Understanding Galatians 3: The Christian Life – Receiving the Spirit by faith vs. perfecting ourselves in the flesh.


Galatians deals with 2 errors.  First it deals with the error that justification is by the works of the law, rather than by faith in Christ.  Second, it deals with a more subtle error – the notion that now that we have been justified, the law is the reference point for perfection in living.

At the end of Galatians 2, Paul climaxes his line of argument with the famous section :

“I am Crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life that I now live I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Remember Paul is not only talking in Galatians about how to justified, but also how we are to live here in the flesh.   On the one hand, I am crucified with Christ and it is not I who live, but Christ.  But this is not self – eradication.  I still live – “the life I live in the flesh“.  Yet, this life is a life of faith – in the Son of God.  This life of faith is “not I, but Christ living in me”.  This is the mystery of the Christian life, that Paul was chosen to be the first to reveal.  The next section in chapter 3 is a continuation of this thought – How is it that Christ now lives in us?

Gal 3:1  O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? did you receive the Spirit out the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? are you so foolish,? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  He therefore who bountifully supplies the Spirit to you and does works of power among you, does He do it by the works of law, or by the hearing of faith?

Christ lives in Me By the supply of the Spirit through Faith.

How is it that Christ lives in me?   On my part it is by faith.  But on God’s part, it is by the continual supply of the Spirit, through the “hearing of faith.”  This is contrasted with being “perfected by the flesh” according to the works of the law.  First he tells the galatians that they have been “bewitched” – which means to be fascinated with a false impression.

The eyes of the their hearts were initially brought to focus in faith on the crucified Christ who was proclaimed to them through the gospel, but now they had become fascinated with something else – by the false impressions of another gospel which wasn’t a completely different gospel, but a subtle perversion of the gospel they had received.

Then he asks them several questions in verses 2-5. “

did you receive the Spirit out the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?

are you so foolish?

Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh

He therefore who bountifully supplies the Spirit to you and does works of power among you, does He do it by the works of law, or by the hearing of faith?

In these verses, he is bringing their attention back to the beginning of their experience with Christ, not focusing only on the objective truth they heard, but the subjective work of the Spirit that they had experienced that confirmed the word.  In Paul’s mind these two things are not separated.

He wants to bring them back to the Spirit it as the source of their Christian life which is supplied through the Gospel.  Also, in Paul’s mind, the Spirit is not something separate from Christ, but is the practicality of “Christ living in me.”

So the Galatian reader, who has been fascinated and distracted by a kind of righteousness and perfection in the flesh that is by the law, is being reminded 1) of the crucified Christ that was initially proclaimed to him.  2) The Spirit that he had received.

How did he receive the Spirit initially? By the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Then Paul goes on to ask – having begun in the Spirit, are you now going to be perfected by the flesh?

Clearly here Paul is talking about the kind of living that we are to have now after we have been justified.  He is talking about Christian perfection (or sanctification).   It is a life of continual receiving of the Spirit.  On the one hand their attention is brought to their having “received the Spirit.”  But then their attention is brought to the fact that God “bountifully supplies the Spirit” and does works of power among them..

There is an ongoing supply from God, which supply is source of the Christian life.  The Christian life is begun in the Spirit by those who have received the Spirit.  The Christian life is continued after that, not by being perfected in the flesh, by self effort, or by works of law,  but by the further receiving of the Spirit, from the God who bountifully supplies the Spirit.

This further receiving is also not by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith. Again, what Paul is addressing here is not only justification in the sense of the initial objective forgiveness before God, but the continual receiving of the Spirit to be the ongoing source of the Christian life.

This is the practicality of “Christ living in us.”  Paul says the same thing in Philippians 1:19-21 “this shall turn out to me to salvation through your petition and the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.. that in nothing I shall be put to shame..that Christ shall be magnified in my body, through life or death, for me to live is Christ“.

Salvation in Philippians is the magnification of Christ, the living of Christ, by the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.   This is the Christian life.  Once again, in Paul’s view, the beginning of our Christian life is not to be different from the continuation of the Chritsian life.

As He said in Colossians, 2:6-8 “as you have received the Lord Jesus, so walk in Him. rooted and built up in him, and assured in the faith, even as ye have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. See that there be no one who shall lead away as a prey through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the teaching of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ.” In Colossians, we have a similar encouragement from Paul.

The beginning of the Christian life is that of receiving the Lord Jesus.  The continuation of the Christian life is the same. “As you received… so walk.”  Not only that, but don’t let anyone distract you from this Person or lead you away from Him.

In Colossians to be led away from Christ was to be taken away from His headship – so that He is not heading up your life.  In Galatians, its the same – to be led away from Christ by the law is to separate you from Christ and to nullify the grace of God in your life.

In both cases, the source of these distractions from Christ is Satan himself and these are his strategies to minimize and nullify the reality of Christ in the believers, to try to thwart and prevent the building up of the Body of Christ.

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