5 Differences Between Walking in the Flesh and Walking in the Spirit

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What does it mean to be walking in the flesh and walking in the Spirit?  What can the Bible tell us about the differences between the two?

Walking in the Spirit

Paul addresses walking in the Spirit with a capital “S” which means that the word Spirit is a proper noun meaning this is God the Holy Spirit as we can tell in Colossians 1:9-10 “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”  If a believer is walking “in a manner worthy of the Lord” and is “fully pleasing to Him” then they will be “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” so someone who is walking in the Spirit of God will be producing good fruit proving that he or she is walking in the Spirit and that they will also be “increasing in the knowledge of God.” This means that they will necessarily have a thirst and hunger for the Word of God and be reading their Bible, studying the Word, hearing biblical teachings, and as a consequence, growing in the knowledge of God.  David had this hunger and thirst too which is why he wrote in Psalm 42:1-2 that “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  This gives us an image of a deer that has been running toward the flowing streams, which is indicative of having a thirst not only for God’s Word but for righteousness.  This is joined with a hunger for God and anyone who hungers after God is devouring the Word of God, which is the daily bread we all need to sustain us in our daily walk with God.  Charles Spurgeon said that “We are not justified by the manner of our walk, but by our being in Christ Jesus.”

5 Differences Between Walking in the Flesh and Walking in the Spirit

What can the Bible tell us about the differences between the two?

Walking in the Flesh

Paul tells the Galatian’s that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal 5:22-25).  The same thing as living by the Spirit or keeping “in step with the Spirit” is walking in the Spirit or being controlled by the Spirit of God by not yielding our bodies to “the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Paul reveals the evidence of a believer is faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and other such fruits and that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  If they haven’t then they won’t be crucifying the flesh but walking in the flesh.  By walking “by the Spirit” we won’t “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).  When we’re not walking in the Spirit of God, we will be gratifying the desires of the flesh so that’s the difference between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh.  The fruits or works we produce give evidence of whether we are walking in the Spirit or walking in the flesh. That’s how we can know that we are or we are not walking in the Spirit.  That’s why Paul wrote “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Cor 10:3) because “our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4).

Consequences of Walking in the Flesh

Paul had great concern for all the churches that they not walk in the flesh because the consequences are most severe and that includes the wages of this walk, which is death (Rom 6:23).  He continues in Romans 8:4b-8 by saying in Jesus “he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3c) so we must “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

By Jesus’ death for us “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:12-14) so living by the flesh results in death but if you are walking “by the Spirit” you will “put to death the deeds of the body (or flesh)” and live.    Paul was persuaded of better things concerning the Christians in Rome because he said “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” however “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9).

Walking in the Spirit or the Flesh?

Getting back to Paul’s letter to the Galatians he tells them to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:16-18).  If we are walking in the Spirit or as Paul commands the church “walk by the Spirit” which is the same thing, we will not be “gratifying the desires of the flesh.”  The converse is true…if we are not walking in the Spirit, then we will be walking in the flesh and producing the works of the flesh [which] are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Gal 5:19-21a).  Our works or fruits show which spirit we are walking in…either works of the Spirit or works of the flesh.

Five Differences Between Walking in the Flesh and in the Spirit

To sum it up we can see evidence of whether or not we are walking in the flesh or the Spirit as follows:

  1. Those who have the Spirit of God produce fruits that reveal whether they are a child of God or not.  If there are no Spiritual fruits, then God is not their Father.
  2. Those who walk in the Spirit have crucified the flesh and do not submit themselves to the desires of the flesh but those who don’t walk in the Spirit grieve the Spirit and their works producing nothing more than the wages that they have earned and that is death (Rom 6:23).
  3. Those who walk in the flesh live according to the flesh prove that they do by their works but those with the Spirit of God prove that they are Christ’s by producing a Christ-like life.
  4. Those who walk in the flesh produce the fruits of the flesh like sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal 5:20-21a) but those who walk in the Spirit “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
  5. Those who “put to death the deeds of the body (or flesh)” (Rom 8:13) are truly walking in the Spirit but those who do not have the Spirit of Christ assuredly do “not belong to him” (Rom 8:9).

Conclusion

If you have never been born again (John3:3) then you have the wrath of God abiding on you (John 3:18, 3:36b) and not one of your best works can ever please God because “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:8).  Since you have rejected Christ, if indeed you have, you reject your only hope of eternal life and have standing before you the eternal state of the wages that you have earned (Rom 6:23).  Because everyone has sinned (Rom 3:23) Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life but became sin for us so that when God the Father looks at us, He doesn’t see our sinfulness but He sees the righteousness of Christ and He imputes His righteousness to us (2 Cor 5:21).  Today, if you have heard His voice, repent and trust in Him because today can be your day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).  If not and Jesus returns before you are born again, you face a Christ-less eternity and the everlasting wrath of God (Rev 20:11-15).

More about the Fruit of the Spirit: Fruit of the Spirit list

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert October 27, 2014 at 11:36 am

Great article Jack,
It always amazes me to hear about a professing Christian who could care less about reading God’s Word. I pray that more Christians would feel that hunger and thirst you mention in your article. We would probably be more prepared for what we face in life then. God bless you, brother Jack.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

Reply

Jack Wellman October 27, 2014 at 11:39 am

Thank you brother. It is always a joy hearing from you. I often fall short and maybe that’s the Enemy trying to keep me away from what I need the very most.

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Felix Nnabugwu November 2, 2014 at 10:19 am

the articles are quite inspiring, please I need them accordingly

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Kris November 2, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Jhn 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Jhn 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Jhn 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

Rom 8:5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit

Gal 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

Gal 6:8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

2Co 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

1Co 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

Jhn 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the WORDS that I speak unto you, THEY ARE SPIRIT, and they are life.

Col 3:16 Let the WORD of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

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Jean April 18, 2016 at 10:21 am

Kris your post helped me today this world have a lot of trials tribulations . Im in good cheer that my lord and my saver overcome it .

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Lisa PATMORE November 5, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Hi Ps Jack I commented in abiding by the vine post which I then came to here. So from what I read in the scripture versus you have shared does this mean when we have the Holy Spirit we are always walking in the Spirit? Because I am not sure from my own experiences. I believe we can have the Spirit but can still grieve the Spirit at some stage in our walk, when we choose to go our own way. When I’ve grieved the Lord I have found, the Spirit convicts me when I finally listen to that still small voice. So when conviction leads to repentance would this also be a fruit of the Spirit too?

Our biggest struggle is that though we walk in His Spirit and we read the word, understand it, embrace it by revelation, by conviction, or by faith that an a+b=? formula does not work alone, I believe it needs to be a change that takes place inside the heart that by a free will choice to want to overcome the flesh even if we have not been able to thus far. To even begin our walk in the Spirit and overcome the flesh because I understand its not what enters a man that defiles him but it is what comes out (the inside, the heart). Eze 36:26 I will give you a new heart and will put a new Spirit in you, I will remove you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. It is interesting that the new heart is flesh, this must have some significant meaning but I do not own a strongs concordance but why does He use the word flesh?

Thank You Lisa 🙂

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Jack Wellman November 5, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Lisa, I believe Ezekiel uses the word “flesh” because it is more pliable and more open to accept change unlike a stony heart which is hard and impenetrable. I am not always able to walk in the Spirit, no, only Jesus Christ was able to do that. Yes, we can grieve the Spirit and we all have at one time or another. I know I have. Yes, I believe you are right…conviction leads to repentance and this is a sign that you are yielding to the Spirit and confessing sins when they happen. Yes, we can have the Spirit and still grieve Him but that is the life of a Christian. Amen to the change in the heart. I so agree.

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John Arsenault March 13, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Hi Jack
I would agree with most of what you say. The only thing I would say is that we do not produce any fruit of the Spirit, rather, we bear the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit comes from the Holy Spirit within. If we are trying to produce anything it is only fleshly. We are to simply rest in Him. To walk after the Spirit or the flesh, the apostle Paul is talking about behavior. Being in the flesh or in the Spirit, Paul is talking about our identity. We were all born into this world in the flesh, and we were of the flesh being in Adam. But once we are born again we are now new creations in the Spirit. Praise God for what only He could do.

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Jack Wellman March 13, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Excellent comment sir. I see your point and it is valid for sure. Thank you for your contribution. I like the “bearing” rather than producing. Good point Mr. Arsenault. I agree.

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Chris Carrera October 24, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Very inspiring and truthful. The modern day evangelism has these teachings hidden and therefore whenever someone comes to us with the truth, we see it as a foreign sadly. God bless you!

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Jean April 18, 2016 at 10:05 am

I thank the lord Jesus Christ for overcoming this sick world . Kris your post helped me today . When im battling with the flesh i look to God for help . As i was telling a co-worker of my about how i love the Lord she reply that she doesn’t believe on God she worshiped the moon God she eveenJean have a tattoo of the Moon on her on the back of her neck. From day one this girl always giving me hard time at this job . Yesterday i can sense the bad energy as i was working . People believing on using witch’Craft against others i had a night mare lastnight . I woke up today looking for the lord your post helped .

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eumas.org May 27, 2016 at 2:55 am

I always believe in Jesus Christ. I pray everyday that he will give me strength that I can recover all my problems, and guide me always. Sometimes, when I’m down, I pray that he will comfort me. This article teaches us good things and I am thankful that you share it.

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Paul July 7, 2017 at 11:53 am

Paul instructs believers we should live righteously, it is our reasonable service so that said it is possible we can live less then that life, but by growing in the grace of god we can live this life that god desires of us. But let’s make one thing clear, you cannot ever lose your salvation once your born again!

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Jack Wellman July 7, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Thank you Paul. Well said sir.

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Thomas Nganga May 1, 2018 at 9:09 am

Thanks you have blessed my soul

Reply

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