By Bob Wilkin
Preachers and Theologians Sometimes Make Up Stuff
Preachers and theologians tend to be careful when explaining fundamental Biblical truths like the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, Jesus’ bodily resurrection on the third day, the Second Coming of Christ, and the inerrancy of Scripture.
By careful, I mean that they will quote Scriptures to back up their explanations. And they will try hard to avoid going beyond what the Scriptures say.
But when it comes to the doctrines of justification and sanctification the same preachers and theologians are often not careful. We see this all the time when they explain justification by faith alone. It becomes justification by submission, surrender, following Christ, and obeying Christ. While Scriptures may be mentioned, their arguments are primarily theological. Jesus is the King of kings. He is sovereign. So to believe in Him we must surrender to His authority, rule, and reign.
At least that is how the argument goes.
No Scripture says what they argue. They simply argue based on what they think makes sense.
The same is true in many cases when it comes to sanctification. Recently I received an email pointing me to the greatest message the blogger, himself a theologian, had ever heard on sanctification. The message was on walking in the Spirit based on Romans 6 and Galatians 5.
Is Walking in the Spirit Obeying God?
The speaker suggested that walking in the Spirit boils down to obeying God in the power of the Holy Spirit. For him the issue is obedience to God’s commands.
The funny thing is his view is directly contradicted by Romans 6-8 and Galatians 5. Paul makes it clear in both places that sanctification cannot come by focusing on the commandments. Only by focusing on Christ and falling more and more in love with Him can we grow spiritually.
In other words, obedience to God’s commands is the result of walking in the Spirit over time, not the definition of walking in the Spirit itself.
Walking in the Spirit Is a Faith Walk
Even a casual reading of Galatians shows that walking in the Spirit is the opposite of walking in the flesh. The Judaizers who were bothering the believers in Galatia were teaching that in order to be justified one must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (Gal 1:8-9; 5:4). Sanctification, in their understanding, is a condition of justification. That is, one must continue to live a set apart life in order to remain justified before God.
Walking in the flesh is not, as many wrongly think, outright rebellion against God. Biblically, the concept of walking in the flesh is legalism. It is the person who is actually seeking to obey and please God, but he is doing so in the wrong way—by focusing on commandments, on rules and regulations.
Think of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, United Pentecostals, devout Catholics and Orthodox, and Lordship Salvation folks. They mean well. They want to please God. But their understanding of justification and sanctification is legalistic.
Yes, but don’t some of these preachers speak of obeying God in the power of the Spirit? Yes, they do. But simply by sprinkling the words “in the power of the Spirit” over legalism does not undo the damage. Even Roman Catholics today speak of the necessity of God’s grace and the power of the Spirit of God in our lives.
When I heard the speaker define walking in the Spirit as obeying God in the power of the Holy Spirit, I thought, he is making this up. He has no text which says or implies that. He simply knows that the audience will eat that up. He is callingthem to obey and he is throwing in a mystical reference to the power of the Spirit.
Admittedly the Holy Spirit does enable believers to obey, but that is not what walking in the Spirit it.
Walking in the Spirit is the opposite of walking in the flesh.
Walking in the spirit is the opposite of legalism.
It starts with living each day with assurance that I have everlasting life by faith in Christ, apart from works, and that there is nothing I can do to miss out on the kingdom. Gal 3:1-14 and 5:1-4 shows that clearly. Those who lack certainty of their eternal destiny cannot walk in the Spirit because they will of necessity look to their works for assurance. Those who have certainty by faith in Christ, apart from works, will walk in the Spiritif they are hungry for God’s truth and gather with other like-minded believers each week under sound Bible teaching in a local church. See Gal 5:1–6:18. God takes the clear teaching of His Word and transforms the lives of those who are walking by faith (Rom 12:2; Gal 5:8; 6:6, 16; 2 Cor 3:18).
Another Explanation of Walking in the Spirit: Spiritual Breathing
I’ve heard another explanation of walking in the Spirit. Some say it is confessing our sins and then asking the Spirit of God to take control. This is sometimes called spiritual breathing. Exhale your sins and inhale the Holy Spirit.
But there is no text which says this. Yes, we are to confess our sins. But walking in the Spirit is walking spiritually as opposed to carnally. Legalists walk carnally. Whether believers or unbelievers, they are like Pharisees. To walk spiritually is to see reality the way God does. It is to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). We see ourselves as secure in Christ and we see change as something God produces in us as long as we are open to God’s Word and gather each week to hear it clearly taught.
The Word of God Transforms Those Who Are Open
Change takes place over time. There is power in God’s Word being taught. Week in and week out our minds are changed. Ourworldview changes. No one sermon gives us all we need to grow. It is the accumulation of solid sermons over months and years and decades that the Spirit of God uses to transform us into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
So, walk in the Spirit. That is, retain assurance by continuing to abide in God’s grace and sit under sound Bible doctrine. You will grow over time if you do. God will do that work in you if you are receptive to His Word.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX with his wife of 40 years, Sharon. His new book, Crushing Calvinism: Twelve Key Verses is coming soon.