The Spirit’s Work in our Sanctification

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


About Elizabeth

I am a sinner, saved by grace striving to increase in the knowledge of my Savior and His precious Word each day. The reader should know that there are a few presuppositions with which I approach this blog: 1) I believe in the biblical gospel, which basically purports that all mankind is born under the curse of sin (due to the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden). Therefore, man is separated from God and can have no relationship with God because He is perfectly holy, not even able to look upon sin. Unfortunately, God is also perfectly just and must not only separate Himself from sin, but must also punish it. In order to reconcile man to Himself, God, the Father, sent God, the Son, down to earth to live as a man and take our sins upon Himself on the cross. While on the cross, God, the Son, bore the full weight of the wrath of God, the Father, against our sins in order that we who believe in Him might be set free from the curse of our sin. God, the Son, Jesus Christ, died as a propitiation for our sin in order to appease God, the Father's, holy and just character, redeem us from sin, and reconcile those who believe in this gospel to God, the Father. 2) I am primarily writing to those who already believe in this biblical gospel. In other words, this blog is not focused on evangelizing the lost, but edifying believers. 3) I believe that the Christian Bible is the very word of God. Therefore, it is completely inerrant, infallible, sufficient, and authoritative in the life of a believer.
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