Studying Righteousness in Galatians: Faith, Law & Spirit
- Friday, October 10, 2008
The Law and the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26)
An enduring question of the Christian faith is, Do Christians need to keep the OT law in order to become mature followers of Christ? Does following God's law provide sanctification?
When the Christians in Galatia had received the Good News of salvation through faith in Christ, they had also received the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of their status as believers. Not only had God given his Spirit to them, but he had also worked miracles among them (Galatians 3:5). They knew from experience that the Holy Spirit has the power to make them new people, and Paul had taught them to rely on the Spirit to guide them.
Shortly after Paul left Galatia, Jewish-Christian teachers arrived who taught the need to observe God's law, both to be accepted by God and to be sanctified and become mature. They argued that Paul's approach to sanctification by the Spirit would lead to lawlessness and sin.
Paul responded (Galatians 5:5-26) that, just as God accounts us as righteous by faith, so also he makes us righteous by faith, through the working of the Spirit. Those who rely on the Spirit and follow his leading will not sin - God's Spirit will never lead people to sin.
The real problem is not a lack of understanding regarding right and wrong. Our God-given conscience tells us when we're doing wrong, and God's law makes the requirements of his righteousness even clearer (Romans 7:7-12). The real problem is that, by nature, our hearts are hard and sinful, and we lack the wisdom to know the right thing to do in a given situation. By nature, we are unable to apply God's word in a way that is consistent with faith in his love.
The law cannot ameliorate our condition (see "The Limitations of Law" at Rom 7:1-25, p. 1905). But when the Holy Spirit guides and controls us, he changes our hearts and guides us to do the things that please God (Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:5-14). God's Spirit guides his people to fulfill his law in its true sense and intent. But fulfillment of the law is not the goal or focus - the law is just our guardian (Galatians 3:24-25). The focus is on trusting God, relying on the Spirit, and loving others. God's Spirit gives us the will and the power to do these things and please God (see also "The Holy Spirit's work" at 1 Cor 12:1-11, p. 1945).
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