Made Alive By the Spirit: The Pneumatology of Galatians (pt. 1)

windIn Galatians Paul spends a great amount of time explaining justification. That is to say, he argues that people are declared “right with God” as they place their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. In this way, Paul lays the ground work for the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide: By Faith Alone are we saved.

In Galatians 2:16, he writes,

A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and no by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

And again in Galatians 3:10–14,

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…but the law is not of faith, rather…’Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’–so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

However, this leads to the question, for those justified by faith, what does Paul say about sanctification? If salvation (in this case, righteousness) has nothing to do with personal holiness or obedience, how does Paul’s gospel restrain anyone from gross immorality or ethical indifference? His answer is the Holy Spirit. And in systematic fashion he unfolds in Galatians a powerful description of what the Spirit does in the life of the believer. While Paul does not undertake the task of providing a comprehensive pneumatology, he does provide a rough outline of the Spirit’s work from conversion to consummation, with the absence of the gifts of the Spirit.

In what follows, I will outline a brief pneumatology from the book of Galatians. Here is the outline. I will tackle three of these today and three in the next week or so.

  1. Born of the Spirit (4:29)
  2. Received the Spirit (3:2–3, 14)
  3. Alive in the Spirit (5:5, 25)
  4. Walk in the Spirit (5:16)
  5. Desires of… Led by… Fruit of the Spirit (5:17, 18, 22–23)
  6. Walk in the Spirit (5:25)

1. Born of the Spirit (4:29)

But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh
persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 

In Galatians 4:21–31, Paul uses an “allegorical” (read: typological) illustration of Hagar and Sarah, to describe the two kinds of offspring in this world—those born of the spirit and those born of the flesh. He argues against law-pushing Judaizers true Christianity is not by works of the flesh, but by spiritual birth. He shows from the history of Ishmael and Isaac how the sons of the flesh (Ishmael) have always persecuted the sons of the Spirit (Isaac)—just as it was happening in Galatia. He posits that the true sons are offspring of Abraham by Sarah according to the promise, not offspring by Hagar conceived by fleshly machinations.

In this biblical-theological illustration, Paul teaches an important lesson about the Holy Spirit. He explains how all those who are true sons of God are born of the Spirit. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in John 3:1–8: spiritual life comes by the Spirit (John 3:6), when the Word of God comes with power (cf. 1 Thess 1:5). This is basic Pauline pneumatology and it is a foundational to understand how the Spirit of God, as sent by the Son, initiates salvation. It reminds us that all who repent and believe are manifesting the antecedent work of the Spirit, who raises the dead to life (cf. Ezekiel 37) and grants God’s children of promise (i.e., the elect of God) the ability to repent and believe (cf. Joel 2:28–32; Zech 12:10).

2. Received the Spirit (3:2–3, 14)

“Let me ask of 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?”

To understand what it means to receive the Spirit, it is helpful to begin by comparing the work of Spirit in Galatians to the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the Spirit regenerated believers but did not dwell within them. Those saints of God who demonstrated faith (cf. Hebrews 11) and who prefigured the coming Christ, were regenerated and shaped by the Holy Spirit. Yet, it was only in the fulness of time (Gal 4:4), when faith came (Gal 3:25), that Christ poured out his Spirit on “all flesh” (Joel 2:28, cited in Acts 2:17). It at Pentecost the Spirit hovered over every believer as new temples of the living God; as John 14:17 says, the Spirit that was with the disciples was now being sent to dwell in them.

This comparison helpfully shows the continuity and discontinuity resident in the coming of the Spirit. Like in the Old Testament, the work of the Spirit still regenerates God’s people (true Israel), but now in the New Testament, the indwelling of the Spirit comes in response to the believers repentance and faith. This is exactly what Paul says in Galatians 3:2–3.

Notice in these verses, Paul refers to the work of the Spirit, where the Spirit was initially received through the instrument of faith. Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 3:14, when he says that the Spirit comes to those who are in union with Christ, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.” Again, faith is instrumental for the reception of the Spirit, but this reception of the indwelling still echoes the antecedent work of the Spirit to conjoin Christ and the Christian through spiritual new birth.

For further consideration on this point—the relationship between regeneration (born of the Spirit), conversion, and indwelling (received the Spirit)—see Anthony Hoekema, Saved By Grace. He illustrates his point in a way that may be helpful to detail.  In explaining regeneration and conversion in the heart of Lydia he writes,

Regeneration and conversion, as in Lydia’s case, occur simultaneously. But causally regeneration must be ‘prior’ to conversion. One can only respond in repentance and faith after God has given new life. [A dead man cannot rise and walk, nor repent and believe]. The situation can be compared to what happens when we turn on the faucet and the water starts running: the turning on of the faucet and the running of the water are simultaneous, but, in causal terms, the faucet must be turned on before the waters starts running. (107)

It is vital to see that in Galatians Paul teaches two operations of the Spirit. The first is the antecedent and initiating work of the Spirit’s new birth. The second, described as receiving the Spirit, is in response to the faith of the born again child of God. As Hoekema points out, the difference is not temporal, but causal. It is the Spirit who gives life, such that the new creation in Christ may receive the indwelling Spirit of God.

3. Alive in the Spirit (5:5, 25)

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. . . .
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

The effect of receiving the Holy Spirit is now to give the Christian power to live a new kind of life. This first expresses itself in faith, but will also manifest itself in new desires (Gal 5:17), a new direction and authority (5:18), and new characteristics (5:19–23). We will considers these new attitudes and actions as we look at #4, but for now consider how the Spirit gives life to the person who was dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1–3), has been made alive, and is now seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:4–7).  Accordingly to Galatians, the Christian has three new orientations.

First, the Christian is dead to the law, dead to self, and dead to the flesh. 

Conversely, she is now alive to love, alive to God, and alive to serving others. This first orientation is retrospective. In other words, because of what Christ did in history past, Christians have now been brought back into the presence of God as adopted sons (Gal 4:6-7), crying out “Abba Father.” The proof of physical life is a heart that beats and lungs that breathe; the proof of spiritual life is heart that longs to call out, “Abba Father.” What was lost in the Garden and only adumbrated in Israel—communion with God—has now been regained. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, the curse has been replaced with blessing (3:13)—the chief blessing of which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, believers now live by faith in the Son of God and what he did for them in his death and resurrection.

Second, Christians have hope of a final redemption.

This orientation is prospective and is described in Galatians 5:5: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” In this single verse Paul recognizes the compatible instrumentality of the Spirit and faith. He says that those in Christ are looking forward by Spirit-empowered faith to the day when they will be finally freed from sin. Their hope of righteousness is not based upon their present living; it is based upon the promise of Christ’s righteousness imputed to them by the Spirit, and the experience of the Spirit whereby they grow in grace (see # 5). Accordingly, these two orientations—one historical, one eschatological—set the stage for the third contemporary application of the Spirit.

Third, Christians will walk by the Spirit. 

Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” To the spiritually dead, this command has no power or encouragement. But to those who have been made alive, the command to walk with God, to trust in the Lord, to walk in the Spirit is not a heavy yoke, but an enjoyable exhortation (cf. Matt 11:28–30; 1 John 5:3). To those who have been made alive, they have spiritual appetites that long to do the will of God. This is the promise of the new covenant: God’s law written on our hearts. And thus the command to walk in the Spirit does not create life in the unbeliever, but it does quicken those who have been made alive.

Later this week, we will pick up with this idea (“walking in the Spirit”) to see what that looks like. Until, may we who have been given the Spirit walk in the Spirit and worship the God who has graciously given himself to us. And may any who wonder if they have the Spirit or if they could receive the Spirit, look to the God of mercy and plead for God’s grace. Our God does not turn a deaf ear to cries of faith. In fact, those cries are gracious evidences of the Spirit’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds


2 thoughts on “Made Alive By the Spirit: The Pneumatology of Galatians (pt. 1)

    • That’s a great question. It got stuck in production — it’s halfway finished :-) Would you be interested in reading part 2?

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