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Perfected By The Flesh (Galatians 3:3)

Are you so foolish?Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected bythe flesh? (Galatians 3:3; ESV)

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3; HCSB)

Continuing our studying on the message of Galatians, I believe Galatians 3:3 provides further evidence that the problem is not Jews versus Gentiles, Moses’ law versus Christ’s law, or salvation by works versus salvation by faith. All of the Galatians are Christians. No one is leaving Jesus and going back to the Law of Moses. We can see this in Galatians 3:3. They have all begun by the Spirit. They have all been saved by the grace of God. But the Jewish Christians were telling the Gentile Christians that they were not complete in their faith. They were not truly part of God’s family until they accomplished a few more tasks to identify themselves as God’s people: circumcision, Jew/Gentile separation, and dietary laws. This is why Paul uses the phrase “are you going to be made complete (perfected) by the flesh?” “By the flesh” is a direct reference to the circumcision that the Jewish Christians were declaring necessary for the Gentile Christians to complete their faith.

Verse 5 continues the argument that the Galatian Christians had received miraculous spiritual gifts already. Why would they think that their faith is incomplete? These external aspects of the law did not bring salvation or spiritual gifts. Their obedience in Jesus did. Therefore, the Jewish Christians who are demanding more from the Gentile Christians are in error for saying that the Gentile Christians’ faith is incomplete.

I think the TNIV, NIV, and NLT really hurt this observation by using the phrases, “are you now trying to finish by human effort?” (TNIV), “are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (NIV) and “why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (NLT). While human effort may be part of the focus, it seems this is a case where “flesh” should be understood literally, since the necessity of circumcision is the center of the controversy.