The word of the day is “walk.” Today St. Paul teaches that there is a difference between having life in the Spirit and living in the Spirit. Thus, in our reading of Galatians 5:22-6:22, St. Paul writes, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (vs. 25).
The Holy Mystery of Baptism grants the baptized the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and confers the power, illumination, and inspiration of the Spirit (Orthodox Church in America, “Baptism Service,” 2012). From then on, those who are washed and renewed in the baptismal font, indeed, “live in the Spirit” (vs. 25). Having died to the “old life” of sin and death, they now wear the white baptismal “garment of incorruption,” the “robe of righteousness” that signifies the “newness of life” in the Spirit (Romans 6:4).
The Spirit as the Guarantee
Paul calls the gift of the Holy Spirit given in baptism the “guarantee of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14). It is the earnest money that secures God’s promises until we receive the “complete grace” of the Spirit’s work in us (Irenaeus, “The Gifts”). Of this down payment of the Spirit St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (+202) wrote, “But we do now receive a certain portion of His [God’s] Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God; which also the apostle terms ‘an earnest’” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies. “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit”). Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, Irenaeus says, we are spiritual, not earthly. Already in us the “the mortal is swallowed up by immortality” (Irenaeus, “The Gifts”).
In the same vein, Paul says, “For you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9). The root of the term “dwells” in the Greek original is “house.” Thus, Paul teaches that the Spirit “resides” in us like someone “occupies” a house (Strong’s #3611, 176). Thus, according to this pattern, we learn that we “live in the Spirit” because the Spirit lives in us. He resides in us by the grace of our baptism.
Walking in the Spirit
Yet the indwelling of the Spirit is for a purpose. St. Paul says that we “live in the Spirit.” But he completes the thought, “If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit (vs. 25). It is the second time that the Apostle uses the same phrase. A few verses earlier, Paul wrote, “Walk in the Spirit…” (Galatians 5:16). In this verse, he used the term from which we get “peripatetic” (wandering). The Greek word means “to walk about” (Strong #4043, 199). Paul was referring to how we “walk” through life; that is, how we live.
But surprisingly when Paul says that we should “walk in the Spirit” in verse 23, he uses a different term. In the Greek original, this word comes from the root of “to put in a row” or “to march in a line” (Strong’s #4738 234). Thus, Paul teaches that we should “live in line” with the Spirit. For his part, Irenaeus speaks about those “who possess the earnest of the Spirit, and who are not enslaved by the lusts of the flesh, but are subject to the Spirit (Irenaeus, “The Gifts”). Paul expresses the same thought when he speaks of being “led by the Spirit” (vs. 18).
If we fail to live according to the “law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:12), the work of this divine gift in us remains incomplete. Or we even fall back into the “works of the flesh” that Paul enumerates so bluntly (vs. 19-21). However, if we follow the Spirit’s guidance, then we will gain the ultimate goal of our salvation. Irenaeus puts this aim in Orthodox terms. He says that the work of the Spirit “will render us like unto Him and accomplish the will of the Father; for it shall make man after the image and likeness of God” (Irenaeus, “The Gifts”). That is, the grace of the Holy Spirit will restore the image of God in us so that we might attain the likeness of God for which we are created.
The Book of Proverbs says, “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble” (Proverbs 4:11-12). If we can speak of the “wisdom of the Spirit” (1 Cor 2: 12-14), then we might apply this promise of Proverbs to what we have learned about walking in the Spirit. When our manner of life is in line with the Spirit, then we will journey along the way of life without faltering or failing.
We have begun the New Year. What are our resolutions? Our intentions? Our plans? Whatever we resolve betrays our hopes, usually for a better life. But our reading teaches us that what we should desire is not a better life but a life in the Spirit. So let us heed the words of the apostle and resolve that we shall, by God’s grace, make walking in the Spirit our way of life.