“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” —Galatians 5:17–25
What does it mean to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to keep in step with the Spirit? Evangelicals have fumbled the answer by trying to privatize spirituality.
When the worship leader works up the emotions, with the room is dark and isolating, and you’re told to close your eyes so that it is just you and God—this is thought spiritual. But as C.S. Lewis warns, “let us beware of the ambiguity in the word spiritual. …There is spiritual evil as well as spiritual good. The worst sins of men are spiritual.”
What I have just described has more in common with pagan spirituality than it does Christianity. The Scriptures commend us to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Spiritual songs are to be sung to God and to one another.
Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 11–14 Mark Ashton comments, “It is clear from these chapters that Paul’s main concern was how the Corinthian Christians were treating one another and outsiders when they met, not how they were treating God—because how they were treating one another was how they were treating God! To concentrate on getting so absorbed with God that we cease to notice those around us during a church service is not perhaps as spiritual as it might seem. This was the very thing against which Paul warned the Corinthians. The more truly they focused on God, the more aware they would actually become of one another.”
So, again, what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? It is not some mystical thing in which we become Christian wizards, wowing others with our advanced use of the force. The Spirit is first focused on Christ, and because this is so, anyone who is in step with the Spirit will love Christ, and in loving Christ, they will love what He loves, the church.
You know you’ve met a spiritual person, spiritual in the good sense, when you walk away, not simply impressed with their personal piety, but also with their selfless love for the saints.