Gal. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? (NRSV)
Gal. 3:3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (KJV)
Paul is frustrated with what he sees in the life of some of the people of Galatia. They began their new lives in the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who breathes life into these followers and continues to fill their beings on a daily basis and yet, something has happened. They have turned to from the Spirit to the Jewish law and now have become legalists. Instead of the life-giving Spirit leading them they are allowing themselves to be governed by a set of rules. The second question of the verse is actually a bit tongue in cheek. Paul is saying — really — you began your new life by being filled with the Spirit and now you will finish it better than God can by your own strength, of your own will, by following a bunch of rules!
Notice the newer translation says “are you now ending,” while the older translation, “are ye now made perfect.” It’s that struggle over a Greek word that has telos is in — that word that means perfection, or bringing to completion. The point is that the goal of the Christian life is to live life in the Spirit and to be brought to completion through the work of the Spirit. We begin in the Spirit and we must live our lives in the Spirit so that “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. “ (Phil. 1:6) The Spirit is ever moving us onward to become all that God has for us. And this is finishing well — finishing in him!
The problem is that we become derailed from our life in the Spirit by the things of this world. When followers of Jesus Christ begin to be distracted and their Christian lives become nothing more than going to church on the occasional Sunday and yet, preaching a particular “brand” of Christianity to those around them — we are not finishing well.
This week I’ve learned of two young people who have not finished well. They would say that they were “Christians” — raised in Christian homes and yet today they have entirely rejected Christianity. They have “chosen” to become atheists — and very openly. Public statements made to family and friends, personally and on social media, announce their personal “decision” to be a non-Christian.
First of all I would wonder whether they even started well. Did they ever experience the Spirit or did they become tired of a Christian life in the flesh? Could it be that they only experienced Christians who had done exactly what the Galatians had done — started in the Spirit but were now living in the flesh. When it all becomes about our human desire to live a particular lifestyle without the Spirit, we will fail and it is our personal failure that has led to a generation of young people who want nothing to do with that brand of Christianity. If we live the Christian life in the flesh — then people will run. Just as we made becoming a follower of Jesus Christ about our own “decision,” so these individuals are making not following Christ a “decision.” What we are seeing is a result of our own actions and this should not surprise us. But let’s make sure that we are not pointing fingers at these individuals. Instead, let us examine ourselves and see whether we are living life in the fullness of the Spirit, or by the flesh.
For us to finish our lives well, we must remain in the Spirit. This means a connection to the life-giving Spirit of God on a daily basis and giving space for the Spirit to continually be at work in us. We are never “finished” with God’s work in our lives. Finishing well means that we allow the Spirit to be continually at work, forming Christ in and through us. If the world saw a little more of Christ and a little less of us they may not turn away. May we heed the reminder we have received from Paul, seeking to live in the Spirit every day and finish well.
Lord, may I be Spirit-led today. Amen.