By H. Forbes Witherby.
19. Walking in the Spirit.
In the Spirit — the Spirit in us — walking — no mingling of flesh and Spirit — no confidence in the flesh — the Spirit of God gives power for fulfilling the requirements of the law, hinders the fulfilment of the lusts of the flesh, and produces holiness — going on in Spirit.
"Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you." (Rom. 8:9.) The fact of the Spirit of God dwelling in him marks off the position of the child of God from that occupied by man in his nature state. We may illustrate this truth by supposing a man residing in different countries. He could not be both in England and France at the same time, and he would be subject to the laws and government of the one country in which he was. Being in the Spirit, the child of God is subject to the divine laws and principles connected with his position, and is responsible to walk in obedience to those laws and principles.
Now, while the position of favor is ours, we are like men who, being naturalized into a country, have still in them likings for, and habits of, their old land, which are utterly foreign and abhorrent to the country where by favor they are placed. Sin is in us, the flesh is in us that is, our old nature which sins and loves sin is in us. Though we are in the Spirit the principle is in us which inclines to the things that are hateful to the favored place into which we are brought.
Here, then, we have the fact of the child of God not being in the flesh, but being in the Spirit, and also of the flesh being in him. How, then, shall he live for God, and, in some degree, according to the favored place in which by grace he is? For his fallen nature is altogether foreign to the place he is brought into by grace. He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world, and by the power of the Spirit the believer lives to God.
The Spirit is in us, as well as the flesh. Not only has the strong delivering arm of the Lord brought us out of "in the flesh," but the Spirit of God Himself dwells within us. He is mightier than the inclinations of our evil hearts; and it is our privilege and responsibility to walk not in our own poor strength, or by the force of our own resolutions, but in the Spirit.
In the word of God we find the laws and principles for daily behaviour which should govern the practical conduct of the child of God. We have no liberty to set up a code of regulations of our own manufacture, we have to conform to the principle of living our daily lives according to the favored place into which we have been brought. Where this is not done, unhappiness of soul and dishonor to God must result. Men may set at naught the laws of the land in which they dwell, and make new laws, but no child of God can thus act in respect to God's kingdom. God changes not; it is not possible for His people to make and unmake the principles of His house. In dependence and obedience is our only strength.
In perfect grace the Holy Spirit dwells in the children of God, abiding with them for ever, He never leaves nor forsakes them, He teaches them, helps them; and the practical concern of the child of God should be so to conduct himself that the Spirit may act in him unhinderedly.
Walking indicates the inward as well as the outward energy of a man; it is the working of his heart as expressed by his actions; it betokens the general bent of his soul, demeanor and conduct; it indicates that which directs the spiritual man, as well as the course which the spiritual man is taking. Unless there be walking in the Spirit, there cannot be spirituality.
"They that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:8.) God is not to be pleased by any acts performed by any man outside the circle of "in the Spirit." However earnestly a runaway child might address himself to do the things his father bade him while he was yet at home, his efforts would be worse than useless so long as he remained away from his parent's presence. The only course open to the unconverted sinner is to repent as God has commanded. (Acts 17:30.)
The question for the child of God is not whether an unconverted man can please God, but the practical issues arising from the fact, that he in his old Adam strength cannot do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God; neither can the child of God by the power of the flesh please God. "The flesh profiteth nothing." (John 6:63.) Whether in saint or sinner, in child of God or child of disobedience, the flesh remains ever the same.
There is no mingling of the forces of flesh and Spirit. It is a solemn question of nature, and of power relative to nature. A man cannot fly because he is a man, the power of flying is foreign to the nature of man; neither has the flesh wings to rise to God. A bird which flies may or may not exercise the power which pertains to its nature; and broken or clipped wings mar the act of flying. We expect the bird that flies to be seen flying, and if the power is not exercised we know something is amiss.
The children of God have a power — even that of the Spirit of God — connected by sovereign grace with the divine nature communicated to them; and, saith the scripture, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." (Gal. 5:25.)
The broad principle of life being in Christ, and power for walking before God being supplied by the Spirit of God, are truths generally accepted by all true christians; the practical difficulty for the child of God lies rather in the application of these truths to his own daily life. Say what we may as to divine doctrine, when the test of daily behaviour is before us, there is a sorrowful tendency to lean upon the flesh, to look to it, to hope from it, even when there is looking to Christ also.
No confidence in the flesh we should therefore place at the very forefront, if the child of God would really and truly walk in the Spirit. By thus speaking we are fully aware that we return to the A B C of the gospel; but who gets the first letters of this alphabet so perfectly as never to want to go over them again! We have to come back not only daily but hourly to this point; and there is no greater danger than to suppose we are fixed for life in having "no confidence in the flesh." There are all kinds of back-doors open to return to it; we do not speak of trusting in the flesh for eternity, but trusting in it for the difficulties of the day. An unconverted man, who rests his hope for divine favor on turning over a new leaf, is trusting in the flesh for eternity, and thereby rejecting Christ's work of redemption. A child of God who is trusting in his strength of resolve, for example, is, so far as that extends, having some confidence in the flesh, and hence is setting aside the power of the Spirit in him.
Any attempt at spiritual progress, made in the power of the flesh, is like that of sinking men. We live in the Spirit; let our actions be by His power. What should we say of the voyager who began his journey to America by trusting himself to the strong Atlantic steamer, and who, towards the end, thought the best plan to finish his voyage would be by the strength of his own arms, and so leaped overboard? "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3.) Having begun in divinely-given power, are we to finish in our own?
Child of God, faith is necessary! We draw upon God by faith as we walk by faith; it is a divine truth that,
The Spirit of God gives power to the believer to act holily; let us walk in the faith of this fact. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:2.) We have to go on as we began, by faith. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." (Col. 2:6.)
The believer's power for fufilling the requirements of the law is of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:4.)
Though not under the law as a rule imposed upon him, the child of God, being made partaker of the divine nature, fulfils the law's demands. Its holy and righteous claims are according to God's nature, for God gave the law; and walking in the Spirit, the believer simply and happily obeys these demands. When the moon is high in the noonday sky we do not walk in her light; her glory is lost in that of the sun. But the sunlight does not contradict the moon-light because of its greater brilliancy; it apparently absorbs it; so, since the true light shines, we walk not in the light of the law, which was not made to rule the day of christian liberty, but in that of the gospel. We see the law, as it were, in the heavens of the christian revelation, and fulfil its requirements by the power of the Spirit of God who dwells in us.
Take as an example this command, "Thou shalt not steal." By the law, the sin of theft is forbidden, but compare with this the exhortation of the gospel wherein the command lies: "Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." (Eph. 4:28.) Here shines a ray of the light of divine love. Giving has taken the place of stealing. The thief by nature has become generous by grace. The gospel exhortation contains far more than the demand not to steal, it expects him to whom it is addressed to be like God — a giver. The light of the gospel day has not contradicted that of the legal night, but he who walks in the light of the gospel fulfils the demands of the law.
The believer's power for not fulfilling the lust of the flesh is of the Spirit: "I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not (in no way) fulfil the lust of the flesh." (Gal. 5:16.) It might be objected, if a christian were not under the restraint of the law that his life might be careless. The "no way" of the above verse forbids such a notion. Our blessed Lord lived out the life which was in Him — the eternal life. He fulfilled the law and the prophets, and did His God and Father's will; and so long as the child of God is walking in the Spirit he is living in the excellence of the law of liberty, doing with joy, though feebly, as Christ did.
Keeping to the principles of the place — in the Spirit — where the believer is by grace, he, on the one hand, fulfils the requirements of the law, and on the other, does not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. Here is positive and negative of the utmost importance for christian living. So long as the flesh in us is active, holiness is hindered. We must not limit fleshly activity to mere animal propensities; there is religious as well as gross flesh. To be sure, people do not care for the taste of the leaves of the apple tree, but whether leaves or fruit, all grow out of the one stock. The tree has to be rejected, and all that it produces. So long as we walk in the Spirit the cravings of the flesh are, as it were, nipped in the bud and its activity suspended.
The believer's power for holiness is of the Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; longsuffering, gentleness, goodness; faith, meekness, temperance." (Gal. 5:22, 23.) Such fruits do not grow out of the old condemned stock of the flesh, but out of the new life which is ours in Christ. How long together a believer walks in the Spirit is not our enquiry, but the principle of holiness. If a man says he has not sinned for a month or a year, he is a deceiver of himself. Spiritual pride is not of the Spirit of God. Spiritual elation is dangerous imitation of Satan. Christ in glory is the standard of perfection, Christ on earth the pattern for the christian's walk. No one's walk is perfect, but the Spirit of God who dwells in us is perfect, and as the child of God yields himself to God, as one alive from the dead, the desires and cravings of his flesh are not fulfilled, and the Holy Spirit in him brings forth fruit out of him.
Being led by the Spirit is favor common to all christians, it is the principle upon which God now deals in grace with His people. Outside the circle wherein God dwells by His Spirit, men are led by Satan; under the law His people were in bondage, and under the schoolmaster. Now, in christian privilege, the Spirit leads: "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." (Gal. 5:18.)
The two principles of being under the law and being led by the Spirit cannot run side by side; they are quite distinct from each other. They are different ways of God's dealing with His people. When God brought up Israel from Egypt He led them by the cloudy pillar, He guided them and prepared their way, they were entirely at His charges, and altogether in His hands. So is it now with His people, He leads them — "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Rom. 8:14.)
As has been already shown, the title son implies the favor of position; it does not say, as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God. Sonship is the special privilege which now pertains to all the children of God. The gracious and tender dealing of God expressed by the leading of His Spirit is that which marks His ways with His people now.
Undoubtedly the Spirit of God directs in the countless details of life. Those who have faith, and are on the look-out for His hourly direction, will not be disappointed. But the Spirit of God leads according to directions of the word; hence that which is called the leading of the Spirit, and which has not the truth of the scriptures for its line of thought or action is necessarily false.
If we are truly walking by His power we shall act in obedience to the truth. This fact needs emphasizing, for the way in which some speak of being led by the Spirit to do what they like is truly sorrowful. The Lord's name is taken in vain, and the Holy Spirit trifled with. The first element in spirituality is obedience to the scriptures.
Diligence of soul is required. The life of faith and walking in the Spirit convey the thought of continuous going on in dependence upon God. A good start is not enough; we must keep plodding on according to one principle, till we reach the glory. Truths have certain attractions for many while new. At one time the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes, had it been possible, to give them to the apostle Paul. Then he was, to them, a veritable messenger from God; but in some way they lost their blessedness, and so when the attraction was offered them to give up going on in the Spirit, and to seek to become perfect in the flesh by means of placing themselves under the law, they were ready for it.
A believer who begins in the Spirit, and runs well, and then goes to the law to become perfect, is beguiled by enemies of liberty in Christ risen. We have to keep going on by the rule that the flesh has been brought to its end for us in the cross of Christ, and that new life in Him is ours; hence that in Christ neither circumcision availeth, nor uncircumcision, but new creation. (Gal. 6:14-16.) We have to frame our conduct by the rule of walking in the Spirit, as well as to practise its path. The principle must never be lost sight of, however we may fail in carrying it out. We must steer by divinely-given principles, even if winds and waves at times do throw us out of our course: to give up God's principles because of opposing elements is to court shipwreck.
The rule of the christian life is self out of sight, in Christ crucified; "I have been crucified with Christ" — Christ in heaven, our all; "In Christ." And the power for daily behaviour; Christ only. Keeping on thus, we are walking in the Spirit, who gives power to fulfil God's will. "If we live in (or by) the Spirit, let us also walk in (or by) the Spirit." (Gal. 5:25.)