“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”
Verse 3 contains the second rhetorical question dealing with faith versus works in the process of maturity.
Are you so foolish?
It is foolish to think that living the Christian life and becoming a Christian operate under different principles. It is incredible to Paul that the Galatians could separate justification by faith and sanctification by works. Works cannot sanctify us any more than they can justify us.
Having begun in the Spirit,
The word “begun” is literally to begin in. This refers to the time of conversion when the Christian received the Spirit. The “in” refers to our operating in the realm of the Spirit.
are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
The words “being made perfect” are an intensive word in Greek composed of two words: in and to accomplish, fulfill. The idea is to accomplish something fully. The issue here is spiritual maturity. It is not viable to begin the Christian life by faith and move to spiritual maturity by works. The works of the flesh cannot complete the process of maturity. The Greek indicates that the Galatians thought that they were maturing themselves.
The words “the flesh” correspond to “the works of the law.” God does not use the flesh to save a soul or sanctify the saint. God always bypasses the flesh to mature a believer. The flesh is the product of natural generation, not regeneration.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18).
“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so…” (Philippians 3:3-4).
The Bible defines a fool as a person who departs from the principle of grace in seeking spiritual maturity.
We started the Christian life in the Spirit (Romans 8:9), but maturity in Christ also comes through trust in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If the law cannot justify us, it cannot sanctify us. Grace is above the law for salvation and sanctification. We cannot mature in Christ by the law but only by the Spirit.
Some Christians begin the Christian life well but end poorly. They suffer from the flesh. They try to accomplish by the flesh what they began by the power of the Spirit. Maturity does not come by self-effort.
People will always present non-biblical panaceas for the Christian life. There is a danger of latching on doctrines not rooted in the Word — “This new idea will solve all my problems.” Hundreds of Christians have gone through one panacea pipe or another, whether it is a type of spiritual life, pleasure, friends, or a love affair. None of these can be “the” answer to life, for no panacea of sex, career, or politics can meet all your needs. You will never get on your mature spiritual feet with these things.
There is no utopia in this life. As long as we live, there will always be the “same old, same old.” The same old sixes and sevens keep coming up all over again. These panaceas are causes without ultimate hope.
No one should have any doubt we all deserve God’s wrath. None of us deserves God’s grace, yet He gives grace out of His matchless mercy. We cannot become Christians by works, and we cannot become mature by works. We mature by understanding God’s grace and appropriating that grace to our experience by faith.
If i cannot become mature through works or justified by works, why does James say that faith without deeds (works) are useless. If I do not start with good works, how will I be saved?
Werner, thanks for your blog.
The difference is between cause and effect. A person has to stop working for salvation in order to become a Christian. See this passage:http://versebyversecommentary.com/romans/romans-45/
Also look at a central passage on how a person becomes a believer without works but by faith. Start studying at this verse then read to the end of the chapter. If you have time continue to read into the next chapter (which is the next chapter). Here then is where to begin the study: http://versebyversecommentary.com/romans/romans-320/
Once a person becomes a Christian they will produce works. The argument of James is faith works, not works produce faith. A person who becomes a Christian will produce works/fruit.
Thus, the cause of salvation is faith in the work of Christ on the cross. The effect is works.
i have struggled for so many years with perfectionism as the world gets more apostate the battle gets worse there are just to many christians trying to live on a celebrity basis tv is digusting, i mean ministry. vanity and pride are the new norm , blowhards strutting on stage . a lot of us have had to be turned upside down to know it doesn’t work and it has practically ruined the view of christianity.why go on tv if you really dont trust god! they still obviously trust in their own thoughts,. scary stuff. it most certainly has to be a personal union with god, nothing else thank you
Thomas, thanks for your excellent comment.
It’s not the 10 commandments Paul is referring to. It’s that of the circumcision. The jews tradition. As today. People believe or should I say Christians. That if don’t go to church or pay tithes. You’re not justified. But that would be exactly what Paul is talking about. Being justified by works (the flesh). But not by the spirit.
Erwin, the argument of Galatians is grace versus the entire law of Moses called the “works of the law,” not simply the 10 commandments or circumcision (Ga:2:16; 3:2, 5, 12).
Grant, thanks for your excellent explanations.