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Living in Step With the Spirit (Part 4/5)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).


Motions of Grace

I can’t dance. My dance-less state is not driven by convictions but by incompetence. I assume I have potential, but experience has not yet discovered it. I love music and can readily sense the rhythm and tempo. If I close my eyes, I can imagine my arms and legs moving in fluid motions of grace. But with eyes open, it is more like a multi-car pileup, no coordination, just chaos and pain as a crowd watches in horror.

I can’t dance, but I want to. I long to move with physical freedom at the impulse of melodic beauty. I want to allow the music to flow through my limbs. I imagine getting a million positive YouTube views of me dancing at my granddaughter’s wedding. I’ve asked God if I can tap dance when I get to heaven. He said that there would be auditions first. So, there is hope.

Why talk about this in a context of spiritual growth? Because dance is the best metaphor I can think of to describe the progress of our souls, and it is rooted in the Scriptures. Paul tells the Galatian believers that as they have received life by the Spirit, now keep in step with the Spirit. “Keep in step” implies motion. We are to move at the leading of the Spirit, at His pace and direction. We do not move at our own impulse under the watch of the Spirit. We do not sit on the sidelines and observe what the Spirit is doing around us. We are to participate with Him in this motion. As a child sets their feet on the feet of their parent, we begin to move under His guidance. The Spirit leads and we follow, yielded to the grace of His actions. We are never alone. Never independent. Never powerless. We glide on the strength and wisdom of the One who dwells within us. It’s true, of course, that often our spiritual journey feels like we are plodding, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. But to dance with the Spirit in holy beauty, abundant grace and deep joy – the desire remains.

More Than a Manual

What hinders that desire from becoming a dance? There are several answers to the question, but allow me to highlight one. We are prone to approaching our spiritual walk in a mechanical manner. We reduce the mystery of soul to the installation of a TV. Our new big screen comes with a manual, and we study it to find out what wires goes where. We hook up the sound bar and game system as per the instructions. But when the picture is blank and the speakers are silent, we are baffled. We return to the manual to ensure that we’ve done it all correctly, with no success. The good news is that there is often a help line or website where we can talk and text with someone who walks us through the procedure. Even when the instructions are accurate and clear, we still need help.

A Relationship

Our Christian life cannot be reduced to “just follow the instructions.” The Scriptures are our source of truth and wisdom. They are reliable words for life and growth. We ought to stress the centrality of the Word for our Christian walk, but we must never neglect that God invites us to a relationship. We live in union with Jesus Christ who is the Word of God. The Spirit who wields the Word as His sword lives within us. The Spirit will guide us into the truth of God’s Word. We live in relationship not with paper and ink, but with God.

A mechanical mindset of the Scriptures appeals to those who just want answers, like to be in charge of their own soul, or are impatient with mystery and delay. The relational dynamic of God with our souls seems too messy, less concrete, hard to quantify. But our spiritual life is an invitation, not an itinerary. The saving invitation is to love Him, know Him, trust Him, follow Him, submit to Him – yes, to dance with Him. We can learn how to dance, following His lead. How?


Dance Steps With the Spirit


1.) Live by Faith

Read the book of Galatians slowly. You will find the emphasis of Paul on the work of the Spirit for each believer. He repeatedly points to faith as key for our spiritual maturity. Not only are we justified by faith (Gal.2:16), but we live each day by faith (Gal.3:11). It is in faith that we hope for righteous lives (Gal.5:5-6). Our faith not only opens the door to forgiving atonement, but reveals the power of the Spirit in our lives. By a reliant walk with the Spirit, we defeat the desires of the flesh (Gal.5:16) and become gardens for His fruit (Gal.5:22).

Let me be specific. The Bible teaches that the Spirit of God resides within every believer as His temple (1 Cor.3:16). It is a fact, one that I accept by faith.

I still have my appendix, at least I assume so as a medical fact. I have never seen it, never felt it, and struggle to tell you what it is for. For practical purposes it is largely irrelevant to me. Too many Christians live with the same attitude towards the Spirit who dwells inside them. He is not seen, felt and some struggle to understand what He does, but as a biblical fact, He is present. It is a truth I accept by faith, and by living out that faith, the Spirit demonstrates His relevance in my life.  So, trust the truth of what God has done for you. You are God’s temple, in union with Jesus Christ. Lean on the fact, even by faith.

2.) Live a Life of Obedience and Purity

Everyone fails. We all have vulnerabilities and moral lapse. Yet our fragility must not become a mode of living. Despite our weakness, we can reach towards obedience and personal purity. The Spirit who lives within us is holy. He nurtures the righteousness of Jesus into our daily lives. He is grieved by our sin, but mercifully wraps us afresh with the goodness and grace of our Saviour. The point is simple. If we long for the leading of the Spirit and a deepening relationship with Him, it can’t be found by careless or calloused hearts.

3.) Live by the Spirit, Not Just the Rules

Moralism is our attempt to manage our lives and adhere to the right rules set before us. The more rules I keep, the better person I am. Of course, the problem is that no one can keep all the rules, and attempting to do so ushers us into a competitive mindsight flavoured with self-righteous attitudes. Moralism does not work as a means of godliness. So why is it that we keep trying it? We like the clarity of the rules and feel empowered by our sense of control. It doesn’t hurt that most of the rules we set only manage the external, visible aspects of our life. It’s always nice to be seen as “good people.” But the Scriptures call us to a different path for righteousness.

We are to follow the Spirit, who alone can shape us as godly men and women (Gal.5:5-6). The Spirit will not lead us contrary to the pattern of Jesus’ godliness or in defiance of His written Word. The distinction of the Spirit’s leading is not in direction but in the means. He will grow His fruit within us. A spiritual life is not conformity to a set code but organic to the new life within us. When the Spirit leads us in righteousness, people don’t see us as much as they see Jesus in us. We begin to live as if the only thing that mattered is “faith working through love” (Gal.5:6).

4.) Live Following His leadership

To walk by the Spirit requires sensitivity to the leadership He gives us. The clarity of the Bible speaks with little ambiguity, and it is to be followed. None the less, there are situations of life which have no biblical instruction. We are to marry within the faith, but there is no specific on who we should marry. We are to employ our God given gifts, but the Bible is silent about which university or career we should choose. What wisdom or guidance do we seek in the matters on which the Bible has no command? God still knows how to guide us and the leading of the Spirit is fundamental to navigate the questions of life.

You may have experienced a nudging from God, a restlessness which steers and a sense of peace as affirmation. There probably was no sign in the sky or a voice of instruction. More than likely the leading of the Spirit was gentle, so gentle that it is easy to question whether this was God or your own whims. How do we know?

It is key to live as close and open to the Spirit as we can. With experience and growing maturity, we learn to discern His nudging. I have reviewed the times when in hindsight, I am confident in His leading. Those have become instructional for me. There may be no set process, as we are all unique. We hold our impressions under the Word of God, within the community of faith and looking to a measure of peace, not fear or confusion. While we crave certainty, we are to live by faith. We may be mistaken, but the Spirit knows how to use even our detours. What we must not do is assume that the Spirit is inactive or mute.

5.) Live in the Light God Gives

Rather than being paralyzed by what we do not know from God, follow the clarity of the guidance He has given. We want to see around the corners of our lives to outcomes and destinations. God tends to keep those answers to Himself. Yet we can be obedient to what He has told us, in the situations He has placed us. When He sees that we are obedient to what we know, He will grant further insight. God shows us what is necessary now. A faithful response to that will direct us to the next “now.”

Our danger is to act independently. We may be impatient or prefer to take control considering the Spirit’s delay or silence. We are focused on the answer we think we need. God is focused on shaping us as people of patience and faith. We must learn to trust God in the silence rather than our kneejerk solution towards action.

Running ahead in the dark is not the solution.

6.) Live in the Desire of His leading

Luke reminds us that if we know how to give good things to our children, surely God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Lu.11:13). So ask Him. Tell God that you are dependent upon the Spirit’s guidance. Let Him know that you long to follow His direction. Repeat your commitment to “walk by the Spirit” in every aspect of your life. Hold this request before God in your prayers, and do not stop. God may test your requests with delay. He may point to places where your commitment is contradicted by your actions. But do not lose hope. God is teaching us to live by faith and refine the matters of our hearts. He is not deaf and will respond with merciful grace to your request. He will teach your soul to dance.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!


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