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Walking in the Spirit
By David A. DePra
What does it mean to, "walk in the Spirit?" Well, in order to get at the root of that question, we must first establish a few related definitions. At the top of the list, we need to understand what it means to be, "in the Spirit," as opposed to being, "in the flesh."
But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Rom. 8:9)
Here we see that to be, "in the Spirit," means to be saved. It means to have CHRIST IN YOU through the Holy Spirit. That is abundantly clear from this verse. IF the Holy Spirit dwells in me – which is Christ in me – then I am IN THE SPIRIT. In contrast, if the Holy Spirit is NOT in me, then I am IN THE FLESH.
Complete in Christ
Before moving on, however, we must clear up one other issue. Rid yourself of any notion that there is a difference between the Holy Spirit in you, and Christ in you. No. Christ is in you through the Holy Spirit. Also, rid yourself of any notion that if you have Christ in you that you nevertheless continue to lack some, "second blessing." There is NO second blessing. Rather, if Christ is in us, then in us is everything that God intends to give us. Read Colossians 2:9:
For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: (Col. 2:9-10)
Those who believe in the necessity of a second blessing need to come to terms with this passage -- and many like it. Either we are fully complete in Christ, or we are not. Either when Christ comes to dwell in us – synonymous with us being IN Christ – either we have ALL that God intends to give us IN CHRIST -- or we don’t. Either, as Paul says here, "we are COMPLETE IN HIM," or we continue to be INCOMPLETE – because we lack a second blessing.
The Bible could not be clearer than it is on this matter: We are COMPLETE IN CHRIST. And since we receive Christ in us at salvation – indeed, Christ in us IS salvation – it follows that we are COMPLETE IN HIM at salvation. Thus, a second blessing is not a necessity or possibility. We are complete in Christ through the Holy Spirit at salvation.
So what we see is that when we received Christ, we received Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – and this is the only Holy Spirit baptism God has for us. Included in that are the possibilities of all of the spiritual gifts. They are all in Christ through the Holy Spirit. But the gifts are not added later in an additional baptism. They are all potentially in us if the Holy Spirit is in us, and if the Holy Spirit is in us, then Christ is in us. It is all ONE Lord, ONE Spirit, and ONE baptism. (see Eph. 4:4-6)
The Spirit of Christ
Before we move on, only one passage is needed to prove that CHRIST IN US is equal to the Holy Spirit in us -- and that this likewise equals salvation – and that all of these terms are referring to the SAME thing:
But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you. (Rom. 8:9-11)
The number of terms used in this passage to describe what it means to be IN CHRIST, i.e., to have CHRIST IN US, is amazing. Let’s pull them out:
In the Spirit.
Spirit of God dwells in you.
Have the Spirit of Christ.
Christ be in you.
Spirit of God dwell in you.
God’s Spirit that dwells in you.
Everyone of these terms are talking about the same thing. They equal CHRIST IN US through the Holy Spirit. They all describe what it means to be IN THE SPIRIT. You will see that no distinction is made in this passage between any of the terms. They are all salvation in Christ.
Sure. This agrees completely with what it means to be, "in Christ," vs. to be, "in Adam." Paul says, "In Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive." (I Cor. 15:22) There are only two classes of human beings on this planet – those IN ADAM, and those IN CHRIST. If you are IN ADAM, you are IN THE FLESH -- spiritually dead. But if you are IN CHRIST, then Christ is in you through the Holy Spirit. Thus, you are IN THE SPIRIT. You are alive.
So now we have our first definitions. To be, "in the Spirit," means to have Christ in us through the Holy Spirit. To be, "in the flesh," means to be void of the same. These are the ONLY two options – there are NO in-between conditions. We are either IN CHRIST or we are NOT – either in the flesh or in the Spirit.
Walking In the Spirit
The Bible tells us that if we are in Christ, we are IN THE SPIRIT. But then the Bible tells us that we need to actually WALK IN THE SPIRIT – or walk according to the Spirit. Same thing. What does that mean?
Well, "to walk in the Spirit," means to walk in the LIFE of the Spirit, or better yet said, it means to be governed by the WORK of the Spirit. It means that even though I will never be perfect, that I am living in the flow and work of the Holy Spirit.
Clearly, to WALK IN THE SPIRIT means to live in what the Spirit is doing – really, to be GOVERNED by what the Spirit is doing. But what IS the Holy Spirit doing? Well, the overall purpose of the Holy Spirit is to make Jesus Christ Lord of ME. The result will be that my relationship with God will be what God intends, and this will, in turn, result in Christ being made manifest through me in character and in works.
When I say that the Holy Spirit intends to make Jesus Lord of me, I am not saying He wants to make me merely say the words, or believe the fact. No. When Jesus is Lord of me, Jesus GOVERNS me through His Spirit. I do not belong to myself, and everything about me begins to be altered to where I come into a realization and experience of that fact.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, He took His place as King of kings and Lord of lords at the right hand of the Father. He won that right through His redemption. But then He sent the Holy Spirit down in Acts 2 to begin a work wherein He would be made Lord of US. This is the purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit – to make Jesus Lord of us. It is therefore conclusive that to WALK IN THE SPIRIT must equal that I am walking under this work of the Spirit. I am being governed by the work of the Spirit which is to make Jesus Lord of all of me.
If Jesus is being made Lord of me, my relationship with God will be brought back to where God originally intended. Christ will also come to be seen in me – character – and through me – works and ministry. But none of it will happen to God’s glory if Jesus is not my Lord – if Jesus Christ is not governing me.
God leads His people. He gives us direction. Often the passage pointed to as affirmation of this is the same one quoted above from Romans, more specifically, Romans 8:14:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Rom 8:14)
But this is NOT the verse to prove God LEADS US. Indeed, the word, "led," in this verse means, "to be governed by." God wants us to be GOVERNED by the Holy Spirit, which means to BELONG TO CHRIST – and because I belong to Him – for every part of me to become transformed unto God’s glory. God wants the freedom to do whatever is necessary in me to form Christ in me, and to bring Himself glory.
Let us read this verse in context:
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom 8:9-17)
You will note that the entire context of this passage is FLESH vs. SPIRIT – and the need to walk in the Spirit. This gives us understanding in context for the key verse, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Can we now clearly see that Paul is talking about, "being governed by the Spirit," is a primary characteristic of SONSHIP. Paul is saying that if you are IN THE SPIRIT – if you have Christ in you – then the Holy Spirit is going to be making Jesus Lord of you – of every part of you. The Holy Spirit will seek to GOVERN your whole self under Jesus. And Paul makes all of this business as usual for someone who is a son or daughter of God. It is what it means to be a growing Christian.
Can we see that this is MORE than simple leadings? Surely, to be governed by the Spirit will mean obedience. But it goes far beyond that. It means, as I said, that I no longer belong to myself. I have abdicated the throne. I have opened myself to whatever God needs to do to bring me into His purpose – which is to form Christ in me. The Holy Spirit invades every part of me – as this becomes possible – and makes Jesus Lord of me in that area. I am not only formed together with Christ, but Christ begins to be able to live through me.
It is entirely possible to be LED by the Spirit – directed as to what to do in specific situations – but for God to have little access to me otherwise. It is possible to take orders or directions from God, but for me to be resisting Jesus as my Lord. It is possible to be LED by the Spirit, but to have very little of the WORK of the Spirit going on in me. It is God’s mercy that He bears with us and will often lead us despite all of this failure.
If you want to know why it is sometimes difficult to find out God’s will, the solution may be right here. God may not be too concerned about you knowing the FACTS about your situation, or about you knowing the THING to do next. He may be withholding that kind of LEADING because He wants you to KNOW HIM. This is about being governed by the work of the Spirit, about Jesus growing to be my personal Lord, and about my relationship with God being brought into fullness.
Sometimes if God simply told us the FACTS, or gave us the INFO, we would think that THIS is Christianity, and that THIS is the goal. It isn’t. So at some point in your Christian life, expect silence. This is a good sign – not necessary a sign that you are out of God’s will. God may be bringing you on into His real purposes. He will take care of what you need to know, one way or another. He won’t leave you in the lurch on practical matters.
If you have Christ in you, then God wants Christ to live THROUGH you. This is basic to Jesus as my personal Lord, and basic to being governed by the Holy Spirit. Yet, how does this become a reality?
Obviously, God doesn’t, "take us over," and make us do, think, or obey. The Holy Spirit NEVER bypasses our mind or will, or human spirit. No. The occult teaches that. But not God. So how does Christ in me come to result in Christ living THROUGH me?
Well, we see the challenge: If Christ is IN me, and wants to live through me, then the problem that must be dealt with is ME. I need to be brought to the place where my mind, will, and human spirit can be used to manifest Christ. In other words, I need to be BROKEN of my self-will, indeed, of my SELF government. Instead, I need to be GOVERNED by the Spirit with Jesus as Lord – in a functional, living way.
It ought to be obvious that if God wants to live in us, and then, through us, that SELF is in the way. And as long as SELF is in the way, SELF will either refuse God access, or will seek to use the things of God, and the life of Christ for…….well……for SELF. Isn’t this exactly what you see everywhere in the church? People using the things of God for self – for their own purposes. These purposes might be to get rich, or they might be to simply build oneself up as highly admirable and spiritual. But one way or another, as long as I am being governed by SELF, Jesus is not Lord. And I will use even the things of God for myself.
If we just think about this, it ought to start coming together into one large body of the same Truth. Where Jesus is Lord – where the Holy Spirit governs – the Holy Spirit can move. Big things can happen because there is freedom for God to do as He pleases, for His glory, and for our benefit. But where Jesus is not Lord – but SELF is governing people – the Holy Spirit cannot move. And yet what do people do in that case? Open themselves to the Holy Spirit? No. They usually try to do in the natural what God wants to do in the Spirit. They try to do, with SELF on the throne, what can only happen from God if Jesus is on the throne. But despite it all, the work of the Holy Spirit continues. He is continually seeking to crucify SELF so that Christ can be Lord – so God can trust us with blessing.
How does the Holy Spirit deal with our flesh or natural man? Paul tells us:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:7-12)
The Holy Spirit applies, through circumstances and through life, the work of the Cross of Jesus Christ. We bear in our body, "the dying of the Lord Jesus." In other words, all of that old natural man of sin that died in Christ on the Cross must now DIE IN US. Everything we accepted at salvation must now be brought into our experience. If it is, then we will see SELF die. But then Jesus can live and move through us.
Can we see that this is really what it means to WALK IN THE SPIRIT? To walk in the Spirit is not restricted to seeing visions, having leadings, speaking in tongues, hearing God’s voice, or living on a pink cloud somewhere. Except for the pink cloud, all of these things could be included in the Christian life. But to WALK IN THE SPIRIT primarily means to be GOVERNED by the work of the Spirit of making Jesus Christ Lord of me. This is what God wants to do in His people today, and everything else is serving that.
As mentioned earlier, if Jesus is being made Lord of me, this is going to adjust my personal relationship back to God to that of spirit and Truth. It is going to glorify God. And it is going to result is Christ being seen in me, and ministry flowing through me. It will result in a holy life. But if we try to achieve any of these things WITHOUT the foundation of Jesus Christ as Lord – through death and resurrection in Him – we will be living in the flesh. It might be religious flesh. But it will be flesh.
Walking in the Flesh
We know that if we sin or commit immorality, we are walking in the flesh. We are, in that case, doing the works of the flesh. But it is possible to walk in the flesh religiously. We can try to do in the natural what only is possible through the government of the Holy Spirit in us. Again – we can try to mimic Jesus as Lord by substituting SELF on the throne. This too is walking in the flesh. And Christians do it all the time.
We saw how that to be IN FLESH means to be IN ADAM, i.e., to be unsaved. But the Bible clearly teaches that despite being IN THE SPIRIT, it is possible for Christians to WALK according to the FLESH – religious flesh. Absolutely. So what exactly IS, "the flesh."
In the Bible, the term FLESH really means SELF. It means, if you will, the, "self principle," that governs those who are not saved – those who are still IN THE FLESH. Natural man operates from the position of SELF being the center of his universe. He does this without forethought. It is all that we can do if Christ is not in us.
Now, you will notice that we are really talking here about the very NATURE OF SIN. By nature, man seeks to be his own god; his own boss. Again – this is our nature in Adam – we are born that way. The sin nature – the SELF principle – operates independent of God, and is, in fact, at odds with him. This will naturally result in many sins and works of the flesh. A bad tree can produce only bad fruit. Thus, the sin nature, and the self-principle go hand in hand.
Thus, to WALK in the flesh means to be governed by the SELF PRINCIPLE. It means to live governed by all of those elements of my old nature that belong to the old order, rather than to be governed by Christ. Again – when I say GOVERNED, this does not need to mean that I have deliberately chosen to walk in the flesh. No. It simply means that the FLESH is directing traffic in my life. It is forming my perception, my attitudes, and my relationships. In short, to walk according to the flesh means that everything I am doing, and even becoming, is being determined by how things affect SELF – and not by God.
For example, emotions have governed all of us. We FEEL and therefore we BELIEVE. We FEEL and therefore we PERCEIVE. We FEEL and therefore we THINK. It may never occur to us that this is the SELF principle. How things affect US, and affect our emotions – almost as if we have no choice – becomes what governs us. But emotions are not the source of Truth. Emotions cannot believe -- but we can believe emotions. Emotions cannot think -- but we can base our thinking upon emotions. Emotions cannot perceive -- but we can perceive based on emotions. In short, emotions are reacting agents ONLY, and not the source of anything. But if we don’t know this, and leave them to run free, they can literally GOVERN our lives. This is the FLESH governing us – it is what it means to walk according to the flesh. It is us walking in a way that is based on SELF – on us – rather than upon Jesus as Lord.
Can we see that to be GOVERNED by the Holy Spirit means that everything else is going to lose it’s control of us? That if Jesus is our personal Lord, that there will be no other lords – ultimately not even the unconscious ones that have run our lives? Sure. This is part of what it means to be SET FREE by the Truth.
Now, all of this points us right back to the work of the Cross. The Cross will get right at the SELF in each of us. And IF we yield – and that is the key: IF – IF we yield, then all of the elements of SELF will begin to lose their power. Christ will have greater freedom to live through us.
Jesus used the example of Himself as the Vine, and us as the branches. He said that the key to bearing fruit was to abide in Him. He was talking about a relationship – with Him as our Lord. Reverse this for the flesh. If SELF is the vine and everything else about us are the branches, then what must be dealt with? Not the branches, but the vine – SELF. This is why if SELF is brought under the power of the Cross than so much else about us begins to get free – things that we would not have imagined had any connection. But they DO have a connection. Everything about us is governed, either by SELF, or by Jesus Christ.
The Bible teaches that Christians have a dual nature – we have CHRIST IN US – but we have this Treasure in an earthen vessel. Thus, we might say that God is, in a very real sense, cutting us off from our old vine – SELF – and engrafting us into the True Vine, Jesus Christ. Of course, this happens all at once when we are saved. But it is possible, as we have seen, for us to continue to act as if we are still of the old vine of self. We often don’t believe and don’t see and don’t know. So we must go with what is NATURAL. It is only as God puts an axe in the form of the Cross to that old vine that we will be set free by the Truth of our new abode in the True Vine.
Thus, we see that the FLESH is really the SELF principle. It is all we have if we are not GOVERNED by the Holy Spirit. And Christians are quite capable of walking according to this self principle – because we have not yet become free. And if we do walk according to the flesh, then the outcome is going to be the works of the flesh.
But what about, "the lusts of the flesh?" This is another Bible term. It is not limited to immorality in the conventional sense. The word LUST means, "to want to control for oneself." Again we see the SELF principle. The LUSTS of the flesh are those things I want to own for myself – because I am walking in the flesh; feeding the self life.
So what we are seeing are really TWO principles of life: Jesus as Lord vs. SELF. If I am in the Spirit, I ought to walk according to the Spirit, i.e., be governed by the Spirit. This will mean I no longer belong to myself, but Jesus is my personal Lord in every way. In contrast, it is possible for a Christian to walk according to the flesh, controlled by the lusts of the flesh, and to be fully governed by this, not even knowing it. This attitude of heart will fight against Jesus as my Lord, and will seek to keep SELF as Lord. The only solution for a Christian is an ongoing work of the Cross where by the SELF is crucified. Then Jesus can freely live through us.
A common mistake Christians make when they begin to realize that SELF is the problem is that they begin to attack SELF. They try to deal with SELF by denying self in ways that will never do the job. Or they try to deal with SELF by establishing principles and laws to keep SELF humble. No. The fact is, only God can deal with SELF – through only the Cross. And you cannot fashion your own Cross. SELF cannot crucify SELF because SELF will be the agenda! It is just that bad! No. Walk with Christ and you will meet your Cross. It is a guarantee. Then pick it up. It will be geared to you personally. And SELF will be crucified, and Christ will be made manifest in you. You will be set free.
More About Religious Flesh
Normally, when we think of THE FLESH, and the related terms, we usually think of SIN. Well, sin is certainly what it means to walk with SELF on the throne – this is the very definition of sin – myself as boss instead of God. But there are more subtle ways for a Christian to walk in the flesh. One of them is to use the things of God for SELF. This might be called, "religious flesh."
There is another issue here: If God knows that I carry the danger of using the things of the Spirit for myself, He is not going to use me, or give me many of those things. Thus, to be fully surrendered to Christ as Lord, and to have been brought to the place where I know how to live this out – this is essential for true ministry.
Now, someone is going to say, "But there are many successful ministries out there without all of that." Sure. But God isn’t behind what they are doing. It is entirely possible, and always has been possible, for any of us to do many things in the name of Jesus, and to be very successful and prosperous, and highly popular doing them, but for ALL OF IT to be of religious flesh, and not of God. What should that be a surprise? Heretics dominate the Christian airwaves today. So why could we not teach the TRUTH – but do it for self-gain – and be popular? We could. And some of us DO.
The fact is, God wants to build His church and do His work THROUGH us. But He cannot unless He first deals with this SELF issue in us – for it stands in the way of His glory. Thus, if I will not allow God to deal with me, I will either end up deceived, or I won’t get far. But if I will allow to Jesus to be Lord of ME, then God can trust me. And then the sky is the limit!
Again and again we are seeing that Jesus as Lord of the individual is the key. Indeed, if I come to the place of that kind of relinquishment, it is then that the life and power of the Spirit of God can break through in and through me. This is NOT a second blessing or baptism, but is a release of what God already has in me through Christ. Once I surrender to God, then everything of Christ through the Spirit that is in me can find release. Some mistake this for a second blessing. It isn’t. It is simply the outcome of Jesus as Lord – which equals true holiness.
The first disciples did not have the power they had because they received a second blessing. They had power because they were weak. They had power because the same Jesus who ascended to heaven as Lord of lords, was now in them as their Lord. God was therefore able to move in them, and others through them.
Yet even in those days there were Christians who walked according to the flesh – according to SELF – even in the things of God. Ananais and Sapphira were the first. They entered into a move of the Holy Spirit and tried to use it for their own pride and position. They actually GAVE money to try to achieve their goals. But it was a lie. They gave to get – they gave money to get admiration. This is religious flesh – it begins in the heart.
Peter walked according to the flesh when he withdrew from the Gentiles because the Jews arrived. Paul had to rebuke him. He protected SELF instead of God’s Truth and glory.
The Corinthians are the greatest failure on this matter. They had schisms in their church because their church was no longer about Christ, but about THEM. They want to, "have church." Thus, they pointed to their favorite teacher, and divided the church up into political factions – along a spiritual line. They also used the gifts for a show, and made the mistake of thinking that all that they did for God was building them a reward. Paul had to correct them and show them that only that which is eternal – built up in Christ – is of any value to God. And he had to show them that all the gifts in the world, void of the love of God, mean nothing.
In this day and age, false teachers like Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, and the programs of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and others, have turned Christianity into nothing more than God’s way of bringing out our greatness, and of giving us the power to discover the champion in ourselves. The name of Jesus used to get people killed. Today we use it as a marketing tool for our church. We avoid terms like sinner and repentance and the Cross because we don’t want to offend seekers, and we call it LOVE, and being, "seeker sensitive." And actually that term, "seeker sensitive," says it all. How about being Holy Spirit sensitive. Read the Bible. What message was preached? Is this the message you hear from some of these false teachers today?
They preach the gospel of ME. In short, today’s teaching is the glorification of the very thing God wants to crucify. And in the end, I believe we are seeing the roots of the gospel of the antichrist in these errors. It has become so accepted that you are considered a bad guy if you question it. Christ VOID of the Cross equals ANTI-Christ. Think about it.
These thoughts -- Jesus is Lord, giving God our full surrender, Christ being formed in us, God’s glory, sanctification – all of these are essentially the same. They are all the results of man becoming one with God through Christ. They are the work of the Holy Spirit to make this relationship real and living. But we have turned them into a religion or a doctrine. We have lost the Person.
To WALK IN THE SPIRIT means to live in the WORK of the Spirit – to be GOVERNED by that work. It includes living in the benefits of the Spirit. It means to be in the process of being brought both into conformity with Christ, and under His full Lordship. It means to be in a growing relationship with God. And all of these really mean that God wants to make me into a person whose life glorifies HIM – a living witness unto Christ. This is His purpose. And despite the fact that there are many other things God wants to do that are outcomes of this single purpose – this IS the purpose. Any one who says otherwise is missing the boat.
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