The admonition to walk or live “according to the spirit” is given in a few places in scripture, primarily Romans 8 and Galatians 5. One can only walk one of two ways: according to the flesh, or according to the spirit, and the two are opposed.
Let’s be careful not to become too casual or familiar with spiritual concepts. If you think you’ve grasped a concept or idea, you quit looking any deeper into it, and the deep places are where God’s heart is. It’s also true that anything one encounters regularly tends to seem less important.
Along that line, I strongly encourage us all to refuse to accept pat answers and dumbed-down understandings. We have to be careful here too, because many of these make a lot of sense to the natural mind and are given by well-respected, talented men. My question is this: what exactly does it mean to live or walk “according to the spirit?” The dumbed-down answer (to this and most every spiritual question) boils down to “acting better and believing the right things.” Often, this consists of some combination of reading the bible, praying, attending church or Bible studies/small groups, quitting bad behaviors (“sins”), and witnessing to others about Jesus.
One problem is, it’s possible to do all those things without truly pursuing or loving God. The classic example is becoming (emotionally) “hyped up” at a church retreat of some sort, or to get (emotionally) “convicted” after listening to a hellfire sermon, causing one to clean up behavior, attend church, read the Bible, pray, or witness more. But once the emotion fades, the old ways are back in full force. In these cases, there was no spiritual change, because the spirit doesn’t fluctuate like emotions do. Likewise, I’ve seen people who do truly love and seek God, whose behavior was sub-par at times and who were not involved in church activities and did not have a set “devotional” time. Thus, walking in the spirit has to be more than a reformation of behavior, change of beliefs, or an increase in religious activity, even if there is a zeal for God behind them.
What does scripture actually say? Romans 8 gives some interesting insight into this issue. Keep this in mind as you read: Flesh = natural things, whose origin is man, whether good or bad. Spirit = supernatural things, whose origin is God, and are beyond “good” or “bad.” Romans 8: 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally (fleshly) minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Galatians 5:25 adds: “If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit.” The essence of living according to the spirit is to be spiritually-minded: to think, see, perceive, and understand all things according to the spirit of God – His light, His life, His understanding, which are given or imparted to His sons through Jesus Christ. The essence of walking in the spirit is to stay in that place; to refuse to let the natural (“fleshly”) mind influence one’s understanding and perception. Rather than behavior, it’s about the location one’s awareness and source of life is rooted in. Again, in every single case, this will either be: 1). In the flesh, meaning according to logic, reason, human understanding, and anything originating with man, or 2). In the spirit, meaning according to revealed truth from the spiritual realm, apart from logic and reason (though not necessarily contradictory to them).
If these things are so, we have to unlearn our old patterns of looking shallowly at behavior which never reaches God, but only brings guilt, pride, or quiet hopelessness. Instead, let’s see and believe that Jesus dealt with sin once for all, and truly BE free to get our focus off ourselves and onto establishing the kingdom of God, where those who live and walk in the spirit are to get spiritual treasures and bring them to bear here and now. In other words, cast off every appearance of the flesh, whether good or bad, and like a baby, learn all over how to walk with spiritual “legs” on spiritual paths.