“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…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23a, 25)
It’s summer in South Texas, which means temperatures in the upper 90s and above in the afternoons most days. Morning and evening walks are the way better than those in the middle of the day. As simple as that statement is, it assumes that I’m speaking of a healthy person who has no trouble walking—no balance, leg or foot issues, no medical condition that would prohibit enjoying God’s beautiful creation instead of having to worry about whether or not a fall is a possibility. Recently our gravel path, along the creek where I live, was paved so folks with walkers and in wheelchairs would be able to navigate it, making it possible to enjoy the sound of the water, the squirrels and birds, and the shade of the trees with minimal hindrance. When God’s Word uses the picture of walking with Him, which it does innumerable times, it never assumes that this is a natural, effortless thing to do—to obey God and live in him, for him, and through him—which is why we need the Spirit’s help. As we continue to explore what it means to walk, step by step, with the Holy Spirit, we grow in our ability to resist seeking peace from the desires of the world.
Paul wrote Galatians for God’s people, who were having a hard time resisting the teaching of Judaizers who instructed them to be circumcised, rather than come to Christ as Gentiles, with circumcised hearts, not flesh. Here he sets up the accurate picture of the conflict between our earthly desires and the Spirit’s desires in us. It is so easy for us to fall into legalism, reducing the grace of the gospel to a list of rules—do this, don’t do that. Circumcise your flesh, don’t drink, don’t dance or go to bars, pray only on your knees, go to church three times a week, give more money to ministries, etc. Nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to shaming and pressuring ourselves into loving God, since that is impossible. Instead, we are to turn away from and control our earthly, temporal desires in favor of the desires of the Spirit. Only then can we enjoy God’s peace to its fullest extent. We will never accomplish this perfectly in this life, but the longer we live as Christian, transformed in our hearts, minds, and souls, the more we will walk with Christ, step by step. Every time I walk on our new path by the creek, I notice more things to appreciate among the rocks in the water and the trees surrounding it.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he urges them to “not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Walking with Christ is not automatic or straightforward, as if we experience and demonstrate all the fruits of the Spirit easily and quickly. Paul wrote his epistles from a context of affliction, seeing it as an advantage to himself and all Christians. Problems and human limitations have several benefits: they remind us of Christ’s suffering for us, keep us from pride, cause us to look beyond this brief life, prove our faith to others, and give God the opportunity to demonstrate his power. (1) When life is tough, overwhelming, challenging, and discouraging, we don’t lose heart because we have God’s Spirit working in us. He speaks to our hearts, reminding us of all Jesus taught and did for us through his historical gospel-centered life, atoning death, victorious resurrection and ascension, and his continual heavenly intercession on our behalf.
The Spirit produces fruit in us, and more as we participate with him in his work of sanctifying us for God’s glory and our enjoyment of walking with the Lord. In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul expounds nine fruits or blessings of the Holy Spirit in us, produced through our God-given faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, you, like me, have studied the fruits of the Spirit many times, and usually because we realize how little of them we experience and demonstrate. With peace as our focus, I couldn’t help but notice that in Paul’s list, love and joy appear before peace, while all the others come after it. Having no scholarly commentary on this, but only my own observation, based on my Christian experience, I wonder, are love and joy are prerequisites for peace and do the other fruits (patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) have peace as their prerequisite? Just a question. We know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the greatest graces are faith, hope, and love, “but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Godly love, like all the fruits of the Spirit, is not something we manufacture, but given to us by Christ, increased in us as we learn to live through God rather than through our own strength or determination, loving Christ, his Word, his people, and others whom he puts in our lives. Second in the list is joy for the salvation Jesus has provided, for fellowship with him, his forgiveness, and the hope of our life to come eternally. The more I love, the more joy I have in Christ, the more peace I have in my life with him. Of course, God being perfectly complete, the more peace I have with him, the more joy and love I also have. The point is that all these work together and not independently. When I don’t love walking with the Spirit, desiring joy in him, my flesh takes control, and my peace with God and with others is elusive at best.
Where do you like to walk, or wish you could walk if you could—along a river in the countryside, on the beach, or through the trees on a mountain? Imagine walking in your ideal place and the peace you may have, surrounded by the sounds of nature and sight of the foliage or sky, water or sand. As you walk, you love the way the Lord has glorified creation and have joy in the simplicity of observation. You are at peace. From your peacefulness, as you approach others, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness flow easily from you. As you return home to reenter your usual routines, it’s a little easier to practice self-control when tempted by ungodly desires. Is this a daydream or a reality? God’s Word testifies that it is the way we walk in the Spirit, by his power and grace as believers in Christ. We are patient when we accept God’s providence and timing and endure, without fear, challenges of relationships; kind, good, and gentle when we have sympathy toward others without worrying about losing out on personal time or interests. Our humility reflects that of Jesus Christ because peacefulness permeates our lives.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) L. Berkhof writes, “The mystical union with Christ also secures for the believer the continuously transforming power of the life of Christ, not only in the soul but also in the body. The soul is gradually renewed in the image of Christ, as Paul expresses it, “from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ II Cor. 3:18…Being in Christ, believers share in all the blessings which He merited for his people. He is for them a perennial fountain springs into everlasting life.” (2) I don’t know about you, but this is an almost unimaginable gift and blessing that I have only started to appreciate—that I am continually being transformed into the image of Christ. Most days, I view myself and my life as pathetic examples of a changed person, instead of having abundant joy in my transformation. Where is the peace in that? But “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) I am trusting God to help me appropriate his love and joy for greater peace and fruit. Will you join me?
(1) Life Application Bible, New International Version, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991.
(2) Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, “The Mystical Union,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993June 19, 2019