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Gal 3:3b NET "are you now trying to finish by human effort?" NLT "why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?" also some other paraphrase versions put it same way:

CEB Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort?

GW Are you that stupid? Did you begin in a spiritual way only to end up doing things in a human way?

AMP Are you so foolish and senseless? Having begun [your new life by faith] with the Spirit, are you now being perfected and reaching spiritual maturity by the flesh [that is, by your own works and efforts to keep the Law]?

The literal translation example ESV Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

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Paraphrase translations NET and NLT rendering Galatians 3:3 “flesh” as “human effort”, is this justified?

Of course as a paraphrase NLT more of a commentary than strictly a translation. That would not be justified as a translation, but is an accurate commentary. Look at the example of Ismael as "born according to the flesh." Because of not waiting for the promised son, Ismael was born using the customs of the culture of that day, i.e. human effort. If "by means of the flesh" doesn't mean human effort, what does it mean?

But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. (Gal. 4:23, ESV)

But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. (Gal. 4:29, ESV)

See What is the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit in Romans 8:6?

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  • "human will" would be far better; as the lexicons also use human nature which is very loose, though. Carnal is more suitable, but human effort doesn't make sense. Human nature is also ambiguous, neutral, but less ambiguous than "human effort". It is extremely oversimplification to render flesh as human effort; especially given the vast commandments to make every effort for God.
    – Michael16
    Jul 3 at 15:18
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Let's see the parallelism of Galatians 3:3 New International Version

Are you so foolish? 
             After beginning     by means of the Spirit, 
are you now trying to finish     by means of the flesh [G4561]?

beginning || finish
Spirit || flesh

The focal word here is G4561, HELPS Word-studies:

4561 sárks properly, flesh ("carnal"), merely of human origin or empowerment.

The literal translation is flesh. An interpretive translation is human effort. Both means that it is not from the Spirit.

Paraphrase translations NET and NLT rendering Galatians 3:3 “flesh” as “human effort”, is this justified?

Yes, according to one of the usages of the Greek word. If interested, you can check out Thayer's Greek Lexicon.

Now, which translation is better?

In a comment, the OP pointed out e.g., Luke 13:24

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

These efforts must originate from the Spirit to be meaningful. To account for Luke 13:24, it is better to translate Galatians 3:3 literally.

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  • thanks, it is defined in detail as carnal, loosely as human nature, animal instinct, flesh without spirit; however "human effort" is very different. The phrase "make every effort" or strive comes frequently in the apostles' commands. blueletterbible.org/search/…
    – Michael16
    Jul 3 at 15:08
  • 1
    Good point. I added.
    – Tony Chan
    Jul 3 at 15:23

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