To live in the Spirit means to be a born-again believer who has received eternal life and has the Spirit of God inside of you. It is something that is freely given the moment you release faith in the finished work of Christ.
To walk in the Spirit is to live out this salvation you received by fixing your mind on the things of the Spirit, and as a result, the Bible says that you will bear righteous fruit.
We know that there is a difference between these two terms because the apostle Paul after he got done listing the fruit that will be released in our lives when we walk in the Spirit, said, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
He separated the two. He essentially said, “since this is a fact in our lives, we should also walk it out.”
Something to note here before I continue is there is a difference between living in the Spirit and living according to the Spirit, or some translations say “living after the Spirit”. I think this is where many people get confused, so I want to address it.
To live in the Spirit, as mentioned before, is to receive eternal life the moment the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of you. To live according to/after the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit.
How do we know that living after the Spirit is the same thing, just different terminology, as walking in the Spirit?
Because the apostle Paul in Galatians 5 uses these terms interchangeably.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16-18)
When Paul wrote “but if you are led by the Spirit” it was not a new thought, it was a continuation of his point on walking in the Spirit.
So whenever you see the terms “living according to the Spirit”, “living after the Spirit”, “being led by the Spirit”, or “walking in the Spirit” just know that these are referring to the same thing.
But you have to pay special attention to the wording, because “living in the Spirit” is not the same as living “according to”, “after”, “led”, or “walking” in the Spirit.
The latter always has to do with living out our salvation, while the former has to do with the fact that we are saved.
I say all of this so that I can finally reveal to you the meaning of these two terms.
What it means to walk in the Spirit
In Romans chapter 8 we see the apostle Paul explaining the difference between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh, similarly to how he explained it in Galatians chapter 5.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk 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, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:1-6)
Notice that the apostle Paul says that if we want to walk in the flesh then we should set our minds on the things of the flesh, but if we want to walk in the Spirit then we should set our minds on the things of the Spirit.
So when we set our minds on spiritual things (i.e. the word of God, love, prayer, worship, etc.) then we are walking in the Spirit and we will naturally bear the fruit of the Spirit that is found in Galatians 5:22-23.
What it means to live in the Spirit
After the apostle Paul explains what it means to walk in the Spirit, he begins to explain that since we have the Spirit of God we should not walk in the flesh, but in the Spirit.
“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His…Therefore, brethren, 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.” (Romans 8:9 & 12-13)
Notice in the first part of this passage Paul is referring to living in the Spirit (i.e. salvation). We know this because he says “you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” (He did not say, “according to”, “after”, or “walk,” he said “in”).
He even confirms that he is referring to salvation right after this statement by saying “if you don’t have the Spirit of Christ you are not His.”
Then right after the apostle Paul says these things, he goes right back to walking according to the Spirit a couple of verses later, just like he did in Galatians 5:25.
So in short, to live in the Spirit is to be saved. It is to have the Spirit of God dwelling in us through faith, resulting in salvation.
The danger of living in the Spirit but not walking in the Spirit
Before I finish, I want to warn you about the dangers of being saved and continually walking in the flesh, and not in the Spirit.
The apostle Paul, and others, make multiple warnings about this throughout the New Testament, but since Paul made the warning within the passages I was sharing with you I feel obligated to mention it as well.
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul gives a list of the works of the flesh and then after, gives a warning for those who consistently practice these things.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
These verses are as clear as day. If you are someone who got saved in the past and had the Spirit in you, but then as time went on you decided to walk in the flesh and practice the things listed above, the Word of God says that you will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Notice, this is addressed to believers, and in the context of these believers growing in God and Paul makes this warning. In fact, this isn’t the only time he made this warning. He said that he has told them this many times!
Paul even mentions this to the Corinthian church when he found out that believers sinned against one another and went to court against each other. When he found this out, he rebuked them and said,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
I say this not to scare you or to beat you up. I say this to exhort you and to warn you. Do not be someone who prayed a prayer 10 years ago but then continued in sin as if you never even received the Spirit of God.
The Bible calls this “trampling underfoot the Son of God” and says there is a judgment waiting for this person (Hebrews 10:26-31).
You don’t want to be this person! If you have been before you found this article, come back to Jesus. Confess your wrongs to Him and He will forgive you (1 John 1:9). Then start learning to set your mind on the things of the Spirit so that you can be able to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
I want to make myself clear; I’m not talking about perfection and never sinning, I am referring to a repentant heart. I am referring to being someone that is constantly seeking Jesus, and lives as such even in the midst of their stumbling.
The warning that I, and the word of God, are giving in these passages is if you choose to live in sin (not stumble there, but live there), you will not inherit the Kingdom of God because you are willingly choosing to partake in the very thing the Christ died for.