Part 4: The Proper Response
This will be the final part to my short study of Galatians. In his introduction, Paul immediately addresses the Galatians’ false belief that their salvation can be gained by their own efforts, such as circumcision. Paul reaffirms that our salvation comes from God alone by the grace that He showed by transferring the punishment rightly ours onto Christ on the cross. As a result, God alone should receive the glory for our salvation because the means were His alone. (If you’d like to catch up, you can read part 1 on the power of God, part 2 on His grace, and part 3 on His glory.)
Then what is the proper response to the Gospel? Specifically, in the context of Galatians, how should believers live their lives to honor and glorify God? In chapter 5, Paul writes,
16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. . . . 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-17, 24-25)
For believers like the Galatians, who have put their faith in Christ as the one who cleanses them of their sins, they are called to “walk by the Spirit” (5:25). Since we have been saved, God commands us to no longer have anything to do with the world or with its sinful ways. This means resisting the temptation toward pride. For the Galatians, pride manifested itself in their belief that circumcision could help them gain salvation. They believed that they shared the same power as God, that both they and God had the power to save. In essence, then, they claimed that they were like God. Pride is one sin that we as believers are called to deny.
Paul makes no mention that refusing the inclinations of the flesh will be easy. Though he says that we “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24), he also mentions that our flesh still maintains “desires” (5:16). This is not a contradiction; here, the word “flesh” is used with two different meanings (“Sarx,” TSBD). The flesh that is crucified refers to our state of sinfulness and separation from God. Symbolically, when Christ bore the punishment for our sins, we died with Him so that we might be seen as righteous in the eyes of God. Nevertheless, while we live on earth we are subject to the sinful tendencies of our physical flesh. In Romans, Paul writes,
5For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (Romans 7:5)
Our sinful desires and sinful passions are inextricably linked to our flesh. Yet at the same time, our status of being unredeemed is reversed by the cross. Therefore we are at conflict with ourselves, between spirit and flesh. Paul exhorts us that, since “we live by the Spirit,” having been rescued from death by God (Rom. 6:23), “let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
Jesus frames the conflict very clearly:
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)
Our lives as believers is going to be a struggle between our new selves and our flesh. Jesus states that it will not be easy; indeed, it will be akin to a “cross” (Matt. 16:24). Our inclination toward sin is something we will have to carry for life. Yet, as Jesus commands, we are to deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24). Though the disposition toward sin is built into our flesh, though we are burdened by the sinful desires and passions of our flesh, we are told to fight against it, to refuse to give in to the demands of this earthly body. Even if everything within us says to sin, deny! Refuse! Do not give in!
This is the call of the believer. Romans 10:9 states that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Christ is our Lord, our king, our master. We struggle against our flesh because we have been commanded to by our Lord. No questions asked. But we also struggle because we love Him for the tremendous sacrifice He made on the cross. We wage war on sin because we want to be more like our Father, to be closer to our Father, to please our Father. And because He loves us, we are not alone in this. His Spirit dwells in us (John 14:7, Rom. 8:9, Rom. 8:11, 1 Cor. 3:16, Eph. 2:22, Col. 3:16, 2 Tim. 1:14) and aids us in our struggle against sin.
The gospel, as Paul sees it, is all for the glory of God. Only God has the power to save us—we are so far removed from perfection that we cannot work enough to save ourselves. God is gracious enough to exercise that power, which He did on the cross, substituting the punishment meant for us onto His Son. Therefore God alone receives the credit and glory for our salvation. When we, as believers, struggle against our sin to demonstrate our love for God, He is again glorified by our efforts. Successful only because of the Spirit’s work within us, helping us walk rightly, He is further glorified. And that is the way it should be—soli Deo gloria; to Him who made us and saved us and now dwells within us, to Him alone be the glory!
TSBD: Thayer and Smith’s Bible Dictionary via studylight.org
Thayer and Smith. “The New Testament Greek Lexicon”.