Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)
“Why hasn’t anyone ever taught me this before?” is a common refrain from the men and women who go through Key to Deep Change training. I identify with them. Growing up in the church I do not recall anyone discipling me concerning the Holy Spirit or even giving a cohesive lesson on walking in the Spirit. To be honest, the Spirit himself was a mystery to me.
I knew the Trinity was made up of three persons, the Father, the Son and, the Holy Spirit. The Father created the world and reigned over it. Jesus came to die for our sins and now sits at the right hand of the Father. And I understood that the Spirit came to live in me. But that was as far as it went. I thought that the Spirit was kind of an extra conscience, prompting me to do good and avoid being bad. Like, “Psst! You aren’t reading your Bible enough.” or “Remember to give your tithe this week!”
In my later teens, a couple of my friends started telling me about the way they experienced the Spirit at their churches, with people speaking in tongues and falling onto the floor. Yet these outward displays did nothing to really change their everyday lives. Talking about spirit power and experiencing manifestations unfortunately did not also mean they knew how to depend on the Spirit the rest of the week.
Instead, we were taught that we have responsibilities. We are responsible to obey. Responsible to read the Bible, pray, witness, tithe, be kind, honor our parents—responsible to be like Jesus.
Of course, the work of the Spirit was sometimes mentioned in passing. But references to him almost felt like a drive-by shooting. For example, I own a 24 full-page study full of good stuff about putting off sin and putting on righteousness. One small introductory paragraph mentions our need for the Spirit to accomplish this, but it did not go on to explain how to surrender to his work. If you study most basic discipleship materials, learning to understand how to keep in step with the Spirit seems assumed. There is nothing that can make disciples feel more hopeless than teaching as if people already know what it means to keep in step with the Spirit. What they really hear from us, whether we mean it or not, is ‘just be obedient.’
This is why it’s tough to find good materials for making disciples. So many discipleship materials begin in the middle of Ephesians—urging believers to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” These resources teach a whole lot of good things that every Christian ought to do. What is missing is the foundational instruction from the scriptures on how the Spirit makes the walk walkable, or standing in warfare possible. I sometimes call this the ‘Twice the Child of Hell’ approach to discipleship (Matthew 23:15). Although my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I say that, I remember the despair of ever measuring up when it came to living the life I believed God expected of me. —Despair that almost led me to give up altogether. —Despair that others have confided in me that almost drove them away from God.
“Keep in step with the Spirit.” This is why this verse matters to you and me. It is Paul’s sign-off conclusion of the whole letter to the Galatians. Instead of tolerating the fact that people to whom he taught the transformational gospel were going down the wrong road, he breaks back into their world like Batman out to destroy the Joker—what these guys are teaching you is unacceptable!
I am not going to just talk about how to understand this truth. I am going to help you live it out in your life. And there are two important reasons why you need to understand how to keep in step with the Spirit.
- It leads to the formation of Christ’s character in you. What Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ is who Jesus is. He is love, joy, peace, patient, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, and self-control. He did not work to become this way and neither can you. You are led to become these things. So you should want to know how instead of wasting time trying and failing.
- It gives you the power to live the life and not be blindsided by the flesh. ‘Flesh’ is Paul’s word for the part of us that has been affected by the Fall. We, like the first couple, are born with the illusion that we are in charge of our life. When we seek to be righteous on the strength of our flesh, we find ourselves living a destructive life—not intentionally, oh no! But that’s where we ultimately end up.
If you have never been taught this before, you are going to find out that this is one of the freeing parts of the gospel. It will lift your confusion about how to live the faith life. No false guilt or shame will be placed on you, but you will gain a transformational knowing that you cannot shake. Come along with me as we explore this topic.