In studying the book of Galatians recently, I was so encouraged by meditating on the opening verses of chapter 3. In the context of this letter “to the churches of Galatia” (1.2), Paul is defending one of the fundamental truths of the gospel: salvation is by faith alone through Jesus Christ alone. This truth had been called into question by false-teaching that was increasingly circulating amongst the churches, which purported that, in addition to faith in Jesus Christ, works of the law (in this case, circumcision) were also necessary in order to attain right legal standing before God (known as “justification”). Paul was writing to defend the gospel and to point out the logical errors of the false teaching.
After making his argument for justification through faith alone (2.15-21), Paul proceeds to then address the issue of sanctification (the ongoing process in this life whereby a sinner forsakes his sin to pursue righteousness and increase in his likeness of Christ):
“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3.2-3
Apparently, there were those in the Galatian church who actually adhered to the true gospel for salvation, but mistakenly relied upon the effort of their own flesh in order to be “perfected.” Paul uses an argument of logic to point out the error of their ways through a series of rhetorical questions. Paul begins, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Of course, the answer inherent in the gospel itself is, “by hearing with faith.” Then, Paul proceeds to the next question, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The logical answer to that rhetorical question is, “Of course not!” Here, Paul really drives home the point of his whole argument: just as one’s justification is accomplished through faith alone in Christ alone, so too is one’s sanctification.
One author and biblical counselor, Jay Adams, expounds upon the same point:
“The holiness of God’s people that results from their sanctification by the Holy Spirit must be attributed entirely to Him as He works through His Word. The ‘fruit’ of the Spirit is just that: it is the result of His work… It is He who regenerates and gives faith to the elect (1 Corinthians 12.3), and it is He who enables the believer to understand (1 Corinthians 2.9-16) and live according to God’s will revealed in the Scriptures.” – Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p. 7-8
Of course, that is the same point that Paul himself goes on to make in his inspired letter to the Galatian churches later in chapter 5 (v. 16-25).
What an encouragement our Lord has given to the heart of the believer! To know that, just as our justification was all His doing, so too is our sanctification. We do not need to rely on our own frail, finite capacities to resist temptation. At the moment of salvation, we are given the very Spirit of God to dwell within us. The very same power that raised our Lord, Jesus Christ, from the dead abides within us to enable us to resist temptation and pursue holiness. In light of this truth, we can really say, “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4.11