In order to understand the meaning of Galatians 5:16-26 it is necessary to begin with a brief study of the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration, a theological term for being “born again,” is the term for when God creates a human spirit in the believer at salvation. “Born again” is a poor translation of the Greek and leads one to think that the human spirit already exists and is simply being regenerated. The Greek words for “born again” help us to fully understand the meaning: for born we have “gennao,” which means to bear or to bring forth a child; for again we have “anothen,” which means “anew” or “from above.” The word regenerate in English can mean to be restored, to reform, to bring into existence again, but it can also mean to be made anew. However, the Greek word for regeneration is “palingenesia” and means a new birth. Regeneration is a new birth, a spiritual birth from above (from God). It is the “new creation” of II Corinthians 5:17, which is better translated “a new spiritual species.” It is a brand new nature, something that did not exist prior to faith in Christ. (John 3:1-16; I Thessalonians 5:23; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:1,5)
Prior to salvation a person is “spiritually dead” and separated from God. Upon faith in Christ, a person becomes alive spiritually and is no longer separated from God. Regeneration, therefore, is the supernatural work of God whereby He imparts spiritual life to a spiritually dead person. All three members of the Trinity are involved in regeneration. It is the will of the Father that everyone comes to know Christ as Savior. Regeneration is made possible by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that produces this new birth in the believer. (Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 2:13; James 1:18; I Peter 2:24; Titus 3:5)
Spiritual death means that a person is “in Adam,” does not possess a human spirit, is minus the righteousness of God and has no ability within himself to remedy the situation. Being “in Adam” means that every member of the human race is born with Adam’s original sin, which was imputed to each person at birth. It is Adam’s original sin that condemns us at birth. Spiritual life means that a person is “in Christ,” possesses a human spirit, has the righteousness of God and that God has remedied his formerly hopeless situation. Being “in Christ” means that at salvation God the Holy Spirit places us into union with Jesus Christ. It is this union that removes all condemnation from the believer. (John 3:17-18; Romans 5:12-14, 8:1; I Corinthians 2:14, 15:22)
It is the work of Christ that secures forever our relationship with God and provides the potential for regeneration for every human being. It is still a matter of personal volition (free will) whether a person chooses to believe in Christ or whether a person rejects Christ. God does not force anyone to believe in Christ.
On the Cross Jesus died twice. First, He died spiritually as the full and complete payment for the sin of all mankind. Because the penalty for sin is spiritual death or separation from God, someone had to pay this penalty. Only a perfect, sinless person could have accomplished this, having no sin of His own to pay for. This person had to have the ability to pay, the willingness to pay and had to be related to the person for whom he is paying the penalty. This had to be done in order to meet the requirements of the “Kinsman Redeemer” under Jewish law. Remember that Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly (even in His death). (Romans 6:23; Leviticus 25:27, 48; Jeremiah 50:34; Matthew 5:17)
Christ’s second death on the Cross was physical. He rose again to conquer death and the grave. Since we are in union with Christ, we too will conquer physical death and the grave. When Christ was resurrected, He became the “firstfruits” of all believers. This means that He was the first to receive a resurrection body and we will also receive a resurrection body because of our relationship with Him. (I Corinthians 15:12-20, 51-57)
A new birth is possible only as the result of what Christ accomplished on the Cross. God the Father designed the plan of salvation, Jesus Christ carried out that plan and God the Holy Spirit reveals that plan. Jesus Christ was a willing sacrifice and joyfully went to the Cross because He knew what He was going to accomplish for you and me. Never did His resolve to execute the Father’s plan waiver for even a millisecond. (James 1:18; I Peter 2:24; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 12:1-2)
A verse that is often quoted with regard to this doctrine of being a “new creation” in Christ (but one that is not very well understood) is II Corinthians 5:17. This verse says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” Let’s examine this verse so we can get the true meaning. First, we must consider the context of the passage in order to reach an accurate interpretation.
The content of II Corinthians 5 is the result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the placing of the believer into union with Christ. This union with Christ is neither seen nor felt. It is our union with Christ that gives us the potential for a personal sense of destiny, knowing that we have a place prepared for us in Heaven. It is in light of this doctrinal truth Paul tells us in verse 17 that we are “new creations in Christ and that old things have passed away and behold all things have become new.”
Contrary to popular belief “all things becoming new” is not a reference to a person’s lifestyle or “bad” habits. We know this from the original language and from many other passages of Scripture. Once a person accepts Christ as Savior, his lifestyle does not automatically change. If there needs to be change, then the only legitimate change must come from the spiritual growth based on the Word of God, not on some religious taboo. As a matter of fact, this passage refers to what God does for us, not what we do for God.
Becoming a new creation is a matter of God’s grace. Therefore, all human effort is eliminated. The reason a person becomes a new creation is that he is in union with Christ. This union means that the believer shares Christ’s destiny and His inheritance.
It is the human spirit that provides the believer with the ability to have a relationship with God, to learn, to understand and to apply Bible doctrine and to produce divine good (service to God). (Romans 1:9; 8:16; Job 32:8) An unbeliever does not possess a human spirit and is, therefore, unable to have a relationship with God, to understand spiritual things or to produce divine good. (I Corinthians 2:14) It is the human spirit that the Holy Spirit teaches and this becomes the positive influence in your soul. Divine Viewpoint Thinking is the result of this influence and overrules Human Viewpoint Thinking when properly applied. The soul of man has the potential to be corrupted since it contains “free will.” The human spirit, on the other hand, does not contain free will and, therefore, has no potential for corruption. The creation of the human spirit also sets up a battle in the soul. This battle between the sin nature and the new spiritual nature is for the control of the soul. (Galatians 5:16-17; I John 3:9)
The first word of I Corinthians 5:17 in the King James Version of the Bible is “therefore.” In Greek the word is “hoste” and can be better translated “conclusion.” Paul looks back at the context of the passage and draws a conclusion based on previous doctrinal information. The conclusion is “if (first class condition meaning if and it is true) any person is in Christ (baptism of the Holy Spirit) that person is a new creation.” Creation (“creature” in the King James) is the Greek word “ktisis” and refers primarily to the creative act in process. It is the believer who is being acted upon by God. This act of creation is when God, at salvation, creates a human spirit in the believer. In order to better understand what Paul is teaching we will use the term “a new spiritual classification” since this describes more precisely what occurs at salvation. This creative act by God creates something in the believer that previously did not exist. It is “new,” it is spiritual in nature and the believer becomes a different classification (Royal Family of God). (I Corinthians 2:9-14; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19)
Prior to salvation a person is merely God’s creation, but not a part of God’s family. Becoming a part of God’s family is a matter of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. This act of faith places the person into union with Christ and he instantaneously becomes a child of God. No longer is this person merely a creation of God, he is now a new creation of God, which is a different classification spiritually. Before salvation a person is spiritually dead (separated from God). However, after salvation a person is spiritually alive (reconciled to God). (John 1:12)
Regeneration sets up the potential for the believer to “walk in the Spirit.” Walking in the Spirit is a synonymous term with the filling of the Holy Spirit.