But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
~ Galatians 5:16-26
Walking by the Spirit is not as easy as it sounds. It requires us to abandon our own desires and plans for our life so that we can embrace God’s plan for us. Ultimately it is “better”, but that’s now why we should do it. In the same way that you don’t want your kids to obey you because they are afraid of the punishment that comes to them if they reject your will, God doesn’t want an army of mindless robots, nor does He desire us to cower in fear every time He leads us to do something. Instead, He seeks us to love Him so much that our natural state is one of obedience. That is the mindset that Paul is describing here. How is that? Well, if we love God with all our that we are, we will seek His pleasure in all of our actions. The Spirit led Christian, actively seeks to avoid things that He knows will offend God, despite his desire for them, because he loves God so much.
Let’s say that you were out with your wife for dinner and while you love onions, you know that she doesn’t like the smell of them. Since you love her, you resist your desire for onions so that you may please her. You don’t do it because you are afraid of her reaction to you, but out of love. On a much grander scale, we restrain ourselves not out of the fear of God’s punishment, and not because we are bound to the law, but because we love Him so much that we want His interests fulfilled before we seek our own. It is the goal of every Christian to seek God’s pleasure in all things because of what He has done for us. Not that we are earning any favor from Him, that would be impossible, but we are reflecting back to Him what He has already done for us in our salvation, and doing so in gratitude and love.
Paul then describes a list of generalized sins that mirror those of the eternal moral laws of God. Each of these things are horrible sins before God, and each carries with it the sentence of death. But, as Christians, our sins have been paid for by Christ on the cross. But what of the Christian who was soundly converted but continues to struggle with pornography, or drugs, or any other thing that controls his life? Are they damned to Hell if they sin in this way? The short answer is simply, “no”. God will not abandon you because you fail. When God saved you, He knew you were a failure who would continually sin against Him but He showed you mercy in that He died in your place, the perfectly just and holy for the worthless degenerate who is incapable of any good action before his Creator. Though we are now forever raised with Christ Jesus in the Heavenly places, we are still trapped here, in this temporal realm, where we continue to struggle with our wretched desires, but instead of being bound by our sin, locked in a cycle of death and self destruction, we are now freed from our requirement to sin and, by the power of the Holy Spirit within us we are able to choose not to sin against the God who has paid the ultimate price to redeem us from His own wrath and punishment. There is no such thing as perfection to be found this side of the veil of death, but as converted Christians we are redeemed from our body of death, unshackled from our guilt and shame, to walk freely in newness of life in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit – to trust that, while we continue to sin and fail before our sovereign creator and redeemer, that His sacrifice on our behalf was enough to redeem us from our sins, and now we are able to serve Him with pure motives.
As it was stated before, the walk of a redeemed Christian is not one of perfection, but direction. You will do well and you will fail. You will succeed and you will fall, sometimes running, back into sin. Recognize your failure, call it for what it is, repent before your redeemer, and seek to honor Him with your life. This will not redeem you before Him, that is impossible. What it will do is to bring you back into submission where you recognize Jesus alone as your King who forever loves you and it will remind you that He empathizes with your struggles and acknowledges your suffering but will lead you through it for your good and His glory.
So, what does it look like when we walk in the Spirit? We already have seen the end of the natural man – who lives without Christ, what is the end of the spiritual man who walks with the Spirit? His life is marked with love instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, peace instead of anger, patience instead of anxiety, kindness instead of greed, goodness instead of hatred, faithfulness instead of lies, gentleness instead of wrath, and self-control instead of untethered self-centered ambition. Is this a complete list? No. Is it necessary to hold onto all of these at the same level to be counted as a Christian? No. Every Christian is different and every Christian is at a different place on their journey to sanctification. One year you will grow in patience, the next you will grow in peace, and in another year you will gain self-control. Some come sooner than others and some take a while to grow within you, but all of these are the marks of a life spent with Christ; each are the evidence of a Spirit filled life.
So, what if I’m more patient than the Christian next to me, does that make me more holy than they are? Should they strive to be like me? No. We should all strive to be like Christ. Whereas I may struggle with self-control, you may struggle with gentleness. While God may be leading me through a time in my life where I am learning what it means to live in the joy of the Lord, you may have finished that course of your life and are enjoying it while God is starting a new direction for you where you learn to rely on Him for everything you have. Paul makes the case in Romans 14:4 that it is before God alone that we will stand and that we should not judge one another based on our own standard of holiness. God knows who the sheep in His are and He will tend to their needs as He deems fit. Instead, seek to serve one another in love as God has served you. Are you in a place where you have already learned to wait on the Lord and trust in Him? Seek those in your local body of believers who are struggling with this and partner with them to help them through their struggles. Are you having trouble living in the joy of the Lord? Seek someone in your church who lives in the joy of the Lord daily and ask them to partner with you. By so doing we are strengthening the body of believers, weaving our lives together like a tapestry of grace, and glorifying God along the way and that is the mark of the community of the Spirit.