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Walk in the Spirit

April 11, 2014 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Scripture: Ephesians 5:15–5:21

Synopsis: What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit” and how do we do it? That is the topic for this message as we review the Scripture’s teaching in Ephesians 5:15-21 and Galatians 5:16-25. Along the way we learn who the Holy Spirit is, his purpose and intent in our lives to transform us into the likeness of Christ, and how we can “keep in step” with Him.


Today is going to be a different kind of sermon. In fact, you might not even call it a sermon at all, but more of a lesson. I am going to take off my preacher’s hat and put on my teacher’s hat.

The topic for today’s lesson is “How to Walk in the Spirit.”

In my regular preaching, I frequently make a distinction between justification and sanctification. Justification is the act of God, whereby he declares us righteous legally and judicially. Because Christ paid the penalty for our sins by his death on the cross, all charges against us are dismissed and the penalty for our sin is removed. We are forgiven, reconciled to God and adopted into his family. Justification is a finished work and a free gift which we receive by faith.

Sanctification is the theological term for the process whereby we are made righteous in our thoughts, words and deeds as we are progressively transformed into the likeness of Christ. It is an ongoing process, and will not be complete until we stand in the presence of Jesus Christ at the end of this life or this age.

As we study the Scripture, we find that the key agent in the process of sanctification is the Holy Spirit.

Before we go any further, let me lay a little more theological and Biblical groundwork.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. God is One. But he exists and has revealed himself to us in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a paradox and a mystery that we cannot fully explain or comprehend, but which we accept by faith because the Bible declares it to be true. That is a lesson (or a whole series of lessons) for another day!

One of the things that happens to us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and we are justified is that the Spirit of God (also called the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus) comes to dwell in us.

That is a rather radical statement, so let me support it with Scripture.

Ephesians 1:13-14: 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

When we hear the gospel and believe in Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit who is the seal of God’s ownership upon us and the guarantee that we will receive the full possession of our spiritual inheritance.

The Holy Spirit indwells every child of God as Paul tells us in Romans 8:9:

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

This much, then, is clear. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer. And the Spirit of God indwells us with a purpose. We can continue in Romans 8, looking at verses 12-16:

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God

The Spirit of God will enable us to put to death the deeds of the flesh, the old nature and to truly live as God’s children. Sons of God are led by the Spirit of God and he leads us into new life; transformed life, all the time bearing witness to our spirits that we belong to God; that we are part of God’s family.

Paul describes this process in slightly different words in 2 Corinthians 3:18: 18 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.

So, this is the foundation for what we are going to talk about today. Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He dwells in us for a purpose. He is in us to lead us, to help us put to death the deeds of the old sin nature, and to transform us into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.

But what is our part in this process? How can we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s ministry in us? That is our topic for the rest of this lesson.

We will be looking at two main Scripture texts. The first is Ephesian 5:15-21

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Here is something for us to do. It is a command. Be filled with the Spirit.

What does it mean? Let’s look at the whole verse: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. Paul is drawing a comparison as well as a contrast. To be drunk with wine refers to being controlled by wine.

In America, the legal authorities often use the initials D.U.I. Who can tell me what the I. stands for? That’s right: Influence. “Driving under the influence.” Someone who is drunk with wine is under the influence of wine or alcohol. They are acting in unusual ways, ways they would not act if they were in their right mind. The alcohol is influencing their judgment, their reflexes and their actions.

I remember one night when I was in university. I was in my dorm room in bed, just dropping off to sleep when right outside by room, someone shouted, “Cam is drunk!”

I got up and went out to see what was going on. It turns out there was another student, actually a woman student nicknamed “Cam” who lived in the same dorm. She had come back from a party in a state of inebriation, hence the shout outside my door. But how did this person know that Cam was drunk? She was acting unnaturally, under the influence of the alcohol in her system.

So the issue is control. We are not to be controlled by wine. Because that leads to excesses, foolishness, wrong choices. That is the contrast. Bad influence versus good influence. Influence by wine = bad results. Influence by the Holy Spirit = good results. Be filled (influenced) by the Holy Spirit.

Some confusion can creep in here from the phrase “filled”. We might be tempted to think of ourselves as drinking glasses and the Holy Spirit as water. Are we ¼ full, ½ full, ¾ full? But it is not like that.  The Holy Spirit is a person. He doesn’t come in quantities. The issue isn’t how much of the Holy Spirit we have, but how much of us the Holy Spirit has.

Let me ask you: when a person is drunk, how much of him is drunk? Is it just his arm, his foot, his hands? No, the whole person is affected.

Something else we learn from this verse come from the tense of the verb. It is the present tense, which means ongoing, continuous, repetitive action. Be continually filled, controlled, influenced by the Holy Spirit.

We will come back to Ephesians 5 a little later, but for now, let’s look at another passage of Scripture and another Biblical phrase for additional help on this subject. This is our second main text for this morning and it is found in Galatians 5.

We will start reading in verse 16: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

How can we walk by the Spirit, or walk in the Spirit? The grammatical structure here is what is called an “instrumental”. The Spirit is the instrument that enables us to walk in a particular way. And maybe we can even ask the question: Why do we need to walk in the Spirit?

Let’s read on in the text. Verses 17-18: 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

We need the Spirit’s help and leading because there is a battle raging within us. The desires of the flesh oppose the desires of the Spirit. We can’t just “do what comes naturally” because we have two natures: an old nature and a new nature. So we must choose to be led by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit.

Now Paul gives us a tool; a very useful device for taking our spiritual blood pressure at any given point in time; a way of analyzing who is in control of our lives in any given situation.

Let’s read verses 19-21: 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

When I see any of these things in my life, it should be like a red flag. The flesh, the old nature is in control, it’s in the driver’s seat. I am obeying my old nature. It should act like the beeper on your car. Mine starts beeping at 120 km/hour. It tells me I am going too fast. These works of the flesh should have the same effect when we see them. They tell me that I am walking in the flesh and not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, what can we expect to see in our lives when we are submitting to the Spirit’s control? This is what Paul describes in verses 22-23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

These are the qualities we can expect to see when we are filled with the Spirit and walking under his influence. When we see them, we know the Spirit is in control. As he goes on to tell us in verse 24:

24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

When we see the fruit of the Spirit, it is evidence that we are no longer living under the influence of the flesh or the old nature with its sinful desires.

Paul wraps up with these words in verse 25: 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

This is an important concluding sentence based on Paul’s argument throughout the Book of Galatians. We might paraphrase it this way: “If we were given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, then our new obligation in this life is to keep in step with him and to follow his leading.” He will lead. That is his responsibility. Ours is to keep in step.

This image of Paul’s brings to my mind a 3-legged race. Did you ever run in one of those when you were in school or at a picnic? Two partners come together and their two legs are tied together. Then they have to run a race. The key to winning a 3-legged race is not raw speed. The best athletes don’t necessarily do well in this event. The key is keeping in step and swinging that inside leg together in sync with your partner. Think of your spiritual walk as being a 3-legged race with the Holy Spirit as your partner.

So, how does all of this work out in our personal lives? Let me give you four simple steps to get started and to keep going. It always helps to start with a spiritual house cleaning. Spiritual house cleanings are a lot like real house cleanings. If you do them regularly, they are routine and not traumatic. However, if you haven’t ever done one, or haven’t done one for a long time, it may require a more intense and soul-searching process. But this is a necessary first step.

Examine yourself thoroughly, and confess every sin that the Holy Spirit brings to your attention. Deliberate, known sin and the filling of the Holy Spirit cannot co-exist.

You might even want to take the time to make a list of any sins the Spirit brings to your attention. Then write I John 1:9 at the bottom of your list:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (Then you can destroy the list.)

The next step is this: Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and take control of your life and to lead you in the way he wants you to go.

What can we expect when we do this?

The answer to that question is that we are all different. For some, especially if this is a first time, or a return to the path of obedience after a long time away, this can be an intensely emotional experience. For others, there may be no particular emotion or sensation at all. Or we may have an emotional experience one time, and not have it the next time.

At this point, I think it is important to remember that the feelings aren’t the key here. Whether we feel anything or not, we need to go on to the next step.

Do what the Holy Spirit shows you to do.

For some this may be a dramatic change in life direction, especially if this is a first time experience or you have been out of God’s will for a time. For others who have been living in obedience, it may be simpler and involve the smaller, daily decisions of life. The important thing is to be obedient.

But you might ask: how will the Spirit lead? Well, he’s God. He will lead in any way he chooses. Sometimes a particular verse of Scripture may come to mind, or he will remind you of a teaching or sermon you’ve heard or the words from a Christian hymn or praise song. Many times, if we are honest, we already know what the Holy Spirit wants us to do. We are just having trouble doing it. We need to submit to what we know.

Other times, we may get a very clear impression, or mystical sense of leading. Test these impressions or subjective leadings by Scripture. But if there is no contradiction to God’s revealed, written word, then we need to pay attention to that and obey it.

If no clear sense of God’s leading comes, we should proceed with whatever the next common sense action is that is consistent with Biblical principles. A lot of the obedient spiritual life will remain in the domain of sanctified common sense without any specific sense of God’s leading. For example, imagine that you wake up in the morning and start off the day by praying: “Holy Spirit, fill me and lead me today.” That’s a great way to start a day. But what do you do next? You get out of bed! You don’t need a special leading from God to take that next step.

Let me illustrate. I am not a high tech person, but one technical innovation that I am very enthusiastic about is the GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation device for driving. We use one all the time when we are in the U.S. It is the first thing we do when we climb into a rented or borrowed vehicle. We plug in the GPS. The first thing it usually says after we enter our desired destination is simple: “Return to highlighted route.” In other words, get back on the road. Then what? It starts to give directions. Sometimes, the lady in the device is talking almost constantly if we are in an area of lots of turns. “In 100 meters, turn right onto Powell Boulevard, then go left.” “Take ramp, on left, to Highway 88.”

But then we get on a freeway or a highway. Suddenly the lady falls silent. She might be silent for long periods of time. What does that mean? Actually, it’s good news. It means we are on the right road and we are to keep going on that road. The GPS doesn’t keep coming on every 5 minutes to tell us to keep going straight! But she will come back on to warn us of a turn or intersection that requires some action on our part.

I have found the Holy Spirit’s leading to be like that. A lot of life is lived on a highway where the next step is quite obvious. Just keep going. And trust the Holy Spirit to warn you when some different action or turn is called for. “Keep in step with the Spirit.”

I want to emphasize what should be clear by now. That is that the second and third steps are repeatable. We can ask the Holy Spirit over and over to control us. It is a great idea to begin each day by asking him. Ask him every time you face a new situation, every crisis, every decision, every new opportunity for service.

Ask him and then do what you sense he is showing you to do. “Keep in step” with him.

Of course, there are those times when we make a wrong choice, a wrong decision. If the Holy Spirit indwells us, we should be aware of this very quickly. Of course the passage we just looked at in Galatians should help us too. This brings us to the fourth step.

When deeds of the flesh appear in your life, confess them immediately and resubmit the control of your life to the Spirit.

Back to the illustration. This is when the GPS device is most valuable. When you make a wrong turn, the lady immediately says, “Recalculating…” And then she gives directions to help you find your way back on course. The Holy Spirit will do that for you if you’re listening.

Quite early in my walk with God, I was introduced to a concept called “spiritual breathing.” When we breathe physically, we do two things. First, we breathe out or exhale the old, used up air or carbon dioxide in our lungs. That’s what we are doing when we confess our sins and the fact that we have taken control of our day, our week, our life and gone off course. Then we inhale the fresh, new, life-giving oxygen. That is what we do when we invite the Holy Spirit to fill us again.

Spiritual breathing is something that should be as natural to us and as repeatable as physical breathing as we learn to walk in the Spirit and follow his leading.

What will be the results of being filled by the Spirit, and keeping in step with him?

First of all, we will display the fruit of the Spirit as a consistent life pattern. These qualities will become the norm in our lives.

Secondly, we will be filled with thankful praise. Let’s go back to the Ephesians passage and verses 19-20: addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise and a grateful spirit are hallmarks of the Spirit-filled believer.

But there is another result that we can expect to see when we walk in the Spirit.

We will display a spirit of mutual submission in our relationships.

We find this in verse 21: submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Mutual submission is another one of the marks of Spirit-filled living. It is the opposite of “me first” living. By the way, Paul will use this basic command as the foundation for his lengthiest passage of instructions on family relationships and family living. That tells me that one of the places where the Spirit’s influence will have its most profound effects is in our homes.

Well, we’ve covered a lot of territory. I will just touch on one final area for the sake of completeness.

A fourth area in which the evidence of the Spirit’s filling and leading will be displayed is in the area of service for Christ and his kingdom. We will be active and effective in service for Christ.

In the Book of Acts, it was the filling of the Spirit that led to boldness and effectiveness in Gospel preaching and service to the Body of Christ. I think it is worth mentioning that it is both preaching and effective service that require the filling of the Spirit. In Acts 6, when the Apostles looked for men to put in charge of feeding the widows in the church, they specifically looked for people who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” And last week in our message on encouragement, I referred to the example of Barnabas as a great model of Biblical encouragement. In Acts 11:24, Barnabas is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit…” Every believer is promised gifts of the Spirit which we are to use for the building up of the Body of Christ. If we are full of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit, he will show us what those gifts are and empower us to use them for his glory.

I recognize that what I have said today is not new teaching for many of you. But I am also aware that in a church like ECC, with all the coming and going, I cannot take for granted that everyone has been taught these basic principles of the Christian life. And even if you have heard it before, I do not apologize. Many times in Scripture, the writers would say, “I am writing to remind you…” Because we tend to forget, don’t we? And at the end of the day, it is not really about knowledge. It is about obedience. The battle between the flesh and the Spirit wages on within us. There is no magic bullet; no dramatic, one-time victory in this struggle. But we are promised this: Walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Discussion Questions

  1. Read Ephesian 5:15-21.
  2. Note the use of the word “walk” in verse 15. Now scan back through Ephesians 4 and 5. (If you need help, try these verses: 4:1, 17, 5:2, 5:8.) What do we learn from these other descriptions of the Christian’s “walk”? Why is walking such an insightful metaphor for the Christian life?
  3. Verse 15 and following contrast wisdom and foolishness. What is foolish? What does wisdom look like?
  4. What do we learn from the comparison and contrast between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit? What can we expect to see in the person who is filled with the Spirit?
  5. Read Galatians 5:16-25.
  6. People sometimes ask, “Why is living for Christ so difficult?” How does this passage help answer this question?
  7. In the message, Pastor Cam gave four steps for “walking in the Spirit”; discuss each one in turn – your experience, questions, helpful insights you have gained, struggles you have:
  • Examine yourself thoroughly and confess every sin that the Holy Spirit brings to your attention.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and take control of your life and lead you in the way he wants you to go.
  • Do what the Holy Spirit shows you to do.
  • When deeds of the flesh appear in your life, confess them immediately and resubmit the control of your life to the Holy Spirit.