Galatians 5:16

‘walk by the Spirit,
and you won’t fulfil the lust of the flesh’
(Galatians 5:16)

Being ‘“born anew”’(John 3:3) or ‘“born of the Spirit”’(John 3:8) is the defining feature of what it means to be a Christian, even described as being ‘a new creation’(Galatians 6:15) later in this letter from the apostle Paul to the Galatians. As he puts it elsewhere, we’re a people defined by ‘the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit… poured out on us richly’(Titus 3:5-6), i.e. ‘in one Spirit we were all baptized’(1 Corinthians 12:13). It’s how we know that we’re ‘children of God’(Romans 8:16) – the Holy Spirit is the seal ‘in our hearts’(2 Corinthians 1:22) and the ‘pledge of our inheritance’(Ephesians 1:14), by whom we cry ‘“Abba, Father”’(Galatians 4:6), as Paul had already pointed out earlier in the letter. He insists, in a closely related passage from his letter to the Romans, already quoted, that those who ‘are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God’(Romans 8:14), and that ‘if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His’(Romans 8:9). So this is where we must begin if we’re to ‘walk by the Spirit’ and not ‘fulfil the lust of the flesh’.

However, we still inhabit this sinful ‘flesh’, which ‘lusts against the Spirit’(Galatians 5:17) – i.e. which gives us opposing sinful drives towards ‘sexual immorality… outbursts of anger… drunkenness… and things like these’(Galatians 5:19-21). Although Jesus came to rescue us from this ‘wretched’(Romans 7:24) state, we never fully ‘see’(Romans 8:25) such transformation in this world. Along with the whole of fallen ‘creation… we… groan… waiting for… the redemption’(Romans 8:22-23) of our bodies from this ‘war’(1 Peter 2:11 & James 4:1) within. So, although already regarded as ‘perfect’(Hebrews 10:1ff.) in Christ, having ‘been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’(Hebrews 10:10), we nevertheless in another sense are still ‘being sanctified’(Hebrews 10:14), and not surprisingly walking ‘by the Spirit’ is key to that process.

There are two sides to making this work. The first is to not ‘let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts’(Romans 6:12), metaphorically even crucifying ‘the flesh with its passions and lusts’(Galatians 5:24) as Paul puts it here, i.e. attempting to ‘put to death’(Colossians 3:5ff.) such drives, or at least ‘put away’(Ephesians 4:22) and neglect to feed them. We’re to ‘make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts’(Romans 13:14), ‘denying ungodliness and worldly lusts’(Titus 2:12) the things that they crave.

However, Paul’s emphasis in this study verse is on the positive substitution, avoiding the lust of the flesh by walking in the Spirit – so he adds a few verses later: ‘If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:25). He likewise urged the Ephesians to not get drunk ‘with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit’(Ephesians 5:18). Later here he similarly urges the Galatians to sow ‘to the Spirit’(Galatians 6:8) rather than to the flesh.

So how can we cultivate our spiritual lives in this way?

One important way is by putting ourselves under ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’(Ephesians 6:17, cf. Hebrews 4:12), to not only slay the flesh but carve God’s ‘“law”’(Jeremiah 31:33 cf. Galatians 5:14) into our hearts, the ‘law of the Spirit’(Romans 8:2ff.). Also, as if we’re a vine, the same sword ‘“prunes”’(John 15:2) us to bear ever increasing ‘fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith[fulness], gentleness, and self-control’(Galatians 5:22-23). Developing a healthy ‘taste’(Psalm 119:103) for such fruit in our lives is a great way to displace fleshly cravings and encourage the Holy Spirit’s sap to rise within us.

Exercising spiritual ‘gifts’(Romans 12:6ff. & 1 Corinthians 12:4ff.) can have a similar effect, as we grow in the roles that we’re blessed with. Moreover, these should focus on ‘building’(1 Corinthians 14:12) each other up spiritually, by ‘serving one another’(1 Peter 4:10). So collectively we can stoke up our spiritual fervour ‘serving the Lord’(Romans 12:11) by ‘building up… the body of Christ’(Ephesians 4:12).

Using God’s word alongside musical gifts is a great example of combining these things. We can ‘worship God in the Spirit’(Philippians 3:3) by letting the word dwell in us ‘richly’(Colossians 3:16) as we’re ‘filled with the Spirit’(Ephesians 5:18) singing ‘psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs’(Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 5:19).

Finally, we’re built up by ‘praying in the Holy Spirit’(Jude 1:20), even ‘at all times’(Ephesians 6:18), which will carry us to the high peaks of this ‘walk’ with the Lord.

So, lets ‘walk by the Spirit’, cultivating a craving for prayerfulness, the word, worship, and fruitful service.

Please feel free to share this via social media etc.

(or anywhere else)

by copying/pasting its URL link:

if you’re on Xtwitter,
please do let me know @etheldredanet

(This website currently does not have social media share buttons, to avoid using cookies – see Privacy Policy.)