“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 becoming a Christian and living the Christian life 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 functioning 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 or fulfill. The idea is to achieve 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, neither can it 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. Latching on doctrines not rooted in the Word is dangerous — “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 that 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.