Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26)

Walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, May 5, 2019 

Moving backwards video clip

The Bible teaches that the ways of the world are different than God’s ways (Romans 12:1-2; James 4:4). We are called to be counter-cultural, but how do we do it? We need to walk by the Spirit. In this short New Testament letter of Galatians Paul has repeatedly emphasized that we are free in Christ. We are free to serve Christ. So, now what do we do? As we will see in today’s passage, they are NOT free to sin. They are free to walk by the Spirit.

In the last days of the Civil War, the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, fell to the Union army. Abraham Lincoln insisted on visiting the city. Even though no one knew he was coming, slaves recognized him immediately and thronged around him. He had liberated them by the Emancipation Proclamation, and now Lincoln’s army had set them free. According to Admiral David Porter, an eyewitness, Lincoln spoke to the throng around him:

“My poor friends, you are free—free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it …. Liberty is your birthright.”

But Lincoln also warned them not to abuse their freedom. “Let the world see that you merit [your freedom],” Lincoln said, “Don’t let your joy carry you into excesses. Learn the laws and obey them.”

That is very much like the message Jesus gives to those whom he has liberated by his death and resurrection. Jesus gives us our true birthright—spiritual freedom. But that freedom isn’t an excuse for disobedience; it forms the basis for learning and obeying God’s laws.[1]

My theme today is Walk by the Spirit.

Let’s turn to Galatians 5:16-26 and read it.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 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. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

  1. Walk by the Spirit (verses 16- 24)
    1. I believe the theme of this whole passage is that we are free to walk by the Spirit. We see the phrase “walk by the Spirit” in verse 16 and 25.
    2. In verses 19-21 Paul lists 15 nouns to describe the worldly way. Paul calls it the “deeds of the flesh.” By “flesh” Paul means the sin nature.
    3. In Verse 17, we see the flesh and the Spirit are at war. So, we must walk by the Spirit. Some think that all we need to do is retreat like a hermit, but that is not entirely the answer.
      1. So long as we remain in this present life, we never outgrow or transcend the spiritual conflict Paul was describing in this passage. There is no spiritual technique or second blessing that can propel the believer onto a higher plane of Christian living where this battle must no longer be fought. In the early church Jerome, that hardy and stern disciplinarian, removed himself far from the lurid temptations of the city only to find that he had not escaped them at all. As he confessed:
      2. O how often I imagined that I was in the midst of the pleasures of Rome when I was stationed in the desert, in that solitary wasteland which is so burned up by the heat of the sun that it provides a dreadful habitation for the monks! I, who because of the fear of hell had condemned myself to such a hell and who had nothing but scorpions and wild animals for company, often thought that I was dancing in a chorus with girls. My face was pale from fasting, but my mind burned with passionate desires within my freezing body; and the fires of sex seethed, even though the flesh had already died in me as a man.76
    4. Verse 18: If we are led by the Spirit, we are not under law.
    5. Verses 19-21: Deeds of the flesh are evident
    6. If I were to group these, I see several, actually 9, that are almost synonymous having to do with human relation: Disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, outbursts of anger (I think of rage), jealousy, strife, enmities. Those are 9 nouns in the Greek
    7. Then we have 2 dealing with spiritualism: sorcery and idolatry
    8. we have 4 dealing with impure nature, mostly sexual: immorality, sensuality, impurity, carousing
    9. we have 1 dealing with excess: drunkenness
    10. People have grouped these differently, that is simply what I came up with. For example: Lightfoot, divided these sinful acts into four classes: (1) sensual passions, (2) unlawful dealings in things spiritual, (3) violations of brotherly love, (4) intemperate excesses.82,[2]
      1. I do not want to talk about each one of these sins because I do not think each sin is the point. The point is that we need to walk by the Spirit. In fact, it seems clear that this is not an exhaustive list. In verse 21, Paul concludes this list by writing, “and things like these…” which seems to show that he casually listed a catalog of sins. But notice:
      2. In verse 19: Paul begins the list with the what the NASB translates as “immorality.” This is literally “sexual immorality.” It is the Greek word Porneia. About that term one source shares: The word porneia originally meant “prostitution” (cf. the Greek pornē, “prostitute,” from the verb pernēmi, “to sell slaves,” since prostitutes were frequently bought and sold on the slave market), although by the time of Paul it had gained the more general meaning of sexual immorality or irregularity. Porneia is invariably translated “fornication” in the KJV although it denotes any unlawful sexual intercourse, including adultery and incest (cf. 1 Cor 5:1). Acts of sexual immorality, although often done in the name of love, are really the antithesis of love, which is the foremost fruit of the Spirit.[3]
  • Another in Paul’s list is translated in the NASB as “sorcery.” One source shares the following about that word:
  1. Witchcraft (pharmakeia). At the root of this word is pharmakon, literally “drug,” from which we derive our English word “pharmacy.” In classical Greek pharmakeia referred to the use of drugs whether for medicinal or more sinister purposes, e.g., poisoning. In the New Testament, however, it is invariably associated with the occult, both here in Galatians and in Revelation, where it occurs twice (Rev 9:21; 18:23). English translations usually render pharmakeia as “witchcraft” (KJV, NIV) or “sorcery” (RSV, NEB). These words correctly convey the idea of black magic and demonic control, but they miss the more basic meaning of drug use. In New Testament times pharmakeia in fact denoted the use of drugs with occult properties for a variety of purposes including, especially, abortion. As J. T. Noonan has written, “Paul’s usage here cannot be restricted to abortion, but the term he chose is comprehensive enough to include the use of abortifacient drugs.”86 In the early church both infanticide, often effected through the exposure of newborn babies to the harsh elements, and abortion, commonly brought about by the use of drugs, were regarded as murderous acts. Both are flagrant violations of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
  1. Most of the sins in this list describe gross excess. But we are supposed to walk by the Spirit.
  2. Verses 22-23: the fruit of the Spirit.
  3. I have preached on the fruit of the Spirit before, so I am not going to walk through each part. I do want to say a few things.
    1. First, notice that it is one fruit with many modifiers. It is “fruit” singular. This is the fruit that we expect a Christian to have. It is “deeds” of the flesh, plural, but “fruit” of the Spirit, singular.
    2. Some say the fruit is “love” and it is modified by joy, peace, patience, etc.
  • Either way, as a Christian, these are things we should pursue.
  1. Live by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit (verses 24-26)

There’s a story that has been told from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”

With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And to say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, anything.”

“And to be whatever I want to be?”


“And even go wherever I want to go?”

“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”

She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”[4]

  1. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh and its sinful desires (verse 24). Notice this, get rid of the fleshly desires. Put them to death.
  2. Instead, live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit (verse 25).
  3. Paul closes this with an exhortation: “Get rid of boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (verse 26).
  • Applications
    1. We must walk by the Spirit (verse 16).
    2. The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit. We must surrender to the Holy Spirit (verse 17).
    3. The desires of the flesh are numerous, and we must stay away from them (verses 19-21).
    4. Sexual immorality is a desire of the sin nature, we must beware of that sin (verse 19).
    5. We must guard against sexual sins, sins against humanity, sins of idolatry including spiritualism as well as sins of excess (verses 19-21).
    6. We must allow the Holy Spirit to reign in our life and produce this fruit.
    7. We must let the fruit of the Spirit push out the fruit of the world.
    8. We must have self-control. We must not be mastered by anything.
    9. We must have love for all.
  • We must have joy even in difficulty.
  • We must be patient, even in trials.
  • We must be kind
  • We must be gentle, submissive to the Word and to others.
  • We must have peace.
  • We must have goodness.
  • We must be faithful to God and to others.
  • We must crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (verse 24).
  • We must walk by the Spirit (verse 25).
  • We must not be boastful, challenge others and envious (verse 26).


In family life and in church life, there’s always a huge gap between the ideal and the real. For example, every autumn my family likes to go apple picking.

Here’s the ideal day of apple picking. The leaves are golden and rusty, the sky is beautiful, and it’s 75 degrees. We all pile into the van and start singing and laughing as we merrily drive to the orchard. We arrive early in the morning with plenty of time to enjoy the orchard. Surprisingly, the folks at the apple orchard say, “Today apples are free for families.” So our kids guzzle apple cider and stuff themselves with apple donuts—and they don’t even get a sugar high! Finally, after a perfect day at the orchard, we drive home as our children keep saying, “Wow, thanks, Mom and Dad!”

But the real day often looks like this. It’s a disaster from the start. We leave at least two hours late. The apple orchard closes at 5 P.M., we’re leaving at 3 P.M., and it takes an hour-and-half to get there, but I bark at everyone, “We’re going, so get in the car!” We missed lunch because we were scrambling to get everything done. With blood sugar levels plummeting, my wife and I start arguing. I think it’s her fault that we’re leaving late; she says it’s my fault. We keep arguing until the kids interrupt because now they’re arguing with each other. I turn around and snap at the kids, “Knock it off! I’m arguing with your mom.”

When we pull into the apple orchard, we only have thirty minutes before closing time. So we tell the kids, “Hurry up, so you can have some fun.” By this time of the day all the good apples are gone, and nothing is free. The entrance fee was outrageous because they know they can rip off suburban families who are trying to pretend they’re in the country for the day. When we get the kids back in the van, it’s already dark. On the way home, we finally get our apples: we stop at McDonald’s for an apple turnover.

Unfortunately, family life and church life aren’t always ideal. That’s why we have to practice love, acceptance, and forgiveness in the midst of real community among real fellow-sinners.[5]

We must walk by the Spirit.



[1] James L. Swanson, Bloody Crimes (William Morrow, 2010), p.46; submitted by Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois

76 LW 27.68–69.

82 Lightfoot, Galatians, 210. We may ignore Lightfoot’s comment to the effect that the third class of sins would be especially enticing to “the excitable temperament of a Celtic people,” as well as his jibe that the mention of orgies and drunkenness was “not unfitly addressed to a nation whose Gallic descent perhaps disposed them too easily to these excesses.” Later commentators have tended to follow, with some modifications, Lightfoot’s fourfold division of Paul’s catalog of vices. See Burton, Galatians, 304–10; Fung, Galatians, 253–61; Matera, Galatians, 208–9. See also C. G. Kruse, “Virtues and Vices,” DPL, 962–63; E. Schweizer, “Traditional Ethical Patterns in the Pauline and Post-Pauline Letters and their Development,” in Text and Interpretation, ed. E. Best and R. McL. Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 195–209.

[2] Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 392.

[3] Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 392–393.

86 J. T. Noonan, Jr., “An Almost Absolute Value in History,” in The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), 9. That φαρμακεία was a common term for abortion-inducing drugs is borne out by its recurrence in other early Christian writings. Thus the Didache includes the following list of negative imperatives Christians were expected to obey: “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not corrupt boys. You shall not fornicate. You shall not steal. You shall not make magic. You shall not practice medicine (φαρμακεία). You shall not slay the child by abortions (φθορα). You shall not kill what is generated. You shall not desire your neighbors wife” (Did. 2.2). See further T. George, “Southern Baptist Heritage of Life” (Nashville: Christian Life Commission of the SBC, 1993).

[4] Tullian Tchividjian, Surprised by Grace (Crossway, 2014), page 182

[5] Stewart Ruch, from sermon “Shaping the World of Each Child,” at Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, Illinois

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s