What Does 'Walk in the Spirit' Mean and Is it Different from Living in the Spirit?

Lia Martin

Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 16, 2022
What Does 'Walk in the Spirit' Mean and Is it Different from Living in the Spirit?

To walk in the spirit, as explained in Galatians 5, means to walk away from fleshly desires that are in opposition to the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever heard the phrase “walk in the spirit” and wonder what it actually means? You might wonder, “does it change the way I walk or is it like an out-of-body experience?” I believe walk, in this context, suggests that even the most ordinary, natural movement through our days is to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Way back in Genesis 6:9, it was said of Noah that he “walked faithfully with God.” It’s a lovely picture...how much God desires to live with, walk with, and shepherd us. When you walk with God you hold his hand, seek his voice. You behave in ways that honor your relationship with Him.

Today, as we listen to the words of Paul to the Galatians, knowing that God fulfilled his promise to send a Helper through Jesus, that voice is no longer just behind you saying “this is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

By the blood and breath of Jesus, that Spirit is within you.

What Does 'Walk in the Spirit' Mean?

To walk in the spirit, as explained in Galatians 5, means to walk away from fleshly desires that are in opposition to the Holy Spirit. It’s choosing to not gratify ourselves with “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like...” (Gal. 5:19-21).

Walking is a physical pursuit. You walk in the spirit when your steps are not directed solely by your legs, arms, feet, or senses, but by the unseen Spirit moving within you. Your actions are led primarily not by your tastebuds or fingertips, for example, but by the Holy Spirit within who “helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). The same Holy Spirit that even prays for you when you can’t find any words.

Jesus assures his followers of the Spirit’s presence and ability in John 14:26:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

What Is the Context of Galatians 5:16?

Paul is writing to the churches throughout Galatia with encouragement to do what is right in the eyes of God. In a time when many still operated under the comfort zone of laws and works, Paul was intent on defining freedom and grace.

“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.” Galatians 5:16-18

You see, all those former laws that generations had believed would earn them favor with God were actually proving that our sinful selves can’t satisfy God’s standards in our own strength. We need a Savior.

And because of Christ, who now lives in the believers, Paul is addressing (you and I included), the law is fulfilled.

But the Jewish believers still wanted the Gentiles to live by old laws like circumcision. Paul is urging believers to not be bound to their old selves, but rather to walk in a new spirit. His point is that we now have the Holy Spirit to help us walk away from sin.

We can’t do it on our own.

How Do We Walk in the Spirit?

Just as there are so many ways to walk solely in “acts of the flesh,” there are always ways to walk in the spirit. Scripture reminds us:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”1 Cor. 10:13

Here are six ways to walk in the spirit:

1. Listen

Walking in the spirit is buoyed by a conversation with God. Pray continually for direction, expecting to trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Surrender your desires or emotions and be willing to obey his leading. The more you seek God in solitude, or even amidst chaos, the more you realize the power of the Helper.

2. Love

Jesus gave his word that we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves, and this means asking God how to “put on your oxygen mask” so you can serve. Walking in our fleshly desires would mean we gratify only our own pleasures, without concerning ourselves with the needs of others. Ask the Spirit to move your feet. Ask to be shown where your love is needed, and what words or actions are right in his eyes.

3. Forgive

Offering forgiveness is a hard road to walk. But it’s the way to freedom. Putting one foot in front of another, trusting God will give you the courage to let go of bitterness, rage, or revenge, is walking in the spirit. Remember, Jesus not only breathed a Helper into you (John 20:22), he said in Luke 6:37, “forgive others, and God will forgive you.”

4. Reconcile

Walking even further beyond forgiveness is the spiritual discipline to reconcile. The entire biblical account is a mission of reconciliation. It wasn’t popular then, and it isn’t popular now, to make amends, but it is a job the Spirit can equip you to accomplish. It’s a mission we meet within 2 Cor. 5:18, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

5. Appreciate

I love that walking in the Spirit suggests a gentle and ordinary pace. It doesn’t say we are to hurry up and rush to catch up with Spirit. Instead, it’s right within us, every day, to appreciate. It’s our center, our guide, our contentment. Keeping a gratitude journal or expressing appreciation and praise for all the wonders of life (even when life isn’t wonderful) is walking in the spirit.

6. Abide

The Word is alive and active, and available for you to abide in. Choosing to turn from other inputs or sources that may lead you astray, or deposit seeds of sin is walking in the Spirit. Abide in Bible study, faithful friends, small groups, and prayer to stay in step with the Spirit’s voice.

What Is the Difference between Walking and Living in the Spirit?

When we accept Jesus, we acknowledge Him as the way, truth, and life. We live in the spirit by believing every word he gave us. Living in the spirit acknowledges that our life is not our own, it belongs to God, who deposited the Holy Spirit to guide our actions.

Living in the Spirit means we have faith that we have partaken of the divine. We get to walk in the spirit as a demonstration of what living in the spirit makes possible.

In John 20, Jesus appears to his overjoyed disciples after his miraculous resurrection and breathes within them the gift of the Holy Spirit. After a greeting of “Peace be with you!” Jesus explains, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Walking in the spirit is the physical manifestation of accepting that the Holy Spirit is real and present. We still have bodies that need help from the Spirit to avoid danger or damage. So, what we choose to practice, say, or do is how we walk it out.

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”Colossians 2:6

Further Reading

How Do We 'Walk in the Spirit'? The Meaning of Galatians 5:16

3 Ways to Make Sure You're Walking in the Spirit

What Does it Mean to "Walk in the Spirit?"

Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/demaerre

authorLia Martin loves to inspire others to lean into the Lord daily. She's a writer, editor, marketer, former Crosswalk.com Faith Editor, and author of Wisdom at Wit's End: Abandoning Supermom Myths in Search of Supernatural Peace. When she's not cultivating words, she loves walking in nature, reading, exploring the latest health trends, and laughing with her two wonderful kids. She blogs at liamartinwriting.com.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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