How Not to Walk in the Spirit

Galatians 5:16-21


  1. In 1895, Mary T. Lathrap wrote a poem originally called Judge Softly.

    1. No, this sermon isn’t about judging, but about the phrase she introduced into the world.

    2. The last line of the poem reads: “Take the time to walk in his moccasins.”

    3. Of course today, we typically exchange “moccasins” for “shoes,” but you get the idea.

    4. You have to know what it’s like being someone else, walking in his shoes, before you can even begin to judge someone.

    5. This is a plea for empathy—which is a great thing to do.

    6. Well, the Apostle Paul writes that we should “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).

    7. The Spirit doesn’t exactly have shoes, nor are we to consider judging Him.

    8. But while Mrs. Lathrap meant that one ought to consider how life is for someone, Paul is encouraging Christians to consider how we ought to live.

  2. So let us consider the question: How do I walk in the Spirit?

    1. That is an interesting question.

    2. After all, we are commanded to do so in Gal. 5:16.

    3. But one way in which to determine the answer to a question is to consider its opposite: How do I not walk in the Spirit?

    4. We will consider this question today, and in later lessons we will look at the positive.

    5. So many people think that walking in the Spirit is just some feeling you get.

    6. But there’s no indication of that in Scripture.

    7. Feelings are fickle things, and our faith cannot be determined using them.

    8. No, we have to go by what the Scripture says!

  3. And it says that it is not a fulfilling the lust of the flesh (5:16-21).

    1. Paul talks about a war between our members here.

    2. We have two desires within us: one that is carnal and one that is spiritual.

    3. Some days we allow our carnal nature to take over and we sin.

    4. Some days our spiritual nature wins out and we do what’s right.

    5. This carnal nature is what Paul calls here the lusts of the flesh.

    6. Lust is just another word for desire, but here it is illicit desire.

    7. We desire things all day, things we want.

    8. Many of these things are totally harmless and there’s nothing wrong with that (e.g. the kind of food we eat, what route we take to work, what kind of soap we purchase).

    9. Sure, we want to make the best decisions, but our soul doesn’t depend on the outcome of such choices.

    10. But there are some desires that are illicit—things we should not have.

    11. The works of the flesh Paul describes in Gal. 5:19-21.

    12. If you are giving in to the lusts of the flesh, you are performing the works of the flesh.

    13. And what is the giving in to those lusts? We “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

  4. Preview.

    1. Sins Against Yourself.

    2. Sins Against God.

    3. Sins Against Others.

    4. Sins that Cause Other Sins.


  1. Sins Against Yourself (adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness).

    1. He starts the laundry list off with sexual sins.

      1. These are sins against oneself, as Paul writes elsewhere (1 Cor. 6:18).

      2. He urges his readers to “flee sexual immorality (fornication). Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality (fornication) sins against his own body.”

    2. While fornication covers adultery, adultery has its own place as it is specifically called out in the Ten Commandments.

      1. When you get married to someone, you have made a vow before God and man to be faithful to that person until death (Heb. 13:4).

      2. It doesn’t matter if you both agree to the adultery, it’s still adultery and a sin!

    3. Fornication is an umbrella term for all sorts of sexual sins.

      1. The N.T. does not go into detail concerning all the sexual sins that is being talked about here, but read Lev. 18 and 20 to find out what Paul means when he uses this word.

      2. It includes incest, bestiality, and even homosexuality.

    4. Uncleanness is an odd one for us—does that mean if I don’t bathe every day I’m sinning? No.

      1. Thayer defines it in a moral sense as “the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living” (G167).

      2. So this is uncleanness is a reference to sexual impurity. While there may be another sense to it, this is the idea we get with the surrounding words.

    5. Lewdness (lasciviousness – KJV) is unbridled lust.

      1. Viewing pornography would fit into this category,

      2. along with other lust-filled activities.

  2. Sins Against God (idolatry and sorcery).

    1. Idolatry, serving other gods, has taken other forms today than it has since ancient times.

      1. Idolatry was not only an affront against God, but caused ancient peoples to sin in all manner of ways.

      2. Even to the point of sacrificing their children on the fire.

      3. Still, our focus ought to be on the true God, to serve Him alone.

      4. We should not serve our own fleshly desires and appetites, but Him alone!

    2. Sorcery (witchcraft – KJV) is from the Greek word φαρμακεία.

      1. It is associated with drugs and poisons.

      2. Certainly using such things could bring about a so-called religious experience.

      3. And they are often found in connection with idolatrous acts

      4. Today we might associate them with drug-fueled visions, or even recreational drug use.

      5. While recreational drug use may not fall into the category of a “sin against God,” we might find the concept in another category: “sins that cause other sins.”

  3. Sins Against Others (hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders).

    1. Hatred, is also enmity or the cause of enmity.

      1. Enmity is not a word we use often, but the dictionary defines it as: “deep-seated, often mutual hatred; a feeling or state of hatred or animosity; the quality or state of being hostile; a feeling or condition of antagonism; ill will; variance, discord.”

      2. What is one of the things the Lord hates? “One who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19).

    2. Contention: strife and wrangling.

    3. Jealousies: an envious and contentious rivalry.

    4. Outbursts of wrath.

      1. Since the Greek for this is plural, it should be understood as impulses and outbursts of anger.

      2. This is anger that cannot be controlled.

      3. Do we have anger issues? The Bible tells us to be “slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

    5. Selfish ambitions—one word in Greek. Thayer defines it as “electioneering or intriguing for office.”

      1. Electioneering is another word we don’t often use. It is: “employing means for influencing an election, as public speaking, solicitation of votes, etc.; work for the success of a candidate or of a party in an election.”

      2. This does not imply that our system of government is necessarily sinful, but sinful means can and are used to get votes.

      3. Certainly, we can see this happening in churches, too, though.

      4. Thayer goes on to define it as: “a courting distinction, a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness.”

      5. Paul calls this “carnal” and an attitude that only a “babe in Christ” has (1 Cor. 3:1, 4), at least as far as Christians are concerned.

    6. And this goes along well with the next one, dissensions.

      1. This is translated as divisions in 1 Cor. 3:3, “for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”

      2. Such attitudes bring division and discord.

    7. And what are heresies, but that which causes division and even the formation of sects?

      1. We decry denominationalism, and we use certain passages to show that God is against it, too.

      2. Might I suggest this passage be among them, that such divisions and the spirit of denominationalism is division and is, in fact, a work of the flesh!

    8. Envy and murder.

      1. Many of the sinful things we’ve mentioned here so far are often motivated by envy and could even lead to murder.

      2. We might recall that Cain fell to envy leading to murder in that he was first envious of his brother Abel and then promptly murdered him.

      3. These attitudes are all works of the flesh to be avoided!

  4. Sins that Cause Other Sins (drunkenness and revelries).

    1. These refer to being in an inebriated state.

    2. The first word refers to drinking to excess.

      1. Well, people like to wonder how much they can drink without being drunk.

      2. And if you already know, didn’t you have to sin in order to figure that out?

      3. Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).

      4. We are told to be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

      5. And when we are drunk (or high as the case may be), we are easy-pickings!

    3. The second word is quite interesting.

      1. Thayer has a long explanation for this Greek word.

      2. In the singular, it is “a revel, carousal, i.e. in the Greek writings properly, a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before the houses of their male and female friends; hence, used generally, of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry.”

      3. Sound familiar?

    4. “And the like!”

      1. At the end of this list, it would seem Paul got tired of listing sins.

      2. We know that this is hardly an exhaustive list, but we know there is much like it we are to avoid.

      3. If we want to walk in the Spirit, having no condemnation in Christ (i.e. salvation, Rom. 8:1), then we will avoid anything that resembles anything on this list!


  1. I don’t like focusing on the passages that talk about various sins.

    1. That’s why we are only spending today looking at it.

    2. But it’s necessary to consider the opposite, the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

    3. Next week we will begin looking at these aspects so that we might be able to truly walk in the Spirit!

    4. But let’s not forget what we must avoid in order to walk in the Spirit!

  2. One of the reasons I don’t like focusing on these passages is that it reminds us of our sin.

    1. We see it front and center, parading in our mind’s eye as we discuss whatever sins you might have committed.

    2. It is not pleasant, but sometimes it is good to look back for several reasons.

      1. We see how far we’ve come and we are encouraged by it.

      2. If we haven’t come that far yet, we are reminded of a Savior, one who loves us so much, one who is eager to forgive us of all of our transgressions.

    3. That sorrow we might feel is a good and godly sorrow, one that produces repentance leading to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10).

  3. There is One, the only One who matters, who can and will forgive you, if you obey His gospel.

    1. You can have a hope of a home in heaven with Him!

    2. Obey that gospel today!