Pastor John, what does it mean when the Apostle Paul calls Christians to “walk by the Spirit” or to “keep in step with the Spirit?” (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5:16, 25). What does Paul mean by those phrases?
This morning, I was reading Galatians 5 as part of my regular walk through the Bible, and every time I come to Galatians 5:16–25, I am struck again by this gathering together of statements about how I am supposed to “live by the Spirit.” Here they are:
Verse 16: Walk by the Spirit.
Verse 18: Be led by the Spirit.
Verse 22: Bear the fruit of the Spirit.
Verse 25: Live by the Spirit. And, keep in step with the Spirit.
Receiving the Spirit
Five different statements. And every time I read them I say, “O Lord, I want to do that. I want to know, experientially, what it means to walk by the Spirit and be led by the Spirit and bear the fruit of the Spirit and live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.” And I think the key is back in Galatians 3, because there we have an instruction about how the Spirit came to us the first time and how he keeps on being supplied.
“The Spirit created that channel by which you are united to Christ and the Spirit flows into you by virtue of your union with Christ through faith.”
So in Galatians 3:2 it says, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” So it tells you the Spirit came to you through faith the very first time. You received the Holy Spirit when you put your trust in Christ. That faith became the channel. And I think the Spirit created that channel by which you are united to Christ, and the Spirit flows into you by virtue of your union with Christ through faith.
And then he says in verse 5, “Does he who supplies” — so now here we have, not the past receiving, but the ongoing supply — “the Spirit to you and works miracles among you” — And I think that would not be simply “signs and wonders” kinds of miracles, though that wouldn’t be excluded. It is also love, joy, peace, patience, the stuff that really makes us frustrated that we can’t be better at. It is the Spirit that works those — “do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” We end exactly the same way we started.
Experiencing the Spirit
So you began by receiving the Spirit by faith; you go on experiencing the supply of the Spirit by faith. So if a person asks, “Well, these sound very passive: Be led by the Spirit, bear fruit in the Spirit,” they are. I mean the Spirit is God. He does things on us and in us, but the thing we are called to do is to hear. And I think that would mean, hear the word of God, hear the promises of God, hear the gospel of God and believe it. And through that belief, the Holy Spirit comes.
Very practically, here is the way I think it works. At least this is the way I try to walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, bear the fruit of the Spirit. One of the fruits of the Spirit — and you can walk through all nine this way — is patience. So the fruit of the Spirit is patience. When the Holy Spirit is leading John Piper, when he is bearing fruit in John Piper’s life, when John Piper is walking in step with the Spirit, he is patient.
Now what makes you want to be impatient? Something comes into your life and crosses your will. Plans don’t go the way you want. You get frustrated. People say something. You were intending to be somewhere, and the traffic is thick, and there rises up in you this frustration or this anger or this disappointment. And it is a manifestation of impatience. So what are you supposed to do right there? You are supposed to trust. You are supposed to believe. You are supposed to hear something with faith. And there are a lot of promises that relate to patience:
“I am going to work all this together for your good” (see Romans 8:28). Remember the story of Joseph, how he would have surely been frustrated and wanting to be impatient for all those thirteen years things seem to be going terrible for him. And God was taking him to the vice presidency of Egypt to save a people (Genesis 37–50). And you remind yourself: God is sovereign. God is wise. God is good. God is in charge of the traffic. God is in charge of the airline schedules. God is in charge of what people say about you or to you. And you trust him. And by an act of faith you say, “God I trust you. I believe you. You sent your Son to die for me. You purchased this promise for me, and I will now trust you.”
And in the resting of that faith, the Spirit is at work. That is his work in and through that faith. So the restfulness of faith in the traffic jam is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit Glorifies Christ
I asked myself one more question this morning. I asked, “Why would God do it that way? Why would he attach the work of the Spirit and the supply of the Spirit, to my trust in Christ and his gospel and his promises?”
And I think the answer is that the Spirit, according to John 16, was given to glorify Christ. “I will send him, and he will glorify me,” Jesus said. And how does the Spirit glorify Christ except that he works in and through our trust in Christ? Christ does something for us. He dies. He rises. He says, “I will be with you,” and he makes promises to us: I will help you, and I will strengthen you (see Isaiah 41:10). And in trusting him, the Holy Spirit gives peace and, thus, Christ gets the credit. Christ gets the glory because we are trusting the promise of Christ.
So all that was not new to me this morning. I have written all about that in Future Grace and other places, but every time I get there it seems like God just kind of washes over me again with, “Are you doing this, John? Are you living by the Spirit? Are you bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Are you keeping in step with the Spirit?” And I have to just pause and say, “O God, I can do so much better. I want so much to enjoy fellowship with you in the leading of the Spirit.”