How Do I Walk in the Spirit?


This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to

Question: Would it be possible to tell us how to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh? We’ve walked so many years in the flesh, I don’t know how.

Thank you for the honesty of your question. Galatians 5:16-25 is the key text that answers your question. In verse 16 Paul commands us to “walk” in the Spirit. In verse 18, he describes such a walk as being “led” by the Spirit. In verse 25, Paul says that since we live by the Spirit, we are to “follow” the Spirit (not “walk in” as in the KJV). In other words, we are to live in a relationship with the Holy Spirit where He leads and we follow. That is the essence of what it means to “walk in the  Spirit.”

This passage also teaches us the results of the Spirit’s leadership in our lives. In verse 16 Paul emphatically states that we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh, which manifest themselves in the “works of the flesh” (vv. 19-21). In other words, living in a relationship of submission to the Holy Spirit’s leadership means that we choose, by His grace, to deny our desires and fulfill His desires anytime our desires conflict with His (v. 17).

Living in a relationship of submission to the Holy Spirit’s leadership means that we choose, by His grace, to deny our desires and fulfill His desires anytime our desires conflict with His.

In verse 18 he states that those led by the Spirit are not “under the law,” which I take to mean “under the law’s condemnation.” In verses 22-23, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruit the Spirit helps us grow.

“How does the Spirit lead us?” Scripture gives us a number of examples of people who were lead by the Spirit. Simeon was led by the Spirit into the temple on the day Jesus was dedicated (Luke 2:27). Jesus was led by the Spirit into (Luke 4:1) and out of the wilderness (Luke 4:14). Philip was led by the Spirit to approach the Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot (Acts 8:29).

Peter was led by the Spirit to go with Cornelius’ messengers to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:19; 11:12). The church at Antioch was led by the Spirit to set apart Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2). Paul and Silas were led by the Spirit not to preach in Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7).

Several features of the Spirit’s leadership in these passages are noteworthy.

  1. The Spirit’s leadership was not limited to Christ and the apostles. It included lay believers who were living in submission to the Spirit’s control of their lives (Philip, Simeon, church at Antioch). This fits well with Paul’s statement that every child of God is lead by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14)
  2. In every instance, the Spirit’s leadership was in harmony with revealed Scripture. The Spirit never led anyone to do what Scripture prohibited. Since the Spirit is the author of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19-21), we can be sure He will never contradict Himself.
  3. In every instance, the Spirit’s leadership involved giving specific directions that were not already present in Scripture. I can find no examples in the NT where the Spirit quotes the OT when giving this kind of specific leadership. In other words, the Spirit does not lead us only through Scripture. The Spirit may lead us through the text of Scripture, but the NT gives us no basis to expect this as the norm.
  4. The Spirit, in many cases, spoke directly to those he was leading. My experience and that of believers throughout all ages is that the Spirit speaks inaudibly to our minds. This appears to be the experience of the believers in the NT. John 10:2-5 gives us five key principles that should govern our discerning of the Spirit’s voice.

These five principles are:

  1. First, the sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice. This is normal, not abnormal.
  2. Second, the Shepherd calls the sheep by name. He deals individually and specifically, not generically.
  3. Third, the Shepherd leads His sheep. He doesn’t drive them!
  4. Fourth, the Shepherd goes ahead of them. He doesn’t send them out on their own.
  5. Fifth, the sheep run from a strange voice. If they aren’t sure it is the shepherd, they don’t follow. It is the Shepherd’s responsibility to be heard clearly. It is our responsibility to follow.


Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).