How to Walk by the Spirit

Basic Theology, Podcast Episodes

​​Galatians 5 tells us to walk by the Spirit – but what does that look like practically? And why do we need to do it? This episode is a quick dive into pneumatology and why the Christian life is absolutely dependent on our relationship to the Spirit and His work.


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Hi, friends, and welcome back to Verity Podcast. Today we’re talking about what it looks like to walk by the Holy Spirit. Maybe you’ve grown up in the church and you’ve heard people say, “You just need to walk by the Spirit or rely on the Holy Spirit.” Or maybe you grew up in a church environment where the Holy Spirit wasn’t talked about at all or here’s your third option, maybe you grew up around a church environment where the Holy Spirit only did things that were highly sensational or emotional or showy like, He healed and He prophesied through people, but did you ever learn the daily power of the Holy Spirit led life. If not, I hope this podcast episode is helpful to you. Now, there are much smarter people than me who have talked about this issue, have written books about the topic of the Holy Spirit, and Pneumatology, which is the theology of the Holy Spirit. But as usual, here at every woman a theologian, my goal is to distill down the information that these wise teachers and writers and scholars have produced into an easy to digest format for the person who maybe isn’t reading their work or is not going to go to seminary and so in this short episode we’re going to get a really high-level look at pneumatology or the theology of the Holy Spirit, as it is applied to our daily lives, what does it look like to walk by the Spirit?

When I was growing up, my dad, who grew up in the Assemblies of God tradition. If you’re not familiar with the AG, it is a Pentecostal tradition. So heavy emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s gifts, but not always an emphasis on the practical outworking of the Holy Spirit in your life. My dad grew up in that environment but I think that for him growing up in an environment that talked about the Holy Spirit was an advantage because when he became a Christian and when he matured in his faith, he had this theology of the Holy Spirit that he then translated to us, his kids as we were growing up. When I became a believer at 15 years old, I became immediately very zealous, very into the Word of God, wanting to do it right, wanting to memorize the fruits of the Spirit and all of these righteous behaviors. I would read these lists of Christian behaviors, and I would go to my summer job, and I would try to muscle my way through. I remember my dad telling me, “Phy, it’s not that hard. It’s not that complicated. You’re making this harder than it needs to be.” 

I remember getting physically angry at my dad, I was so frustrated when he would say that because it felt so absurd to me. I was like, “Well, then what am I supposed to do? Like, “What is my job here if I can’t just muscle my way into being patient or joyful or kind or loving.” I need to know what I need to do because I feel at a loss here in my Christian life. And it took years for me to understand what the Holy Spirit’s role was, and what my role was in producing the fruit of the Spirit. As Jesus said, “To produce much fruit and prove to be his disciple.” So, my dad lay this foundation where he talked about the Holy Spirit and the need to let him be the one to produce righteousness. But practically speaking, I still had to walk that road of figuring out what that looked like and so I hope that some of this might shortcut a little of that journey for you or at least maybe make a light bulb go off in your own understanding of what it means to walk by the Spirit.

Before we get there, I want to talk about why we need a biblical pneumatology or theology of the Spirit in the first place. All through scripture, we see the Holy Spirit. He is not something new that arrives in the New Testament. His indwelling of believers is a new manifestation of Him or a new dispensation of who He is. But He has always been here. It says that, “The Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the deep over the waters,” in Genesis 1. It also says throughout the Old Testament that the Holy Spirit would come upon people to strengthen them to certain tasks or to give them what they needed to minister or to prophesy. I’m thinking of Elijah and Elisha, where Elisha prayed for a double portion of the Holy Spirit that Elijah had. And then in the New Testament, we see that Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, not just to the prophets, not just to Kings, not just to priests, but to every believer. Every believer will have the Holy Spirit. He says, “To wait in Jerusalem,” and then in Acts 2, “The Holy Spirit comes upon the believers in power.” 

And so, every Christian has the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower them, to walk out the will of God, and to be sanctified into the image of Christ. So, the Holy Spirit’s job is to sanctify us, to make us holy, to comfort us, to convict us, and to transform us into the image of Christ so that we are a city on a hill and our communities were a light to the world, the communal church. So, we can’t do this on our own strength. We can’t make ourselves into the image of God on earth, we can’t cultivate virtue or righteousness or impact that lasts eternally without Christ through the Holy Spirit. 

The good things that we see done in the world by those who don’t follow God are often done from this place of striving, of anxiety, of anguish, of overwhelm. I think of the memoirs and biographies I’ve read about politicians or people who accomplished huge world changing things, but didn’t follow the Lord. You see the state of complete unrest or the state of utter exhaustion and it’s not to say that Christians don’t go through exhaustion, but there’s no power of the Holy Spirit behind their changing of the world. For the Christian, there should be an ability to cultivate virtue from a place of peace and freedom even in the midst of suffering. And so, when we’re wondering what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? The real answer to that question is. Only what God asks me to do, I do. To walk by the Holy Spirit is to walk to live in obedience to the voice of God, it really is that simple. And my utmost concern is that obedience, what is God asking me to do in this moment? What is God asking me to do in this month, week, year? And am I going to obey Him in that area. So, before we get to the passages that I have about walking by the Spirit, I want to read a couple of quotes about the Holy Spirit from some of my favorite authors and writers because I just find these so helpful and clarifying and encouraging.

This first one is from Dwight Moody or D. L. Moody and it says, “There is no use running before you are sent; there is no use in attempting to do God’s work without God’s power. A man working without this unction, a man working without this anointing, a man working without the Holy Ghost upon him, is losing time after all.” What I love about this is not just the guts of what it says because it’s so true and so good, but that Francis Schaeffer said almost the exact same thing. This is a little bit of a longer quote, but it’s worth me reading. So, we set the expectation as we move into our study of Galatians. Here’s what Francis Schaeffer, said, “Though we today are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit when we accept Christ as Savior, being indwelt is not the same as having the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had to wait to receive the Spirit at Pentecost. Christians today are to follow the same order to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit at salvation, and to know something of the reality of the power of Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit. And then to work and witness. The order cannot be reversed. There are to be many fillings. Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way is not a matter of being saved and then simply working hard. After Jesus ascended, the disciples waited quietly in prayer for the coming of His Spirit. Their first motion was not toward activism. Christ has risen now let us be busy. Though they looked at the world with Christ’s compassion, they obeyed his clear command to wait before they witnessed. If we who are Christians and therefore indwelt by the Spirit are to preach to our generation with tongues of fire, we also must have something more than an activism which men can easily duplicate. We must know something of the power of the Holy Spirit.” Moody and Schaefer are saying essentially the same thing. 

We cannot achieve what God has asked us to achieve in this world, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, apart from the anointing if you will, or the specific filling and equipping of the Holy Spirit for the tasks he has called us to do, whether those tasks are discipling our children, or ministering from a stage, or talking to our neighbor about the Lord. 

No matter what it is that He’s called us to do, we need the Holy Spirit to be leading us to do it. And we have to have a heart posture that is willing to listen to Him because that is what it means to walk by the Spirit. So, we’re going to look at the most famous passage that talks about walking in the Spirit and it is in the book of Galatians. Its Galatians 5:16-25. It says, “But I say walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you as I warned you before that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. So, if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. So, the verb walk that we use in the sentence walk by the Spirit that Paul uses here in Galatians 5. The word walk is often used metaphorically in scripture.

According to one Bible dictionary, it means to follow a certain course of life or to conduct yourself in a certain way. So, in the passage of Galatians 5, Paul is setting up two mutually exclusive paths, you can choose between them. You can either walk by the Holy Spirit, or live by the law and what he means by the law here is the letter of the Mosaic Law as revealed to the Jews. He’s speaking here to non-Jewish Christians, and commentator David Guzik said that, “The fear of the legalist is that walking in the Spirit will give license to sin and therefore only legalism can keep us holy.” And Paul counters this by saying no walk by the Spirit and then you will be righteous. All the fruit that you want to bear, all the goodness you’re trying to achieve by the letter of the law, by following the rules through this legalism all of that can be achieved by conducting yourself according to the Holy Spirit, following the course of life dictated by the Holy Spirit.

So, the course of our Christian lives should be led by the Spirit of Christ. Everything we do should be based on what the Holy Spirit specifically tells us to do. And since the Holy Spirit is given to us to reveal and proclaim and guide us into the character of Christ, the Christian who walks by the Spirit will look more and more like Jesus because of it. The Apostle John essentially says this in 1 John 2:6, where he says, “Whoever claims to live in Christ must live as Jesus did.” And this is referring back to Jesus’ own words, in the Gospel of John chapter 15 verse 8 that says, “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples. Some translations say, “And so prove to be my disciples.” Our behavior reveals whether or not we are true disciples, but here’s where things get crazy. If two people are both say abstaining from drunkenness, one person may be doing that from the leading of the Holy Spirit and one person may be doing that from legalism. And from the outside looking in, it’s the exact same behavior but the heart motivation is completely different.

Oftentimes, you can tell in the way that these people talk about their behavioral decisions. One person is saying, “I get to walk in restraint in this area because I love the Lord. I’m free to make the choice to walk in self-control.” Whereas the other one, the one who’s making the decision out of legalism is doing it because of duty, I have to do this or fear, whether it’s fear of God’s wrath or whether it’s fear of people’s opinions, usually it’s a mixture of both. So, on the outside the behavior, the choice is the same. In this case, I’m using alcohol as an example, abstaining from alcohol, but it could be anything, it could be being kind to others, while you could be kind because the Holy Spirit has changed your heart and transformed you into a kind person. Or you can be kind because you feel socially obligated to do it. One is led by the Spirit and one is not even though the outward behavior looks the same. That’s why Jesus over and over and over, he gets to the heart of the law and he talks about prayer, and he talks about marriage, and he talks about kindness and generosity by getting to the heart and saying, “It’s not enough for you to just do these things. Your heart has to be transformed and I’m going to give you the Holy Spirit to do that work for you. I’m going to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” That’s the difference between the Spirit lead life and the legalistic life. For the Spirit lead person, grace and truth can always go hand in hand, but for the legalistic person, truth and duty and fear are the motivators. You might have the truth but your understanding of grace and your understanding of the Holy Spirit is usually very underdeveloped.

In the book of Romans, The Apostle Paul flushes out the difference. This is Romans 8:9-14. He says, “You, however are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body, your old nature is dead because of sin, and yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to your flesh, your old nature, you will die, be separated from God, and lose out on the blessings of God. But if by the Spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. “I came that they may have life, and life abundant,” Jesus said. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” So those of us who are in Christ, He says, “The mark, the seal of being in Christ is the Holy Spirit.” This is consistent across all of scripture, but then those who are led by the Spirit of God, those who are walking by the spirits leading, these are the children of God. Our dead bodies are human flesh, this old nature contains this living breathing Spirit of God. And as we get up each day, we have a choice to seek the Holy Spirit’s voice to get quiet before Him to listen and obey or we can become apathetic and revert to either following our fleshly whims, what we feel like doing what our self tells us to do, what the law tells us to do, what the opinions of people tell us to do and what Paul is saying, what John is saying, what Jesus was saying is, “There is only one voice that you listen to and that’s the voice of the Holy Spirit.” It’s the voice of God. Are you listening to him. Are you quiet enough, still enough to hear him? And have you gotten into the habit of listening and obeying to the point that when his voice comes to you that still small voice, you recognize it, and you’ll do what he says, “The Holy Spirit is the power of the Christian life.” 

Our lack of teaching on Him in the church has created a void that is now being filled by this impersonal force, or the universe of the new age spirituality. Think about it, we have this invasion of the new age into the church but how could something like that invade Christianity so easily. Only if we have retreated from a space we were supposed to own. We do own– Christian theology owns that space and it’s the pneumatology, it’s the theology of the Holy Spirit. But when we stopped teaching on Him, and when we ran away from the ground that we were supposed to hold, the ground theologically of the Holy Spirit and His role in our lives that personal connection to God where God actually speaks to us and tells us what to do. 

When we stopped teaching on that, we left a void for new age spirituality to move in. Because human nature desires a connection to God, it is searching for a personal connection to God. And when Christianity does not teach effectively on how our theology provides that, we leave it open for the counterfeits. If you have not received a solid teaching on the Holy Spirit, I am so sorry for you. Whether it’s the extreme of hyper charismatic theology, or the extreme of no Holy Spirit theology at all. Like we don’t even know what He does or how He acts and you can’t hear from him personally, the only way you can follow God is by reading the Bible. There is no Holy Spirit speaking to you specifically. Both of those are extremes and the balance is in the middle. That holy moderation that I’ve talked about recently, the balance is the Holy Spirit speaking specifically applying the Word of God to you, giving you specifics, speaking to your heart, leading you, telling you what to do in the, How to Hear God’s Voice episode. When I talked about how I heard God through prayer, this is what God does, this is the advantage of the Holy Spirit. It takes time of learning to listen for Him, recognize His voice, and then walk in such a pattern of obedience that His voice is louder and louder to you.

I am so passionate about this because the void that has been left on the topic of the Holy Spirit is in my opinion completely responsible for the rise of new age spirituality in the church because Christians who are satisfied in a truly personal connection to God do not need a fake God from the culture and that’s what we’ve allowed. How do we take this back? We take it back by returning to scripture and what it says about the Holy Spirit. We must teach people the power of God through Christ in the personal Spirit of God. We have to learn how to daily walk by the Spirit so you might be asking, “Okay, Phylicia, I got it. I get that this is important, I get that this is biblical, but how do we daily walk by the Spirit practically.” Okay, I’m going give you a simple answer. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us and then we persevere in asking. See, faith is hope and what is not yet seen, by the very nature of what faith is we’re believing for what is not yet seen and we’re trusting God’s goodness and His character, staking our faith on Him. So, faith then means stepping out before we feel a change. So many times, Christians demand that God prove Himself to them before they’ll put faith in Him but that’s not faith. That’s not, that’s humanism. You’re asking God to prove himself to you, so that you can put faith in Him. But by the very nature of who God is and what faith is, we must cast ourselves riskily on the goodness of his character.

Now, we can do another episode about the historical proofs, archaeological proofs for the story and the Gospel because I absolutely believe that those are important and those can help bolster our faith. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask questions, of course, but I am saying that at the end of the day faith will always be a risk that we take and the security that we have is the character of God. I so often think of that, that verse when I’ve gone through seasons of doubt, the verse where Jesus turns to his disciples, and He says, “Will you leave me too?” And they respond, “Where else would we go? The words of life belong to you.” And in those seasons of doubt that I’ve wrestled with, I have looked at the other religions, I’ve looked at my options. And that’s what I have said to the Lord, “Where else would I go?” The words of life belong to you. When we return to Him, there we find the goodness of God that we can cast ourselves upon and put our faith in Him even before our feelings have changed and this then is the basis for walking by his voice. We’re trusting God wants to meet us because He loves us and He’s good and we keep asking for Him to meet us there on that basis. Someone asked me on my Instagram recently, “Why does God make it so hard to be heard.” I was honest with Him. I don’t think God makes it hard to be heard. I think we make it hard to hear Him. We make it hard to hear the Spirit of God. We want God to show up for us in the time slot that we have for Him in the 15 minutes that we’re sitting there. We want God to perform for us, we want God to answer our list of requests, we want God to do exactly what we want, when we want, how we want. And we don’t ever stop to ask is what I want. What God wants is what I want, what the Holy Spirit wants to lead me into.

Maybe God is speaking and we’re just not hearing what we want to hear. That’s what I have to remind myself, God may be speaking to you now. Maybe he isn’t silent, maybe he is speaking, maybe he’s revealing Himself by his presence. Maybe he’s revealing Himself in nature. Maybe he’s revealing Himself to friends. Maybe he’s revealing Himself through the very obvious next step you have to take but you are obeying Him because you don’t like the answer. The Holy Spirit speaks so many ways and he always guides us in a way that aligns with the principles of scripture. But sometimes we don’t want the answer he’s giving. And then we say, “God, you’re not talking to me.” We have to be honest with ourselves, are we listening and are we willing to hear even the uncomfortable answer, because He is a loving God that has our best in mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” The Holy Spirit makes us courageous with power, love, and best of all, self-control, discipline. The Spirit works in us this growing ability to put Him first. And so, if you’re struggling with putting Him first, this is something you can pray, this is something you can ask, “God, give me power, love and self-discipline. Give me the ability to put you first, help me prioritize you, help me make this a habit.” Remind me that you need to be my priority and that listening and being quiet before you, needs to be as important as reading the Bible, as important as my Netflix time, as important as my mom date. Whatever it is that we’re doing is our priority on the Lord or not because if the power of the Christian life is completely revolving around the Holy Spirit. Our top priority needs to be listening to Him and walking by Him, arranging our lives around his voice.

The Spirit works in us a growing ability to put Him first, but we have to partner with Him, listen to His conviction. As I said earlier, “The more readily we obey, the quicker we hear His voice the next time until it becomes such habit, it becomes who we are.” There are so many areas where we develop this Holy Spirit readiness. We develop this in marriage, parenting, friendship, evangelism. And I thought I’d give you a couple examples because I know I like practicals. But in my marriage, for instance, Josh and I have had a lot of ups and downs in our marriage, we’ve had a very stressful life together, we’ve been through a lot. And that has put a lot of strain on our marriage, we see a counselor semiregularly for the last two or three years which has been so, so helpful. She’s a Christian licensed counselor. She’s given us some really fantastic tools for helping us navigate our marriage and to keep it centered on Christ and to keep it growing in holiness even as it’s been difficult. But what I have to do, is I have to then let the Holy Spirit bring those truths to mind, both the truths from scripture, and the principles our counselor gave us in the moment. And then I have to obey. So, when I’m washing dishes and Josh comes up, and he says something, asks me to do something, or mentions something, and I’m overwhelmed or frustrated, and I want to snap at him and the Holy Spirit speaks to my mind and heart, respect, kindness, love. I have a moment there where I get to decide to either walk in the flesh or to walk by the Spirit to arrange my life in the course of my being either around the fruits of the Spirit that He wants to bear of respect, and love and honor or to follow what feels good in the moment, and to snap or be disrespectful or unloving. In that moment, I can obey the Spirit or I can obey the flesh. That’s an example. In parenting, same thing, maybe my child is acting out and it’s really frustrating and I’m tired and I just want to discipline in anger, I have an opportunity when the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart and mind to obey Him or to obey the flesh. And in that moment, he will give me the power and love and self-control to do the right thing, but I have to step out in faith that he’s going to do that and choose to obey Him.

The strength comes in the process of putting our faith in his work, the strength comes as we say, “I trust you, God, I know your way is best, I’m going to choose respect, I’m going to choose restraint. I’m going to choose love in this moment.” And the power comes through the obedience that is walking by the Spirit. It is so hard sometimes, but that’s why the Holy Spirit is a supernatural personal being that he is who empowers us to this task, we cannot do it on our own. You cannot build a Godly marriage without the Spirit. You cannot build a Godly home and parent in grace and truth without the spirit. We cannot have friendships that are healthy without the Holy Spirit. We cannot evangelize apart from the Holy Spirit and we try to all the time. That’s why when we go back to what Francis Schaeffer and D.L. Moody were saying that, “Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way is not a matter of being saved and then simply working hard.” Schaefer went on to say, “If we put activity, even good activity at the center rather than trusting God, then there may be the power of the world, but we will lack the power of the Holy Spirit.” And if Christians win a battle by using worldly means, they have really lost. On the other hand, when we seem to lose a battle while waiting on God, in reality we have won. Let us not think that waiting on the Lord will mean getting less done. The truth is that by doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, we will accomplish more, not less. You need not fear that if you wait for God’s Spirit, you will not get as much done as if you charge ahead in the flesh. After all, who can do the most you or the God of heaven and earth.

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity podcast. If you enjoy this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity, and about Every Woman a Theologaian as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into God’s Word and the heart of Jesus Christ.

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