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06 October 2019

The Lifegiving Spirit

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
The Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians in response to efforts by certain men who taught that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and, probably in other ways, to conform to some of the regulations of the Law or Torah (Galatians 2:143:1-54:105:2-46:12-15).
Paul charged his opponents with perverting the Gospel of Christ and preaching “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9).  They were “false brethren” who came in to subvert the church’s “liberty” in Christ (2:4).
Contrary to the apostolic tradition, they were teaching that man is set right with God from the deeds of the Mosaic law rather than on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This effectively made his death on the Cross “in vain” (Galatians 2:15-21).
Paul responded with a series of arguments presented in chapters 3 and 4.  He first appealed to the common experience of the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jewish and Gentile believers alike had received from faith, not “from the works of the law” (Galatians 3:1-5). It was the Spirit that gave life, not the letter or the deeds of the Torah.
The Spirit was the definitive proof of God’s acceptance of Gentiles apart from the deeds required by the Torah.  He next used scriptural texts to present Abraham as the paradigm of faith (Galatians 3:6-9). Those who are “from faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” The Law demanded that adherents keep the whole law and cursed anyone who failed to do so (Galatians 3:10-12). The Law, therefore, was “not from faith.” 
Since Scripture declares that “the righteous man shall live from faith,” no one is justified before God from the deeds of the Law. Jesus became a “curse” to redeem us from the Law’s curse so that the “blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, and we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (3:13-14). Paul, thus, equated the gift of the Spirit with the promised “blessing” of Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3).
The Law was given at Sinai 430 years after the covenant confirmed previously by God; therefore, the Law could not modify the terms of the original covenant, which was based on “promise,” not law (Galatians 3:15-21).
The promise was for Abraham’s “seed,” which is Christ. Therefore, the Law which came later was a necessary but interim step; it was only in force “until the seed should come to whom the promise was given,” that is, Jesus.
The Law is not against the promises of God, but its purpose was never to justify men; instead, it was added to expose sin as “transgression.” It could never justify anyone because the law “cannot make alive” (Galatians 3:21). In this context, it is the Spirit that gives life. Paul presents “being made alive” by the Spirit as essentially synonymous with “justified on faith”; they are two sides of the same coin. It is the Spirit that imparts life.
This principle is attested elsewhere in the New Testament. “It is the spirit that quickens” (John 6:63). The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead will also “quicken our mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in us” at the future resurrection (Romans 8:11).
The letter of the Mosaic Law kills, but the Spirit that God gives under the New Covenant “quickens” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Jesus on our behalf was put to death in flesh but made “alive in spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). “To be fleshly-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:11).
This principle is not unique to the New Testament. The idea of the Spirit imparting life was implicit in the Creation Story.  In Genesis 1:2, the earth was yet “without form and void,” but the “Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.” Though the stress in the first chapter of Genesis is on creation according to God’s word (“and God said…”), the Psalmist pairs the two:  “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made and all their hosts by the Spirit of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
Yahweh sends forth His Spirit and living creatures are created (“You send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” [Psalm 104:30]).  When He withdraws the Spirit, life ends (“You withdraw their spirit, they cease to breathe, and unto their own dust do they return” [Psalm 104:29]).
Humanity was the crowning achievement of God’s creative work.  Yahweh “formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” making him a living soul (Genesis 2:7).  While the created “soul” or nephesh is properly described as the animating principle in human and animal life, life’s creation is by the “breath” of Yahweh.
By His Spirit” God made man and “His breath gave him life” (Job 33:4). Yahweh “created the heavens and stretched them out…He gave breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein” (Isaiah 42:5). The Spirit of God not only imparts life but causes life to abound.  God promised to “pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; to pour His Spirit upon man’s seed and my blessing upon his offspring” (Isaiah 44:3).
God’s Spirit would revivify His people and cause a dead nation to live again (Ezekiel 37:1-28). By the time of Ezekiel’s ministry, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been destroyed, the Jews exiled to Mesopotamia, and Israel as a political entity had ceased. The vision of Dry Bones portrays symbolically a promised restoration of the nation.
Yahweh prophesied the restoration of Israel in the preceding chapter (Ezekiel 36:16-38), a prediction further illustrated in the vision of Dry Bones. For His own name’s sake, Yahweh determined to gather Israel from the nations where she had been scattered and to return His people to the Promised Land where they would flourish as never before (Ezekiel 36:21-24).
God would “sprinkle clean water” to cleanse Israel from her uncleanness, and He would give her a new heart and put His Spirit within the Jewish people to cause them “to walk in my statutes.” Israel would dwell securely in the “land that I gave to your fathers” and become His people (36:25-28).
In the vision of the dry bones, it is Yahweh’s life-giving Spirit that imparts life and revives the nation, and nothing else (Cp. Zechariah 4:6 [“not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit”]). Ezekiel’s oracle goes beyond just the restoration of national Israel to the land of Palestine and it builds on the promises of Chapter 36.
The day would come when Yahweh would “gather the children of Israel from among the nations and bring them into their own land.” She would be “one nation in the land” with “one king.” No longer would Israel be divided into two kingdoms (Ezekiel 37:21-22). Under the reign of the one Davidic shepherd, Israel would “walk in my ordinances and observe my statutes.”
God would establish a new “covenant of peace” with Israel, an “everlasting covenant.” Yahweh’s “sanctuary” that represented His presence would be in the middle of Israel, finally and forevermore. His “tabernacle also shall be with them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” The nations would understand that Yahweh had set the people of Israel apart, “when my sanctuary is in their midst.”
The Apostle Paul applied the promises from Ezekiel of the gift of the Spirit and the law written on the hearts of God’s people to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 3:1-18):
You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men; manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”
The Spirit of God is the creative force that originates, sustains and restores life, be it individual or corporate, biological or spiritual.  The withdrawal of God’s Spirit means the cessation of life.  There can be no true or everlasting life without the creative and sustaining acts of His Spirit.
The Old Testament promised a coming time of restoration when God would cleanse His people, inaugurate a New Covenant, establish His true Temple and Tabernacle among His people; at last, His presence would dwell among them.  This promise was first made in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 26:12 [“I will walk among you and will be your God, and ye shall be my people”]), but the nation’s idolatry and sin prevented the realization of this ideal. 
The New Testament clarifies that these promises find their fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus, the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the establishment of a covenant community of like-minded believers around Jesus, and ultimately in the New Creation in the Age to Come (e.g., John 1:14Colossians 2:9-10Revelation 21:321:22).

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