What does it mean to ‘walk by the Spirit’ and how does one do it?
Gal. 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
One of the great questions in Christendom is ‘how does one walk by the Spirit?’ The answer from Scripture is really quite simple, however, millennia of errant understanding and wrong interpretation of Scripture create a convoluted maze that avoids the simple answer from the text. What I will attempt to do for you, dear reader, is to begin to unravel this Gordian knot and provide you with a very sharp knife that will bring clarity on this subject enabling you to know exactly what to do to ‘walk by the Spirit.’
We will return to Galatians 5, a most often misunderstood passage. First, let us consider a parallel Pauline passage from Romans 8,
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Clearly, from this passage and the Galatians passage, the flesh and the Spirit are at odds. In fact, they are polar opposites. We could list them as follows:
- Spirit Flesh
- Life Death
- Righteousness UNrighteousness
- Light Darkness
- Good Evil (sin)
- Holiness UNholiness
- Clean UNclean
While there are many other descriptors, we can see the clear battle between God’s everlasting righteousness and satan’s desire to bring death and destruction. It is this next pair of descriptors that are the key to ‘walking by the Spirit’ that cause Christendom to run for the exits, however, Scripture bears this understanding out over and over, even in the two passages already mentioned.
- LawFULness UNlawfulness
- Torah TorahLESSness
And, I just heard the sucking of breath, but please read on as I demonstrate this truth from Scripture. Even respected Christian commentators will say this, though, only rarely. Here is a quote from John Piper,
A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you . . . I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes.
Thus when we “walk by the Spirit,” we experience the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Holy Spirit produces in us desires for God’s way that are stronger than our fleshly desires, and thus he causes us to walk in God’s statutes.
What are God’s ‘statutes?’ Scripture only ever points to the Torah, the Law of God. Paul, in Romans 8:6-8, previously quoted, says,
the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God
The flesh hates God’s Law. Walking contrary to God’s Law, His Torah IS fleshly. It is carnality. Refusing to obey God’s Law is stiffnecked-ness. In fact, Israel was only ever judged when the broke the commandments. Freedom from the bondage of Egypt was obedience at Mt. Sinai!! Torah IS freedom!!
In keeping with Piper’s quote from Ezekiel 36, a restored heart that produces righteousness (the opposite of wickedness) will keep even the statutes and the ordinances of God’s Torah [Instructions]. Consider this and this. Hundreds of verses and passages reveal exactly the same truth: To please God is to be obedient to His Torah.
Further, the Spirit is the ‘Spirit of God’ and can only lead us to the heart of God which is obedience to that which defines His character, His Torah. Therefore, ‘walking by the Spirit’ will only always be walking according to His Commandments, even the statutes and ordinances. By definition, the Spirit cannot lead us away from God’s everlasting Torah. Or, said differently, if the ‘spirit’ tells you that you do not have to do the ‘everlasting, unchanging commandments’ then you are not listening to the Holy Spirit of God. It is another spirit.
So, let’s go back to Romans 8 and then Galatians 5.
8 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life [a]in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, [b]weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of [c]sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
We need to rightly define some of the terms Paul uses in this passage before we can correctly understand what he is saying.
‘law of sin and death’ : First, this CANNOT be the Torah as some in Christendom like to state. Scripture says that the Torah brings life and peace.
My son, do not forget my [a]teaching [Torah],
But let your heart keep my commandments;
2 For length of days and years of life
And peace they will add to you.
Many verses bear this truth out, but especially multiple places in Deuteronomy. See 5:29; 6:16-18, 24-25; 7:12-16; 8:1; 15:5-6; 26:16-19; 28:1-9, 15ff, 45ff; 30:1-20. There are dozens of other places, just in Deuteronomy, that say the same thing! Studying these and other similar verses produces one singular conclusion: Obedience to the Torah, all of it, brings life and peace. Disobedience is sin and brings death, physical and spiritual. Therefore, the ‘law of sin and death’ is: Obey and live, disobey and die.
‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus‘ : As with the previous definition, we know immediately what this is NOT. It is not and cannot be antiTorah, nor can it be a different ‘law’ as some try to teach. Yeshua, by His own words, did not come to abolish the Torah and it will stand until heaven and earth pass away. Rather, He redeems us from our sinful estate and the restores us to the family such that we can begin to walk in newness of life and in obedience to God’s (and His) Torah.
‘the requirement of the Law‘ : The requirement of the Torah is absolute perfection. It is this requirement that Yeshua fulfilled, but in doing so we are now enabled to walk in obedience and have forgiveness when we fail. This IN NO WAY allows us to do what we want and ignore God’s Law or we then walk in willful disobedience that incurs judgment. It simply cleanses us from past disobedience and enables us to begin to walk rightly as we learn the everlasting statutes and judgments.
As this passage demonstrates, there are only two ways to walk: according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. As previously demonstrated, walking according to the flesh is walking contrary to God’s Instructions, His Torah. Walking according to the Spirit is obedience to His Instructions, His Torah. This includes everlasting commandments like Sabbath, the Feasts of the Lord, clean eating, etc.
Galatians 5 is a little more challenging to unravel unless we understand that Paul uses the Greek ‘nomos’ (law) for multiple different laws. The whole letter to the Galatians is to address the infiltration of the Oral Law into the new body of believers in Galatia. Running through the first half of Galatians 5, verse by verse, here are some notes:
5 [a]It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
We have already seen that the Torah is ‘liberty,’ therefore it cannot be a ‘yoke of slavery.’
2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
‘Circumcision’ was a term used in Second Temple Judaism for proselyte conversion to the observance of all the oral traditions and rabbinic interpretations. This is the same ‘leaven of the Pharisees’ that Yeshua taught against. The translators should have put ‘law,’ not ‘Law’ because the reference cannot be to Torah.
4 You have been severed from Christ, you who [b]are seeking to be justified by law (me: oral tradition); you have fallen from grace. 5 For we [c]through the Spirit, [d]by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
It is important to note that a Hebraic understanding of ‘faith’ is an action. In other words, ‘hear and DO’ as the word ‘shema’ means. James explicitly tells us that ‘faith without works is dead.’ The works of righteousness he refers to are those we have already demonstrated from Scripture: Torah!
7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
Obeying the ‘truth’ is obeying Torah. Psalm 119:142 says, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and Your Torah is truth.” In Matthew 15, Yeshua chided the Pharisees for ‘transgressing the commandment of God for the sake of your traditions.” This is the very thing Paul is admonishing the Galatians for, though Christendom errantly thinks he is against the Torah. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was a Torah scholar!!
8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence [e]in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?
Apparently, the false teachers in Galatia must have been claiming that Paul was in agreement regarding the use of the Oral Law, because Paul here says, ‘If I am in agreement with their proselyte conversion, then why do they still persecute me?’
Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even [f]mutilate themselves.
13 For you were called to freedom (from the yoke of bondage), brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh (antinomianism…), but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul cited Lev. 19:18, also used by Yeshua as a summation of the whole Torah in Matthew 22:34-40.
15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh [g]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 [h]please.
Again, here, we see the clear statement that the flesh and the Spirit are in opposition, therefore, the Torah, if it is the way of righteousness, cannot, by definition be of the flesh!!
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
The link for ‘under the Law’ will take you to a study that clearly demonstrates that ALL of the nine ‘hupo nomon’ uses in Scripture mean ‘under the curse of the law.’ I say again, the Spirit of God and the Torah cannot be in opposition.
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: [i]immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, [j]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.
Ezekiel 37:24-28 tells us exactly what the rule of the Kingdom will be. It is the same Rule that Jeremiah 31:33 says, in the New Covenant, will be written on our hearts. Namely: Torah!! The Spirit can teach no other.
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 [k]belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The secret to walking by the Spirit is to commit oneself to obeying the Torah. All of it. It is the righteousness that Yeshua exampled for us, it is the walk that Paul calls us to imitate, and it is the righteousness of God revealed in us.
Much, much more can be said concerning walking in the Spirit, but it begins with learning and keeping the Torah.