One may ask how men can said to be saved by the renewing of the Spirit when the salvation is in Christ. The answer is obvious. There is a chain, or series of events, of which no link may be lacking.
We are saved by divine purpose. God has so decreed and chosen us to salvation before the foundation of the world.
We are saved by the atonement as the meritorious basis of all.
We are saved by faith as the bond of union to Christ. We are saved by grace as contrasted to works we have done.
We are saved by the truth that conveys God’s testimony.
And we are saved, as it expressed here, “by the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” as producing faith in the heart. So we find the Spirit called the Spirit of faith,[i] that is, the Author or producing cause of faith.
Therefore we may unhesitatingly affirm that the commencement of the Christian life must be attributed to the Holy Spirit absolutely and completely.
Of all Paul’s epistles, it is perhaps to the Galatians that his doctrine on the economy of the Spirit is most full. This was, of course, due to the circumstances which necessitated the letter in the first place. We are all perhaps conversant with the history of the Galatian church. They had no sooner been founded than they were subjected to the test of counterfeit teachers. Representatives from the Pharisaical party of the Jews insisted that an adherence to certain Jewish rites was necessary for justification before God. Paul replied to this error by stating that they had not received the Spirit through works of the Law, but by the preaching of faith. The ordinary saving gifts of regeneration and holiness, as well as other supernatural gifts, were not received by any performance of the ceremonial and moral law.
The next thing Paul demonstrates is that the promised Spirit was procured by the vicarious death of Christ. This proves the assertion made earlier about Paul’s view of the joint mission of Son and Spirit. The giving of the Spirit is connected with the atonement. Paul says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”[ii] The meaning of this passage is that the death of Christ was the purchase of this gift – the promised Spirit. The final article (i9na) leans on the words that describe Christ’s sacrifice.
Next Paul describes the Spirit of adoption as given only to those who are sons by faith.[iii] This is to further show that works are excluded and that the reception of the promised Spirit is exclusively due to the merits of Christ. This is why he says, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”[iv]
The last part of the Epistle displays the Spirit’s work in another light. The last two chapters set forth the graces of the Spirit and the Christian’s fruitfulness. The same Apostle who, in the first part of the Epistle was anxious to assert the Christian’s freedom and bid that we stand fast in it, is not less anxious to set forth the Spirit’s renewing and sanctifying influence. As the believer’s being led by the Spirit, Paul adduces their liberty from the curse of the law as a proof.[v] Then after cataloging the works of the flesh, he specifies as the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and temperance.”[vi] He calls these fruit, as if they grew on a living tree. George Smeaton asserts that Paul means that against such people there is no law, arguing that tw~n toiounton is an allusion to people.[vii] Thus from living by the Spirit Paul argues the duty of walking by the Spirit[viii] and concludes by referring to the duty of sowing to the Spirit.[ix]
In short, we may say that in Paul’s theology, the Spirit is the Source of the saving faith of believers, the Renewer of their natures and the Sanctifier of their lives. All these operations of the Spirit are connected to the work of the Son. Never do we find in Paul the work of the Spirit mentioned without a direct link to the work of the Son. This is, to my mind, the one distinctive feature of Paul’s theology of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly as it should be, for Christ Himself said, “He will glorify me.”[x]