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“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.”Romans 8:5, 6

Preaching Christ CrucifiedThe Christian who walks after the Spirit is an expression that describes the general course of direction for one who is saved. This spiritual walk means a desire for holiness for Christ and righteousness in Christ because of the believer’s desire to please God. Does that mean we never sin? All the text we have read since Romans 6 would have been ridiculous in exhorting us to newness of life if salvation meant that all sin was eliminated from our lives when once we’ve been regenerated. These two doctrines, (1) absolute perfection; and (2) unrestrained, unrepentant sin in the Christian’s life, are both lies of the darkness of this age. How do we combat sin as we walk according to the Spirit? The answer to that is to walk in the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:16, 

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” 

I have used the term, “in the flesh” at times, referring to those who are Christians. But you might say, “Wait a minute, Brother Jon. We’ve read in our study of Romans that those who are “in the flesh” (Romans 8:8) are unbelievers that cannot please God because Romans 8:9 says that Christian believers are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” That’s true, but the Greek phrase in Galatians 5:16, “in the Spirit” is a different phrase from that which is found in Romans 8:10.  Additionally, the context found in Galatians 5 is different from that found in Romans 8. 

To “walk after the Spirit” (Romans 8:5) expresses a General Position of the believer’s state; to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) addresses a Specific Application for the believer’s situation or circumstance. Walking after the Spirit is doctrinal: expressing an overall truth; to walk in the Spirit is practical: addressing a command to carry out the truth. 

The context of Galatians 5:16 is found in the preceding verses, Galatians 5:14-15, 

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” 

When we remember the context of the letter to Galatia, Jews from Jerusalem crept in and began teaching that the Gentile believers were pretty good, but they needed to add one thing to their faith: circumcision. In correcting this, Paul warned them not to wound and ruin one another (Galatians 5:15). How do you do this?  The answer was given in the very next verse, Galatians 5:16

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” 

Walking after the Spirit is the evidence of the truth of what God has done in Christ. Walking in the Spirit is obedience to the truth because of what God has done and is doing thorugh Christ. Therefore, at times, when it is mentioned that a Christian is “in the flesh” (at least when I say it), I’m referring to a case of disobedience to God in not subjecting himself to the Spirit according to God’s Word. Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 3:1— 

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” 

This is just one other text to support what I’ve just mentioned. 1 Corinthians 3:1 seems to be a key verse for those who advocate this false “carnal Christian” doctrine. Using this verse as a proof text to justify that a Christian can still be as carnal as one who willfully sins without repentance as unbelievers do is to remove this verse from its context. 

First, the entire letter is written to believers that Paul had spent one and a half years teaching; yet, they had developed contentious divisions while he was away (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). Paul reminds them of the centrality of their salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:13); presents how the natural unbelieving man thinks (1 Corinthians 2:14); and contrasts that with the sanctified mind of the Corinthian believer, whom he addresses (1 Corinthians 2:16b). Therefore in 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul essentially says to them, “In this divisive area of your life, I must address it first carnally (hey, it’s sin); then, to you as babes (once you’ve recognized it, turn, repent).” This is what is written, in 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 to capture the whole context of what was said in 1 Corinthians 3:1— 

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 

“But how do you walk in the spirit, Brother Jon? I realize that walking after the Spirit is what God has done to me and in me, but how do you walk in Spirit?” Paul has already somewhat explained it within our text: the power to obey God’s Word, to surrender to God’s will, and to trust in His way is enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit through the truth of God’s Word. In the last article I quoted John 14:16-17; and it would serve us well to look at the text again: 

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” 

Jesus called the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Comforter is translated “Helper” in the NKJV, the NASB, and the ESV. This is our ASSISTANCE! The Holy Spirit in the same text is called the Spirit of Truth. When the Holy Spirit AWAKENS us to the truth of the offense of sin as an affront to the holiness of God, He also ASSISTS us by making us ALIVE to that truth. 

Interestingly, the rest of Romans 8 will be God’s instruction for living according to this spiritual truth, and may be expressed in this general outline: Surrendering to the Spirit (Romans 8:11-17); Hoping in the Spirit (Romans 8:18-27); Trusting Upon the Spirit (Romans 8:28-30); and Victory by the Spirit (Romans 8:31-39).

LEAVE YOUR COMMENT. Let us know your thoughts.

Listen to the sermon preached on this text, Romans 8:1-10,Walking After the Spirit,” on December 20, 2009 at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church.

Read the previous article in this series, “Christian Reality in Christ” (Romans 8:9, 10).

About Jon J. Cardwell

"The Spirited Speaker" - Pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. Nationally recognized speaker and publisher. Author of several books, including the bestseller, Christ and Him Crucified.

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