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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Walk in the Spirit
Text:Galatians 5:25 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 143:5,6                                                                                          

Ps 51:3,4

Reading – Galatians 3:1-14; Galatians 5:1-26

Ps 101:1,2,3

Sermon – Galatians 5:25

Hy 49:1,2,3,4

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, when the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the church, that event was spectacular in every way, with a rushing wind, tongues of fire on the disciples’ heads, and foreign languages on their lips. But that first Pentecost was more than just an impressive beginning. For now that they had the Holy Spirit, what would the disciples do? Now that the age of the Spirit had begun, how would they live and where would they go? Energized by the Spirit, the disciples of Christ had to get up and serve their Lord.

And that’s what they did. The whole book of Acts is an account of how the Spirit moved the believers to share the gospel boldly, to pray earnestly, to live in true fellowship, to withstand persecution without wavering, and to build the church all across the world. We see that it is impossible to receive the Holy Spirit and to remain inactive. He does not create Christians who are sleepy or lazy or lukewarm, but transformed and passionate.

This is why when the New Testament describes the amazing work of the Spirit, it also tells us what we need to do. We must live in the Spirit; we must work in the Spirit; we must pray in the Spirit. In short, we seek to be filled with the Spirit, so that with his great power we can live for the glory of God. 

And in Galatians 5:25 we hear another command about our calling in this age of the Spirit. Now that we have the Holy Spirit, we can’t go our own way, nor put our feet up and enjoy the ride, but we must strive to keep in step with the Spirit. Since Pentecost so long ago, this is still our calling today. I preach to you God’s Word from Galatians 5:25,

            If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit.

                        1) where our new life is from

                        2) where our new life is going


1) where our new life is from: When Paul writes to the Galatians, there’s a heavy load on his mind. Some years before, Paul had ministered to these people living in Galatia, which is the eastern part of what is today known as Turkey. They had received the gospel of Jesus Christ in true faith. As was his usual practice, Paul now writes to the churches in order to teach and encourage. And in this case, also to rebuke.

Already in the opening verses, Paul admonishes the believers: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (1:6-7, NIV). It wasn’t long after their conversion that many were misled by a deadly variation on the true gospel.

It’s the false teaching that we can be justified by our works. It’s the notion that we can be saved—or that we can at least be made more agreeable in God’s sight—by all the good religious things that we do. In the Galatian churches, some were insisting that believers still had to keep the law because this was the way to win and keep the favour of God.

In his letter Paul can’t put it strongly enough. This is not the gospel, but a message worthy of condemnation forever! ‘Salvation by works’ is a teaching that sucks all the power out of the cross, and it’s a teaching that inflates our position before God. What is more, it’s actually a hopeless, pointless way of life, because the fact is, you will never be able to do enough but will forever remain under the curse.

Instead of vainly trying to earn salvation or secure their own well-being, the church is called to get back onto the simple path of salvation: We have to believe! “The just shall live by faith” (3:11). It is only when we live by true faith that God showers his blessings upon us, the blessings of grace, forgiveness, eternal life—together with all the blessings of his Holy Spirit.

This is why Paul asks an important question to the Galatians in 3:3, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Do you think you can do this on your own? In other words, if we’re going to save ourselves—relying on our religious contributions and good moral qualities—then we don’t need the Holy Spirit. If we’re going to discard the work of Christ, then we can discard the Spirit’s work, too. Though the Galatians had started well on the path of faith, now they were going astray.

The apostle is blunt with them, and with everyone who thinks of himself more highly than he ought. He warns us, calls us to repentance. The situation was grim, but he reminds the Galatians of what they’ve been taught and already been allowed to experience as God’s children. 

And every believer should think carefully. From where did my love for the Lord really spring? How is it that I am repulsed by what is evil, and drawn to what is good? Beloved, where did your desire to serve God come from? How is it that you want to be here on Sunday, to worship and to pray? Or why will you seek to serve the Lord in the coming week? Are these good things from us? Did you decide when, and how you want to glorify God? Is it because of your own effort or your goodness that you can lead a God-pleasing life?

God does not give the Holy Spirit to those who are self-sufficient. The Spirit does not fill those who think they can still do it on their own. The Holy Spirit is for the lowly—for those who know themselves to be weak and lowly—He comes when we throw ourselves on the mercies of God in Jesus Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can grant life to our hearts, for we can’t do CPR on our dead spirits or transform our own perverted minds. We depend entirely on God. He must do it, and He must do it by his Spirit!

So much of this letter is Paul insisting that our new life of salvation is a work of God alone, by faith alone, through Christ and his Spirit alone. You can even hear that teaching implied in the first phrase of our text: “If we live in the Spirit…”

He says “if,” which can sound doubtful to our ears, like this is a truth somehow not certain. But in the Greek original, the sentence carries no sense of hesitation, but strongly indicates that it’s true: “If we live by the Spirit, and we do…” We have a relationship with God not because of where we were born, nor because of what we have learned in school or decided or accomplished, but today we live because of the Spirit.

And through the Spirit moving within, we have been transformed. Chapter 5 spells out how God’s work is evident in our lives. For example, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (5:16). If you have the Spirit of God residing in your heart, you have immense resources and strength. By the Spirit you actually have the ability to fight against the constant pull of sexual immorality, and impurity, the pressures of idolatry, and to resist our natural default to hatred, discord, jealously, and more.

At the same time, if you have the Spirit, you start to bear much good fruit for God: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23). Through the Spirit, we look for ways that we can do good works—not to earn favour, but to praise our Saviour. We aim for personal holiness, not by ourselves, and not for ourselves, but through the power of God, and for God.

Our life as believers originates entirely from the Spirit of God. The reason you try to show grace to other people is because of the Holy Spirit. The reason you turn to God the Father in childlike prayer is because of the Holy Spirit. The reason you read Scripture and understand and apply (at least some of) it is only because of the Holy Spirit.

Like the Galatians, we’ve got problems. Our faith is weak and our focus is wandering. So often we’re foolish in the way we think. But even our little bit of faith, even our sometimes-hesitant hatred for sin, our sometimes-lacking love for good—even these small things have come from God the Holy Spirit.

And this encourages us to keep on going. Our text exhorts us, “If we live in the Spirit [and we do!], let us walk in the Spirit.” God in his sovereign grace has put us on the right path, now we have to stay on it. As we move forward, we have to keep in step with the Spirit.

The Greek word for ‘walking’ is a really nice image. It describes the kind of walking that is done in an ordered line, while holding to a pattern, walking while under the control of someone else. Maybe you’ve been to a parade, and you’ve seen a marching band moving crisply down the street, walking in perfect time; or perhaps a company of police officers, their boots rhythmically pounding the pavement.

‘Walking’ is a really good description of the Christian life. For instance, God calls us to a ‘holy walk,’ which means that how we behave every single day has to show we belong to Christ. When we walk through this life, we’re not wandering aimlessly, getting tripped up by our desires, but we keep in step, watching where we put our feet, following the lead of the one who commands us: “Walk in the Spirit!”

As another example of this, think about a battalion of soldiers who march in formation. The soldiers all listen to the lead of the head officer, and they march in time—in step—with him. If the head officer says halt, they halt. If he says, ‘On the double,’ they get going. If he tells them to march all day and all night, then that’s what they have to do.

Brothers and sisters, reflect on how we are the soldiers of the King. Putting on the armour of God, we fight for God’s Kingdom. We are soldiers enlisted for battle against our three sworn enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

And how do we get our orders every day? How do we know what is our mission for the new week, the objectives that we should be working toward? Our commander is none other than God the Holy Spirit, and we must keep in step with him! Where the Spirit commands, we have to go. What He directs, we must do.

This is similar to what Romans 8:9 says, “You are controlled not by the sinful nature but [you are controlled] by the Spirit.” The Spirit controls us—or He should control us. It should be the Spirit who is ruling our desires, and managing our motivations, and setting the order to our actions. For instance, let’s say that you are tempted sometime this week: you’re tempted to lash out at someone, tempted to stay home from church this afternoon, tempted to show disrespect to your parents—think of any temptation that typically arises in your own life. In the moment of temptation, are you controlled by the sinful nature, and surrender with barely a fight? Or do you show that you are controlled by the Spirit, and you listen to his good direction?

If we’ve started with the Spirit, with the Spirit we must continue. And to walk in the Spirit means we have to stay close to him, close enough to hear him through his Word: listening to the Spirit’s commands, and believing his promises. For this is the exhortation of our Lord: “Keep in step!” Don’t fall behind, nor run ahead, nor take other paths, but keep in step. Follow where the Spirit leads, for then we’ll reach our goal.


2) where our new life is going: When the apostle urges us to keep in step with the Spirit, this isn’t a ‘once off,’ something we do once and not again. For the Galatians, they had to get off the dead-end path, but they also have to get onto the right road, for good. We too, must be walking in the Spirit for our entire lives.

If you’ve been to a gym, then you’ve probably seen people on treadmills, pounding the rubber for painful minutes at a time, but never getting any further ahead. Half an hour later, they’re still there. The Christian life shouldn’t be a treadmill, with us remaining permanently where we are, and only getting more tired by the day. God hasn’t renewed us so that we stand still, stuck in the same place we were five years ago. No, the Spirit has his sights fixed on the presence of God. This is where our new life is going!  

So if we’re going to keep in step with the Spirit, we should keep moving forward in our faith. And that’s not easy. Perhaps we can keep in step for a while. But the soldiers of Christ are in it for the long haul, an epic march. Keeping in step, being disciplined, following orders, marching all day and all night—if we’re serious about serving God, this is what fills our life.

Let’s realize what’s at stake. Simply, will you make it to your goal, or will you fall short? And if we ignore the Spirit’s leading, we will certainly lose our way. Consider Paul’s words to the Galatians in 5:7, where he uses a similar image: “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

These believers had been going well, running a good race, keeping in good time with the Spirit and his Word. But then they got sidetracked by legalism—which is always an attractive heresy, because it gives us role to play in salvation, seems to elevate our status from beggars to contributors. Yet it hindered the Galatians, changed their course, sapped their strength, until they almost lost their way.

When we try to walk in the Spirit, it is hard. Many times, we are tempted to break ranks, to lag behind, to wander. For Satan still knows how to obstruct us, how to weigh us down. He tries to get us to march to a different beat: “Listen to your heart. Surrender to your desires. Find your own way. Create your own happiness.”

It’s difficult to tune into the Spirit’s firm and quiet voice when all around us we hear the charming words of the devil. This is why our life is really a battle: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (v 17). Who should we listen to? Who commands and control us?

But when you walk in the Spirit, He’s always giving us encouragement. ‘Keep going!’ He says, ‘Press on!’ We hear in Hebrews, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1).

The Spirit’s words should make us think carefully about our lives. Our days are packed full of activities and pursuits and people. These can be good things, but we should consider carefully: Is this really helping me to be filled with the Spirit? For example, am I making it hard for the Spirit to influence my life by filling my mind with things that have no value? What are all these videos or songs or books or games doing to help me move forward?

What about the friendships that I have chosen? Is this person beside me actually helping me become more like Christ, or am I able to help her, or is she actually just determined to go the opposite way? Does he help me to keep in step?

What about my habits, my ways of thinking, my priorities? The Spirit calls us to get rid of every weight that keep us from following him. Whatever blocks our service or ensnares our attention, cast it aside, so that we can keep going in the ways of the Spirit. We want to go where He always leads.

Now, it takes a lot of wisdom to navigate this world as a child of God. There are difficult decisions and moral dilemmas. There are the challenges of relationships in our family and in our church. There’s also the question of how to interact with the world around us, a world not inclined to treat us fairly but to be harsh and hateful. It takes wisdom to know how to walk.

Yet to repeat what we said before: If we walk close to the Spirit, and listen to his voice, we’ll come to see where He leads. Like David prays for in Psalm 143, “Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” (v. 10). God’s Holy Spirit can help us to walk safely, walk wisely, walk in the right direction—to keep marching on level ground.

Think of how our Saviour too, needed this heavenly guidance during his ministry. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and then the Spirit filled, equipped and led him for the next three years. The Spirit even enabled Jesus to endure the very worst of his enemies when they crucified him. Now that He has ascended into heaven, Christ sends his Spirit to the church. His Spirit leads us in ways of truth and guides us on the level pathways of his Word.

By training ourselves with his Word, his will becomes ours, because Scripture gives us insight into the very mind of God. And if we pray in the Spirit, and ask for his guidance, God will give it. Beloved, we should also be more willing to talk to other people who have the Spirit; these fellow saints too, can help us along, for they’re our fellow soldiers, they’re marching in the same direction, under the command of the same Lord. Ask them for help.

The path won’t be free from all dangers, and we cannot expect an effortless road. But even when we stumble, and it feels like we’ve made no forward progress, we can be encouraged. Our commander isn’t hard and severe, but He is gracious and patient.

For God has a goal for us, a destination at the end of this long and winding road. The Holy Spirit is working to bring us into the presence of God himself! Slowly He is changing us to be more like Christ. Gradually, He is broadening our step and increasing our endurance.

This makes us eager to lead a life led by the Spirit, for eternal life is where we want to go, Jerusalem is where we want to end up. We’ve only been walking for a little while, because in the span of eternity, our days here are very short. So in the time you have, be focused on reaching the goal. Let nothing hinder you on your journey. Get rid of everything that weighs you down. Be determined to go where the Spirit is leading.

As the Holy Spirit says somewhere else, “Run in a such a way as to get the prize!” (1 Cor 9:24). Let it be clear from your life that you have a goal, that you’re headed somewhere. You’ve got your eyes on the prize, and you’re determined to reach the end. So stay on the road, run the race, and go with the Spirit every step of the way!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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