SYNOPSIS – There is no true life without the Spirit of God. His promise of everlasting life finds its fulfillment in Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians in response to efforts by certain men who taught that Gentile believers must be circumcised and conform to some of the regulations required by the Law of Moses, the Torah. He charged his opponents with perverting the gospel of Christ and preaching “another gospel” – “False brethren” who came in to subvert the “liberty” they had in Christ – (Galatians 1:5-9, 3:1-4, 6:12-15).
Contrary to the apostolic tradition, these men taught that a man is set right with God from the deeds required by the Mosaic law, not from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This effectively made his death on the Cross meaningless – An empty act – (“in vain”):
(Galatians 2:15-21) – “We, by nature Jews and not sinners from among the nations, Knowing, however, that a man is not declared righteous by works of law, save through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we, on Christ Jesus believed, that we might be declared righteous from faith in Christ and not from works of law; because from works of law shall no flesh be declared righteous. Now, if in seeking to be declared righteous in Christ we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ, therefore, a minister of sin? Far be it! For if the things that I pulled down, these again I build, a transgressor I prove myself to be. For I through means of law, unto law died, that unto God I might live; with Christ have I been crucified; and living no longer am I, but living in me is Christ, while so far as I now do live in flesh, by faith I live, the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up in my behalf. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if through law is righteousness, then Christ died without cause.”- (The Emphasized Bible).
Paul responded with a series of arguments found in chapters 3 and 4 of his epistle to the Galatians. First, he appealed to the common experience of the Spirit that Jewish and Gentile believers alike received from faith, not “from the works of the law.” It was the Spirit that gave life, not the letter or the deeds of the Torah:
(Galatians 3:1-5) – “O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified? This only would I learn from you. Did you receive the Spirit from the works of the law, or from the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made complete in the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain. He, therefore, that is supplying the Spirit to you and working miracles among you, does he it from the works of the law, or from the hearing of faith?”
The Spirit was the definitive proof of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles apart from the deeds required by the Torah.
Next, Paul used scriptural texts to present Abraham as the paradigm of faith. Those who are “from faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” The Law demanded that members of the covenant community keep the whole law, and it cursed anyone who failed to do so; therefore, the Law was “not from faith” – (Galatians 3:6-12).
Since Scripture declares that “the righteous man shall live from faith,” no one is justified before God from the deeds of the Law. Jesus became a “curse” to redeem us from the Law’s curse so the “blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, and we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Thus, Paul equated the gift of the Spirit with the promised “blessing” of Abraham – (Galatians 3:13-14, Genesis 12:1-3).
The Law was given at Sinai 430 years after the covenant confirmed previously by God; therefore, it could not modify the terms of the original covenant, which was based on “promise,” not law – (Galatians 3:15-21).
The promise was for Abraham’s “seed,” which is Jesus Christ; therefore, the Law that came later was a necessary but interim step – It was only in force “until the seed should come to whom the promise was given” – Jesus.
The Law was not against the promises of God, but its purpose was never to justify men; instead, it was added to expose sin as “transgression.” It could never justify anyone because the law “cannot make alive” – (Galatians 3:21).
In this context, it is the Spirit that gives life. Paul presents “being made alive” by the Spirit as essentially synonymous with being “justified on faith”- They are two sides of the same coin. It is the Spirit that imparts life.
The principle is attested elsewhere in the New Testament. “It is the spirit that quickens.” The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead will also “quicken our mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in us” at the future resurrection – (John 6:63, Romans 8:11-23).
The letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit that God gives his children under the New Covenant “quickens.” On our behalf, Jesus was put to death in the flesh but made “alive in spirit.” “To be fleshly-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace” – (Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 3:6, 1 Peter 3:18).
The principle is not unique to the New Testament. The Spirit of God imparted life when He created the universe. The earth was yet “without form and void,” but the “Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.” Several of the Psalms highlight the life-giving power of Yahweh and His Spirit, for example – (Genesis 1:2):
- (Psalm 33:6) – “By the word of Yahweh, the heavens were made, and, by the spirit of his mouth, all their host.”
- (Psalm 104:29-30) – “You hide your face, they are dismayed. You withdraw their spirit, They cease to breathe, and to their own dust do they return: You send your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
“By His Spirit,” God made man, and “His breath gave him life.” Yahweh “created the heavens and stretched them out…He gave breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein” – (Job 33:4, Isaiah 42:5).
The Spirit of God not only imparts life but causes life to abound:
Yahweh promised to “pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; to pour His Spirit upon man’s seed and my blessing upon his offspring” – (Isaiah 44:3).
One day, Yahweh would “gather the children of Israel from among the nations and bring them into their own land.” She would be “one nation in the land” with “one king.” Under the reign of the one Davidic shepherd, Israel would “walk in my ordinances and observe my statutes.”
Yahweh promised to “sprinkle clean water” and, thus, to cleanse Israel from her uncleanness, give her a new heart, and to put His Spirit within the Jewish people. He would establish a new “covenant of peace” with Israel, an “everlasting covenant” – (Ezekiel 36:16-38).
The Apostle Paul applied the life-giving promises from Ezekiel to the church at Corinth:
(2 Corinthians 3:1-6) – “You are our letter, inscribed in our hearts, noted and read by all men: Manifesting yourselves that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, inscribed, not with ink but with the Spirit of a Living God, not in tablets of stone, but in tablets which are hearts of flesh. But such confidence as this we have through Christ towards God. Not that of our own selves sufficient are we, to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, who also has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.”
The Spirit of God is the creative force that creates, sustains, and restores life – Individual and corporate – Biological and spiritual. The withdrawal of His Spirit means the cessation of life. There can be no everlasting life without the creative and sustaining gift of His Spirit.
The Old Testament promised a time of restoration when God would cleanse His people and inaugurate a New Covenant with His people. At last, His presence would dwell among them. This promise was made in the Law of Moses, but the nation’s sin prevented its realization – (Leviticus 26:12 – “I will walk among you and will be your God, and ye shall be my people”).
In the New Testament, these promises find their fulfillment in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. He has been given the gift of the Spirit which he now dispenses to all men and women who belong to him – (John 1:14, Colossians 2:9-10, Revelation 21:3, 21:22).