As Christians, we tend to take a lot of what we say to one another for granted. We use many phrases and idioms without considering what they mean or what they sound like to outsiders. This includes terms and phrases such as “blood of the lamb,” “born again,” and “God works in mysterious ways.”

One such phrase that has seen increased use in recent times is “righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit,” a quote from the Apostle Paul. Those are all words that sound positive and spiritual, but what are the actual implications in our lives?

When we talk about walking with God, it is easy to keep at just that – talk. To walk deeply with God is another matter. There are no breaks from the Holy Spirit, and there is not a moment when the eyes of the Father are not on us – whether in private or in public. For many Christians, this line of thought can lead to anxiety and a works-based religion. For others, it means leaning into God’s grace with the hope that He will forgive consistent missteps and bad habits (often outright sins). But is this what God wants from a believer?

Between God’s holiness and graciousness, many people struggle with the pressures of pleasing a perfect God, and others put in no effort, assuming that God’s grace will cover them. Paul makes challenges both extremes, however. In Romans 14:17, he states that the kingdom of God manifests itself in “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Righteousness means a conforming of one’s nature with God’s holy standard, and peace implies the absence of anxiety. Joy is overabundant and exuberant pleasure from the knowledge of God’s goodness. Paul’s statement requires an intentional walk in righteousness. However, if life is just a sequence of missing or making God’s will, then we will live our lives in fear and rigidity.

The amazing thing about walking with God is that, though God is just and holy, believers are promised peace and joy. These benefits are emotional, but also much deeper than what we can feel in the natural. Since human beings seem to have such little control over their own emotions, how do they maintain peace and joy as well as a righteous lifestyle? Well, the most important part of this verse might be “in the Holy Spirit.” A walk of faith with the Holy Spirit (or, put another way, trust in the Holy Spirit) is the only way to live out Paul’s mandate. Abuse of God’s grace or a fear-driven life will miss this mark, but the Holy Spirit that inhabits believers is the key to finding balance.

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