The Galatian Crisis

Steve Irons

Careful reading of Paul's letter to the Galatians is a helpful answer to George's insistence that a fuller obedience on the part of the believer leads to a fuller salvation in the ages to come.


Frederick Bruner, in his excellent book entitled, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, provides us with a clear Scriptural response to George Geftakys’ teaching.

Is Faith in Christ Only the Beginning of Salvation?

The Galatian letter is addressed to Christians who are being tempted to think that there is another, fuller gospel which will bring the Spirit to them in fullness, completion, or perfection where the simple gospel message of Christ by faith brought only salvation’s beginning. Paul’s message of faith is not totally repudiated by the bearers of the new gospel: they recognize faith as the way to initial salvation. But they believe that faith should be supplemented by fuller obedience to God’s will and that this fuller obedience will be honored by God through a fuller gift of his Spirit or salvation.

The new message was thus earnest, plausible, appealing, and based on the Bible—and therefore it was “bewitching,” that is, attractive. Could God despise fuller obedience? The Galatians were simply being brought a fuller gospel with fuller conditions of obedience for a fuller salvation. The fact that Paul’s Galatian opponents could appeal to such apparently high, spiritual, and biblical motives constitutes the Galatian crisis. (p. 237-238)

Paul must remind the Galatians all over again of how they received the Spirit in the very beginning, and in asking them, “Having begun with the Spirit are you now ending with the flesh?” he is saying, “The greatest miracle in your life occurred without your assistance or effort through the power of the gospel alone; do you think now that you can go on to fullness through some higher means, if there is a higher means?”

No, Faith in Christ Is also the Means to Fullness

For Paul the message of faith was not simply a mathematical point at the beginning of the Christian life, or simply the fulcrum into the Christian life, to be superseded later by other means or messages bringing other and professedly greater blessings. For Paul the message of faith in Christ was the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the continuing means for the living of the Christian life.

The message of faith yesterday, today, and tomorrow is God’s one means of giving his Holy Spirit to men. That is the meaning of the extremely important Galatians 3:1 5 passage. “When God gives you the Spirit and works miracles among you,” Paul asks in his next question, “why is this? Is it because you keep the law, or is it because you have faith in the gospel message” (Gal. 3:5 NEB).

Whereas Paul had placed his earlier and similar question (3:2) in the aorist, signifying the initial full reception of the Holy Spirit, the present question is placed in the present participle, signifying both the constant and, as the word itself represents, the rich, full giving of the Holy Spirit. In this second question Paul assumes that the Holy Spirit is continually and richly supplied just as he was initially: through the message of faith apart from works. (p. 238)

Faith in Gospel is the Only Means to the Gift of the Spirit

And once again it is Paul’s contention—indeed, it is the distinctive feature of his gospel—that this faith message is God’s exclusive means for the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit is either continually received, as he was initially received, through the attempt to do all that is commanded, or he is received continually and always through faith in the gospel message. Again the situation is either/or, and the immense subtlety of the Galatian heresy was its appeal to the both / and.

It was being insisted in Galatia that the gospel of faith is, to be sure, absolutely indispensable for becoming a Christian, but for becoming a better Christian, for total filling by God, there must be obedience beyond mere faith. Paul does not contest obedience or the keeping of the commandments of God as such—indeed, he urges these most seriously—but he vigorously contests the necessity of any obedience except faith for a full relation with God. There is no other means for the full gift of the Holy Spirit than the message of faith in Christ’s finished work, either initially (Gal.3:2) or continually (Gal.3:5). (p. 238-239)

George Geftakys’ most used expressions for these “faith works” are “availing”, “appropriating”, “responding”, “entering into”, and “reckoning”. Two faiths are required, one initially toward Christ for “initial salvation” and a second to supplement grace with power. Grace is dormant and inactive (powerless) until we “avail” ourselves of it. Bruner addresses the use of these words.

It is our impression that "appropriation" has been the mother of more conditions, if not more misery, than any other word we have encountered... The notion of appropriation tends to make the believer’s faith even more central than God’s gift, or to put it another way, to make faith a work. But if faith is a work then salvation is not apart from works. If faith is an appropriation, that is, a making one’s own, then it is not apart from all our makings.

If having what God in the fullness of Christ gives depends upon one’s ability to make that fullness his, or even upon a believer’s ability to “let go” which is the inverse (and as frequent a side) of this emphasis, then the whole breadth and depth of salvation is transferred at the last possible moment, no matter how orthodox every prior moment may have been, from God to men. This is all to say that if faith is a human appropriation and not a human reception enabled completely and graciously by God then it is a devout work but is not what the New Testament calls faith. (p. 251-252)

Luther’s affirmation is evangelical, “Believe and you have it”. This is the New Testament doctrine in its purity. Yet the moment one adds, “Absolutely believe (or surrender, empty, yield) and you have it,” though appearing more devout through its intensification, the sentence bears in fact the crushing weight of both the law and the impossible. When does one know he has believed absolutely? What must one do (or not do) to believe absolutely? What mortal can do the absolute?

To our knowledge, faith is never prefixed in Paul by an adjective, nor heightened by an absolute. This cannot be accidental. (p. 253)

The Holy Spirit Indwells Every Believer

If the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, the Holy Spirit will influence and effect positive changes in the believer’s life and behavior. The Holy Spirit is not dormant until the believer “yields” or “responds” to the Holy Spirit.

“Higher life” teachers (and George Geftakys is one) say, “The Holy Spirit is resident in our lives but we must make Him president.” Either He is president already in the believer or He is simply not resident.

The Holy Spirit is active in the believer all the way from regeneration to glorification. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29 30)”

The tenses of the verbs “justified” and “glorified” are both in the past tense, giving us strong encouragement that God will complete the work of salvation he has begun (Philippians 1:6). Both our justification and our sanctification (both the legal and vital aspects of our salvation—Christ for us and Christ in us) are the result of our union with Christ. Through union with Christ we receive every spiritual blessing.


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