I’ve enjoyed listening to the music of the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team for years, and have had the privilege of hearing Steve preach in my church a number of times. So when I saw he had written a book titled Walking in the Spirit: A Study Through Galatians 5, I wanted to read it not only because I felt I could trust it (as much as one can trust a human author), but also because this is a subject and a passage I have thought about and wrestled with for years.
Most Christians are familiar with the last few verses in Galatians 5 that talk about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. But the context of the chapter, indeed of the whole book of Galatians, has to do with Christian liberty. Some were telling the Galatian believers that they had to keep the OT laws to be a Christian, which is legalism. But some who had gotten hold of the truth that they were no longer under that law went too far the other way: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (verses 13-14). Pettit says true Christian liberty is walking in the Spirit, as opposed to license on one hand (being a slave to one’s flesh) and legalism on the other (being a slave to the law).
Pettit takes us step by step through Galatians 5 and discusses what legalism and Christian liberty are, what it means to walk in the Spirit, the battle between our flesh and the Holy Spirit, the difference between what the Bible calls our “old man” which was crucified when we believed on Christ and the “flesh” that we still battle, and the evidences of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. He discusses what our relationship to the law is and what use it is (conviction of sin, for one: “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet” [Romans 7:7 NASB]. But the law can only tell us it is sin. It can’t fix us or change us. It’s the diagnosis, not the cure).
It’s hard to summarize a book like this beyond that, so I’ll just share a few quotes that stood out to me:
“Seeking to add to the work of Jesus actually takes away from it” (p. 6).
“The flesh seeks to twist a true understanding of freedom into an opportunity to gratify the flesh’s desires. But Christian liberty is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. When Christians begin to focus on their own personal rights and freedom from restraints, liberty is abused” (p. 14).
“Walking in the Spirit demands a constant pursuit of and response to God’s Spirit. To be complacent and indifferent about one’s walk is to put oneself in a place of spiritual peril. No one is impervious to the allurements of the flesh” (p. 26).
“We are not so strong that we do not need to be warned, and we are not so weak that we cannot be free. We experience this struggle until the day we die” (p. 15).
The Christian life is not about trying harder to obey the law; it is realizing that we are enabled to obey God by the power of the indwelling Spirit” (p. 47).
“The fruits of the Spirit are of such a nature that, when they are present, the law is no longer necessary” (p. 48).
“Sanctification is the process of submitting to the Holy Spirit as He works to produce this fruit in your life, so that your daily life matches up with who you really are now in Christ” (p. 81).
The book is written as a Bible study, with discussion questions and blanks to fill in answers. It would work well in a group study: in fact, some of the questions would have been more profitable with a group contributing their insights.
The book did clear up some things for me or reminded me of things that I know but need to go over again from time to time. There were a couple of places I wish he had gone into a little more detail. But overall I found this book to be not only thoroughly Biblical but also intensely practical.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)