Hard Act to Follow


This verse has always intrigued me. I understand what it means to live by the Spirit, which living by the will and direction of God as revealed in His word. The Bible was written by the Spirit, so to live by the Spirit is to live by the Scriptures. I try to do that daily. It’s not easy, but it is a standard I’ve tried to live life by.

On the other part, well, have you have danced with a Bible? Or tried to keep pace with someone who is invisible? Yeah, well, I haven’t. And this is the part that intrigues me. ”Keep in step with the Spirit” should be something I can do, since Paul makes that a part of our Christian Living. But what does it mean?

Well, if you do a little word study, the Greek that lies behind this word has the sense of marching while other translations offer ”walk with the Spirit.” The word implies walking in ranks, or in rows. Soldiers march in orderly rows. To “keep in step” is to match your stride with the Spirit’s lead.

Something else I might mention. The verb in question is in the plural. The command isn’t to us individually, but to us as a group, which we might expect given the nature of the word. The command is to all Christians to march together, with the Spirit leading us in step. Now that makes much more sense.

That also makes this much harder in practice. My ability to walk in step with the Spirit now depends on my ability to keep in step with others who are also marching to His beat. This isn’t about my own ability to walk with the Spirit, as some translations may imply. This is about our ability to march together. I dare say we have had many problems with this.

Where I work, we have a number of religious designations. We have Jewish, Other, None, and about 13 brands of Christianity. I guarantee that these do not march in step with each other, and each would prefer to be in their own armies altogether. What happened to us? (That is a rhetorical question. I know what happened, and it is long and complicated.)

In the very letter Paul wrote these words, He was arguing against the Judiazers, a conservative wing in the Christian movement that desired to see new Gentiles convert to Judaism to become real Christians (because Jesus was a Jew?). From the beginning, the church has had challenges to its ability to march in step, with some falling behind and others moving too far forward. The orders of the Spirit become too faint against the rhetoric and argument we exchange with each other on the interpretation of those orders. It seems natural to me that not everyone will be doing the same thing, since we differ in gifts. But we all ought to agree on our general direction, the source of our authority, and who is giving the orders. When Spirit and man differ, who do we listen to? When a man calls a group away from the rest, is he following the Spirit? When the army no longer follows the Scripture, has it forfeited its leadership to follow something else?

Paul, and Scripture, has this way of showing us the mirror and the truth of who we are and what we’re doing. Getting into this Word means heeding the call of the Spirit. Thank you for joining me this morning on this little excursion. You may now resume the march. God bless.

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I've been in ministry in the Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ for 20+ years. Finished my doctorate in Biblical Studies in 2015. Serve today as a Hospital Chaplain.

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