Teaching series from Romans

Walking By the Spirit (Part 2)

Romans 8

Teaching t07945


We began a miniseries on walking by the Spirit. This is God's alternative to relating to/serving him by simply focusing on his commandments and trying to keep them by our own moral will-power. As we walk by the Spirit, he gradually transforms our lives and empowers us to serve God effectively (Rom. 8:4b,6; Gal. 5:22,23).

What does it look like to walk by the Spirit? In physical walking, there are three important elements: balance, locomotion, and direction. In walking by the Spirit, there are also three important elements.

Last time, we learned the first element--"setting your mind on the things of the Spirit" (read Rom. 8:5,6). We discovered that this means to choose to think about every major area of your life from the perspective of God's grace (EXAMPLES?).

Now, we will learn the second element, which is found in the parallel passage in Gal. 5-6. Next, we will learn the third element . . . 

Walking by the Spirit involves "keeping in step with the Spirit."

You can see that this is a parallel passage. The subject is the same (read Gal. 5:16). The results of walking by the Spirit are the same, only described in more detail (read 5:22,23).

Notice what Paul says in 5:25 (read). Here, the NIV is a better translation: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." The verb (stoichew) is different than the general verb "walk" (peripatew) in 5:16. It means to "walk in a line, to proceed under another's direction."1 It was sometimes used to describe soldiers who marched in response to the directions of their commanding officer. So to "keep in step with the Spirit" means to be alert and responsive to the Spirit's personal guidance in your life.

The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal Force that you learn to tap into and use to accomplish your agenda for your life. The Holy Spirit is a Person who personally guides you into God's will and then empowers you to accomplish this as you choose to respond to his guidance.

God does not simply throw you the rules and expect you to learn them and carry them out in an impersonal, mechanical way ("I'LL WORK ON RULES 1-5 TODAY, 6-10 TOMORROW . . ."). He gives you his Spirit to apply his will to your life in a very personal way (RIJKSMUSEUM: brochure vs. personal guide). Just as Jesus did this when he was with his disciples (EXAMPLES?), he promised that when he left he would send "another Counselor" to render the same help (Jn. 14:16).

Avoiding 2 dangerous extremes

This whole area is messy because it is personal and subjective--there's no way to get around it. Because of this, Christians tend to polarize into two extreme camps.

Some Christians use this as an excuse to avoid using their minds and common sense. They claim that the Holy Spirit guides them about what clothes to wear, what route to take to work, what food to order from the menu, etc. They claim that God talks to them this way virtually all the time, that his voice is unmistakable, and that you must be unspiritual unless you can claim the same thing. This is the danger of superstition--the need to find supernatural explanations for everything that happens. It becomes an excuse for laziness, anti-intellectualism, and even rebellion against God that soils his reputation ("The Holy Spirit is leading me to divorce my wife and marry my secretary." "God led me to spend two hours sharing Christ with my co-worker instead of doing my job.").

Others, usually more cerebral by temperament, feel uncomfortable with any subjective or unpredictable feature of Christianity. They want demand irrefutable proof that a personal guidance was from God--and since this is not possible, they view the whole subject as a waste of time. They use the excesses as an excuse to reject the whole area. This is the danger of deism--affirming God's existence but denying that he is personally involved in our lives in ways that we can recognize and cooperate with. Reducing spirituality to a recipe of Bible verses and safe formulae. This leads to a Christianity that is safe, predictable, boring--and (sometimes) autonomous from God (EXAMPLES: no room for spontaneity in meetings; no risk-taking in evangelism).

Since God wants us to "keep in step with the Spirit," there must be a way to recognize his guidance and avoid both of these extremes . . . 

Recognizing the Spirit's guidance

God's Spirit will never guide in a direction that contradicts God's Word, because the same Spirit who guides us also authored God's Word. He will always guide you consistently with the two biblical priorities for your life: moral integrity and serving love. The following context of Gal. 5:25 speaks of the Spirit's guidance in both of these areas.

Read 5:26. This is moral correction. If you keep in step with the Spirit, he will guide you away from attitudes and behaviors that are destructive to you and God's reputation--like boasting and envy. He will speak to your conscience--directly, through the Word or another Christian--sensitizing it and arresting your attention on different issues at different times. We sometimes call this "the conviction of the Spirit."

Sometimes, this is very issue-specific: PERSONAL EXAMPLES

Sometimes, this is more general awareness of attitudes God wants to change: PERSONAL EXAMPLES

WARNING: Be sure to view this activity of the Spirit from the perspective of God's grace, or you will fall prey to satanic accusation. God corrects you because he loves you, not to reject you. His correction is redemptive (to urge you to move forward with him) rather than retributive ("Look how horrible you are! You might as well give up walking with God."). Read Heb. 12:6,10.

Read 6:1,2. This is servant direction. If you keep in step with the Spirit, he will guide you into attitudes and behaviors that serve other people--like restoring fallen Christians and bearing one another's crushing burdens.

Sometimes, this can be very specific: PHILIP IN ACTS 8 >> PERSONAL EXAMPLES

Sometimes, this is a growing passion for a certain area of service: ME WITH TEACHING IN 1972; WORKING WITH SINGLES IN 1990

This doesn't mean that we should only serve people when we get such guidance. We should adopt and cultivate a lifestyle of servanthood--and know that as we do so, God's Spirit will guide us personally into deeds and areas of service for which we are uniquely suited. "You can't steer a ship that's not moving."

Check-list if you lack the Spirit's guidance

I am not suggesting that you should experience dramatic guidance from the Spirit every day. Sometimes God just wants us to follow him in the ways we know and trust him. But I don’t think it is normal or healthy to chronically lack the Spirit's guidance. If this is where you are at, it is very correctable. Consider these possible reasons.

Have you received the Spirit? If this sounds completely foreign to you, it may be because you are a stranger to the Holy Spirit. Paul says that the things of God are foolishness to those who do not have his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). This is very easy to remedy. All you need to do is ask Christ to forgive you and give you the gift of his Spirit (Jn. 7:37-39).

Do you ask for the Spirit's guidance? James says that many times we do not receive from God simply because we do not ask him (Jas. 4:2). In my experience, this has been the case with the Spirit's guidance. I tend to want to put it on "auto-pilot"--selecting the moral areas I want to work on and service I want to do--and just staying on familiar ground. It's so much more productive and exciting to present myself to God each day/situation and ask him for his guidance.

Do you want to submit to the Spirit's guidance? We may receive little guidance from the Spirit (even when we ask) because we are unwilling in a fundamental way to entrust our lives to God's agenda.

Sometimes this is because we don’t understand God's grace and unconditional love. When this is the case, we will tend to view the idea of responding to God's guidance as a confining, crushing duty/burden. If you understand grace, however, it will be an invitation to experience more of God's goodness and faithfulness and wisdom.

There have been times in my Christian life (even after understanding grace) when I wanted God to be a consultant rather than the ruler of my life. "I'm wondering what I want to do in this area. Why don’t you let me know your opinion--and I'll take that into consideration as I decide my course of action." When we ask with this attitude, God is likely to reply "Save your breath. Let me know when you're ready to obey by guidance even before you know what it is."

This is the precious lesson David learned from God. David made many, many mistakes--but he knew that God was good and he entrusted his life to him (read Ps. 32:8-10). "Don’t be a moral mule! When I convict about an issue, listen to me! Don’t make me take greater measures to convince you to make a course correction." One sign of spiritual growth is that we don't always have to be beat over the head by others or consequences. We begin to respond to the Lord's initial, gentle conviction.

Are you responding to the guidance you have already received? Of course, none of us ever does this perfectly or all the time. If that was the condition for receiving continued guidance, none of us would ever receive any. But there is a general connection here. I once talked to a brother who was complaining that God would not give him any guidance about what area of ministry he should concentrate on. As we talked, it became apparent that he had no interest in really being involved with people, and he was rationalizing a sexually immoral relationship with his girlfriend. I suggested to him that there was a connection between his refusal to respond to God's guidance in these obvious, foundational areas and God's silence about a more fine-tuning issue.

NEXT: Sowing to the Spirit


1 J. I. Packer, Keeping In Step With the Spirit (Old Tappan, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1984), p. 11.

Copyright 2000 Gary DeLashmutt