Walking by the Spirit – Galatians

 In SBS Blog

These days there seems to be quite a bit of controversy surrounding any discussion around the Holy Spirit, His Work, and how we as believers interact with this Person of the Triune God. So in writing this blog post I am aware of the confusion and controversy, and pray that my time spent studying to teach Galatians in our SBS might bless you!

What I’d like to discuss in this post is what Paul calls “walking by the Spirit”, in Galatians 5:16.

Before digging into any sort of meaning, it’s always good to get a very good sense of what is said and the context in which it is said. In the case of Paul’s admonition to “walk by the spirit”, we see a larger contrast being made from 5:16-24 between the “desires of the flesh” and the “leading of the Spirit”. Paul starts out his thought with the promise that in walking by the Spirit, “you” will not gratify the desires of the flesh. From there he makes a statement (5:19) that ties this whole discussion about the Spirit and flesh to the greater context of the book. For the major issue Paul is dialoguing with throughout Galatians is what the Law of Moses has to do with the rest of the Gospel (see 2:15-3:29), or more specifically “justification by faith”. Basically “walking by the spirit” is Paul’s answer to a question he raised much earlier in the book (2:17ff), being “if believers are no longer bound to the Law of Moses when they are justified, are they free to sin, since they are considered fully righteous in Gods eyes?”

After a lot of theology, and pleading with the Galatian church to remove the false teaching they struggle with (Jesus + the law (circumcision) = salvation), Paul finally comes back to the thought he started in 2:17-21. Christ died not so we could be free to sin, but that we would be free from sin (2:17-21). His Spirit leads and empowers his people into love, against which there is no law – (5:18,23). In all ways the Lord has enabled his people to live, or walk, in a way that exceeds the righteousness of the law!

So, back to what it means to “walk by the Spirit”. One thought I found to be quite profound is when Gordon Fee explains the meaning of the Greek in 5:16 in more detail. In summary, he says that the Greek would suggest that Paul means that we are to walk in the “influence” and “empowerment” of the Spirit[1]. Meaning that the Spirit guides his own to love (Agape in the greek) and all the other things he lists in 5:22-23, and enables believers to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

In Christ we are remade and counted completely righteous in Gods eyes, and by the Spirit we are empowered and guided to live a life of agape love. The challenge raised by this is how we engage this “guiding and empowering of the Spirit” in our daily lives.

[1] Fee, Gordon D. God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994. 430. Print.

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