“Walking” is a metaphor drawn from the Old Testament that refers to the way a person should behave. Paul, himself a Jew, makes use of this metaphor often in his letters to describe the type of conduct that should characterize the Christian life. His use of this metaphor is also likely connected to the first name that was associated with the early church. Before the followers of Jesus were called Christians (Acts 11:26), they were known simply as followers of “the Way” (John 14:6, Acts 22:4, 24:14). This suggests that, at a very early date, Christianity was not merely a set of theological beliefs that centered on Jesus but was also a “way” of life to be “walked.” 1
Conduct in the Old Testament simply was not defined as “walking” but more particularly as “walking in the law.” Halakhah is the legal term Jews use to refer to the rules and regulations found in both the law and the rabbinic traditions of their forefathers. While Halakhah usually is translated “the Jewish law,” the word actually is based on the Hebrew word for “to walk” and literally means “the way of going.”
Paul’s comments about “walking in the Spirit” are not contrary to obedience to the law. He is not proposing that Christians should live in a way that violates the law. Again, Paul is not opposed to the law or to obedience to the law. What he is opposed to is the legalistic way in which the law was being misused. The genuine obedience that God desires never can be achieved by outward compulsion but only by an inward motivation produced by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18).
What has been your own experience of “walking in the Spirit”? How do you do that? What practices in your life make this kind of walk more difficult?