Walking in the Holy Spirit


Read Galatians 5:15-26

The Jewish teachers that Paul was calling "agitators" were preaching to the Galatian believers that they had to be circumcised to be saved. Paul's response to this was to teach the Galatians about living life in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is such an exciting and challenging passage. It is so encouraging that, having found Christ by faith and embarked on building a personal, intimate relationship with Him, Father God does not expect us to spend our lives trying to achieve what He wants through personal grit and determination, but by walking in the power of His Holy Spirit. This is the third member of the godhead, who lives in us. (Romans 8:11) It is totally mind-blowing and well worth a praise shout!

Freedom and responsibility

Nevertheless, freedom in the Lord does carry with it some responsibility. We have been set free from the penalty of sin and our sinful natures. We have been set free from the old covenant law with its detailed requirements, but that does not give us freedom to break the law of the land, or to pamper our carnal natures and be "worldly" and selfish. As we focus more and more on Him, we want to sin less and less. We have not been set free from our commitment to God or the rest of the human race. Paul sums up the entire law in this passage and encapsulates it within a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself".

The "love" mentioned here is a translation of the particular Greek word (agape) that Paul used in this context. It is not so much a matter of emotion as having an unselfish concern for others and doing things for their benefit. It means having an unselfish concern for another and a willingness to seek the best for another. So, even though we are free, our lives must remain holy and perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Followers of other religions often accuse Christians of having loose, moral standards and bad behaviour, doing whatever they please. This may occasionally be true, of course, but it is not supposed to be this way. Even today, when we are perhaps more aware than ever of the "grace of God" that gives us freedom, we should not interpret it as meaning that, just because we are saved and forgiven at the cross, we can do whatever we like because our sins will all be covered by the blood of Jesus. This is not the full truth of the gospel (good news); it is only part of it.

The knowledge that Jesus has died to save us and now lives in us - by the power of the Holy Spirit - should give us a passion and desire to please Him. We are no longer bound by the old covenant laws, but we do have the royal law of love - God's love (Mark 12:29-31) Jesus Himself said: "I am giving you a new command: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love and unselfish concern for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Love and service

We are now free to serve one another in love. A slave does not serve a master out of love, but out of duty and fear. An employee does not serve a boss (or a company) out of love, so much as a need to earn money. But we, being free, serve one another in love. Only free people can love freely and we Christians have been set free from sin. At the same time, we have made ourselves slaves to God. So we are free from the old master (the old covenant law), which leads to death but we have become servants of a new master - Jesus Christ - who offers us "life in all its fullness".

Jesus also says: "I call you my most intimate and cherished friends, for I reveal to you everything that I have heard from my Father." (John 15:15) People used to obey the old covenant law out of fear, but now we obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, because we love Him and want to show Him how much through our obedience.

Power to love

The Jewish teachers in Galatia should have known about love, because their cherished law included the command: "Love your neighbour (acquaintance, associate, companion) as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) Was Paul, then, giving a new law that we must follow? Well, the command may not have changed, but the new motivation for obeying it was not like anything that had gone before. This new way - of doing things in love - is not about loving others in order to get saved; on the contrary, we walk in love because we are saved. What's more, the Holy Spirit now pours this love into our innermost beings, through His presence in us. We do not need to follow any rules of any Christian sect or denomination in order to get saved. We are saved for all eternity because we follow Jesus Christ our Saviour and put our lives in His hands. Our salvation is not given as some reward for following religious practices or rituals; it is a personal gift from Jesus Christ Himself.

Many religions (including Judaism), set out numerous laws and traditions that people are expected to follow in their own human strength. But, we can never love, in the way that Jesus calls us to do so, by depending on our own strength. Instead, He gives us the Holy Spirit, so that, by the Spirit’s power alone, we can obey the law of love. This love does not come from our own natures, but from the fruit of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We love others because of "the love that has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit". (Romans 5:5) God Himself gives us the strength to obey the law of love. Everything we do is done through the grace and power of God.

Freedom to love

The old covenant law said that we are to love our neighbours as our selves. This can become a massive problem if we start with too low an opinion of ourselves. However hard we may try to love others, low self-esteem will affect our ability to love anyone else. Self effort will not deal with this issue either because it is generally deep-seated, often stemming from experiences or trauma in our early days. Personally, I have found the best way through this is to ask a trusted friend to pray for me. I also soak myself in what God's word says about me. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to be our counsellor in such matters and to follow His leading without rushing the process. For me, it is like peeling an onion, dealing with layer upon layer. He gradually brings to my mind different situations where His love is needed. (For further help on this topic, see "Who I am in Jesus Christ")

This is a big deal, especially as we grow older, but it is certainly worth praying and asking the Holy Spirit to "remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of love and obedience". (Ezekiel 36:26) We can also pray: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right, and steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

Supernatural love

Jesus said: "If any would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34) Following the example of Jesus Himself, we should be prepared to give up even our own lives for the sake of others. This is ultimately what it means to love others as ourselves. We, who are spiritual, should love others, first and foremost, above ourselves. If we do not know how to love God as a supernatural being, we certainly will not be able to love our human neighbour in a supernatural way. Love for God always comes first.

Equally, we cannot say that we love God if we do not love our neighbour. 1 John 4:20-21 says: "If any say, ‘I love God and hate (work against) a (Christian) brother or sister, they are liars, for those who do not love brothers or sisters whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: that those who love God should also (unselfishly) love their brothers and sisters and seek the best for them.'" If only we were truly to love our neighbours as ourselves, the world would quickly recognise and know that Jesus is alive today in every member of His body on earth.

Everybody needs good neighbours

Who is our neighbour? Jesus gave us a pretty wide definition of a neighbour in His parable about the "Good Samaritan". (Luke 10:29-37) Our neighbour is any person we are aware of who has a need. The Samaritan was commended by Jesus for picking up the man who had been set upon by thieves, taking him to an inn and paying for his treatment. The victim had been shunned by some religious passers-by. Doubtless, they would have said that they were people who knew God and obeyed His commandments, but they failed the test. Jesus described the neighbour as "the one who showed compassion and mercy to him". Then Jesus said, very clearly, to all who are listening to Him: "Go and constantly do the same."

Living by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26)

These are challenging and powerful verses, yet so simple - the "God lifestyle" in a nutshell. As a good father, God has not left us to live the Christian life in our own strength. He has given us His very own Spirit. Where people are living in their own strength, you can generally expect there to be some feuding going on. We have just discussed the importance of loving one another as part of our faith being worked out in love for, both fellow believers and ordinary, fellow travellers in life. Feuding is infectious and we will find - like the Galatians - that, before long, it leads to mutual destruction.

The sinful nature and the Holy Spirit are completely opposed to one another. That is why we are often conscious of a battle raging within us. Our mind, will and emotions want to go their own way. Before we became Christians, we allowed them to do just that and now they are in rebellion against our new Lord and Master: Jesus Christ. They cry out against our new nature - the Holy Spirit. We must choose, therefore, which nature we are going to submit to. Often that choice is not easy, but it is one we will all have to make constantly, in every moment of our lives.

Making good choices

We are all probably only too familiar with what happens when people are trying to love others in their own strength. Where there is natural love, people tend to keep on "biting and devouring each other". That is, they will oppose, accuse and slander one another. If we choose to let Jesus be Lord of how we feel and respond, we cannot simply join in. Eventually, any church in which "natural love" reigns will be destroyed. Even if the negative things being said are true, they will still destroy the church. They will certainly inhibit the moving of the Holy Spirit. This behaviour (indulging hatred, discord, jealousy, dissensions, factions and the like) is described here as a fruit of the sinful nature. How can we deal with such things?

If someone in your church is behaving like this, the first option is to speak to them privately, face-to-face. Let them know that you believe the matter that has upset them needs to be sorted out, but you think there might be a better way of resolving things. If their complaint is about you or something you have done, try to sort it out with them. If it concerns someone else, be a "peace-maker" and offer to bring them together to sort it out. If this approach doesn't work, the next step is to bring in a trusted leader to act as a referee. Listen for the Holy Spirit prompting you and guiding you as to what to say. At all costs, we should avoid taking sides or perpetuating gossip. In healthy church communities, people will cultivate friends to whom they are accountable: giving their friend permission to pull them up whenever they start saying something judgmental or critical. None of this is easy, but it is one area where churches can be the most amazing witnesses. Outsiders are always drawn to such communities where they see practical - supernatural - love in practice.

Keeping in step

We want to please our Father and to recognise that He hears every word we utter. In fact, He knows every word before it is even on our lips. (Psalm 139:4) Through His Holy Spirit, God lives in us. We talk about "walking with Him" in our daily lives and it means simply imagining Him being with us all the time. Our relationship with Him will grow as we ask Him to help us as a counsellor or advisor whilst we are thinking and planning what to do in our lives. The thoughts that we feed most will grow best. We need to pull up the weeds of negative thinking and feed ourselves with the word of God. As we begin to do that every day, it will steadily build our faith. "But I say walk habitually in the Holy Spirit." (Galatians 5:16)

In his letter to the Christian believers at Rome, Paul spoke about our obligation not to live as the sinners we were before Jesus became our Lord. We have to make choices all day as children of the most High God and obey the leading of His Holy Spirit. We recognise in our new identity exactly who we are: co-heirs with Christ. The Holy Spirit in our heart confirms that we are indeed children of God, because we have received the "spirit of sonship". (Romans 8:12-17) The battle is prolonged and goes on in the mind, where we make our decisions. The more we decide to live in accordance with our spiritual nature and not according to "the flesh" (our sinful nature), the less dominant will be our "flesh" and the easier the decisions will become. The Holy Spirit will reassure us, within our own spirits, that we are His children: ransomed, bought with a price by the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We are no longer under the old covenant law but under grace.

Finally, Paul contrasts the acts of the sinful nature – as if we needed telling – with the fruit of the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:19-26.) We might look through lists like this and give ourselves a little pat on the back, saying, "Oh I am not that bad". But, when we take a closer look at our lives from God’s perspective, we can quickly see that what Paul is saying here is very relevant. We often say things that are not wholly clean because we think it is clever. We lose our temper with another driver, or perhaps a shop assistant. We judge someone’s clothes, or size or make-up. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus makes His standard very clear: just looking at a person in the wrong way can lead to sin. What about selfish ambition? When we have sought promotion, what lengths have we gone to in order to secure it?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." (Galatians 5:22-26)

Let this picture of how God our Father sees your life fill your imagination! The Holy Spirit has come to live within us and, the more we give Him free rein to be Lord in our lives, the more of this fruit we shall see. We don't need to pray for joy or peace; we simply need to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us and allow Him to be Lord in our lives. Then His joy and peace will fill us!

Resist the devil

The choice is ours. If we let strife enter our lives, then we give access and power to the enemy. Jesus gives us protection and weapons with which to resist and rebuke him. He tells us: "Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7) We must be strong and resolute, praying in the Spirit, repenting if necessary and seeking justice in the courts of heaven. (Hebrews 10:19) The Galatian believers should have resisted those who came from Jerusalem offering them a variation of the good news that they had previously heard from Paul. But they fell for it. They were drawn back to the "comfort blanket" of earning their salvation by keeping petty rules and regulations instead of putting their faith in Jesus and accepting His gift of grace. Paul’s desire was for them to stand firm against the wiles of the enemy and to walk in freedom.

In Ephesians 6:11-18, Paul tells us how to defend ourselves successfully against every attack of the enemy. As we hear what Paul says, we do well to apply his advice to our own lives. Jesus gives us spiritual armour to put on that will enable us to stand and to confront our enemy - the devil and his workers. But the responsibility to do this lies with us. It can help to visualise putting on each piece of personal, protective equipment (PPE) before you set out on your day's work - or leisure! We have:

  • the belt of truth - to keep everything in place and provide a foundation on which to hang other equipment;
  • the vest of righteousness - to protect all your vital organs;
  • the boots of the gospel (good news) - to enable you to run and jump and take new ground;
  • the shield of faith - to ward off the torrent of abuse that might come your way occasionally;
  • the helmet of salvation - protecting your mind but also representing the authority under which you function;
  • the sword of the Spirit which is God's word - to enable you to go on the offensive against your enemy;
  • the radio of prayer - to help you maintain communication with the Father at all times.

Finally, I have always found praising God to be a brilliant weapon. For example:

"O LORD, our Lord, Your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens. You have taught children and infants to tell of Your strength, silencing Your enemies and all who oppose You." (Psalm 8:1,2)

There is also Psalm 103, which lists all the things to remind us of why we should be praising our Jesus: "He redeems me from death - He fills my life with good things - The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and filled with unfailing love" and so on.

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