As a pastor, I have heard the same question in a multitude of different forms. Does God want me to marry this girl? Is the Lord leading me to take this new job? Is it God’s will for us to pursue adoption? Should I buy a new car or a used one? A more general question lays beneath these and similar questions: What does God want me to do?
Understanding the will of God in your life is a subject that most Christians will struggle with at some point in their pilgrimage. And in my conversations with many Christians, the familiar text from Galatians 5:25 comes up sooner or later: “let us keep in step with the Spirit.” This month, I would like to encourage you to consider this phrase in context.
Beginning with Galatians 5:16, Paul’s topic is living by the Spirit, which he contrasts with living by thesinful nature (more literally “flesh” in many Bible translations). In verses 19-21, Paul goes through a painful description of what living by the sinful nature looks like. The sinful nature yields acts that are universally contemptible: “sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Notice for now that these are described as being “acts,” and in infact most of them refer to things that we do; i.e. we get drunk, we cast spells, we commit adultery, we lose our tempers, we create factions…
Beginning in verse 22, Paul contrasts these “acts” not with other opposite acts, but rather with a list that is exclusively comprised of character traits; John Stott calls them “Christian graces.” This list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are not specific things we do. These are specific descriptions of how and why we do things. And this description of “how” someone is, rather than “what” someone does, is what serves as theimmediate context for our phrase “keeping in step with the Spirit.” We are told in verses 24-25 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucifiedthe sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Do you see? Keeping in step with the Spirit here is connected to the transformation of our passions and desires. It goes far behind and beneath such surface issues as which job should I take or which car should I buy. It touches thedeepest, truest parts of our character – why we act and how we act.
Positively stated, keeping in step with the Spirit means that whichever job you take, your performance in the job will be definitively marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These “Christian graces” will indelibly mark both themotive for and the manner in which you do what you are called to do. On the other hand, if you pursue your calling, whether it is in marriage, parenting, industry, recreation, or ministry… and your actions are not described in both motive and manner by these graces, you are – whatever you are “doing,” by definition out of step with the Spirit.
There is a second evidence of obedience to the Lord the Spirit as well. Paul concludes this portion of scripture with a plea for Christians: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” This is essentially proof of being out of step with the Spirit. When we think more of ourselves than we ought, when we by design trouble others, and when we begrudge others their person, place, or possessions, we are most certainly at cross purposes with the Living God.
May Galatians 5:25 serve as our “marching” orders this March. May we genuinely keep in step with the Spirit. May we be continually moved by and act inlove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.