We’ve spent time going extensively over the fruit that’s produced in our lives when we choose to live in the flesh. But we are encouraged to have a daily Christian walk: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16)
All believers have the capacity to walk by the Spirit. We don’t always do it because it’s a battle with our flesh, and we are lazy and unmotivated. Paul is telling the Galatians to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. He gave us a list of manifestations of the flesh, which we’ve already discussed. He then goes on to tell us what the Spirit produces in us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23)
What Paul is really talking about here is practical sanctification. Practical sanctification is spiritual growth, the conformity to Christ’s likeness. It is walking by the Spirit: “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 Jn 2:6).
How can we learn to live like Christ lived? How do we become sanctified and grow into Christ’s likeness? How do we walk by the Spirit? These are really all the same questions, with the same answer. Practical sanctification is a matter of “Dependent Discipline”. Dependent emphasizes our need for God’s power to work in us. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Sanctification is a matter of trusting God to work in us using His means, but we have a part. Discipline sums up our responsibility to grow in sanctification; we need to apply the means of sanctification. Here’s the mechanics of the application.
1. We must spend time in the Word of God:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16) Dwell is from the present active imperative of enoikeo, and means: “to live in”, or “to be at home”. Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in our lives. The Word of God needs to inhabit us. This is more than just reading the Bible. Apart from a regular, consistent time in the Word of God and in prayer, we will never grow in sanctification, and will be unable to walk by the Spirit.
2. We must confess our sins as they are revealed in God’s Word:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) As we are spending time in God’s Word, we will see areas of sin in our lives. We need to confess these sins to God and repent. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” (Is 55:7)
Sin does not fit in our lives because God has predestined that we “become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Whenever we sin, the indwelling Holy Spirit convicts us so we can confess and repent. We should never ignore, tolerate, accept, or practice what we know to be sinful. It not only offends God, but also hurts us.
3. We must watch how we live:
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise” (Eph 5:15). We must be conscious of all we are doing as if we were walking through a mine field. We are told to be careful how we walk, which refers to how we live, so that we continue to abide, or remain in Jesus. Looking carefully at our spiritual walk is considered “wise”. This wisdom comes from God (Eph 1:8), who gives believers the Spirit of wisdom (Eph 1:17).
Paul focuses much attention on the spiritual growth of existing believers in the church. We are to walk as children of light (Eph 5:8), in a manner worthy of the calling (Eph 4:1), not like unbelievers do (Eph 4:17). Instead, we are to walk in our new selves, “which are in the likeness of God…created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22-24).
4. We must choose to obey the Word of God.
Jesus was clear that He isn’t impressed with us knowing what we should call Him if we don’t obey His Word. “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) The Lord knows if we truly love Him: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
We must depend upon the Spirit of God to provide the power. Our daily lives contain a constant stream of moral choices. We choose to lie or tell the truth, to forgive or to harbor resentment, to entertain lustful thoughts or to think on what is good. We choose to respond to opportunities or to ignore them. Life is a series of choices. The choices we make will determine how we live; and as Christ followers we are to die to self (pride) and humble ourselves before the Lord. “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” (James 4:6)
We come to realize and understand that God is greater than the sum of all our fears, apprehensions, sins, bitterness, negative feelings, frustrations and chaos in our lives. “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Pet 5:10) Therefore, we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
His grace provides all the power we need to obey His Word. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
We are responsible to discipline ourselves toward spiritual growth, all the while depending on God to work in us. We depend on God to enable us to perform his disciplines, the performance of which doesn’t produce spiritual growth. Only God can do that. Walking by the Spirit, or growth in sanctification, isn’t a matter of personal discipline plus God’s work. It is a matter of dependent discipline, of recognizing that we are dependent on God to enable us to do what we are responsible to do. Then it is a recognition that even when we have performed our duties, we must still look to Him to produce the growth.
“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1 Cor 3:7) Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters have any real power. The field hand doesn’t do magic, he does his assigned job. That work matters, but the work in and of itself can’t make seeds grow. Only God can give growth to the seed. That’s real power. The Lord, then, is the only one worth following and depending upon.