We’ve spent the last eleven weeks talking about the fruit of the Spirit, and we’re finally reaching an end to that series. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we should forget these things after this week; these heart qualities that Paul talks about, plus the ones he doesn’t talk about but lumps together under the phrase “such things,” will be carried with us through the rest of the book of Galatians, and indeed, through all of our study of Scripture, because God is carving them into our hearts, as He once carved ten commandments into tablets of stone.
Last week our scripture reading was Galatians 5:16-26, and we’re going to look at the same scripture today, mostly focusing on verse 25.
The fruits of the Spirit are sandwiched between two statements that we are to “walk in the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:16, Paul introduces the whole idea of walking in the Spirit by contrasting walking in the Spirit with living in the flesh. This contrast is what leads into his discussion of the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
Now that he’s finished his list, he reiterates this instruction by saying, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
We already spent some time talking about “walking in the Spirit” when we looked at Galatians 5:16. At the time we focused on the literal meaning of the Greek word stoicheo (stoy-KAY-o) which gets translated as “walk.” As a quick reminder, the word “walk” here means “to proceed – like soldiers – in an orderly line, following in the footsteps of the one in front of you.” In other words, to “walk in the Spirit” means to “walk in the footsteps of the Spirit,” or “walk in the example of the Spirit” or “walk under the guidance of the Spirit.”
Now that we’ve spent several weeks looking at the fruit of the Spirit, we can flesh out the idea some more, so it’s definitely worth coming back to this topic in light of what we’ve learned. Also, Paul has added to the idea, because now he is drawing a distinction between living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit.
The two verbs Paul gives us here are: live and walk. It’s not immediately obvious what the difference between these two instructions is, but it may be helpful for us to think of our own physical lives to help illustrate the difference.
To be physically alive simply means that certain biological processes are going on within our body. Air passes in and out of our lungs. Our heart beats. Our brain sends out instructions to heart, lungs, and other organs, and receives messages from the nerves throughout our body.
All of these processes happen at a level beyond our conscious thought and control.
On the other hand, there are many aspects of life and being alive that we do exhibit conscious control over. I choose to drive to the grocery store. I choose to talk to my wife and my children. I choose to draw pictures, make music, and yes, I choose to prepare sermons to preach.
We refer to these two types of physical activity as belonging to either the autonomic or somatic nervous system. Autonomic activities are things like heartbeat and digestion, which we don’t control, and somatic activities are things which we do control.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of this before, but even though you don’t directly control your autonomic processes, you can indirectly control many of them.
I can close my mouth and stop my body from taking in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. I can choose to eat nothing but jalapeno peppers, and soon my digestive system will not function in the way it should. I can place my hand on a hot burner and see an autonomic reflex action in my arm.
Those are things that I can do to negatively impact my autonomic systems, but of course there are things I can do that will positively impact those systems. If I choose to eat healthy food with lots of good vegetables and limit myself to a reasonable amount of sweets and fatty foods, my digestive system will function in a more healthy way. Since I have sleep apnea, I put on my CPAP mask before I go to bed and my respiratory system functions more smoothly. And, along with that, my brain functions better as well!
So all of that is my analogy; now let’s talk about Paul’s “living in the Spirit” and “walking in the Spirit.” Living in the Spirit is comparable to the autonomic systems, while walking in the Spirit is comparable to the somatic systems.
Being alive in the Spirit means that some things are happening below the level of conscious choice in our lives. I’ve referred to that multiple times throughout our sessions on the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is at work in our lives, re-forming and shaping our hearts, transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.
But just because this “living in the Spirit” is autonomic, that doesn’t mean we bear no responsibility in helping to ensure the health of that system. We can grieve the Spirit through actions that block the work He is doing in our hearts, and we can choose manners of life and thought that benefit that work. To walk in the Spirit means to live in ways that are beneficial to God’s work in our hearts.
Earlier in our series, I mentioned 2 Corinthians 3:18, which says:
Our choice to gaze with eyes wide open upon the beauty and glory of our Savior is a driving force in God’s work in our lives. As we read of the Savior, as we meditate upon His work and His words, that somatic, or conscious choice results in a strengthening of God’s work in our lives.
Similarly, we should consider a very well-known verse from Paul’s epistles. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8:
Why do we fill our minds with things that are true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely? Because our Savior is true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely. Indeed, He is excellent and worthy of praise. As we meditate on things that are in keeping with the glorious character of Christ, we pave the way for God to do the work that only He can do in our hearts.
Also, Paul follows up that instruction in verse 8 with this instruction in verse 9:
Paul is very careful and precise in how he phrases this: he wants the believers to follow the things that they have both heard and seen in him. There is no “do as I say, not as I do,” with Paul. “Follow me,” he is saying, “Only as much as my words and my deeds line up.”
Paul, as a mature leader, invites the Philippians to observe both his words and his actions, and put them into practice. Here is a chain: as Paul has seen Jesus and been transformed by Him, so the Philippians can see the transformation wrought by Jesus in Paul, and also be transformed.
To put it another way, Paul is walking in the footsteps of the Spirit, so those who walk in his footsteps are – naturally – walking in the Spirit’s footsteps as well.
So too, we ought to be looking for mature men and women whose words and deeds both line up with the fruit of the Spirit. Observe them. See the transformation Jesus has wrought in their lives and allow the Spirit of God to make those same transformations in your life.
I think it’s worth reminding you, at this point, of something we talked about when we studied the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus warned of false prophets, he never made mention of the false things they said. Instead He warned about the false ways that they lived. His actual words were: “You will know them by their fruits.” How surprising, yet how fitting for our study in Galatians. It is not that you will recognize them by their faulty theology. You will recognize them by their lack of love, their lack of joy, their lack of peace, patience, gentle kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
How many times we have seen pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and ministry leaders who have all their theological ducks in a row, but their lives make it clear the fruit of the Spirit is not growing in their lives! Beware of them, and do not follow in their footsteps, for they are not walking in the footsteps of the Spirit.
Just as we can do things that bring harm to our autonomic systems, we can also do things that bring harm to the work God is doing in our lives. This is why Paul preceded the fruit of the Spirit with the deeds of the flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” We have already spent time studying why these are to be avoided; they are things which are contrary to the Spirit. For example, sexual immorality violates the fruit of love in a marriage relationship. Strife violates the fruit of peace. Rivalry violates the fruit of meekness. Drunkenness violates the fruit of self-control.
And, just as Paul added a “such things” clause to the fruit of the Spirit, he also added a “such things” to the deeds of the flesh. Any action which is directly contrary to the work of the Spirit in our hearts is a deed of the flesh.
For example, if sincerity is a fruit the Spirit is building in our lives, then it stands to reason that both flattery and hypocrisy are works of the flesh, because they are opposites of sincerity. If generosity is a fruit the Spirit is building in our lives, then hoarding of wealth is a work of the flesh, because it is the opposite of generosity.
Understanding the deeds of the flesh this way makes it clear that when we act in these ways, we are impeding the work the Spirit is doing in our lives. When we choose to hoard, it is like we are putting a roadblock in front of the Spirit’s work of generosity. But when we – through our own choices decide not to hoard, we remove the roadblock, and the Spirit can begin molding our hearts into generous hearts.
It is to our benefit and good spiritual health to avoid the works of the flesh. And it is not only to our benefit, but also to the church’s benefit, and to the benefit of the wide world outside our doors.
In order to reject the works of the flesh, we must remember the fruit of self-control at the end of Paul’s list; it is that fruit which helps us to say “No!” to the actions and activities which break down our spiritual health and inhibit the work God wants to do in our lives.
Two weeks ago, we talked about these verses from Titus 2:11-14, and I think they are a worthwhile conclusion to this week’s message; they encapsulate much of what we have learned about walking in step with the Spirit.
Thank you, Lord, for the autonomic work You are doing in our lives – work that we could never do on our own. Help us to make conscious choices that facilitate Your work instead of impeding it. Help us to walk in the Spirit as we live in the Spirit. Amen