eing led by the Holy Spirit is at the heart of the Christian life. This is clear in the Bible and in the history of the church. If we let the Spirit lead us, our lives will blossom and flourish. But if we neglect or refuse His leading, our lives will languish. Strangely, many believers today seem to misunderstand the Spirit’s leading and how it relates to personal transformation. A clearer grasp of what the Bible teaches about this vital truth will help us all as we seek to grow in grace.
This leads us to ask, what does the New Testament mean by the phrase led by the Spirit? What is the fruit of His leading in one’s life? These are questions we will explore in this article. As it unfolds, we will gain clarity, encouragement, and practical help in our walk with God.
First, some clarity. The phrase led by the Spirit occurs only twice in the New Testament, and both instances are frequently misused today. The first is in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”1 The immediate context is the believer’s battle with the flesh through the empowerment of the Spirit. The second usage occurs in Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Again, the immediate context is the believer’s battle with sin. In both instances, the larger concern is to show us how to live joyful, obedient lives that produce the beauty of holiness and glorify God.
Let’s explore this more deeply by focusing on Galatians 5:16–25, a passage filled with great riches for anyone who is hungry for God and wants to please Him. In this passage Paul addresses two problems that plagued the Galatian church and has plagued the church universal up to the present day: legalism and licentiousness. Some people in the Galatian church urged observance of parts of the Mosaic Law, and others were disregarding moral constraints. Paul doesn’t look for Aristotle’s Golden Mean and take a mediating position between the two; rather, as one writer has said, he builds a highway above both.2 He does this by giving a command and a promise: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16). The word Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, who dwells in those who have been born again. The word flesh is Paul’s term to describe fallen human nature and its self-centered attitudes, desires, and behaviors. The word walk is commonly used in Scripture to refer to one’s daily conduct. Thus, to walk by the Spirit means to live one’s daily life by the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowerment. To walk in the flesh is to live a life characterized by various sins and selfish behaviors.
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