The Experience of the Galatians Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Since the Holy Spirit does so much for believers, this means that the believer has a responsibility to the Holy Spirit, who lives within his body—“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's” (1 cor. 6.19, 20). The Christian should walk in the Spirit—“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5.16, 25)—by reading the Word, praying, and obeying God’s will. If he disobeys God, then he is grieving the Spirit—“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4.30), and if he persists in doing this, he may quench the Spirit—“Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5.19). This does not mean the Holy Spirit will leave him, because Jesus has promised that the Spirit abides forever—“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (Eph. 14.16). But it does mean that the Holy Spirit cannot give him the joy and power he needs for daily Christian living. Believers should be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5.18-21) which simply means “controlled by the Spirit.” This is a continuous experience, like drinking water from a fresh stream (John 7.37-39). In their conversion experience, the Galatian believers had received the Spirit by faith and not by the works of the Law.

Paul appealed to the Galatian’s own salvation to refute the false teacher’s false teaching that keeping the Law is necessary for salvation.

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
Question 2: If the Holy Spirit is the One who converted you, brought you to Christ, and now you are indwelt by the Spirit of God, are you going to turn back to the Law (which was given to control the flesh) and think you are going to live on a high plane?”

Are you so foolish?
Shocked at how easily the Galatians had been duped, Paul asked another question, but he assumed that he knew the answer they would give, so he asked them a rhetorical question, again rebuking them for their foolishness—were they so foolish that they thought they could begin the Christian life in one way (by faith), and then move on to spiritual maturity in another (by works). This was what the Judaizers promoted, but the means of justification and sanctification were (and are) the same. There was no provision under the Law for the Holy Spirit to do a work of sanctification. The Galatian believers probably thought that keeping the old Law would aid them in their spiritual lives, but it would not. The notion that weak, sinful, fallen human nature (“the flesh”) could improve on the work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous to Paul.

Having begun in the Spirit,
Having begun with the Holy Spirit ruling your spiritual life as its “essence and active principle” are you now willing to be ruled by the “flesh” which is how the Law works. Having begun your Christianity in the Spirit, that is, in the divine life that proceeds from faith, are you now seeking something even higher (the perfecting of your Christianity) in the sensuous and the earthly, that cannot possibly elevate the inner life of the Spirit through outward ceremonies. No doubt the Corinthians thought they were going more deeply into the Spirit; because the flesh can be easily mistaken for the Spirit even by those who have made progress, unless they continue to maintain a pure faith.

are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
If you did not begin with the Law, why bring it in now. If you began with the Spirit, can you go on to maturity without the Spirit, depending on the flesh? The word “flesh” here does not refer to the human body, but rather to the believer’s old nature. Whatever the Bible says about flesh is usually negative—“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6.63). Since we were saved through the Spirit, and not the flesh, through faith and not the Law, it is reasonable that we should continue that way.

4 Have you suffered so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain?
Question 3: Did you suffer in vain? He reminds them that

they had paid a price for receiving the gospel. Was it all going to be in vain, without a purpose? “You have begun in the Spirit,” writes Paul. “Nothing need be added! Walk in the Spirit and you will grow in the Lord.”

The third question has been interpreted in at least two ways
1. It looked back on the persecution the apostles and new believers experienced in the region of Galatia. As Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps at the end of their first missionary journey, they warned their converts that they would suffer as Christians—“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14.21, 22). Persecution evidentially soon followed, and Paul reminded them that if they turned from grace to Law they would brand their former position “in vain” and would then have suffered so much for nothing. But the apostle was unwilling to believe that they would turn from grace.
2. “Suffered” probably does not refer to persecution or to the burden of law-keeping,” but is used in a good sense—experienced. The Greek word rendered “suffered” has the basic meaning of “experienced,” and this interpretation is favored by the continuing mention of the Spirit in the next verse; therefore, it does not necessarily imply pain and hardship. Paul used this word to describe the Galatians personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ.

“Many things” refers to all the blessings of salvation from God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1.3).

“In vain” means fruitlessly, needlessly, since they might have avoided persecution by professing Judaism, or by worshipped some heathen deity. Or, shall they, by falling from grace lose the reward promised for all their sufferings, so that it was all done in vain.

Paul does not give up hope in the Galatian believers—I hope for better things from you, because I hope you will turn from legalism to grace, and if I am right, you will not have “suffered so many things in vain,”because “God has given you the Spirit and has wrought many mighty works among you” (v. 5).

5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Qestion 4: On what basis did God perform miracles? The book of Acts records that miracles were performed among the Galatians by divine power: “Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14.3). It was clear that these supernatural works were not the result of “the works of the law,” but from the hearing that leads to faith. The Galatians did not know the Law and Paul’s message was justification by faith.

The “He” in this verse refers to the Father as the One who “supplies the Spirit” and “works miracles among you them.” The same Holy Spirit who came into the believer at conversion continues to work in him and through him so that the whole body is built up:
• “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4.16).
• “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God” (Col. 2.19).
The Father continues to “supply the Spirit” in power and in blessing and this is done by faith and not “by the works of the Law.” When they were saved and received the Spirit, the Galatians didn’t know anything about Jewish Law; therefore they were not saved by keeping the Law, but through saving faith granted when hearing the gospel—“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10.17). The “hearing of faith” is actually hearing with faith. Paul appealed to the Galatians own salvation experience to refute the Judaizers false teaching that keeping the Law was necessary for salvation. The phrase “among you” can also be translated within you. These miracles, therefore, would also include wonderful changes in the lives of the Christians, as well as signs and wonders within the church fellowship.

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