Does the verse below mean that if you “walk by the Spirit”, there will be no room in your life for sin?
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
What does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”? This verse – taken on its own – seems to say that if you “walk by the Spirit”, it will be impossible for you to “gratify the desires of the flesh”. Does this mean that if you “walk by the Spirit”, there will be no room in your life for sin?
Think about your own life following Jesus. Think about the lives of those around you who follow Jesus. Our everyday experience is that sin exists. We still do it. We know other Christians who sin. We often chose to “gratify the desires of the flesh”. Do you feel this tension in your life? What does it mean for your relationship with God?
First, the passage doesn’t say, “… walk by the Spirit, and you will not experience the desires of the flesh”. Instead, it acknowledges that in the Christian life, as we walk by the Spirit, the desires of the flesh will be very real and present in our lives. That is, it’s normal to keep feeling the temptation to sin – which means it’s not sinful to feel the desire to sin. Feeling the desire to sin – and struggling with this – is part of the challenge of life in a sinful world as we walk with the Spirit. If you feel this tension in your life, good! It means that the Spirit is convicting you of sin, and also that sin is not the way God wants life to be.
Second, it could be very easy to read this verse and question whether we are truly saved by Jesus. We may reverse the logic so we think it’s saying something like “if you gratify the desires of the flesh, then you’re not walking by the Spirit”. Read like this, Galatians 5:16 could lead us to despair and not reassurance that we are saved.
However, the book of Galatians has a clear message: life following Jesus is freedom from rules and guilt. Galatians 5:16 isn’t demanding a perfect life as evidence that we are “walking by the Spirit”. Instead, it’s telling us that as we walk by the Spirit, Jesus declares us “not guilty”. When we have God’s Spirit living in our hearts, God looks at us but doesn’t see all the mess of our lives. Instead, he sees all the perfection of Jesus – the only one who never gratified the desires of the flesh.
Walking by the Spirit gives us true freedom from sin – even as we continue to navigate the mess of life in a sinful world.
Head: What do you think your relationship with God depends on: Jesus’ perfection or your own? Does your answer to this question ring true for you in every day life?
Heart: Do you ever feel too sinful to be accepted by Jesus? Confess your sin, and rejoice in complete forgiveness and acceptance by God.
Hands: How can you help those in your Growth Group reflect on the freedom we have in the Spirit?
Prayer: Father God, I am not perfect. I feel the temptation to sin, and often I do sin. Please forgive me. Thank you that Jesus lived life exactly as you intended me to live. Thank you that he wasn’t just modelling a good life for me, but that he has paid the penalty for all of my sin. Thank you for freeing me from an impossible task of perfection – I rejoice that you look at me and see Jesus’ perfection, not my mess. Please help me as I struggle to live for him in a sin-filled world. Help me to not gratify the desires of the flesh – but also to remember that my guilt has been removed in Jesus. In his name I pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: Made alive