In the previous article, we considered that – once we have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ, and turned our lives over to Him – we are free from the law, yet we are willing servants of Jesus. When our salvation is no longer based on how well we keep the rules, though, what does that look like?
This is particularly challenging for anyone who has known a set of rules as the only way that they know how to “not sin”. Being righteous was defined to many first-century Jewish people as following the law. Even today, this principle has been ingrained in some people for decades. When God’s grace finally becomes apparent to them, though, and it is clear that rule-following isn’t the means of their salvation (in fact, even if they do happen to sin, this doesn’t invalidate their salvation that Jesus already paid for), well, I think that some are left without knowing what to do! Like a child going without a trusted security blanket, following Jesus in grace and truth can feel like a step into the unknown.
Continuing in this study, let’s consider another passage from Galatians 5. These three verses start to explain how we – having been pronounced righteous (i.e., justified) through our faith in Jesus – should live.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Galatians 5:16-18 NIV
Here is what we should do when we have joined the family of God, then: we should “walk by the Spirit”.
What does that mean, though? I’d like to look at three elements of this concept, starting with this article and spilling over into the next two, but if you’d like to study this on your own (immediately), read through Galatians 5 in its entirely, and ask for insight directly from the Holy Spirit.
First, in contrast to walking by the Spirit, I think of legalism (i.e., trying to be saved or earn God’s love by following rules) as our pride wanting us to be in control. We may have this feeling that we are achieving salvation on our own, through what we do. In some sense, those who subscribe to a rules-based salvation believe that they are leading, and that they are in charge of what they do. The ultra-legalists in the first century (like the Pharisees and Judaizers) even went so far as to try to lead other people to follow their own, made-up rules.
On the other hand, when we walk by the Spirit, we are followers. Our role is not to be the best and take charge, but rather to listen to the Holy Spirit and humbly follow, doing what He guides us to do.
I liked how a commentator put it, “While the will of the Spirit is disclosed in Scripture, we must resist the temptation to turn Scripture – even the New Testament part of it – into a codebook or manual of laws. The Spirit described in this context is a living reality, not a retired author. The Spirit was sent by God into our hearts, not onto our library shelves.” [Boles, emphasis added]
Next, Paul will show us what it doesn’t look like to walk by the Spirit, and then we’ll see some positive examples. More on that in the upcoming articles.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 29, 2021
- The Lookout, August 29, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Galatians & Ephesians, by Kenneth L. Boles. College Press Publishing Company, © 1993.