Walk in the Spirit
In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (5:16). Here walk is also a present imperative verb, indicating continuous action. The word walk is a figurative term in the New Testament for one’s personal conduct, the way one lives his or her life. Like the Ephesians, the Galatians had received the Holy Spirit at conversion (3:3). Paul is here exhorting them to continue living in the Spirit’s power and resist the temptation to live under the law and in the flesh.
How this works in daily experience is clarified when he speaks of serving one another through love, which occurs as they are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). Here again we have a passive voice in led, meaning they are to allow themselves to be led, directed by the Spirit. They are to yield, surrendering themselves to the Spirit’s moral guidance. If they do so, they will neither “gratify the desires of the flesh” (5:16) nor live “under the law” (5:18). And the result will be that the Spirit will be able to manifest his indwelling presence in their lives in the form of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22). This is a good description of the character of Jesus, into whose likeness the Spirit is seeking to shape all believers. But this isn’t just a matter of personal holiness. Each of these characteristics has an interpersonal dimension. Thus, as these disciples walk by the Spirit, their congregational life as a whole will reflect Christ to the watching world.
Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit
Paul describes the attitudinal and behavioral implications of the new life in the Spirit in several places, including Ephesians 4. In the immediate context of sins of the tongue, he warns the believers in Ephesus: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30). This is a very serious warning, evidenced by Paul’s use of the formal description “the Holy Spirit of God.” Perhaps he was also thinking of Jesus’ words, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37). In today’s church, many people do not appear to be aware of the seriousness of sins of the tongue or the connection between sinful words and our fellowship with the Spirit. We must always remember that the Holy Spirit is holy and therefore easily offended and grieved by sin. Our unholy words and attitudes cause him to withdraw and distance himself from us. And when he does so, we will have not only a diminished sense of his presence but also a reduction of his power. This makes us more vulnerable to other, greater sins and temptations. As James 3:6 says, “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the whole course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
What specific sins does Paul have in mind when he says do not grieve the Spirit? From the context, it is clear that any form of unwholesome or corrupting talk is in view. Gossip, slander, cursing, dirty jokes, lies, critical comments about others are some obvious examples. Such evil speaking offends God, can corrupt others, and can lead them into the sin of spreading an evil report. And not least, it can trigger a ripple effect that does great damage to those who are the object of our sinful comments.
If we would walk in the Spirit and not grieve him, if we would enjoy close fellowship with him and have his power to overcome sin and grow in Christlikeness, we must bridle our tongue. If we cannot speak well of another, we should remain quiet. And whenever we do speak, we must be careful to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). In other words, our speech is never to be sinful but always to be gracious and uplifting to those with whom we speak, as befits people of grace and love. If we will discipline our tongues, James 3:2 tells us that we will be able to bridle our whole body. This is a major key to walking in the Spirit. Many of us have sinned with our tongues. It is one of the most common of the “respectable sins” believers regularly commit. But confession and repentance opens the door to restored fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Grieving the Holy Spirit and impairing our fellowship with him obviously is not limited to the misuse of the tongue. There is a wide range of other sins that have the same effect.
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