How to Walk by the Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:16-25

November 25, 2023 | Brian Bill

I have the joy of being married to my best friend.  I’ve been crazy about my wife from the first day we met and am always amped up when I get the chance to be around her.  This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but in the early days of our relationship, I remember working really hard to have our steps be in sync during our walks.  I would glance sideways to look at her and try to match our gaits so we would be in rhythm as we walked.  Let’s just say it created some awkward moments.

Often, this didn’t work because she walks faster than I do, but I continued to try hard to synch our strides.  I thought I was the only strange person who did this but found out this week that “step matching” is a real thing.  By God’s grace, we’ve been walking together in marriage for more than 38 years as we strive to stay in step with each other by serving Christ and this community together.  Amos 3:3 says, “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (NLT).

We’re wrapping up our series called, “Our Holy Helper.”  Two weeks ago, we learned about the identity of the Holy Spirit and last weekend we focused on the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Today, we’ll discover how important it is to stay synchronized with the Spirit.  

Here’s our main idea: To walk by the Spirit, we must keep in step with the Spirit.  

1. Walk by the Spirit. 

In the Bible, the word “walk” is often a metaphor for practical daily living and means, “to tread with the feet and refers to one’s conduct or behavior.”  Among other things, walking implies forward progress, going from where we are to where we ought to be.  

Walking also refers to living differently than we did before we were saved in Ephesians 4:17: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

This brings to mind a popular expression used by philosophers in the first century: “If a Greek wanted to know what you thought, they simply asked you.  If a Jew wanted to know what you thought, they followed you around for a week.”  

Ezekiel 36:26-27 looks ahead to the time when God would put His Holy Spirit within believers, causing us to walk differently and giving us the power to obey His commands: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Please turn to Galatians 5 where we see the “Spirit” mentioned eight times.  After describing our freedom in Christ in verse 1, Paul celebrates the Holy Spirit’s work in verse 5: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

In verses 16-18, we see how walking by the Spirit keeps us from falling into the ditch of depravity: “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.”  

The Spirit does not operate automatically in our lives; we must intentionally depend on Him by following His lead

The word “walk” is a present imperative and is literally translated, “keep on walking.”  The Spirit does not operate automatically in our lives; we must intentionally depend on Him by following His lead.  The word “led” means, “to bring forth, to carry.”  Romans 8:14 tells us the Spirit is committed to lead us, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

As we walk by the Spirit, He leads us to freedom and fruitfulness.  We can’t live the Christian life in our strength.  We must remember we are saved by the Savior and sanctified by the Spirit.  Ponder Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

When our flesh is in the driver’s seat, bad things bubble to the surface according to Galatians 5:19-21: “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…”

When we submit to the Holy Spirit’s lead, and synchronize our steps with His, we will see His fruit ripen in our lives according to verses 22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Here are some implications and applications related to the Fruit of the Spirit.

  • We cannot create fruit on our own.  Verse 17 reminds us how the sinful nature and the Spirit desire contrary things.  The Fruit of the Spirit can only come from the faithful Spirit of God.  We can’t decide to just be more loving or more joyful or more peaceful and suddenly we are!  Fruit is not something we do; it’s what we display.  Vices come from our sinful nature; virtues come from the Spirit’s work.
  • The Fruit of the Spirit is a package deal.  Did you notice that verse 22 uses the singular “fruit” and not “fruits”?   This shows these character qualities, or divine virtues, are like a cluster of grapes.  The grapes are fruit, not fruits.  It’s not a ‘pick and choose’ list like a Thanksgiving buffet we browse through.  We can’t say, “I’ll take a little love, a portion of peace, a spoonful of self-control, but I’ll pass on the patience.”  It’s a full-meal deal.  It’s one kind of fruit with nine different qualities.
  • The focus is on Christian character.  It’s important to distinguish between the gift of the Spirit which happens at salvation; the gifts of the Spirit, which have to do with service (more about this in a bit); and the graces of the Spirit, which relate to Christian character.  Unfortunately, we have sometimes elevated the gifts of the Spirit over the graces of the Spirit.  One thing we can learn from pastors who have become disqualified is this: Character has to be more important than talent or skill.
  • The fruit must be displayed individually and collectively.  We’re not given the Fruit of the Spirit just so some individuals can be more kind or more faithful.  If our church is to be the community God desires it to be, then Edgewood must be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  
  • The Fruit of the Spirit should be the result of living the normal Christian life.   These character qualities are not meant to be the exception for believers, but rather the norm.  The display of the fruit of the Spirit is not the result of more faith, or more work, or a more frantic fanaticism.  It is simply the result of normal Christian living where we daily surrender to the Spirit’s will and die to self, as we love God with everything we’ve got. 
  • Bearing fruit is a both a gift and a task.  We’ve been given the Fruit of the Spirit and yet we’re reminded in Galatians 5:16 to “live by the Spirit.”  

The key to fruitfulness is found in Galatians 5:25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”  This is a military term meaning we must march in a straight line, taking our orders only from Him.  As we walk by the Spirit, and yield to Him, His fruit will ripen in our lives.

So, here’s a question: Does your walk match your talk?  The poet Edgar Guest once said, “I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one, any day!”

To walk by the Spirit, we must keep in step with the Spirit.  

2. Work by the Spirit. 

We’re to not only walk by the Spirit so we can be fruitful; we’re to work by the Spirit as we exercise the spiritual gifts He has given to us to fortify the body of Christ.  The Greek word for spiritual gift is charismata.  It’s a cognate of the word charis which means grace.  A spiritual gift can be defined as the supernatural ability given to believers for Christian service.   1 Corinthians 12:1 says we must be informed about them: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.”

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift according to 1 Peter 4:10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…”  These gifts of the Spirit are listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.  Depending on how they’re counted, there are approximately 20 of them.  

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  

The key word in this passage is “varieties.”  We have various gifts, and there are varieties of service.  This word speaks of opportunities for expressing our spiritual gifts in practical ways.  The word “empowers” refers to the results or accomplishments that come when we use our gifts in meaningful service.  When we serve according to our giftedness, God gives us energy and we in turn energize the church through our service.

Chuck Swindoll sees three gift groupings: speaking, serving, and “sign gifts,” which are more temporary in nature.  2 Corinthians 12:12 says these “sign gifts” were given to the apostles and were critical to the church in its embryonic stage: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” 

These “sign gifts” were especially important in the first century, before the canon of Scripture was complete.  1 Corinthians 13:8-10 suggests many of these gifts will cease to function: “Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

The giving of spiritual gifts is under the sovereign direction of the Holy Spirit as we see in 1 Corinthians 12:11: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.”

Gifts are distributed in order to be deployed.  After listing some of the spiritual gifts, we read about their purpose according to Ephesians 4:12-14: “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

While it’s important to know what your spiritual gifts are; it’s essential to serve according to your giftedness.  One pastor writes, “We’re not all equal in terms of talents, gifts, and opportunities.  Some have more, some have less.  The question is not, ‘What have I been given?’ but rather, ‘What will I do with what I’ve been given?’”  Listen.  If you are not serving somewhere, you are short-circuiting your spiritual life and causing the church to be less effective in our mission of making disciples.

We must guard against taking a consumerist approach to Christianity.  One way to avoid that is to view yourself as a servant, not a volunteer.  A volunteer serves when convenient; a servant serves out of commitment.  The volunteer does what he wants to do when he feels like doing it.  The servant serves no matter what, doing what he is told, when he is told to do it.

We see this attitude on display in the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”  I have heard it said you can assess how well you are doing at being a servant by how you respond when you’re treated like one.  Ouch.  Jesus didn’t recruit volunteers; He redeemed us to be servants.  

One of my greatest joys as a pastor is seeing believers come alive in their understanding of their spiritual gifts and begin to use them for the good and growth of the church, all for the glory of God.  

Here are some questions.  In what ways are you giving what God has given to you?  How are you deploying the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has entrusted to you?  

Serving is work, but it’s also worship

Serving is work, but it’s also worship.  Listen to the last phrase from Ephesians 4:16: “…when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”   We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.  No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

To walk by the Spirit, we must keep in step with the Spirit.  

3. Witness by the Spirit. 

We’re called to walk by the Spirit, we’re commanded to work by the Spirit, and thirdly, we’re commissioned to witness by the Spirit.  We see this in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 Incidentally, in Luke 24:47-49, the disciples were told to wait before they went out as witnesses because they needed the power of the Holy Spirit: “And that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.   And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

According to Acts 1:8, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be gospel witnesses to our neighbors and the nations: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Like many of you, I’ve been eagerly looking for the nudge and prompting of the Holy Spirit when I’m out in the community.  On Monday, I went to one of my least favorite appointments.  I went to the dentist.  When I walked in, I smiled at an older woman in the waiting room and went up to the receptionist.  She asked how I was doing, and I said, “I’m better than I deserve.”  The woman in the waiting room responded by saying, “I really like that.”  The receptionist then asked if anything had changed since the last time I was there.  I told her that I’ve probably become crabbier.  That made the woman in the waiting room guffaw.

When I sat down, she brought up what I had said about being better than I deserve.  This allowed me to talk about God’s grace and give a summary of the gospel.  We didn’t have a long conversation, but I was grateful the Holy Spirit allowed me to give a brief gospel witness.

To walk by the Spirit, we must keep in step with the Spirit.  

4. The way to the Spirit-led life. 

The key to walking by the Spirit, working by the Spirit, and witnessing by the Spirit, is to make sure we are filled by the Spirit.  We see this mandate in Ephesians 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.

Let’s make some observations to help us understand this key concept.

  • There is a direct parallel drawn between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit. The issue here is one of influence or control.  The word “debauchery” means, “excessive indulgence and crazy partying.”  When I used to drink before I was saved by God’s grace, there were times when I was out of control.  Interestingly, another name for hard liquor is “spirits,” which is a blunt way to be reminded how alcohol can even affect us spiritually
  • We’re commanded to be filled with the Spirit.  In the original, the verb is in the imperative mood, meaning the filling of the Holy Spirit is expected, not optional.  It’s a command, not a suggestion.
  • We’re to be continually filled with the Spirit.  The verb is in the present tense and can be translated this way, “Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit” or, “Be constantly controlled by the Spirit.”  
  • It’s in the passive tense.  It doesn’t say, “Fill yourself with the Spirit” but rather “Be filled with the Spirit.”  This means the filling of the Spirit is a work of God, not something we can conjure up.  
  • It’s a plural command.  It’s like Paul was saying, “Let each and every one of you be filled with the Spirit.”  Edgewood as a church is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  We can see this clearly in the verses that follow.  Verse 19: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”  Verse 21: “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

I appreciate Ray Pritchard’s insight…

  • The Holy Spirit is ready and willing to fill us at any moment.
  • We must make ourselves available to him.

Ray argues that the ultimate issue is one of control.  Am I in charge of my life, or is the Holy Spirit?  To be filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean I somehow get more of the Spirit, it means the Spirit has more of me.  

I’m called to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to lead me.  In other words: Am I going to keep on trying to do things my own way or will I keep in step with the Spirit?

Here’s a helpful illustration.  Elevated trains, like the “El” in Chicago, run on three rails – two for the wheels and one for the electricity.  The electricity is always there, but the train doesn’t move unless there is contact with the third rail.  The third rail is like the Holy Spirit.  His power is always available, but sometimes we live out of contact with his power.  When that happens, our lives simply stop working the way God intended and we default to our self-centered sinfulness.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is that state in which the Holy Spirit is free to do all that He came into my life to do.  The filling of the Spirit is not primarily an emotional experience, and it’s certainly not reserved for a few super-Christians. It’s nothing more than the normal Christian life where the Holy Spirit is in control of the Christian.  

Our responsibility is to be controlled by the Spirit, to cooperate with the Spirit, and to stay in contact with the Spirit.

  • Imagine trying to fill up a jar that is already full of something else [demonstrate with jar filled with dirt].  You can’t fill what is already full.  Some Christians are so full of self and sin, they have no room for the Holy Spirit.
  • Or imagine an empty jar with the lid screwed on so tightly it is impossible to open [hold up a jar with a cover that won’t open].  You can’t fill what can’t be opened.  Some believers have simply closed off their hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is waiting for two things from us – emptiness and openness.  You can’t fill a jar that’s already full, and you can’t fill a jar that will not open.  Are you empty and open?

Before we’ll do this…

  • There must be a sense of need: “Lord, I’m empty and I need to be filled by your Spirit.”
  • There must be a willingness: “Lord, I’m wide open to you.  Let your Spirit fill me now.”

Recently, I read a very helpful booklet by A.W. Tozer called, “How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Here’s an excerpt: 

“Many of us have grown up on the theology that accepts the Holy Spirit as a Person, and even as a divine Person, but for some reason it never did us any good.  We are as empty as ever, we are as joyless as ever, we are as far from peace as ever, we are as weak as ever…the Spirit-filled life is not a special, deluxe edition of Christianity.  It is part and parcel of the total plan of God for His people…it is not abnormal.  I admit that it is unusual, because there are so few people who walk in the light of it or enjoy it, but it is not abnormal…before you can be filled with the Spirit, you must DESIRE TO BE FILLED…I ask you, ‘Do you want Him to be Lord of your life?’  That you want His benefits, I know.  I take that for granted.  But do you want to be possessed by Him?  Do you want to hand the keys of your soul over to the Holy Spirit and say, ‘Lord, from now on I don’t even have a key to my own house?’”

Are you ready to surrender to the Holy Spirit right now?  Will you do what it takes to get in step with the Spirit?  

To walk by the Spirit, we must keep in step with the Spirit.  

Beth and I will continue working at staying in step with one another because step synchronicity happens when we spend a lot of time together.  I’m told one of the keys to “step matching” is to hold hands.  I’m going to work at that as well.


Receive this Trinitarian benediction from Ephesians 3:14-21: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?