Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?Galatians 3:3(NASB)
In the first three chapters of his letter to the Galatians, Paul defends his own authority as the chosen apostle of God through whom much of the New Testament was given - because his apostleship, authority, and doctrine were being severely challenged by certain Jewish legalists.
In each of his letters, Paul emphasised the crucial importance of understanding that salvation is a free gift of God's grace which is received by faith alone in Christ alone... and from the start of Galatians chapter 3, he defends and restates the important elements of salvation.
There are three distinct parts to salvation: 1) justification 2) sanctification 3) glorification.
Justification is the first step and takes place in a moment of time. Justification takes place the instant a condemned sinner hears and believes the gospel - that Christ died as the sacrifice for their sin and is risen from the dead. By faith in Christ, a lost sinner becomes a saved saint and is justified in the sight of God. They are declared righteous because they have trusted Christ's sacrificial death and glorious Resurrection for their salvation.
Sanctification is the lifelong process which is also carried out by grace through faith... where we are enabled, by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit within, to progress from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. This is done through good works which God has prepared for us to do, as we submit to His leading and guiding... but they are still done by the gracious empowering of the Holy Spirit and not by fleshly works. Any rewards we receive at the Bema Seat judgement are based on our sanctification walk.
Glorification will only take place after the death or rapture of the child of God. Everyone who is justified will be glorified.
Most of the New Testament epistles focus on living the Christian life as God desires - i.e. progressive sanctification. But certain people had entered the Church at Galatia and were teaching a mixture of Judaism and Christianity, which Paul identified as a false gospel and would stunt their Christian growth.
These false teachers were mixing up elements of God's Mosaic Law with the post-Resurrection teachings that were given to Paul and the other apostles in the dispensation of grace. They were legalists who were trying to incorporate components from the Law of Moses with elements of the Church-age doctrine.
The Law of Moses was given to pre-Cross Israel as a schoolmaster to point them to Christ for salvation... but it was being mixed with the post-Resurrection doctrine to the Church. These Judiasers were teaching that salvation depended on doing good works and keeping the Law as well as by faith in Christ.
They taught that good works had to be added to Christ's finished work on the Cross - otherwise they would not be saved or would lose their salvation!! But this is diametrically opposite from sound, biblical teaching. The Law could never save. It could only expose sin and reveal the need for salvation and a Saviour.
And so, we discover Paul questioning these foolish Galatians who had mixed the works of the Law with grace and the hearing of faith: "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" he scolded. "Are you so foolish, that having begun by the Spirit, you think you can now be perfected by the flesh?"
Paul wanted to explain that believers are not ONLY justified by grace through faith when we are born again - but we are also being sanctified progressively throughout our Christian life... by grace through faith. And we will, one day in the future, be glorified by God's grace through faith.
There are three 'tenses' of salvation. We WERE saved in the past when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ (justification). We ARE BEING saved as we grow in grace, day by day, and become more like Christ (progressive sanctification). And one day in the future, our salvation will be finally completed - and we have a body like His glorious body (glorification).
No one is able to be justified by works of the Law, Paul argues... so how can we expect to be sanctified by works of the Law. How can we grow in grace, mature in the faith, and become spiritual believers through man's ungodly works of the flesh? If the power of the Holy Spirit was needed for us to justified, Paul argues, how could we become sanctified through our own fleshly works - which God will never approve.
Sadly, today, there are those that hold fast to this false, works orientated, legalistic teaching - but we are to remember that if ANY works of the flesh are added to Christ's finished work on the Cross - His life was given in vain. We are not saved by what we do but by what Christ has already done on our account. His work on the Cross is sufficient to justify, sanctify, and glorify ALL who trust in Christ's sacrificial work. Past salvation, progressive sanctification, and our future glorification is by grace alone - through faith alone in Christ, alone.
Heavenly Father, thank You that my salvation does not depend on what I do but on what Christ has done on my account. Thank You that I have been given new life in Christ, by faith. May I live that life to Your praise and glory. Keep me from attempting to do the work that only the indwelling Holy Spirit can achieve. May I grow in grace and mature in the faith, as I die to my own ego and live for Christ alone. In Jesus' name, AMEN.