Exposition of The Spirit in Galatians
Paul uses "flesh" to refer to "the will of man" rather than the nature we all inherit. He
uses "spirit" referring to "the new life" lived in accordance with the revelation (in spoken
form) of God through the Spirit.
For example in 4:29 Abraham followed his and Sarah’s inclinations and ideas in begetting
Ishmael; in begetting Isaac he believed and acted in accordance with God’s instructions.
In Galatians Paul uses ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ with this special meaning to prove that Jews
cannot inherit the things promised to Abraham simply by natural descent while giving in to the
lusts of the flesh. The Christian Jews (who did not keep the Law (6:13)) were trying to influence
Gentiles to be circumcised ‘in the flesh’ so that they and their Jewish teachers could escape
persecution (6:12). The Judaism these Jews were offering was really a thinly disguised paganism
with its loose morals (4:8-9).
Paul, therefore, uses the terms ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ in these circumstances.
- Gal. 3:2
- "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?" (NASB)
- This verse is sometimes linked with Gal. 4:6 to bolster the theory that the real believer
still can receive the Spirit in his heart if he has sufficient faith.
- There is little doubt that some of the members of the ecclesias in Galatia1, were present at
Pentecost and received some of the Spirit gifts2 as Peter promised they would. (Those
of Phrygia were Galatians.)
- Two interpretations of this passage must be rejected at once: i.e.
- that the Spirit refers to some mysterious experience which cleansed their hearts and worked
inner righteousness3 in the recipient.
- that the "Spirit here referred to is that which is begotten in a person by the spirit word4"
The question which Paul asks is a rhetorical one in which the answer is obvious. Here was an
experience that all would remember well. It was unmistakable proof of divine approval and this is
the basis of Paul’s use of it to demonstrate that it was wrong to go back to the Law. Since the
experience was something that was obvious to all both theory A and B above must be rejected.
- Because point 2 must be obvious to all the problem is answered. There is no evidence in
the verse for the "Spirit" idea contained in the problem.
- The above points are made conclusive by v. 5. The "Spirit" that Paul is talking about was
capable of working "miracles among you".
- The verses say nothing about the Spirit today; they refer only to what the Galatians
received in the first century.
- Gal. 3:3
- "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"1
- This verse is sometimes wrongly taken to mean that perfection can only come by "receiving the
Spirit in an experience."
- This verse says the very opposite. Whatever they had received had not caused perfection nor
had it assisted them in that direction.2 Rather, Paul had to rebuke them because they were striving
to obtain perfection "by the works of the Law" (v.2) that is by the flesh. (v. 3).
- The Galatians had begun by "hearing with faith"1 not by receiving an effluent
- The "Spirit" in this verse probably refers to two things:
- The gospel3 ("hearing of faith") v. 2
- The Spirit gifts promised by Peter in Acts 2:38, 39
("Received ye the Spirit").
- This verse supplies a similar contrast to that found in Romans 8. The contrast is between
fleshly thinking and spiritual thinking. The Corinthians also, manifested fleshly thinking after
they had received the Spirit gifts and had been taught to think spiritually.
- Gal. 3:5
- "He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth
he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"
- It is sometimes assumed that the "He" of this verse refers to God or Christ. It is then
claimed that if we can have sufficient faith today we also can receive the Spirit which causes
"growth and inner zeal, etc."
- Zeal for God and emotion† are often confused. Emotion is not evidence for zeal and
zeal is not necessarily characterized by visible emotion.
- "Growth" in the truth is the result of us being instructed in the word and using
this source as the basis of purging sin from our lives.
Peter said that we start as babes on the milk.
"As babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2).
Paul shows us that we must partake of the meat of the word so that
"by reason of use their senses (are) exercised to discern both good
There is no other source that can cause growth. Those that claim additional revelation place
themselves in the same category as the Pope and the Mormons.
- The word "He" refers to Paul. Consider the following evidence.
- The language used in this verse to determine motive is inappropriate for the High and Holy
One of Israel who inhabits eternity.
- Translators have clearly placed their bias on this verse by capitalizing the "he" or
substituting "God" for the text which reads "The (one) therefore supplying3" etc.
- Bullinger describes the word epichoregeo (ministereth) as "to furnish upon i.e.
besides, in addition, supply further, super add." Paul had given the Galatians the Spirit in
addition to the outpouring received at Pentecost4.
- Paul worked "miracles among" them, thus demonstrating that God was with him. Paul’s remarkable
conversion with which they were all familiar gave the answer to the question - by the hearing of faith.
- Gal. 3:14
- "Christ ... having become a curse for us ... in order that ... the blessing of Abraham
might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (NASB)
- This verse is sometimes used to support the theory that we are promised the Spirit today, and
it is only our lack of faith that prevents us from having it.
- Paul, in this chapter, is showing that the principle of faith is superior to law and
that Abraham, who was given the promises, was never under the law. He then goes on to demonstrate how
that the promise of the Spirit (which is the blessing of Abraham) comes to the Gentiles through Christ.
- The "blessing of Abraham" is stated in v. 8
"ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU" and refers to justification by
faith in God’s promises.
The "promise of the Spirit" refers to the "seed" (v.16), "that is Christ" and "the
inheritance" (v. 18) of the land. If we are "Abraham’s offspring" then we are "heirs according to
promise" (v.29). If we are heirs then obviously we have not received the promise yet. Nor
has anyone else1. To do so we must become spirit (i.e. immortal) beings.
- Why is it then called "the promise of the Spirit?" Because the Spirit was the agent
employed by the LORD in making it known to Abraham and by Spirit is meant YAHWEH (the agent by the
figure metonymy2 is put for the principle).
Similar usage is found in the following:
"The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. . .
Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant" (2 Sam. 23:2, 5).
"The Lord God and His Spirit, hath sent me" (Isa. 48:16).
"Let him hear what the Spirit says" (Rev. 2:7).
- The fact that Paul and the Galatian Believers (v.2) had the Spirit gifts as an earnest or
down payment of the full future outpouring; is not the dominant theme nor does it seem that
Paul alludes to this at all in this verse. The object of Paul’s letter was to combat Judaism.
- Gal. 4:6
- "And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying,
- It is claimed that here is evidence that God gives the Spirit to his Sons today as always.
- This verse does not mean we must have the Holy Spirit before we can approach the Father with this intimacy any more than "God sent forth His Son" means Christ was in heaven and was bodily sent forth. Literal language has its place but not here.
- The meaning of the verse may be elucidated by the correspondence of the ideas contained in the table following.
|God sent forth His Son
i.e. by the operative power of the Holy Spirit the Son was sent forth
|God sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts.
i.e. by the power of the Spirit1 word the spirit mind) of Christ is fashioned in men.
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. (Eph. 2:10)
- The Spirit of his Son was that tender, respectful, obedient love that Christ manifested to
his Father. It was that strong intelligent confidence in the Father’s love that he appreciated and
leaned upon. Because we look upon God in that light, we too can turn to him with the cry, "Abba,
Father2" "The titles also combine Jew and Gentile in a common salvation to the Father on
- The Lord’s prayer underlines all the love and respect contained in the words "Abba,
Father." It is made up of nine parts:
- 3 petitions that reveal our utter dependence upon Him,
3 requests that express our love for God, and
3 statements that express his exalted position as Father.
- Gal. 4:29
- "But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh"
Ishmael was born because of fleshly impulses in Sarah. This illustration refers to the Jews.
- "persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit",
Isaac’s birth was initiated and made possible by God working a miracle on Sarah’s womb. Those
born according to the Spirit in the allegory refer to the Disciples of Christ. (cf. v.28).
- "so it is now also"
The natural Jew persecuted the Spiritual Jew even at that time.
- Gal. 5:5
- "For we through the Spirit, by faith are waiting for the hope of righteousness".
"Through the Spirit" can be misleading. There is no definite article, and as on many other
occasions in Paul’s writings, notably Romans 7 and 8, the spirit denotes that which is the new life
in Christ. It was this new life of faith which caused them to have hope that they would be declared
righteous (2 Tim. 4:8).
- Gal. 5:17
- "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh"1.
Spirit is an idiomatic expression meaning the "new life in Christ", whereas "flesh refers to
fleshly thinking - not to flesh itself. This struggle is adequately displayed in Rom. 7. This
conflict goes on in every disciple. Yet we have the example of Christ who waged successful campaigns
in the warfare against "flesh".
- Gal. 5:22
- "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance".
- It is sometimes claimed that these "fruits" are gifts of the Spirit or gifts of God.
"All who have been baptized into his name have let the Spirit influence
their lives, but the Spirit must be given the opportunity to take root and grow. Paul… writes of a
singular composite fruit of the Spirit ... God is the giver of these gifts".2
- Nowhere in Scripture is it stated that these are gifts of the Spirit. The gifts defined by
Paul are "the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy,
discerning of spirits, tongues, interpretations of tongues." The two lists are mutually exclusive.
- A slight shift in emphasis makes a very great difference in meaning in this verse. If we
say that these are attributes developed by giving the Spirit given "word" the opportunity to take
root and grow within us, then we have biblically explained this verse.
Paul uses the words "flesh" and "spirit" in the same way here as he does elsewhere. "Flesh"
refers to fleshly thinking and "spirit" to the new way of thinking that is in accord with God.
Fleshly thinking and spiritual thinking are the contrasts Paul develops in v.19-24.
- God can (and does if we ask for it) assist us to bring forth these fruits indirectly by
the ways of providence but it is simply not true that God imposes these attributes upon us in the
form of direct gifts.
- Paul uses much the same type of language in Eph. 5:9-13. There "works of flesh" are
termed "unfruitful works of darkness" and "fruit of the spirit" is termed "fruit of the light".
Those who follow the "Light of the World" and develop attitudes based on the "light (gospel)
of life" will bear the fruit mentioned in this context. Those bearing sanctified fruit will receive
at "the end aionian life" which is "the gracious gift of God". (Rom. 6:22, 23).
- Gal. 5:16,25
- "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh."
- "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
- These verses are sometimes linked with v.18 to try to uphold the theory that we must possess
the Holy Spirit before we can be led of the Spirit. We must open our heart, let the Spirit come in and cleanse us.
- The words do not mean either:
- the Holy Spirit gifts, or
- some mystical divine effluent causing righteousness.
Working miracles would not have helped them overcome the problem they had. Theory B is
incorrect because if this was the case why the need for the exhortation?
- Possession of the Holy Spirit in any of its mortal manifestations did not cause
righteousness1 or correct doctrine. No doubt those of Galatia possessed the Spirit Gifts
as much as those of Asia2 and of Corinth. They, however, were being seduced by:
- Judaisers 5:1-3
- another gospel 1:6-7
- works of the flesh 5:15, 26.
- The "Spirit" here can be defined as the "words of Jesus3" or the truth. The
word "Spirit" is used because the teaching of God (which if obeyed leads to the fruits of v.22)
came to prophets and apostles through the Spirit5.
- To walk in the Spirit is to obey Christ’s words in our daily walk.
To be led of the Spirit is to let God’s word dominate our thinking to the point that it
determines our actions.
"In verse 16 Paul had spoken of ‘walking in spirit’, the reference
being to the individual walk in the way of life. In verse 25 he uses another word (but translated
by the same English word) which denotes a walk in relation to others: "to walk in line"; hence the
idea of marching, and with perhaps the suggestion of discipline that is involved in its use as a
military term. "If we live in the Spirit", if the new life is our personal environment, then "let
us also march in spirit"; let our united activities be animated by the same principles6."
- Gal. 6:8
- "... the one who sows to the spirit".
As in Gal. 5:17, Rom. 8 and others, this usage of spirit is an idiom, meaning "the new life in
Christ". This new life springs from the incorruptible seed, the word of God, which liveth and
abideth for ever (1 Pet. 1:23).
- "shall from the Spirit reap eternal life"
Spirit here is the same as above. The newness of life, if persevered in and nurtured, produces
a character having in God’s mercy some basis for perpetuation. The reaping is not wages and we are
not worthy of it, but in God’s mercy we will receive it.
- Gal. 6:18
- "Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, Amen" Philemon 25.
The doxologies here are a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (synecdoche).
The meaning is "mind" but refers to "you". This is evident by comparing the other doxologies of Paul:
1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 6:24;
(esp.) Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18;
Titus 3:15; Heb. 13:25.