Piper: Five Steps Toward Walking by the Spirit


    But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:16 ESV

Five Steps Toward Walking by the Spirit by John Piper

Let me conclude by mentioning five things that I think we must do so that it can be truly said that we are walking by the Spirit.

1. Acknowledge

First, we must acknowledge from our hearts that we are helpless to do good apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” What did Jesus mean when he said in John 15:5, “Without me you can do nothing”? Of course we can do something without Jesus: we can sin! But that’s all we can do. So, the first step of walking by the Spirit is: admit this fact and let it have its devastating effect on our pride. We cannot do anything pleasing to God without the constant enablement of the Spirit.

2. Pray

Second, since it is promised in Ezekiel 36:27 that God will put his Spirit within us and cause us to walk in his statutes, pray that he do it to you by his almighty power. Many of you know the glorious, liberating experience of having an irresistible desire for sin overcome by a new and stronger desire for God and his way. And as you look back, to whom do you attribute that new desire? Where did it come from? It came from the merciful Holy Spirit. Therefore, let us pray like Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 for that chief fruit of the Spirit: “Now may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men.” And let’s pray like the writer to the Hebrews did in Hebrews 13:21,

And now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ.

If it is God alone who works in us what is pleasing in His sight, then above all, we must pray. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

3. Trust

The third step involved in walking by the Spirit is faith. We must believe that since we have come under the gracious sway of God’s Spirit, “sin will no longer have dominion over us” (Romans 6:14). This confidence is what Paul meant by “reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God” (Romans 6:11). We simply count on it that the Spirit who made us alive when we were dead in sin wills our holiness and has the power to achieve what he wills. You may remember in one of my sermons on prayer I said that one of the things we believers can pray for with undoubting faith that God will do it is our sanctification, which is the same as being led by the Spirit. The reason we can is that we know that God will cause his children to be led by the Spirit. And the way we know this is because of Romans 8:14, where Paul says you can’t even be a child of God unless you are led by the Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” If you are a child of God, you have a solid and unshakable promise that God will give you victory over those powerful desires of the flesh. One word of caution: do not prejudge the timing of the Holy Spirit’s work. Why he liberates one person overnight but brings another to freedom through months of struggle is a mystery concealed for now from our eyes.

4. Act

The fourth step in walking by the Spirit after you have acknowledged your helplessness without him, prayed for his enablement, and trusted in his deliverance is to act the way you know is right. Notice: this is not step number one. If this were step number one, all our actions would be works of the flesh, not fruit of the Spirit. Only after we have appealed for the Spirit’s enablement and thrown ourselves confidently on his promise and power to work in us, do we now work with all our might. Only when we act with that spiritual preparation, will we be able to say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10,

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

Or in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (see also Romans 15:18, 19). A person who has acknowledged his helplessness, prayed for God’s enablement to do right, and yielded himself confidently to the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit has this astonishing incentive to do righteousness, namely, the confidence that, whatever righteous act he does, it is God almighty who is at work in him giving him the will and the power to do it. It is a sign of hasty prejudice when a person says, “Well, if the Spirit is sovereign and I can’t do any good without his enablement, then I may as well just sit here and do nothing.” There are two things wrong with that statement: it is self-contradictory, and it is unbiblical. It is a contradiction to say, “I’ll just sit here and do nothing.” If you choose to sit in your chair while the house burns down, you have chosen to do something, just as much as the person who chooses to get up and save himself and others. Why should you think the one choice any more inconsistent with the sovereignty of God than the other? And such a statement is also unbiblical because Philippians 2:12 and 13 says,

Beloved, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (get out of the chair, the house is on fire!) because (not “in spite of” but “because”) God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It is a great incentive, not discouragement, that all our effort to do what is right is the work of almighty God within us. At least for myself, I am greatly encouraged when the going gets rough that any effort I make to do right is a sign of God’s grace at work in me. “Let him who serves serve in the strength which God supplies, that in everything God may get the glory” (1 Peter 4:11). To God be the glory!

5. Thank

The final step in walking by the Spirit is to thank God for any virtue attained or any good deed performed. If without the Spirit we can do no right, then we must not only ask his enablement for it but also thank him whenever we do it. Just one example from 2 Corinthians 8:16. Paul says, “Thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.” Titus loved the Corinthians. Where did that come from? God put it in his heart. It was a fruit of the Spirit. So what does Paul do? He thanks God. And Titus should, too. Thanks be to God who puts love in our hearts!

“If we live by the Spirit, then let us also walk by the Spirit.” Let us acknowledge from our heart that we are unable to please God without the Spirit’s constant enablement. Let us pray for that enablement. Let us trust confidently in the Spirit’s power and promise to give that enablement. Then let us do what we know is right. And having done it, let us turn and say with all the saints, “Not I, but the Spirit of Christ within me.” Thanks be to God! To him be glory for ever and ever! Amen.

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