Live by the Spirit (Gal. 5.16)

 This morning (Friday) I had to peel myself away from replays of the Cardinal’s epic game six World Series comeback (and I doubt Josh Hamilton actually heard God tell him he’d hit a home run) to do something far more worthwhile: study Paul’s exhortation to “live by the Spirit” (Gal 5.16).  This is a great but tough subject.  What does it mean to live by the Spirit?  Of course it has to do with sanctification and not justification, but it is difficult to explain what Paul means since the Spirit’s work is largely a mystery (cf. John 3.8).  I found John Murray’s discussion of this biblical teaching very helpful.  The following paragraph is found in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, specifically the chapter on sanctification.

“It is imperative that we realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  We must not forget, of course, that our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent in the process of sanctification.  But we must not rely upon our own strength of resolution or purpose.  It is when we are weak that we are strong.  It is by grace that we are being saved as surely as by grace we have been saved.  If we are not keenly sensitive to our own helplessness, then we can make the use of the means of sanctification the minister of self-righteousness and pride and thus defeat the end of sanctification.  We must rely not upon the means of sanctification but upon the God of all grace.  Self-confident moralism promotes pride, and sanctification promotes humility and contrition” (p. 183).

Isn’t this a great way to explain Paul’s exhortation to live by the Spirit?  I especially like Murray’s line that says we have been saved by grace and are being saved by grace.  Justification is by grace alone; so is sanctification.  In Paul’s terms, it is foolish to think we’ve started the Christian life by the Spirit but we reach the goal by our own strength (Gal. 3.3).  And so he ends the epistle of Galatians with the benediction: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you…Amen (6.18).

If you’ve never read Redemption Accomplished and Applied, do it soon!  This is one of “those” books on my shelves that was groundbreaking the first time I read it and is still helpful and edifying when I read parts of it again (and again!).

shane lems

3 thoughts on “Live by the Spirit (Gal. 5.16)”

  1. This book is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. I think I have more underlined, circled, and notated than not.

    It just so happened that I was reading through the Canons of Dort summary that Andrew posted on the other day when this post flashed up in my inbox. The two go hand in hand, especially the paragraph you cited here and the fifth head of doctrine.


  2. Yeah, great excerpt from a great book.

    Consider that the new creation in Gal 6:15 is the realm of the Spirit (the new creation there as in 2 Cor 5:17 should be read according to the historia salutis, not ordo salutis) so the imp to “walk by the Spirit” is to walk as a participant in the new creation. The new creation (“above” in terms of vertical eschatology, note Gal 4:26) has broken into this evil age below and is in conflict with this world of unbelief/sarx (Gal 1:4). What makes us citizens of the new creation is faith in the cross (Gal 3:1ff) and it is by our faith in Christ that the Spirit bears the fruit of the new creation in us (Gal 5:22-23) according to the prophecy of Isaiah. See Beale, BBR 15 (2005): 1-38.


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