And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ²⁵If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)
I just finished reading Race to the Bottom of the Earth with two of our sons, a retelling of four daring expeditions to the South Pole. There was no well-worn footpath the adventurers could follow. In the white-out, sub-zero, barren landscape, one wrong step was the difference between solid ground and death in a bottomless crevasse.
Mercifully, the Christian life, though hard, is not like trekking to the bottom of the earth. The call to “keep in step with the Spirit” is not a frustrating command to follow footprints we can’t see. The Spirit has revealed His ways and He fills those who are in Christ with His power to walk in them.
When the desire to gossip, complain, or burst out with angry words seems to surge from deep within me, it feels more natural in the moment to obey those passions. And yet, the Spirit prompts me to turn from my flesh and keep in step with Him. This moment of decision faces every Christian every day.
Galatians 5:24-25 exhorts us with the knowledge that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh”—it’s done! Now that sin is no longer in control, we can obey the command to “keep in step with the Spirit.” Before our flesh was crucified with Christ, our sinful responses came automatically. But now we can respond in love. This is a transformation so dramatic, so foreign to what we used to be like, that it can be none other than the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit fills us and empowers us, but that doesn’t mean we’re like jellyfish floating along lazily. We must walk in His steps. We must make the effort to follow Him. The surrounding verses show us what living by the Spirit and keeping in step with Him looks like. Fundamentally, to keep in step with the Spirit is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14). What does that look like? Not biting and devouring one another (5:15), bearing one another’s burdens (6:2), doing good (6:9), gently restoring a brother or sister caught in sin (6:1), and cultivating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5:22-23).
When I obey my flesh, I am miserable. The weight of my sin presses upon my conscience. Thanks be to God that Jesus forgives my sins! But He also wants me to obey Him. When I say no to sin and follow the Spirit’s leading, it is a joyous victory. The way of obedience is far better. John Piper says, “When the Spirit is leading us by producing godly desires, then the commands of God are not a burden but a joy” (Let Us Walk by the Spirit).
The Valley of Vision, a collection of Scripture-soaked Puritan prayers, can be a great help to us when we're tempted to walk according to the flesh. We can cry out, "Save me from the love of the world and the pride of life, from everything that is natural to fallen man, and let Christ's nature be seen in me day by day" (73).
We can confess, "My heart is without affection, and full of leaks. My memory has no retention, so I forget easily the lessons learned, and the truths seep away. Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace" (72).
We can petition, "Give me large abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus, that I may be prepared for every duty, love you in all my mercies, submit to you in every trial, trust you when walking in darkness, have peace in you amidst life's changes. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief and uncertainties" (65).
Candice Watters is the Fighter Verses blog editor. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, and co-author with her husband Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies.The Watterses have three sons and one daughter. They are passionate about encouraging moms and dads to disciple their children.