The Holy Spirit in Galatians

The Holy Spirit presents Himself in a unique manner in each epistle in keeping with the particular need of that assembly. In every epistle we find that the Holy Spirit is the primary agent who is presently fulfilling God’s purposes in this period of grace, or age of the Church. God makes clear that the accomplishment of His purposes is not through the failing efforts of man, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why His work and a knowledge of Him is so valuable to us today.

In Galatians, we see the Holy Spirit as the only one who can sanctify saints and develop in them those qualities that are honoring to Christ and according to God’s will. The book has three sections, the first of which is the historical section (chapters 1-2). As Paul recounts how he received and defended the gospel he preached, there is no definite mention of the Spirit. In the next two chapters, the doctrinal section, we learn that in contrast to legalistic practices, what God desires to accomplish will be carried out by the Holy Spirit of God. In the last two chapters, the practical section, we learn that the Holy Spirit carries out God’s work to sanctify saints and produce lives pleasing to God. Only He can do this; law-principles can never bring it about!

3:1-2 The Spirit Received

The important point the apostle is making here is that the greatest of all promised Old Testament blessings was not received by law-keeping, but by the “hearing of faith.” Receiving the Spirit was linked with God’s greatest work anticipated for His people (Ezekiel 36:27, 37:14, Joel 2:28), and exceeds material and physical blessings. If believers now have received the Spirit by faith alone, then WHY would they want to go back under the principle of the law that never brought them this blessing? They were being taught that the Law was essential for such blessing, but Paul contradicts this, showing them that it was faith alone that brought it about. This is most important for all who think that legalism, or living according to law-principles, will gain greater spirituality. The highest ground possible has been received by His grace through the Holy Spirit.

3:3-5 Begun, Now Perfected

The Spirit began the life that a believer enjoys in Christ. Can a work that the Spirit began be brought to a completed state through works of the flesh such as legalism, ceremonialism, ritualism, or intellectualism? No! What the Spirit commenced must be completed by the Spirit, not by self-efforts and outward ceremony.

The example of Abraham verifies this principle. His standing before God was not improved by his works. He was reckoned righteous by believing God. His faith was genuine and resulted in a life of fruitful obedience to God that verified its presence. It is the same for a believer now. It is not works that improve the Spirit’s work, but dependence on His work developed and expressed personally that verifies faith’s reality.

5:16 How to Control the Flesh?

Legalists contended that to control the indwelling flesh-principle required submitting to the law and ordinances. They contended that if not so, the flesh would dominate and prevent one from living to please God.

The apostle rigorously opposed this teaching by showing that rather than the works of the flesh, it is the walk in the Spirit (or “by the Spirit”) that produces a life of holiness and sanctification. To walk in the Spirit is to be consciously subject to His control, so that He will be free to develop and express desired qualities in the life. Only the Holy Spirit’s free operation in one’s life will enable a Christian to live on the plane pleasing to God that overcomes the flesh.

5:18 Led by What Principles?

Law-keepers lived according to the principles of the law that controlled their outward acts and behavior, but could not control inward thoughts and attitudes. We are to be led and controlled by the principle of life under the Holy Spirit. If we submit to this, it will cause an inward as well as outward change. He will transform us by renewing our minds and making us more conformed to the Lord Jesus. This is God’s purpose for us in salvation, and it can only be accomplished this way.

5:25 Live… in What Sphere?

One could live by the law and yet not be spiritual. The Pharisees demonstrated this fully. The works of the law are on the level of the flesh alone, whereas God desires the believer to live in a different sphere. The flesh can be expressed in many different ways, in immorality and corrupt living (5:19-20), or in self-righteous living that is, however, only self-centered. God wants more than outward observances in the life; He wants that spiritual character displaying submission to the Spirit’s control and involving heart-obedience to God’s Word. He gives power to do so in a way that honors Christ and brings pleasure to God.

6:8 Sow… and Reap What?

If sowing to the flesh reaps corruption, is it not in the context of this epistle that such sowing is living according to the law-principle? A life of attempted law-keeping results in death and ruin, failure and despair (Rom 7:14-24). Law-keeping is not, in Galatians, seen as a spiritual thing but something that is linked with the flesh and opposed to the Spirit. Its opposite is sowing to the Spirit which is what the apostle is encouraging. This is to live on the principle or “rule” (6:16) of allowing the Spirit to control, and thus knowing the Spirit’s power. This is not known in dramatic, emotional experiences, but by daily living a life that manifests Christ. Such a life will reap “life everlasting,” which seems to mean that they would presently enjoy that quality of life that is everlasting. The Galatian epistle presents the Holy Spirit so that we might appreciate the fruitfulness and genuine blessedness of that life over which He has control. Power for living to please God is not through ritual, ceremony, or legalism, neither then nor now. May God teach us the importance of simply and consciously allowing the Spirit of God to develop and express in our lives those truths that are found in the Word of God!