Led by the Spirit

Part 3: What does it mean to be alive spiritually?

What does it mean to live by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit?

We looked in the first part of Ephesians at all the wonderful truths which were true of us as believers.  Now in the second half of Ephesians, Paul is saying that all of these wonderful truths of the first few chapters ours, but now let’s see them work out in our daily behaviour.  We’re talking here about belief and practice, what we believe and how it affects our daily lives.  Paul’s greatest desire for the Ephesians is that they would know of all of the wonderful riches that they have in Christ and that they would know these in their day by day experience.  Paul wants you and me today too, to know that in our day by day experience.  So now we have got to Ephesians Chapter 5:18, where Paul is saying we need to be controlled by the Spirit and we began looking at that.  What does it mean to live a dynamic walk with the Spirit?

I really enjoyed watching the television the other day where there was a sailing race and to see the sail going up and the wind blowing the yacht along and then realise that God wants us to be filled by the Spirit, in other words, controlled by the Spirit.  It’s a choice and it’s a command to us.  In fact he gives a contrast here – don’t be drunk on wine and we all know the terrible control that wine or alcohol has on a person.  It takes complete control.  Paul is saying that in the same way that the alcohol controls that person, because you are in Christ, allow the Spirit of God to lead you and guide you.

So let us move now to Galatians where Paul looks at the work of the Holy Spirit in a slightly different way.  The Galatians were a group of people who were caught up in a lot of do’s and don’ts.   We can respond in the same way.  We can think that the way to be a Christian is you go to church twice on a Sunday, go to the prayer meeting and do this and do that, read your bible every day etc.  When I was a young Christian, I was encouraged to read 4 chapters of the bible  each day and 5 on a Sunday.  Once, I went to the young people’s meeting on the Friday and I hadn’t quite got up to the place where I should be in the readings, so I pulled up in the car and read it through so fast I hadn’t a clue what I’d read but I walked into the meeting and replied to the question “Have you read your chapters?” -“Yes, I’ve read them.”  I began to realise it doesn’t do you any good and Paul is saying that rules and regulation don’t make us godly.  He says what I want you to realise is, that it’s the Spirit of God as you walk with him, He’s going to be the one that helps you live the life that God wants you to walk.  Here in Galatians we’re looking at what it means to live by the Spirit.

  1. 1.      Galatians 5 v16 Paul says “Live by the Spirit”  We’re going to look at what does this mean?
  2. 2.      Then in verse 18, he says be led by the spirit.
  3. 3.      V22 Producing the Spirit’s fruit.
  4. 4.      V25 Keeping step with the spirit.

Looking at those four things, what is Paul trying to talk about?  He’s saying to these believers, the greatest key, the greatest desire he has for them, is that day by day as believers they will live being controlled by the Spirit of God. Now how does that work in practice?  We saw earlier that it’s not just for a few super saints, but it is something that is possible for every one of us who is in Christ.  I want to begin with v16.  Paul starts of with the word “so” and when he does this it means that there is something that has been said before.  So just before we get to verse 16 let’s try and get the background to see what Paul is trying to say before he gets to how we can live by the Spirit.  Look at Galatians 2: 2-3, ‘ I would like to learn one thing from you’ says Paul.  In other words, can I ask you a question?  “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard?”  Very similar to what he says to the Ephesians.  How did you receive the Spirit?  By doing things? Or when you believed? Paul is saying again – remember you received the Holy Spirit when you believed, when you heard. Moving on to verse three – are you so foolish, having begun with the Spirit, are you now trying to obtain your goal by human effort?  How are you walking with God today?  Again in v5 – does God give you His spirit and work His miracles among you because you observe the law or because you believed and heard?  God works in our lives, He does miracles in our lives, His Spirit works in us because we believed the message of the Gospel and God’s Spirit lives in you and me, working in us day by day, moment by moment.

Look at Chapter four and verse four.

When the time had fully come, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

We have full rights as SonsIsn’t that wonderful?  We have the full rights of sons.  That happened when you believed.  You had full acceptance.  Someone told me a story once. It went like this.  A young man went to the gates where Prince Charles lived and told the guards there that he had been invited in for a meal.  The guards didn’t believe him and wouldn’t let him in until Prince Charles himself came to the gates and said “Excuse me that man’s coming for tea”.  The guard said “Yes, sir” and let the man through.  He had the full rights to walk through. It is so thrilling to know that we can use those rights to pray for one another and to know that our Father hears and will answer our prayers.

Then look in V7, you are no longer a slave but a son, and since you are a son you have been made heirs.  Paul says that if all of this is true,  he wants you to be free. (5v13)  He wants you to enjoy your freedom in Christ and walk with Him.  Don’t use your freedom to indulge your sinful nature but to serve one another.  As believers, because God’s power lives within us, let’s use that love and joy we have to be involved in serving one another.

In Chapter 5v14 Paul says

The entire law is summed up in a single commandment – love your neighbour as yourself.

Paul can see there is a problem developing.  It’s clear that it wasn’t all perfect.  Just like our lives, it’s not all perfect.  Paul goes on to say that there is something wrong with the church here.  If you go on biting and devouring one another, watch out or you’ll be destroyed by one another.  Some of these believers, even though they had the Holy Spirit, they were fighting with one another.  This phrase “biting and devouring” has the idea of differing with one another.  Some time ago a friend of mine was watching two swans and they were having a fight and they got at each other so much they eventually killed each other.  They destroyed each other because they were biting so much.  That’s what this passage is talking about – there are believers who do just that!  These Galatians were doing that.  They were like Christian cannibals.

You have been called to be free!  We’ve been called to serve one another.  Let’s be careful we don’t destroy one another.  Then Paul comes to what he wants to say- “so”.  “live by the Spirit”.  I’m not certain why the NIV translation says live by the Spirit there , the phrase ‘live by the spirit’ actually means walk.  It means step by step.  Listening to the Holy Spirit, having your conduct controlled by the Spirit.  Paul doesn’t want them to get it wrong. Walking in the Spirit is not something special, an extra special gift, it’s not something that arrives, it’s something we all have and Paul is saying that as we have the Spirit, so day by day walk in the Spirit.

I have a bad leg.  Some days I have a good day but not others.  When it is a bad day and I want to go somewhere, I just put one step in front of the other.  What Paul is saying here is the same principle. Believers who have God’s spirit where He lives in you, in the same way go step by step, day by day, one step by another.

Two people climbing a mountainOnce, my wife and I were going up a mountain.  Some friends were going to meet us up there.  So we were going up this virtually vertical mountain, and we got so far before my wife said. “I’m not going any further”. I said, “well you can’t stay there you’ll fall off! “. So she said “well, what do I do?  I told her, “All you’ve got to do is move one leg above the next one and then the next leg above the next one”.  For the next half an hour she put one leg above the next one.  God is saying to you now – day by day, step by step.  What is God saying to you now?  What has God been teaching you?  Step by step, listen to what He’s saying and you won’t gratify the sinful nature.

Moving on to v17

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.

Do you sometimes find yourself doing the things you don’t want to do?  There is conflict in our lives, we want to walk with God but find ourselves not doing that.  This bothered me quite a bit.  I was in Papua New Guinea and teaching believers and as I was sitting there I began to realise that even in my own life there were things that were bothering me. That I wanted to walk with God but there were other things that were troubling me.  I remember sitting there one night and I just started to cry because I sat there thinking “I can’t do it”.  I’m a believer, a missionary, I’m teaching all of these people but I was challenged by my day by day walk with the Lord.  I really wanted to grasp and understand this and had to ask the Lord what it meant   The Lord took me to Romans and I read something there that totally changed my life and believe it’s still impacting my life.  Chp8 v13 – ‘If you live according to the sinful nature you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.”

What does this mean? When Christ died on the cross, I died, and I don’t need to be dominated by my old nature.  How can I change?  Through the Holy Spirit.  I saw something I’d never seen before – day by day allow the Holy Spirit to be in your life, to teach you, direct you and listen to what He says.  After that, I said “Lord, I just want to live my life dominated by your Spirit, help me to be submissive and responsive to what you say.”

Basically then, as we listen to the Holy Spirit and respond to Him, we will live lives governed by the Spirit. Let me give you an example of this from Ephesians 4 v29

‘Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those that listen’.

“Only that which is helpful”- look at that phrase.  Every now and again when I’m speaking to my wife a little thought comes to my mind “Is that helpful”.  Perhaps not?  “Ok, well don’t do it”.  Every now and again something comes up and the Lord says to me “Is that going to be beneficial what you’re going to say to that person?”  That’s just one aspect of my life and the Lord wants to work in all of our lives in different ways.  I want to constantly learn that, step by step.  Walking with the Spirit is a day by day walk with the Lord.  If we do that, our lives will be governed by the Spirit.

Galatians 5v18 – if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law.  In other words, if we are allowing the Spirit to lead us we are not going to be living by a whole list of do’s and don’ts.  Paul makes it clear that we are not free to do what we want, but we are free to walk with the Lord.  Allow him to lead you and guide you, step by step.

Paul does tell us what the life that is not led by the Spirit is like.  Just read v19 where the acts of sinful nature are listed, sexual immorality, idolatry, debauchery, witch craft.  He says something which is perhaps closer to some of us – “hated, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition etc.”  Those who live like this, he warns, will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  No inheritance in the Kingdom of God for those dominated by the flesh.  He’s talked about walking with the Spirit; he’s talked about allowing ourselves to be led by Sprit.  Then he says, if we are living by the Spirit and being led by Him then we are going to produce the Spirit’s fruit.  V22 talks about the fruits of the Spirit which we will look at later.  How can I tell if I’m walking in the Spirit?  I’ll be producing the Spirit’s fruit.  Paul says in Ephesians – if you are filled with the spirit you will be talking to one another, you’ll be singing, having a melody and submitting.  Here, he says if you are walking with the Spirit, it’ll be a day by day walk and you will be manifesting the Spirit’s fruit.  We taught this at Northcotes, missionary training college, a couple of years ago. We had one lady there, and I was talking about the fruit of the Spirit (not fruits, one fruit in it’s different manifestations) and this young lady shouted out “Do I have to have all of those?”. I replied that it’s not that you have to have all of those but gradually they are all being produced in your life.  Paul is saying that the evidence of walking step by step is the gradual, manifestation of this fruit in our lives.  How are we doing in our lives with love, joy, peace, our relationship to God? What about with each other – patience, kindness, goodness?  What about yourself – faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?  Peter says, if we possess these things in increasing measures we won’t necessarily be liked but wouldn’t it be a dynamic walk with the Spirit?

Orange TreeA pastor in India had this young man come to him who said “I think I’ve got a bit of a problem, I don’t think that I’m growing spiritually”. So the pastor took him out into the garden and showed him an orange.  “See that orange? “ he said. “Come back in a week’s time”.  So the man came back in a week’s time and the orange was a little bit bigger and it was green.  The Pastor said “Can you see that? What’s it doing?”  The man said “It’s green”.  The Pastor said |”Come back in a week’s time” Eventually, he came back and the orange had turned yellow and was ready to be picked.  The pastor said “Look it’s ready to be picked”.  The young man said “Yes, but I’m still not growing”.  The Pastor said “How do you know? The orange was growing, it’s ready to be eaten now.  Can I ask you a question?  What did that orange do to become an orange?”  “Nothing” replied the man. The pastor said “It was growing on an orange tree and the tree roots were down in the ground, and drawing up the moisture, and as it gained the moisture, gradually it produced the fruit.”

God is producing oranges in our lives. We are all at different stages but his fruit is being produced in our lives.

Notice verse 24. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

He’s now saying something very different.  He’s making the point that we should keep in line with what God is saying.  When I was a young lad, my father was in the RAF and he made me join the Air Training Corps. Those who were new had wooden rifles and those in uniform had real rifles.  I wanted to get a real rifle and I wasn’t allowed to get a real rifle until I’d gone through the initial training programme and everything else.  So we were taught to march and to stand in line.  I was very young and foolish.  There was a guy in my Corps and he had corporal stripes on and he was in the class below me at school.  He said “Lamb, get back in line” and I thought “who does he think he is, he’s younger than me and a class below me?”  But when the RAF officer told me to get back in line, I did it without arguing.  I told my father what had happened and he was not impressed.

Paul is saying to keep in line with what the Holy Spirit is saying to me and you today.  Isn’t’ that powerful?  Let’s not worry about all the ecstatic things that people have to say, but let’s see what the Word says and keep in line with what God says.  Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature v24.  You died to the sinful life.  “I have been crucified.  I no longer live like that. I want to keep in step with him.  This verse really belongs with Chapter 6 because part of keeping in step with the spirit is keeping in step with God’s family.  We need to walk as a family.  When you come to Chapter 6 and Paul says “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, (the word caught means slipped), you who are spiritual, restore him gently.”  Who is a spiritual person here?  If you are in Christ – you are.  Part of walking in the spirit is helping each other – gently.  I used to say to my colleagues – I don’t care what you say to me, but please be careful how you say it.  I’m not made of steel.  Restore gently and watch yourselves.

The outworking of the Spirit’s care is that we keep in step with the Spirit by helping and caring for one another.  I think that’s wonderful.  Paul is saying – live by the spirit, walk with the Spirit, let’s be led by the Spirit, let’s be producing His fruit.  As we do that let’s keep in step with Him and that will be a dynamic walk with God.  Do you want it?


If you would like to contact me by email please feel free to do so.

Colin Lamb.  Sheep.lamb@btinternet.com