Watching my daughter in ballet class is always a delight. Her teacher often instructs by demonstrating each move in its proper form. The young girls then follow her across the dance floor, imitating as best they can. Their progress is dependent on how closely they can adhere to an established form. But the end result is not rigid. There is (hopefully) a delicacy and expression within that varies with each student; it is dancing.
This is a good illustration of what Paul means when he says Christians are to “keep in step with the Spirit” in Galatains 5:25. To our ears walking “in step” may sound burdensome – more rules to follow! But this is exactly the opposite of what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Galatians. The Galatians were losing sight of the gospel by adding rules and regulations; they were burdening themselves with unnecessary laws. Paul says this is like submitting to a “yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Whenever we choose to walk in sin, we are willingly becoming slaves to sin. In contrast, walking with the Spirit brings true freedom, because “for freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1). Obedience to the true God always brings freedom, not slavery. Even the Psalmist said long before Paul that “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (Psalm 119:45).
You can’t walk with the Spirit once a week, or even once a day. To keep in step with him means to look to him moment by moment, step by step. It means continually analyzing the world, and your decisions, through the lens of the Bible. It does not mean waiting around, in fear of making a wrong decision. It means knowing God is always with us and goes before us. It means being constant in prayer. It results in “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
It’s humbling to remember that Jesus himself submitted to the Spirit’s leading while he was on earth (see Mark 1:12, for example). And the way that Jesus taught his disciples was to walk with them as he led the way (Mark 10:32) to the cross, to the grave, to the sky. Jesus leads us the same way today, only he does so by the Spirit.
When I read that we are to keep in step with the Spirit, I also think of when I was a child, walking hand in hand with my mom or dad, trying to stretch out my steps to match theirs. Now my own children do the same, trying to keep up as they walk with me. Are you striving to match the Spirit step for step, are you stretching for that, or does he have to drag you along? Are you seeking to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), or are you indulging the sinful nature? Do you read the Bible daily, expecting to hear God speak, or haven’t you made time for that lately? As a church are we carrying each other’s burdens, or are we instead “provoking and envying each other” (5:26)?
My daughter tells me she watches her dance teacher “like a hawk.” I suspect she has been instructed to do so! It has been amazing to see the results. Not only is she a little ballerina, but her everyday manner of walking, of carrying herself, has been infused with a delicate grace. How would your life change if you watched the Spirit like a hawk? If you deliberately took each step with him, I can tell you Christian, it will change your life. And it is to you, for whom he died, over whom sin no longer reigns, that he holds out his hand today.