begins a continual, daily work to conform us more and more into the image of Jesus. That is His ultimate goal and His daily desire. (See Rom. 8:28–29.) To keep in step with that is to be alive to what He is doing. This is the significance of the resurrection. We are alive to the Spirit and His work to make us Christlike, and we keep up or keep in step with that. The problems come when we fall behind, become distracted, get out of step with the Spirit.

This resurrection life of being alive to the Spirit includes a disciplined development of spiritual habits. But these disciplines will not make someone a spiritual person. Believing that certain disciplines will make one more like Christ is the very trap that Paul warns against in Galatians 3:3. However, with the right understanding and motivation, these spiritual disciplines can and will enable believers to learn and know the will and ways of God as revealed in His Word.

The reality is that without many of these spiritual disciplines, we would be left on our own to figure out what God is doing and what His desires are. That is why in order to walk in the Spirit we must first and foremost become people of the Scriptures.

This resurrection life of being alive to the Spirit includes not only spiritual disciplines but also sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading. This is not some strange, mystical idea in which the believer becomes a passive object. Rather, this is a reality where in every situation of life the Spirit of God will bring the Word of God to our hearts and minds. God’s Spirit will work within our hearts to pray, witness, give and serve. And it is at this point where we should have a submission to and delight in what He is doing. When sin is present, He will bring conviction, and there will be a very real tenderness to His conviction in your life over actions, thoughts, attitudes and words that need to be confessed and forsaken.

Well-known author and theologian J. I. Packer puts it this way in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit:

The Spirit works through means—through the objective means of grace, namely, Biblical truth, prayer, fellowship, worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and with them through the subjective means of grace whereby we open ourselves to change, namely, thinking, listening, questioning oneself, examining oneself, admonishing oneself, sharing what is in one’s heart with others, and weighing any response they make. . . . Habit forming is the Spirit’s ordinary way of leading us into holiness.
. . . Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are all of them habitual . . . ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Being alive to the Spirit is essentially living a life of faith and dependence. Faith is never a feeling, and neither is it some blind leap in the dark. Faith is simply depending on the unchanging character and truth of God as revealed in His Word and believing it so much that you actually act on it. In whatever situation, if you see the truth of God but do your own thing, you cannot say you are living in dependence on God. Faith and dependence mean you actually trust Him to the point that you do what He says.

So what is walking in the Spirit? It is living in repentance and faith. This is true gospel-centered living. By grace through faith, we recognize that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus provide us with full and free deliverance not only from the penalty but also from the power of sin. So we are to live out Christ’s death and His resurrection. We use the word mortify in terms of crucifixion. We use the word vivify (revive) in terms of resurrection. That is what is taking place in the life of one who is walking in the Spirit. He is living in light of the fact that the flesh has been crucified—so he, in daily repentance, dies to himself (mortify). He is living in light of the fact that he has been raised to live unto righteousness—so he, by faith, keeps in step with what the Spirit is doing (vivify). He is dead to sin and alive unto Christ!

By Love Serve One Another

Notice how Paul concludes this section with the same warning he made earlier.

Galatians 5:26
Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:13–15
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

True Christian liberty can only be lived out and enjoyed if it is governed by the Spirit. All of these fleshly responses are to be avoided. The life in the Spirit governed by love is truly liberating and is the only way to behave as a Christian.

Remember, walking in the Spirit is a life of faith that yields our life to do what God desires as opposed to what our flesh desires. The result is a constant choice to love God and others. And if we will walk daily with God and live this out, we are not going to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. That’s why walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works!

Listen to Dr. Pettit’s chapel message on Keeping Up with the Spirit:

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Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.