The Mystery of Walking By The Spirit: Galatians 5:16-24
“16) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17) For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19) Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20) idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21) envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24) Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians‬ ‭5‬:‭16‬-‭24‬ ‭
We now come to the classic text on walking by the Spirit. The context is introduced by a discussion on freedom. (See Galatians 5:1 and 5:13) Freedom is the result of every sinful bondage and stronghold being pulled down through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It means that sinful compulsions are no longer in control of our lives. (1 John 3:9)
It also means that salvation has infused new life with the spirit of man alive and functioning again. (Ephesians 2:1-10) We have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness a transferred into the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1-12-14). New life has been birthed in us.
Because we have been born-again, we can now “put off” the old self, be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and “put on” the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:22-24) A new level of life is available for those who have been born-again.
In Galatians 5:16-24, Paul commands that we should walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. But, becoming a Christian does not mean the flesh is automatically dead. Rather, it means a struggle starts within for control of our life between the flesh and the newly revived human spirit.
As a young Christian, I was introduced to the translation problem of Galatians 5:16-25 between the potential word of “spirit” or “Spirit”. Was Paul talking about walking with the revived human spirit in control or the Holy Spirit in control?
Here is the basic problem, the Greek word for “spirit” and “Spirit” are exactly the same. It is solely left to the discretion and theology of the translator to translate it as “spirit” or “Spirit.” As shared earlier, for the born-again believer they are closely related, but they have different ramifications.
Walking with the renewed human spirit in charge restores us to a pre-fall state where Adam and Eve were living after their created order in the image of God. Body, soul and spirit were functioning in their created design with the spirit in charge. There was no inner battle, no sin nature and fellowship with God was thriving.
Translating the text with the word “spirit” lines up with 2 Corinthians 5:17; “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Some translations say a “new creation.” In other words, the original creative design has been restored at the moment of salvation. The spirit is no longer dead. It is alive again.
Think about this, if the translation of “Spirit” is correct, the Holy Spirit would have no battle with the human flesh. Why? The Holy Spirit would automatically win every battle because He is omnipotent. He is all powerful. There is no sin or darkness in Him. There is no potential for Him to loose the battle.
But this understanding of walking by the Spirit would cancel out free will. It would make living by grace and faith a mute subject. Spiritual growth would immediately be complete and temptations and trials would have no affect on us. We would automatically pass every test, but we would be mindless robots.
This understanding of the translation problem does not fit with the context of Galatians 5:16-26. The context is a battle between the flesh and the spirit for control of our daily lives. If we yield to the flesh, the deeds of the flesh emerge in our lives. But if we walk by the spirit, the fruit of the spirit shows up in our lives. The flesh and the spirit are two very different governors and they constantly battle for control of our lives.
That has been the story of my life, and the story of every Christian I know. There were times that the inner battles were intense for me. I’ve lost many battles. My flesh did not die easily because I did not understand the nature of the battle. I was waiting for the Holy Spirit to mysteriously and suddenly show up and take charge. But it didn’t happen that way.
I cannot solve this translation dilemma for you. But it seems to me that the full evidence in the New Testament supports the notion that at the moment of salvation the human spirit is revived, the Holy Spirit seals and indwells the new believer but does not force His will or power on the new Christian.
It becomes the call of every believer to “put off” the old self, be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and “put on” the new self that has the potential to be filled up to all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 4:22-24) We are called into a spiritual growth process that has unimaginable potential.
Spiritual maturity means the spirit is securely in control, the flesh has been crucified and the body and soul are functioning according to their original design. The spirit of the mature believer is in harmony with the Holy Spirit and in constant communion and fellowship with God. This is Zoe life!
If this understanding of Galatians 5:16-24 is new to you, it might sound strange at first, but it removes the mystery of your inner battles and shameful defeats you encounter. It also gives you a clear road map for growth and moving forward in your walk with God.
Don’t sit in neutral and wonder why the Christian life is not working for you. Pursue God. Devour the Word. Renew your mind. Starve your flesh and feed your spirit. Crucify your flesh and empower your spirit. Resist the world and the devil and embrace the Holy Spirit and your spiritual blessings in the heavenly places “in Christ.” Become accustomed to hearing and obeying the voice and leading of God.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global