Perfected In The Flesh?

“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Writing to the legalistic Galatians, Paul was reminding them that they were not saved by works of “the flesh” — good deeds they had done — but by hearing God’s word with faith in their hearts. He said in :2, “did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith.” They knew the answer. They were saved by hearing with faith. But now Paul admonishes them that they will GROW in the Lord the same way. That’s a word that many Christians need today as well!

Even many Christians who are very dedicated in their devotions and service need to be asked this question: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  In other words, having been saved by faith, are you now growing as a Christian by self-discipline and legalistic discipleship methods?”

Paul reminds us in Galatians 3 that the answer to that question is “No!” We will grow the same way that we are saved: through the work of the Holy Spirit, who uses His word and faith in the hearer. Now, to be clear, this does NOT mean that we should not employ personal spiritual disciplines (Bible reading and study, scripture memorization, and prayer) but rather that as we use them, we consciously recognize that they are merely instruments for the Holy Spirit to use.  God’s word & daily prayer are not merely “self-disciplines”, but the Holy Spirit’s tools for sanctification in us. This is no small distinction; for Paul tells us here we will NOT be perfected by the flesh, but by the Spirit.

— So it’s not just “the word” that grows us; it’s the Spirit using the word by faith.
— It’s not just “prayer”; it’s the Spirit working in our lives as we connect with Him through the channel of prayer.
— It’s not merely “disciplines” which grow us, but “it is GOD who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

In other words, he is saying we grow as Christians, the same way that we become Christians in the first place: NOT by legalistic works of the flesh, but by hearing God’s word with faith. Our daily disciplines in His word & prayer merely put us in the position where He can do His work of grace in us. In light of that, let us be certain to put ourselves under His gracious tutelage every day.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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