Having Begun in the Spirit | Galatians 3:2-5

“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by works of law [nomou], or by hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain - if it be yet in vain? He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by works of law [nomou], or by the hearing of faith?”

In these verses is revealed the deep secret of the difficulty with the Galatians, and especially with those who had bewitched them, which called forth the letter to the Galatians.

That secret is that they held that men are justified, not by faith in Christ, BUT by faith in Christ AND works of law: that men are saved, not by faith in Christ, BUT by faith in Christ and something else: that these who have never yet believed in Christ may be justified by faith in Christ; but those who believe in Christ must be justified by works of law: that a man who is only a sinner must be justified by faith; but when he has been justified, and has become a Christian, then he must be justified by works of law: that righteousness is obtained by faith, but it must be kept by works that the righteousness of Christ must be received in place of all our sins, and to set us in the way of right; but our own righteousness keeps us in the way of right: that Christ avails in all that we cannot do; but in all that we can do we ourselves avail: that we begin the Christian course by faith; but we must complete it by works: in short, and in the words of Inspiration, that we begin “in the Spirit,” but are “made perfect by the flesh.”

That this analysis is correct is shown in other words that are a material part of the story of the controversy that called forth the letter to the Galatians.

Note, it was not the Pharisees alone, but “the Pharisees, which believed,” who started this controversy, and continued it, and carried it into Galatia, and planted it among the Galatian Christians. It was these professed believers in Christ who said to believers in Christ, “Except ye be circumcised, . . . ye cannot be saved.” It was these professors of faith in Christ who insisted that those who had faith if Christ must be also circumcised and keep the law, in order to be saved. Thus with those “Pharisees, which believed,” faith in Christ is not enough to save: it must be faith in Christ and something else. It required what Christ had done, with what we can do added to that.

This is further confirmed by the fact, which some time ago we pointed out, that the controversy, so far as circumcision was concerned, was not as to the merits of circumcision in itself; but altogether as to whether believers in Christ must be circumcised in order to be saved. This is certain because that after the question had, in council been decided against circumcision, Paul circumcised Timothy.

It was so also as to the keeping of the law of God: it was not a question of keeping or not keeping the law of God on its merits, but altogether the question of keeping the law in order to be saved by the keeping of the law.

And the most singular phase of this whole story is that those people thought that that was the true gospel, that that was righteousness by faith! They thought that they were the ones who held the true faith in Christ, and that Paul was an innovator, the chief enemy of true faith, that he was making void the law of God, and undermining all righteousness. But the truth is that they did not know what is righteousness by faith. They had not true idea of faith, and so could not know truly what is righteousness by faith.

Now the letter to the Galatians was written to correct this fearful error, and to show to them and to all people forever that righteousness by faith is in the very truth of the gospel. It was written to make plain that the faith of Jesus Christ, and that alone, saves the soul, at the beginning and at the end and all the way between: that what is received by faith is kept only by faith: that what is begun by faith is completed only by faith: that faith alone sets us in the right way, and faith along keeps us in the right way: that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh,” not faith and works, but “faith which works by love” (Gal. 5:6).

And as love is the fulfilling of the law, then in Christ nothing avails but faith which fulfils the law—not faith and the fulfilling of the law, but faith which fulfils the law. The law is kept, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved. It is only the saved, the righteous, man that can fulfill the law; therefore he fulfils the law only because he is saved; and he is saved only by grace through faith. The power, the virtue, to fulfill the law is in the faith, which is received as the free gift of God through Jesus Christ. And this neither frustrates the grace of God nor makes void the law of God. On the contrary, it magnifies the grace of God, and establishes the law of God. It is the true righteousness by faith.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | November 14, 1899]