Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect in the flesh?”
The book of Galatians was written to a church that was being misled. Paul started this church himself. He taught them the Gospel, brought them into the faith, and raised up leadership in their congregation. These were people who understood salvation by grace through faith – they were genuinely born-again.
But after Paul left, new teachers (false teachers) came in that began to teach different doctrines – things that sounded good and even made sense. They declared that Paul's gospel of grace was a good start – but now that the Galatians were a part of God's covenant people, they had to conform to the law. In other words, they were being taught, “God did save you by grace, through faith. But now that you're saved, He expects you to get to work and keep His laws.” This makes sense, right? Shouldn't someone obey God's commands after they've been saved?
These Galatian brothers and sisters truly did have a heart for God. So when they heard that they needed to do more, they dug in and tried their hardest to make God happy. Unfortunately, there were disastrous consequences to their attempted obedience. Let's read Galatians 5, verses 19-21:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Remember who Paul was talking to? This wasn't a wild group of sinners – it was a church that was doing their best, trying to obey God's commands! But no matter how hard they tried, these works of the flesh became more and more common. The false teachers used these manifestations of the flesh to prove their point: "See what you're doing? There needs to be some law and order here! Here's the rules - follow them!"
And right here is where we see truth that has plagued mankind since Eden: The more you try to obey, the more disobedience creeps in. Paul explains this paradox further in Romans 7 – a well-known passage to anyone who has struggled with sin.
Romans 7:15-21 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I want to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I don't want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for the want is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I want to do, I do not do; but the evil I don't want to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I don't want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
Can anyone relate to this struggle? How often have you been trapped in a sin – knowing that's it's wrong, hating it with every ounce of your spirit, and yet constantly going back to it? Does it ever seem like the harder you try to keep away from sin, the quicker you fall right back into it? If so, then I have amazing news for you – God never intended to leave you in this struggle!
You see, what the false teachers were telling the Galatian church – and what many believers are misled to think today – is that God saved them by grace, forgave their sin, and then said “Go try again. Good luck!” Too many Christians believe that Grace is about forgiveness and being let off the hook when you sin. It's like they believe that God knows that you're only human and there's no way for you to really be free from sin - so He gives grace to cover you when you inevitably mess up. But that is not what grace is about!
Colossians 2:6 tells us “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him...” Friend, how did you receive Jesus? It was by grace, through faith! So how are you supposed to walk in Him? By grace through faith! You weren't meant to be saved by grace, and then perfected by trying to do what's right. You see, God's grace isn't only the forgiveness of sins – it's the freedom from sin! Let me show you what I mean:
Hebrews 12:28 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Do you see? When you have faith in the grace of God, it will empower you to serve Him in an acceptable way! Grace isn't about what you can get away with - grace is the power to do what you can't do on your own! This is living by faith. This is walking in the spirit! And when you walk in the spirit (that is, when you put your faith in the grace of God, knowing that grace will empower you to do what's right), you WILL NOT fulfill the lusts of the flesh!
Galatians 5:16 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
There is a way out of the sin that you're trapped in. There is a way to live a righteous life like you've always wanted. And that way isn't by trying to do what's right. When you try to obey God, you'll fail - we've proven that time and time again. No matter how hard you work at keeping God's commands, the result will always be the works of the flesh. But when you place your faith in God's empowering, glorious, amazing grace – it will break every trace of sin's power off of your life!