Walking in the Spirit vs. Walking in the Flesh

dan delzell opinion page

The New Testament presents a stark contrast between "walking in the Spirit" and "walking in the flesh." The first approach flows in the power of the Holy Spirit. The second approach is dominated by sinful desires. One way of living satisfies your soul and pleases God. The other way of living makes a person restless and is offensive to God.

Compare the nine qualities the apostle Paul lists for these two opposite ways of living:

A person walking in the Spirit experiences and demonstrates much: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23)

A person walking in the flesh is dominated by: anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and greed. (Colossians 3:5,8)

Man, by nature, is prone to walk in the flesh. Man, by virtue of the new birth through faith in Christ, is given the privilege to walk in the Spirit. When a believer refuses to give into sinful desires, the wellspring of the Holy Spirit continues to flow unhindered in your soul. On the other hand, whenever a believer gives into any of these characteristics of the flesh, it prevents you from living a Spirit-filled life and robs you of Christ's peace in your heart.

The Christian life really isn't very complicated. It just feels complicated at times because of the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.

Notice how Paul described this conflict: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." (Galatians 5:16-18)

It is a real battle and it goes on everyday. The only way to walk in the Spirit is to follow Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions. The Holy Spirit empowers us to walk this way. After all, He is the "Holy" Spirit. Wherever He is at work, holiness happens. This is why the 9 qualities listed above are referred to as "the fruit of the Spirit." (Gal. 5:22)

Man can imitate the Holy Spirit's fruit, but he cannot create it. Only God can produce heavenly fruit in our lives. And this can only occur after we first repent of our sins and believe the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our forgiveness and salvation.

The Christian life has a lot more to do with "impartation" than "imitation." Impartation refers to what God does inside of us.

Do you realize that the physical body of every Christian is actually a temple of the Holy Spirit? God not only left heaven to die on a cross, but God also chooses to dwell within the body of every believer.

And so "church" today isn't a building made by human hands. Instead, it is your physical body if you are a Christian. You are therefore "in church" 24/7, which is just the way God wanted it.

There are certain types of speech and behavior people wouldn't dream of doing in a church building. And yet, our speech and behavior always takes place "in church." That is, if your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul wrote these words to believers: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Cor. 6:19,20)

What was that price you ask? It was the blood Jesus shed on the cross for sinners. And the moment a person repents of sin and trusts Christ for salvation, you cease belonging to yourself and you now belong to God.

Only those who belong to God can experience the fruit of the Spirit. Only those who belong to God live for the Lord on earth, and then go with God to heaven when their earthly body dies.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25,26)

Well, do you? It's the only way to enter a relationship with the Savior. It's the only way to receive the gift of eternal life. And it's the only way for your body to become a temple of the Holy Spirit.

So which will it be for you: walking in the Spirit, or walking in the flesh? These are two entirely different ways to live, and two entirely different ways to die. They also provide two entirely different destinations after death.

Thankfully, Christ knew exactly what He was doing when He came to earth to redeem us. And His return to earth one of these days will be just as consequential. In the meantime, you and I get to make daily decisions regarding the Spirit and the flesh.

The Christian life wasn't designed to be as complicated as we sometimes choose to make it. Following Jesus as we walk in the Spirit is the only way to experience life the way God designed it to be lived. And it's an experience that definitely satisfies the soul.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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