Walk in the Spirit

Walking in the Spirit: A Study in Galatians

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Walking in the Spirit graphic

Galatians 5:16
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

Up to this point, Paul has been establishing the reality of Christian liberty. Now, the obvious question in our minds should be, “What does it look like to properly live out this liberty?” In fact, it’s as if Paul anticipates his readers asking that question. So in Galatians 5:16 he announces with emphatic tones that Christlike behavior can be developed only through a Spirit-controlled life. Walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works.

Paul transitions from verse 15 into verse 16 with this statement: “This I say then.” In other words, “I’ve been talking about Christian liberty, and now I want to tell you how it works.”

Galatians 5:16
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.



Walk—to regulate one’s life; to conduct one’s way; it primarily refers to a way of life

Spirit—referring to the person of the Holy Spirit; this involves His personality and character (Holy Spirit) and work and power (Spirit of Truth)

Ye shall not—not even a possibility (stated in a double negative)

Fulfill—to bring to a close, finish, or end; to complete or fulfill a goal or objective

Lust—strong desires, cravings, longings; a passion for something

Flesh—sinful human nature; unredeemed humanness; the aspect of the natural man that is still present with the believer

The word walk is an imperative—a direct command. That means this is not an option; it is an obligation. The word is also in the present tense, which means this action involves a deliberate choice of continually ordering your life according to the Spirit.

Understanding the Spirit and the Believer

In Galatians 3:2–3, 7–14 and 4:6 Paul is unfolding some foundational truths regarding the Spirit and the believer’s relationship to God. Read these passages before considering the following:

  • How would you answer the question of Galatians 3:2?
  • According to Galatians 3:2–3, when would you say a believer receives the Spirit?

Read Galatians 3:7–14, paying close attention to verse 14. Paul refers to the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant. (See Gen. 12–17.) This blessing was ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, who provided eternal life and a personal relationship with God through His life, death and resurrection.

Galatians 4:6 uses two words, sons and Abba, to relate to us the fact that we have a very real and intimate relationship with God as our father.

Here’s the truth Paul is leading us to understand through these verses: each believer has the Spirit who brings the blessings of eternal life and a relationship with God into his daily experience. In fact, he says the Spirit makes our relationship with God such a reality that we can cry out to God and call Him Abba, Father (literally, “Father, my own father”).

In Galatians 5, Paul emphasizes that, since God is now our father and we have entered into His blessings through His indwelling Spirit, it only makes sense for the believer to walk in the Spirit; because it is through the Spirit, not the keeping of the law, that we experience this relationship with God.

Understanding Walking

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t actually tell us how to walk in the Spirit; he simply states that we should. So how can we understand this concept?

One helpful idea is the picture of a Jewish disciple, who would, in those days, follow a rabbi. The whole point of being a disciple was to learn from the rabbi, hear his words, observe his life, and obey his teaching, with the end goal being that the disciple would become like his rabbi. (See Luke 6:40.) That is what discipleship is all about.

However, many of these Gentile readers would not have been as familiar with the Jewish concept of the disciple-rabbi relationship. But the word for walk (peripateo) is a concept many of his readers from a Greek background would understand. The students of Aristotle were called Peripatetics because they walked with their teacher, followed their master, and listened to and obeyed his instruction.

Just as disciples were guided by their rabbi and the Peripatetics were instructed by Aristotle, so believers are to be walking in the Spirit.

Our relationship with God and the presence of the person of Jesus with us is a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That means we can, in a sense, walk with Jesus as our teacher, learn from Him as His disciples did, listen to every word of His instruction, and follow Him every step of the way.

Galatians 5:17
For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.



For—because, or for this reason

Lust—to have strong desires, cravings, longings; to have a passion for something

Contrary—to be set against; to be opposites; to oppose; to be adverse to. This is the strongest possible term to affirm mutual opposition.

Do—to make, form; to carry out or execute

You would—to will, have in mind, or intend; to be resolved or determined (“you cannot keep on doing whatever you wish”)

Walking in the Spirit demands a constant pursuit of and response to God’s Spirit. To be complacent and indifferent about one’s walk is to put oneself in a place of spiritual peril. No one is impervious to the allurements of the flesh.

We are not so strong that we do not need to be warned, and we are not so weak that we cannot be free. We experience this struggle until the day we die.

Are you, as a believer, living with the sense of the Spirit’s presence in your life? Are you seeking His direction daily and depending on His strength and enablement to overcome the desires of your flesh? Are you sensitive to His leading and submissive to His Word? Are you walking in the Spirit?

Listen to Dr. Pettit’s chapel message on Walking in the Spirit and The Battle Within:

Join us for chapel every Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m. EST.


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.