Galatians 5:16-18 NIV
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Near our home is a walking path encircling a large field. The path is paved, with signs that give you a sense that the trail has been curated to fulfill a particular purpose. It’s flat and wide enough for various activities, so it’s perfect for walkers, for runners, for joggers, for roamers, for shufflers, for tricyclers, for hoppers, and for skippers. It also happens to work well for families pushing strollers, large groups of teenagers, and seniors.
No one (at least that I know of) judges you on that path; once I walked about 2 mph after a major surgery, and everyone passed me with a smile and a glance of compassion. There are rest stops along the way, and markers that let you know you’re still headed the right direction. The path works, rain or shine. It’s not overgrown; it is clearly tended to on a regular basis.
But the field it surrounds? It is wild, rarely mowed, and full of high grasses, hidden holes, thorny weeds, and critters of various kinds. When it rains, we could lose someone in there. The mud, mixed with the wild growth, would be debilitating and disorienting. To walk across the field is certainly an option, it’s wide enough for incredibly large groups, even whole towns of people (get it?) but if you choose that way you may arrive on the other side with a broken ankle, a dozen bug bites—or worse. But if you want to walk that path, you can.
Walking by the Spirit is like choosing the curated path. The Spirit knows the way. Jesus and the saints have blazed the trail. The Spirit tends to and defines the path to life (Ps. 16:11). The Spirit leads on that path so that you and I end up achieving the goals for which the path was designed—and we were made. The Spirit leads us into truth (John 16:13), yields in us the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), and fills us with power (Acts 1:8) to live as followers of Jesus.
However, the wide path across the field (Matt. 7:13) is an option. And the Lord allows us the opportunity to learn from ill-chosen journeys along that path, by dealing with the consequences of our choice.
Gratifying ourselves in the context of Gal. 5:16-18 could be understood as indulging ourselves. When we indulge ourselves—our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our senses—we get too much of a good thing and we can lose our way in the wild. Choices that seemed so pleasurable, so satisfying in the moment end up taking us places that lead to a long, slow, death.
When we accompany the Spirit on the path of life, the Spirit shows us the way that leads us to the human flourishing we so deeply desire. As we are led, we are free to express passion and engage restraint, to embrace freedom (Gal. 5:1) and to welcome limitations.
All this the Spirit affirms—speaking to us through God’s Word, speaking to us through others and their testimonies of faith, and speaking to us in our hearts as the indwelling Shepherd leading us home. To walk by the Spirit, means we choose the path that Jesus walked ahead of us—his Spirit within us knows that path well.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. I am learning to follow your lead through your Word, through the insights of others who have gone before me, and through cultivating intimacy with you in the secret place. Come, Holy Spirit, keep me on the narrow path that leads to life. I choose to walk with you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What is your own testimony about how you ended up on the path to life?
For the awakening,