What does it Mean to Walk in the Spirit

Hebrews 4:8-11 (NKJV) 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

We are looking at the way we overcome the flesh in the New Testament relationship based on Jesus’ sacrifice. In the Old Testament, God gave the law to help Israel control the flesh. This was a manifestation of Grace, unmerited favor, to Israel.

They did not deserve relationship with God, but his mercy caused him to make a covenant with his chosen People. This relationship had to be limited because sin was not yet paid for. That could not happen until Jesus came and died. However, God needed a people through whom he could send the Messiah. He made covenant with Israel to create that people. He gave them the Law and its sacrifices to keep them until Jesus could come (Galatians 3:24.)

There was a problem that was part of the law from the beginning. Romans 3:4 tells us that the law could never accomplish what God wanted because it was weak through the flesh. The law was a mechanism that used the flesh to control the flesh. The law involved rules and regulations that the flesh had to keep. It also involved sacrifices and consequences for when the people failed to keep the rules and regulations. All of this worked on the level of the flesh. It is impossible to control the flesh with the flesh. Paul says to control the flesh we must walk in the spirit.

What does it really mean to “walk in the spirit?” There are those who seem to believe that to walk in the spirit means to live in a state just short of a trance. They think we are only “in the spirit when” our senses are so focused on the invisible that we barely function in the visible world. Any disturbance breaks the “anointing” and we are no longer in the spirit.

Jesus walked in the spirit. I do not think anyone would argue that. However, Jesus was not spooky or otherworldly in the way he related to people. He talked to people. He laughed and wept with them. I know that his lifestyle could not have been “spooky spiritual” because children were drawn to him. I do not know about you, but my children would not have flocked to someone who acted like they were not really here.

Children did flock to Jesus and he welcomed them. Somehow, I cannot see him relating to them with his eyes half closed uttering, “Ooh, Ahh, Hallelujah” in a stage whisper. No, I think he talked to them, laughed with them and even played with them. Yet all the while he was walking in the spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the spirit and not the flesh? I believe that today’s scripture gives us a good explanation. In chapter 3 the writer is speaking of something that was available to the people of Israel. He quotes Psalm 95:7-11. In this Psalm, the Lord is speaking of the generation of Israelites who did not go into the promised land. They complained against God. They complained against Moses. They could not trust God enough to cross the river Jordon and enter the destiny God had for them.

In this Psalm, that destiny is called their “rest.” It was the will of God that they come to a place of peace from the struggles of the wilderness. In later generations, we find that they would have to fight to possess the Land of Promise.” However, once they conquered the enemies in Canaan, the will of God was that they live in peace until the coming of the Messiah.

The second generation of Israelites had enough faith to enter the land. They conquered most of the inhabitants and lived in relative peace. Nevertheless, they left some of the inhabitants of Canaan alive. God warned them that this would lead to compromise. After the death of Joshua, the Israelites failed to keep God’s ways and fell into captivity again and again. That was never what God intended for them, but their flesh was too strong for them to continue in God’s perfect rest.

God knew that would be the case. In chapter 4 he tells us that there is still a rest that the people of Israel never walked in. He says we should not harden our heart as they did. How did they harden their heart? They refused to believe that what God said was true. God promised them Canaan. God promised to drive out the enemy before them. They simply could not accept that this was possible in light of what they saw.

In later generations, they had seen God do what he said he would do, but they chose to yield to the flesh. They mingled with those who did not know God. They worshipped other gods and committed sins and engaged in practices that went against the will of God. This eventually led to them falling into captivity and being taken away from the “rest” God had promised them.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the rest God wanted for Israel is still available to those who love God. Israel never fully walked in what God wanted for his people, but he promised that someone would. That people who can and will walk in the fullness of God’s rest is the church.

Verses 10 and 11 give us some insights as to what this rest is. Verse10 tells us that someone who has entered this rest “ceases from his own works as God did from his.” He is talking about the seventh day of creation. God rested on the seventh day because all that had to be done was done. Creation was complete.

I believe the rest God wants for us is to realize that the work of salvation is already complete. There is nothing more we can do to earn salvation. Jesus did it all. Salvation is already ours. We do not need to work to earn God’s acceptance. It is already ours. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creations. We do not work to become new creations. Praise God!

This is a powerful truth, but in the next verse he seems to contradict what he said in verse 10. In verse 11 in the King James Version he says that we must “labor to enter the rest.” NKJV uses the term to be diligent. Diligent means to be hard working or conscientious in one’s work.

The meaning is the same. If we are going to enter the rest God has always desired for his people, there is a work to do. This is not a work to earn what is already ours. It is a work to cause what we are in Christ to dominate our outward life.

The word rest here is important. According to Vines Expository Dictionary, it does not mean the rest of inactivity. Instead it is “the harmonious working of all the faculties and affections, of will, heart, imagination, conscience, because each has found in God the ideal sphere for its satisfaction and development”

The rest God wants for us is that every part of our being do what it is supposed to do naturally. The body doing what God intended it to do. The soul consisting of the intellect, emotions and will doing what God intended it to do. Finally, the inner man, the spirit of man doing what God intended that part to do.

The spirit was to be the controlling part of man. Man was created in the image of God. John 4:4 tells us that God is a spirit. We are created to be spirit beings with a soul living in a body. To walk in the spirit is simply to walk with the spirit in control. If we can do that, we will walk according to God’s will and his ways. We will flow with his purpose. Sin will not be nearly the struggle it is when the flesh is in control.

How can we come to this rest? To quote Paul in Romans 7, “Thank God, we can do it by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Nevertheless, there is a labor or work involved. What is this work and what is its nature. That is what we must come to understand.


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