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06 October 2019

Life-Giving Spirit

SynopsisThere is no genuine life apart from the Spirit of God. His promises of everlasting life, renewal and a new covenant find their fulfillment in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and in the resultant gift of the Spirit.

Waterfalls Photo by June Admiraal on Unsplash
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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, thus, conform to some of the regulations of the Law or Torah. Paul charged his opponents with perverting the Gospel of Christ and preaching “another gospel”.  They were “false brethren” who came in to subvert the church’s “liberty” in Christ (Galatians 1:5-9, 3:1-4, 6:12-15).

Contrary to the apostolic tradition, they were teaching that a man is set right with God from the deeds required by the Mosaic law, not on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. This effectively made his death on the Cross “in vain”:

(Galatians 2:15-21) – “We, by nature Jews and not sinners from among the nations, Knowing, however, that a man is not declared righteous by works of law, [nor at all] save through faith in Christ Jesus; even we, on Christ Jesus, believed, that we might be declared righteous—by faith in Christ and not by works of law; because by works of law shall no flesh be declared righteous. Now, if in seeking to be declared righteous in Christ we, ourselves also, were found sinners,—is Christ, therefore, a minister of sin? Far be it! For if the things that I pulled down, these again I build, a transgressor I prove myself to be. For I through means of law, unto law died, that unto God I might live:—With Christ have I been crucified; and living no longer am I, but living in me is Christ,—while so far as I now do live in flesh, by faith I live—The faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up in my behalf. I do not set aside the favour of God; for if through law is righteousness, then Christ without cause died.”- (The Emphasized Bible).

Paul responded with a series of arguments recorded in chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians.  He first appealed to the common experience of the Spirit that Jewish and Gentile believers alike received from faith, not “from the works of the law.” It was the Spirit that gave life, not the letter or the deeds of the Torah (Galatians 3:1-5).

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. 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. The Law, therefore, was “not from faith” (Galatians 3:6-12).

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.” Paul, thus, equated the gift of the Spirit with the promised “blessing” of Abraham (Galatians 3:13-14, Genesis 12:1-3).

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 to Abraham was for 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”; the two experiences 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.” 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 (John 6:63, Romans 8:11).

The letter of the Mosaic Law kills, but the Spirit that God gives under the New Covenant “quickens.” Jesus on our behalf was put to death in the flesh but made “alive in the spirit.” “To be fleshly-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 3:6, 1 Peter 3:18).

The principle is not unique to the New Testament. The idea of the Spirit of God imparting life is implicit in the Creation Story.  In Genesis 1:2, for example, the earth was yet “without form and void,” but the “Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.” Several of the Psalms highlight the life-giving power of Yahweh, for example:

(Psalm 33:6) – “By the word of Yahweh, the heavens were made, and, by the spirit of his mouth, all their host.
(Psalm 104:29-30) – “Thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed, Thou withdrawest their spirit, They cease to breathe, And unto their own dust do they return: Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created, And thou renewest the face of the ground.

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.  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 (Genesis 2:7).

By His Spirit” God made man and “His breath gave him life.” Yahweh “created the heavens and stretched them out…He gave breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein” (Job 33:4, 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. 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 (Ezekiel 37:1-28).

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. Under the reign of the one Davidic shepherd, Israel would “walk in my ordinances and observe my statutes.”

Yahweh prophesied the restoration of Israel in the preceding chapter, 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. It is Yahweh’s life-giving Spirit that imparts life and revives the nation, and nothing else (Ezekiel 36:16-38).

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. He would establish a new “covenant of peace” with Israel, an “everlasting covenant.”

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 3:1-6) – “Are we to begin again ourselves to commend? or have we need, like some, of commendatory letters unto you or from you? Our letter ye are, inscribed in our hearts, noted and read by all men: Manifesting yourselves that ye are a letter of Christ, ministered by us,—inscribed—not with ink, but with [the] Spirit of a Living God, not in tablets of stone, but in tablets [which are] hearts of flesh. But such confidence as this have we through the Christ towards God. Not that of our own selves sufficient are we, to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God;—Who also hath made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant—not of letter, but of spirit, for the letter killeth, whereas, the Spirit maketh alive.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

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 and, at last, His presence would dwell among them.  This promise was first made in the Law of Moses but the nation’s idolatry and sin prevented the realization of this ideal (Leviticus 26:12 - “I will walk among you and will be your God, and ye shall be my people”).

The New Testament teaches 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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