A Commentary by John Stott

Galatians. A Review of the Epistle. 3). The question of holiness.

The Judaizers caricatured Paul’s gospel that justification was by grace alone through faith alone; they hinted that in this case good words (I think this should be ‘works’ Ed.) did not matter and you could evidently live as you please. Paul denies this too. He agrees that Christians are ‘free’ and urges them to ‘stand fast’ in the freedom with which Christ has set them free (5:1), but he adds ‘only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh’ (5:13). Christian liberty is not licence. Christians have been freed from the bondage of the law in the sense that they have been delivered from the law as a way of salvation. But this does not mean that they are free to break the law. On the contrary, we are to ‘fulfil the law’ by loving and serving one another (5:13,14).

How is it possible to become holy? We have seen how Paul describes the Christian’s inner conflict between ‘the flesh’ and ‘the Spirit’  and the way of victory through the ascendancy of the Spirit over the flesh. Those who belong to Christ, he says, ‘have crucified the flesh’, totally rejecting its evil ‘passions and desires’ (5:24). This is part of our repentance. It took place at our conversion, but we need to remember and renew it daily.

Christ’s people who seek to be ‘led by the Spirit’ (5:18), to follow His ‘line’ (5:25) and sow in His ‘field’ (6:8), by disciplined habits of thinking and living, so that His ‘fruit’ will appear and ripen in our lives. This is the Christian way of holiness.

The last verse of the Epistle is a fitting conclusion: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit’ (6:18). For the Christian life is lived by the grace of Christ, and this grace (unmerited favour) is expressed in the three spheres which we have been considering.

First, the answer to the question of authority is *Jesus Christ through His apostles*. Christ appointed and authorized the Twelve and later Paul to teach in His name (Mk.3:14; Lk.6:13; Acts 1:15-26; 26:12-18 (especially verse 17 ‘I send you’, *ego apostello se*); 1 Cor.15:8-11; Gal.1:1,15-17), and promised them the Holy Spirit in special measure to bring His teaching to their remembrance and to lead them into all the truth (Jn. 14:25,26; 15:26, 27; 16:12-15). So ‘what Jesus began to do and teach’ during His life (acts 1:1) He continued through His apostles, and He intended men to submit to this apostolic authority as being His authority: ‘He who receives you receives me’, He said (Mt.10:40; cf. Jn.13:20). ‘He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me’ (Lk.10:16).

Secondly, the answer to the question of salvation is *Jesus Christ through His cross*. Jesus Christ came not only to speak but to save, not only to reveal but to redeem. On the cross He bore our sin and curse. And if we are in Christ crucified, united to Him by faith all the blessings of the gospel – justification, adoption and the gift of the Spirit – become our personal possession.

Thirdly, the answer to the question of holiness is *Jesus Christ through His Spirit*. Christ not only died, rose and returned to heaven, but sent the Holy Spirit to replace Him. This Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, who dwells in every believer (E.g. Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal.3:2, 14; 4:6). And one of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit is to conform us to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), to form Christ in us (Gal.4:19), to bring forth in our lives His ‘fruit’ of Christlikeness.

So we have Christ through His apostles to teach us, Christ through His cross to save us and Christ through His Spirit to sanctify us. This in a nutshell is the message of the Epistle to the Galatians and indeed of Christianity itself. It is all included in the Epistle’s last words: *The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ* – His grace through His apostles, His cross and His Spirit – *be with your spirit, brethren. Amen*.

Tomorrow: This completes the commentary on Galatians and tomorrow we will start on the Epistle to the Ephesians.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Galatians: Calling Christian Leaders. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.