Can We Walk With God?
by Rick Shrader
One has only to read the Scripture to know that a believer should walk with God. “That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory” (1 Thes. 2:12). “As ye have therefore received Jesus Christ the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6). “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Surely there is nothing more important for a child of God than to walk with Him and yet if there is anything that seems elusive in the Christian life it is this. How is it that a sinful creature, albeit saved and positionally sanctified by the Spirit, can walk in fellowship with the holy God of all creation? Yet He has written, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite one” (Isa. 57:15).
Humble and contrite are key here because no one claims to have “arrived” in this most holy endeavor and truly we have not. We are all on an upward plane growing more and more unto the perfect day when we will be like Him and see Him as He is. And everyone who does have this hope is in the process of being purified (1 John 3:2-3). Yet what true believer does not have a yearning inside him or her to walk closer with God tomorrow than today? What believer does not mourn over sin and rejoice over the promise of eternal life? Surely we all do and if we do not we are not only out of fellowship with Him but are in a dangerous and defeated place.
Age has its advantages and its regrets. Experience has taught us by trial and pain to avoid many things and we may live with the scars of battles lost and won. The immaturity of our youth lives with us longer than we desire and we pray daily that our children will know to avoid those failures themselves and be helped by a godly testimony now. We have learned that the world is no friend of grace and the oasis of worldly pleasure is a mirage that is an idol of the soul and keeps us from God’s fellowship. Heaven is closer now for all of us, and we press toward the finish with a certain joy that is set before us. Death is both an exit and an entrance which leads to a perfect walk with God.
“Religion,” wrote the godly Doddridge, “in its most general view, is such a sense of God on the soul, and such a conviction of our obligations to him, and of our dependence upon him, as shall engage us to make it our great care to conduct ourselves in a manner which we have reason to believe will be pleasing to him.”1 The apostle Paul also would agree who wrote, “that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more” (1 Thes. 4:1).
My encouragement for the new year would be to continue on the road of walking closer with God. The day in which we live provides enough obstacles and battles that we are not left without opportunities for our growth. A trial that frustrates the body cannot touch the soul that rests in Him. A beating, jail, and chains could not keep Paul and Silas from singing praises. A storm on Galilee brought the words from the Lord, “peace, be still” and that is why Peter later admonished those who suffer to “commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19).
I have found with Solomon that of the making of books, even on the subject of walking with God and our sanctification, there is no end. I’ve tried to benefit from each one that I have read in some way. Yet when it comes right down to it, the believer has to do it, not just read about it. The Book has to be opened, the knees have to be bent, the tongue has to be loosed, the flesh has to be lectured, and the spirit has to be fed. The race has already begun and the battle engaged. We can take our ease on the sidelines or be part of the fray. I’m a foot soldier as many others, and glad to be and I see a number of things that factor into our walk with God.
The church is busy
The church in general is too busy building things than walking with God. All of my life, from the second half of the twentieth century into this half of the twenty first, church life has largely been a race to be the biggest and the best. I’m a committed fundamental Baptist and I grew up in a large church and found my way into the ministry, but the pitfalls for many of my brethren have been evident. When the goal is to build the church larger and faster, there is always a grab bag of pragmatic tools in each generation that will accomplish the task. The larger evangelical scene has exploded this kind of church growth movement exponentially.
There have been good and not so good results from “building” churches in this way. I’m sure that many souls have been saved due to aggressive evangelism and soul winning. Praise the Lord! Baptists have sent more missionaries to the field than any other denomination and, no doubt, spent millions upon millions of dollars doing it. That fruit is still reproducing itself though the number of personnel is now shrinking quickly as an older generation dies off. Property and buildings are enjoyed by congregations today who may not have had to bear the burden of the mortgage.
But there are negative results from the church growth movement. The success syndrome has taken its toll on the spiritual life of the church. Godliness and Scriptural admonitions are easily set aside in favor of things that attract the unsaved and worldly. Cultural acceptance is paramount as surveys dictate what the church should look like, how the church should perform, and even how the message should be preached. As John warned, “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them” (1 John 4:5).
The point is that it is not necessary to walk with God in order to “build” a church, at least not in the modern sense of the word. There are plenty of methodologies available to the church that can be handled by the carnal and ungodly which will virtually guarantee a crowd. In fact, the church acting godly would probably guarantee the lack of a crowd. Godliness doesn’t make the unchurched comfortable nor should it. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to make the churched comfortable either.
We might learn a lesson from the evangelical Francis Chan. He started a church in his living room in Los Angeles that grew to over 5000. Then all of a sudden he resigned and went back to a house-church model. His reasons were a lack of Christians using their gifts, a waste of millions of dollars, a lack of love for one another, and having the unpleasing role of a celebrity.2 Now I’m not advocating house-churches to the exclusion of buildings. Buildings are better. But here is a man who just got tired of “building” a church to the exclusion of a real walk with God. Surely fundamentalists ought also to feel the pull toward the godliness of our forefathers.
Walking as a Biblical word
Any English Concordance will give you hundreds of uses of the word “walk” in reference to our spirituality. The New Testament has two Greek primary words with various forms: peripateō (to walk around), and poreuomai (to travel). When you think about it, walking is a unique analogy to our spiritual life with God. First, we “walk in the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:13), i.e., we have to exist in this fleshly body. We are not ghosts that float around in spirit only. We have to carry this carcass around with us and we are limited to its space. The body in which we walk is dying yet yearns to stay around and take its ease. We have to keep under it and bring it into subjection.
Second, walking means not too fast and not too slow. Though our existence is also called a race, we are told that with God we must walk, communing and enjoying our travel. We cannot go too slowly either lest we stop or fail to advance in the journey. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa. 1:1). Third, walking takes balance. To walk circumspectly is to walk carefully as a man on a tight rope (akribōs is as an acrobat). To veer off to one side or the other is to lose our equilibrium and fall. Fourth, to walk means to be going in a certain direction. Paul said of Titus, “Walked we not in the same spirit, walked we not in the same steps?” (2 Cor. 12:18). Paul knew where he was going and Titus was going there too. Fifth, we have to think as we walk. “Let us walk honestly, as in the day” (Rom. 13:13). A man who doesn’t contemplate his walk is losing his way.
Sixth, it takes light to walk. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth” [NKJ, ‘do not practice the truth,’] but if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:6). God is light, John says, and there is no walking with God apart from this light. Seventh, there are rules of the road that must be kept. “And as many as walk according to this rule” (Gal. 6:16). Eighth, and most importantly, we walk as our Lord taught us, by His example. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6). In addition, the Bible gives us several examples of how not to walk: as the world walks, in the lust of our flesh, disorderly, in darkness, as enemies of the cross. Walking is something all able people do everyday. Walking with God ought also to be second nature to the believer.
Is there a secret?
In a day of quick fixes we may find ourselves looking from church to church, seminar to seminar, book to book, forum to forum, for the sure-fire formula to spiritual life. Since walking with God is mostly a matter of progressive sanctification, we can fall into one of the two pitfalls that have always presented themselves. One is to find our rest in self-serving work that glorifies us rather than God. I’m not disparaging good works. The New Testament is filled with commandments and spiritual laws. Legalism is not to be found in the mere existence of law. But walking with God must be just that—a walk with God and not with ourselves. We must walk only to please Him, not others, not heroes, not leaders, and certainly not ourselves.
The other is to think that we can “let go and let God” do it all for us. This formula sounds good to the spiritualist. He thinks that he has arrived at a plane above the dirty din of the world and is sailing along with no effort of his own. Sanctification to him is all positional with no room for sanctification that takes real effort and work. I think Charles Ryrie said it best years ago in his book, Balancing the Christian Life,
Is there a ‘secret’ for victory in this area? Yes, there is, and it is no secret! . . . . Again the human and divine are joined in the matter of walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). The life that does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh is the life that walks by means of the Spirit, and yet it is I who am commanded to walk by means of the Spirit. Even Galatians 2:20 reminds me that Christ lives in me and I live the life. In other words, it is quite clear from the Scriptures that there are a correlation and a conjunction of both the human and divine agencies in sanctification. To exclude or deemphasize one or the other is to miss an important aspect of the truth and to have an unbalanced, defective spirituality.3
So the walk with God is not legalism nor is it license. God certainly has regenerated us and indwells us through His Spirit. We have added His spiritual presence to our existence and we walk in the light as He is in the light. Yet we fight a good fight that involves our flesh as well as our spirit and we have weapons and armor fit for the battle.
In one way we walk as a unified creature. We cannot separate body and spirit until death and progressive sanctification involves the whole person. “Be joyful in the Lord, my heart! Both soul and body bear your part: To God all praise and glory.”4 We are not Gnostics who think our souls travel to higher realms above the sinful body. We are not Epicureans who think we might as well eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die. Yet in another way we realize that body and soul are different. Paul explained that the body is just a tent that will be folded up and put away some day (2 Cor. 5:1) and to be separated from the body and go on to heaven is a far better thing (Phil. 1:23). The body can suffer and even die but neither can affect the life of the spirit. The joy of the martyr at the time of death will always amaze us. “Fear none of those things,” John said to the persecuted church at Smyrna.
We are all susceptible to failure
The immediate problem with dealing with a subject such as walking with God is that we all fail in many ways. We have our devotions and fully intend to have a consistent walk and then we don’t. Our time, interests, distractions, tempers, lusts, appetites, the cares of this world, all seem to pile upon us and we find ourselves confessing them again and starting anew. We read that we are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect but we never come close. We read how Jesus walked and we try to follow His example but we fail. We feel the leading of the Holy Spirit and then we contradict Him and say no, not now, maybe next time. That is, we are all human.
We will be like Jesus one day but not now. Death will be our graduation from this school called life, and we will “be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:3). Until then we are going in that direction. Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). God sees me as “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and wearing the righteousness of Christ for my pardon positionally, but I have not attained practically to that standard, not in this life.
The message in John’s first epistle is that as believers we do walk (present tense, continually) in the light as He is in the light and we do have fellowship with Him (present tense, continually) and therefore the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us (present tense, continually) from all sin (1 John 1:7-8). However, since we still sin we must confess our sins (aorist tense, occasionally) and He does forgive us those sins (aorist tense, occasionally) as often as we confess (1: 9-10). In fact, when we sin (aorist tense, occasionally) we have an Advocate Who is the propitiation for those sins (2:1-2). So He has made provision for our failures and for all our sin.
When do we rest?
The Scriptures continually remind us that our rest is in heaven and in the future kingdom of God. Until then it is walking, work, and war. He has called us to glory (Rom. 8:30), to redemption (1 Cor. 1:31), for corruption to inherit incorruption and for mortality to inherit immortality (1 Cor. 15:54), to our conversation in heaven so that our vile body may be like His heavenly body (Phil. 3:21), to be presented faultless before His presence (Jude 24). And much more.
In the old book by Richard Baxter (1615-1691) titled, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest5, Baxter has a whole chapter titled, “It Is Not On Earth.” Here he has six ways that our present afflictions actually cause us to look forward to rest. For example, trials make us desire rest. Then he gives seven reasons why our present rest hinders us on our way and can become an idol to us. One is that we contradict the type of rest which God will one day give us. Then he gives nine causes of “our unreasonable unwillingness to die” because hanging on to this life shows a dissatisfaction with our coming rest. His point is that we have an eternity of rest coming which encourages us in all our journey to be diligent in our walk and endure everything in our time here. A walk always comes to an end, and so will ours.
And So . . .
There is nothing more important in the Christian life than to walk with God and we should let nothing hinder us from it. After all, we are going to walk with Him throughout eternity and how offensive it would be to Him to desire the things of this world that keep us from His fellowship. We might be better off to be taken home early so that we would change our mind quickly than to be carnal for so long.
Walking with God is both difficult and easy. Jesus invited us to wear His yoke but said that His yoke is easy and His burden light. As exercise is painful but eventually brings good health, as a diet is unpleasing but later brings satisfaction, so learning to walk with God is contrary to our old nature but afterward yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Let us not be weary in this well-doing because we’ll reap if we faint not.
- Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (U. of Michigan reprint from an 1873 edition) 13.
- Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973) 38, 65.
- “Sing Praise to God,” verse 4.
- Richard Baxter, The Saints Everlasting Rest (Boston: The American Tract Society, nd) 225-254.