“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Galatians 3:3).
The Galatian Christians, like so many people today, trusted Christ for their initial salvation, but depended upon the flesh for spiritual maturity. When the word “flesh” occurs in the New Testament, most of the time it refers to that part of man which is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7) and wars against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). Every person born into this world comes equipped with “flesh” – that part of our humanity which rebels against God and depends upon either physical resources or personality to handle life.
Another word for “flesh” is the “self-life.” When a person comes to faith in Christ the cross delivers one from the self-life, to life in Christ. However, the flesh continues its assault to control and pull the believer back into self-effort.
The Galatians came to Christ and experienced the Spirit’s work of regeneration. Their righteous standing before God came on the basis of Christ’s work on the cross apart from self-effort or works of the Law.
Galatians 2:21-“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
False teachers then began to promote “Jesus plus” teaching. They taught that one must not only trust Christ, but also keep certain laws like circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, and holding to other Jewish feasts. Paul equates all of this to one relying upon the flesh to live the Christian life.
Today, in some churches, there is a one-sided gospel. Jesus Christ is presented as a “ticket” to Heaven, and after that they offer self-help groups, seminars on pop psychology, and sermons on “steps” to success. Everything in our culture already reinforces depending upon one’s self to handle life, and now the church offers it too. Think of the terms used to “help” people like “building self-esteem”, “becoming more self-confident”, “being self-assertive”, etc. “We need Jesus to get to Heaven, but we can handle life here on earth,” becomes the motto.
Jesus Christ came not only to deliver us from hell, but from self in all its forms. Paul exhorts the Galatians in the form of the rhetorical question of 3:3, “You began in the Spirit and you mature by the Spirit.” Galatians 2:20 proclaims the truth of no self-effort in coming to Christ or in living the Christian life. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me….” “No longer I, but Christ” should be the realization of every Christian. How does one come to rely upon Christ instead of self? Certainly the Word imparts the truth and that must be foundational. Also, it usually takes time and failure from self-effort which brings us to this truth. God must bring us to the end of ourselves. What a wonderful deliverance takes place, when one realizes that he or she cannot live the Christian life and only Jesus can. Victory comes in reaching the place of desperation and death to self-effort. Then one can experience the truth of Galatians 2:20, “No longer I, but Christ….”
Have you been trying to live the Christian life by depending upon the flesh? Is it possible that the failures and the frustrations were God’s way of bringing you to the end of yourself, so that you might depend upon Jesus Christ as your life? Only Christ can live the Christian life!
Major Ian Thomas declared, “It takes Jesus to become a Christian, and it takes Jesus to be the Christian you have become!”
From the e-letter of Wales Goebel Ministry (2908 Pump House Road, Birmingham, AL 35243) www.walesgoebelministry.org Used with permission.