In Galatians 5:16, Paul writes, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The expression walk by the Spirit is a metaphor that Paul uses to describe the way in which believers are called to live (cf. Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 2:10; 4:1; 5:15; Colossians 2:6).
Apart from God’s saving grace, we could not walk by the Spirit. Indeed, we were spiritually dead and could only “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16; cf. Ephesians 2:1–3). In this context, the word flesh refers to the sinful state of humanity, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit. This includes things like sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, envy, drunkenness, and other sinful behaviors (Galatians 5:19–21). Paul assures us that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (verse 21; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
Despite our sinfulness and rebellion, God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). The grace of God completely transformed our lives. We were dead in sin. Now, we are alive in Christ.
As believers, we are to called to walk by the Spirit: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25, KJV). The Holy Spirit gave us new life (John 3:6; 6:63), and we must yield to His sovereign control and influence over our lives. In other words, the Holy Spirit should direct all of our thoughts, actions, and decisions (cf. Romans 12:1–2).
In Galatians 5:13–26, Paul contrasts the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh is characterized by selfishness (verses 13–15; verse 26), sin (verses 19–21), and death (verse 21; cf. Romans 6:23), but the Spirit is characterized by love (Galatians 5:13–15, 22), righteousness (cf. Romans 6:22) and life (Galatians 5:25).
Because the flesh and the Spirit are opposed to one other (Galatians 5:17), we cannot live according to both at the same time. We must choose one. If we choose to live according to the flesh, we will experience the consequences of sin, which is death. But if we choose to walk by the Spirit, we will produce godly fruit (verses 22–23).
Unlike the works of the flesh, which lead to sin and destruction, the fruit of the Spirit leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here is a breakdown of each fruit and how we can walk by the Spirit:
1. Love: Our lives are characterized by self-sacrificial service to God and others.
2. Joy: We will delight in knowing God and having a personal relationship with Him.
3. Peace: We will be free from anxiety and worry (cf. Philippians 4:6–7).
4. Patience: We will not lose our temper.
5. Kindness: We will genuinely consider the needs and concerns of others.
6. Goodness: We will be holy as God is holy (cf. 1 Peter 1:16).
7. Faithfulness: When we endure trials and tribulations, we will not forsake God or turn our backs on Him.
8. Gentleness: We will have a spirit (or attitude) of grace and humility.
9. Self-control: We will not be controlled by sinful impulses (Galatians 5:24).
In short, the fruit of the Spirit is evidence that we belong to Christ and are no longer controlled by sinful impulses; instead, we are led by the Holy Spirit to live according to God’s will (cf. Romans 12:2). We must continue to walk by the Spirit and crucify (or put to death) the desires of the flesh. This is a daily journey that requires consistent effort, but God will complete the work that He began (Philippians 1:6).