The Apostle Paul’s “Hermeneutical Key”

In Galatians 3:3 Paul asks his readers a life and death question.

“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?”.

My friends, For Paul it was not enough to just attribute the beginning of one’s personal salvation to God’s quickening Spirit. You must also attribute your daily walk to him for he is the saint’s Companion and the administrator of Christ’s government upon your heart. His work is so telling that Paul could state:

“For: who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16.

I find it to be quite troubling when so many ignore the thrust of Paul’s Gal 3:3 question. I personally believe it is avoided because professing Christians are embarrassed to attribute the “all” of what they do to God the Spirit. The flesh, even in the best of God’s saints, seeks to satisfy ego. In some circles professing Christians would rather attribute their “being made complete” to just about anything or anyone (myself/flesh?) other than God “in” them. Are we any different? Let’s evaluate our own circle by reflecting upon our own “NCT” conversations.

Have you come away with the sense that it is quite alright for Paul to speak of such things as long as we do not speak of such things ourselves? It’s the difference from being an astute observer but never an actual participant. Are you and I part of the “Never Ending Story” story? Are we mere readers or are we actual participants within the story?

Do you become uncomfortable when Paul speaks of the labors of the Spirit “in” and “among” God’s people? There are those who dare not speak too much along these lines. For others, if they speak of the Spirit’s activity beyond giving birth and gifting, he becomes all too mystical so they abandon such talk lest God forbid someone may over hear them. Granted, there is always the risk of sharing openly about such things. There will be consequences. Speaking of the Spirit as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 3 is enough to provoke the antinomian hunters out there into a mad feeding frenzy –even from within NCT circles! It would appear that our critics have forgotten that the Sword of the Spirit is the word of God and that word from Genesis to the Revelation.  Who needs all this talk about law when you have the complete Bible in your hand?

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Eph 6:17

Please consider all of the ramifications of Galatians 3:3. Begin in the Spirit? Yes! But what about the days, months and years since your beginning? Why won’t you go there in print or in your pulpits to address the heart of the matter? Perhaps it is because you would prefer to talk about law, all sorts of law and lots and lots of law. Some just can’t seem to get enough of it. Within NCT circles the conversations are almost always about law. Not that old era big LAW but lots of little laws and how they all fit together as the Law of Christ.

Listen to yourselves! Typical conversations almost always end up talking about what remains applicable of the Old Covenant and its body of law within the New or there is the frequent wrangling over how we are to define the Law of Christ. (With regards to the Law of Christ I’d like to hear what you have to say of its Modus operandi?)

Like it or not and despite our neglect (or ignorance) the word of God confirms the supernatural activity of the Spirit that we are so embarrassed to talk about. With the glorification of Jesus our Messiah, God has through the agency of his Holy Spirit, established a wonderful thing within those whom he has called in the New Covenant era. Get a taste of it through Paul’s prayer for God’s saints:

“I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,  (17)  and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love,  (18)  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love,  (19)  and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  (20)  Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think–according to the power that works in you–  (21)  to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21.

You just read what is considered a popular Doxology. Did you notice that not once did Paul employ the word law to communicate something of the mysterious yet great sanctifying work of God. Imagine for a moment the above context minus the words“…be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,  and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith.” The passage minus those words pretty much sums up what we hear and read from many who espouse NCT. You will not enjoy the balance of the passage minus the root. That’s the truth of that matter. If you remove those words the balance of God’s work will not happen in the life of the believer. Absent the power of God in you -you are nothing. There it is in a nutshell. That is the missing emphasis within today’s NCT circles and without it we are wasting our time. It’s the answer to Paul’s question to the churches of Galatia. (Gal 3:3) If you, as you profess, began your journey in Christ by the Spirit then you had better end your journey by the power of the same Spirit.

Paul understood the marvelous activity of the Spirit as the fulfillment of the word spoken through the Patriachs and the prophets. One example from Ezekiel:

Eze 37:24  My servant David will be king over them, and there will be one shepherd for all of them. They will follow My ordinances, and keep My statutes and obey them. (and) 36:26-27  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  (27) I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.

You know I think it really says something when someone from outside our camp such as Tom Deidun informs us that Paul understood the work of the Spirit within the life of the New Covenant community to be the “‘hermeneutical key.” It undergirded his thinking. Hear Deidun:

In the Spirit’s activity Paul sees the absolute novelty of the Christian religion: the immediacy and interiority of God’s action in Christ, creating obedience in the hearts of Christians. The immediacy of God’s presence and activity is not, of course, exclusive to Paul’s theology, since it is more or less implicit in all the New Testament writings. But it is distinctive of men of genius that they are capable of grasping the sheer wonder of what others take more or less for granted (and therefore leave more or less implicit), and of grasping it with such intensity that it becomes the dominating and formative principle of their lives and thought. So with Paul. The fact of the immediacy of God’s saving activity in the hearts of believers dominates his thought, and constitutes for him a ‘hermeneutical key’ by which both to penetrate the mystery of Christ and to interpret Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment in the new People of God. [Page 84: Deidun, T. J. New Covenant Morality in Paul. Analecta Biblica 89. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981.]

Mind you Deidun is not from our tradition. He wasn’t raised a Southern Baptist or a Reformed Baptist and I doubt he’d flaunt Sovereign Grace credentials as some of our number. That’s what blows my mind. I didn’t glean the quote from one of your works and from the works of one of our New Covenant theologians. I would rather that I had. In fact some of you brothers can’t hold a candle to some of things he has written. You just don’t seem to understand the hermeneutical key that opens it all up. In fact I get the sense that some of you would rather avoid going where Deidun has gone. So be it. If I may be honest I have less and less time for those who deny the worth of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer. If you continue to address the Law of Christ and do no more than sprinkle a little dash of the Spirit here and there (if even that!) then you have failed to see the weight of what God himself has to say on this all important doctrine of the Spirit and the New.

As I conclude my time on the tree stump I’d like to re-focus your thoughts one last time upon Paul’s question.

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?

Don’t be foolish! Consider Paul’s hermeneutical key. I’ll be praying for you.

– MB