by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



John Owen (1616-1683) addresses the concept of our justification for standing before God and being right with Him, as only possible by the indwelling righteousness of Jesus the Anointed. There is no other righteousness for justification. Any inherent human inclination of doing things right in God’s sight in seeking moral perfection does not qualify a person for being justified to receive forgiveness of sins and the cleansing of all unrighteousness. By nature, we are not willing to obey all rules that keep us out of trouble; it is a real effort. But that’s still not enough for God.

That means then, says Owen, we can only be justified by a perfect form of righteousness that is acceptable by God for grace to be forgiven and given eternal life. Since it is not naturally in us, we must, therefore, acquire it, and since Jesus, the Anointed is the only person who has such perfect righteousness, He is the only one who can supply it. So, when we receive Him into our lives as Savior and confess with our mouths that He is Lord, then, and only then, will we be justified to stand before God without fear of condemnation.

Owen lists several imperfections that keep us all from using our righteousness as a substitute. First, there is a contrary principle of sinful tendencies abiding in us even as believers in the Anointed in this unregenerate world. As Paul says here in verse seventeen, our sinful tendencies want what our reborn spirit is against us having, and wants the attention our sinful tendencies are against enjoying. They are always fighting against each other so that we never end up doing do what we really ought to do.

Secondly, none of the aptitudes of our souls become fully rehabilitated while we are in this world. That is why we never lose hope for that day. Although outwardly, we are growing weaker, yet inwardly we are renewed day by day.[1] And this renewal comes from whatever is spoken in the Scriptures, whatever believers learn by experience. The reason for this is because of the sin virus residue infecting our bodies. In the darkness of our minds, this virus colonizes, leading us astray because we don’t understand the deceitfulness of the heart and the disorder of our thinking in longing for what is not best for our spiritual lives.[2] Can anyone imagine pleading their case for justification in the sight of God, or suppose that they can be justified by it in any way? Just one small factor of the imperfection of our self-righteousness is enough to make us stop and think as to why we even try.[3]

John Bunyan (1628-1688) does not hold back in his application of what Paul says here in verse seventeen. For him, our reborn spirit fights against the sinful tendencies of the flesh. And as long as this contest is undecided, there’s very little we can accomplish for the glory of God. So, it goes without much deliberation that if a morally right person cannot do the things they want to do even with a made-up mind and the desire of their heart, then the problem is that the weight of their sinful tendencies pushes them down more than their righteous living lifts them.

 Bunyan does not want his audience to miss the point here, so he says again: what a person does that right falls short of overcoming their wrongful attitude. The number of temptations, the weight of guilt and shame, and the length to which they go to be victorious, still causes them to end up trembling with the thought of standing before God’s throne of judgment.[4] That’s because their sinful tendencies are more potent than their desire to do what’s right to the glory of God.

But Bunyan is still not convinced that his listeners fully understand. So, he says once more: the sins of a gracious person, who stands on what they believe to be the principles of holy living, are still in danger of being weighed down by guilt for failing God to the point of destruction. When no relief is given to them by the Spirit, then what chance do the Pharisees, who are not gracious but sinners in disguise, partially reformed, and painted over with the whitewash of a few, rites, rituals, and formalities, be able to win the victory over their sinful tendencies? They are empty, halfhearted, hypocritical, self-righteous countermeasures they cling to in every state and condition of being overcome by their enormous and weighty sins. That makes them an abominable in the sight of God.[5]

What Bunyan is saying is that no one can ever hope to win the battle over the temptations of their sinful tendencies on their own. To begin with, forget the Pharisees, they are a hopeless case. It would be like trying to make gold out of coal. But those who are believers and have Jesus the Anointed and the Holy Spirit living within them are still at risk unless they surrender their will to God. He’s the only one with enough power to sanctify a sinner into becoming a saint.

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), notes the big difference between the Spirit’s enlightening of the mind to understand the Word of God and to know what is contained and revealed in that Word, and what effect they may have on those who believe them, and see how they apply to their case and circumstances. Therefore, any search for a new revelation is ridiculous. The indwelling Spirit empowers your mind to understand and utilize the secrets contained in God’s Word.[6]

Some preacher or Bible teacher may tell you that while reading God’s Word, they felt inspired with specific thoughts or insights. But this does not automatically mean their understanding applies to you. How true this is when they claim that it is a “word from the Lord.” So, you are to follow and claim the blessings and benefits that will come as a result of being obedient to what the Lord told them. I saw this with my own eyes while watching a Christian TV program when a well-known preacher said that he received a revelation from God that for everyone who would immediately donate $500 to his ministry, God would return it to them sevenfold.

Daniel D. Whedon points out that once we are redeemed, called, chosen, sanctified, and empowered to live for God and do His will, the Spirit is already doing all He can for the believer. Some gifts may operate through the believer. But now, any continued growth and experience is up to the follower of the Anointed. In other words, a believer is a free agent in the service of the Father. Oh yes, we do seek His guidance, but He is not going to make our decision for us.

For Whedon, you must do for yourself what He has given you the ability and talent to do. Your selfhood, as a free agent, must exert its energies and put forth the decisive act by which you commit yourself to the spiritual and adopt the lifestyle of a spiritual person. Remember, we are not “carried” by our reborn spirit; we live as a person with a reborn spirit. Whedon takes exception with the predestinationists who feel that God has everything taken care of, and we just wait for the end to come, and we’ll be where we’re supposed to be, doing what we’re supposed to be doing. In other words, they expect that our spirit has the power to put everything in order without any effort by our hearts and minds. However, this thinking destroys the very foundations of free agency, probation, and responsibility.

It all starts with a person receiving salvation because their spirit secured such a promise from God. Another person faces sin’s death penalty. Their unborn soul did not obtain salvation because they refused to accept it from God. This verse clearly shows that between the reborn spirit doing all it needs to do and the flesh doing all it can, it is the free agent, with the help of the Holy Spirit, who decides who is going to continue in their spiritual walk until they reach their destiny. The same providence is for all believers: salvation, service, and everlasting life. The Holy Spirit urges and enables, but does not do the walking for us.[7]

Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), theologian and reformer at Oxford University, points out that it is strange for Paul to present the flesh and the reborn spirit as opposed to each other. It seems as though its design is to prevent a believer from doing anything they want to do. However, in the original Greek text, Paul’s method and grammar present his definitive argument and leaves no place for interpreting it in any other way. The flesh and the reborn spirit are in conflict, daily conflict, but rather than designed for failure by becoming stagnant, it is paving the way for the final reception of the truth. The Apostle Paul already expressed his frustration with this struggle in Romans 7, and what he learned about himself and God’s power.[8]

In Christian all commentaries Jewish Christian scholar Ariel ben Lyman HaNaviy consulted, they interpreted verse eighteen as saying that being spirit-led implies that Christians were not obligated to the Torah’s ceremonial laws. They did this by taking the phrase “not under the Law” to indicate one was not under any obligation to obey the Law in every detail. And as was expected, those same Christian commentaries cross-referenced Paul’s words in Romans 6:14, mainly because the entire phrase “not under the Law” was used there as well.

Lyman then notes that the Complete Jewish Bible translates this Galatians verse as “For sin will not have authority over you; because you are not under legalism but grace.” But Lyman disagrees with this rendering as well. Paul is not placing the observance of the Torah against being led by one’s spirit. Nor is he contrasting the spiritual life under legalism. When Paul uses the phrase “under the Law” in his letters, he utilizes it technically, referring either to Jewish identity or to the condemnation that the Torah spells out for sinners, brought on by sinful tendencies that repeat sin without any remorse.

So, Lyman says, we must let context determine which is employed here. Paul is in the middle of a dialogue about the old-nature versus the new-nature controlled by the indwelling-Spirit. Therefore, we can safely interpret “under the Law” as shorthand for “under the condemnation of the Law.” But this verse not only emphasizes our freedom from condemnation but our need to be “led by the Spirit.” For Lyman, to be “led by the Spirit” is the same as saying “filled with the Spirit.” As one reads through his commentary here on Galatians and notices the way he regularly disagrees with standard Christian explanations, they should not get the impression that he has nothing positive to say about the prevailing Christian views at all. That is not the case. The truth is, he has the utmost respect for every Christian translator and commentator that he encounters, often gleaning precious, spiritual nuggets from their non-Law related materials.[9]

[1] 2 Corinthians 7:1

[2] Hebrews 5:2

[3] Owen, John, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, op. cit., pp. 335-336

[4] Psalm 143:2

[5] Bunyan, John: Practical Works, Vol. 5, A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, Ch. 6, John Bunyan: pp. 206-207

[6] Edwards, Jonathan: Vol. 3, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion, Part 4, Sec. 2, pp. 121-122

[7] Whedon, Daniel D., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 243

[8] Jowett, Benjamin: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 382

[9] HaNaviy, Ariel ben Lyman: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 167-168

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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