The Truth of the Gospel: Sermons from Galatians
Galatians 3:1-9 How Did You Receive the Spirit? WC McCarter
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
One of the most personal narratives with Jesus comes in John 3 when Nicodemus comes to meet Jesus at night. [Let’s take a look at that passage.] The Lord is very clear here. If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must be born again. If you want to be born again, the Spirit must do it! So, the next logical question, then, is, how does one receive the Spirit?
Main Message: The regenerating and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in your life comes by faith and not by works.
Who Has Bewitched You? (1)
The apostle begins with a natural exclamation of emotion by saying, “O foolish Galatians!” The “O” “functions to introduce a rebuke” (Moo, 181). In 1:6, the apostle marveled that the Galatians could be religious turncoats. Here in 3:1, the apostle marvels again that they could be so foolish. It is as if they had not heard the Gospel in the first place. It is as if they have lost their minds. It is as if they have been bewitched, that an evil spell has been cast over them. Yes, maybe witchcraft would explain their treason and foolishness! The original word that is used for “bewitched” literally means “to bewitch with the evil eye.” “The Greeks had a great fear of a spell cast by the evil eye” (Barclay, 24). Paul rhetorically places this in contrast with the Gospel of Christ crucified “before your very eyes.” Paul does not actually think that magic spells are involved, but uses the irony of such a comparison to point to their foolishness.
It was not simply that Christ was portrayed before them, but He was publicly portrayed before their very eyes as crucified. It was as if Paul and his team went through the towns putting up posters of Christ on the cross with headings that said, “Good News! Good News! Your sins may be forgiven! Christ has given Himself in your place!” Now, we saw last week in 2:21 that the apostle said, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” What he is saying here is that the preaching of the apostolic missionary team was to portray Christ’s death. If they first believed that what Christ did on the cross was enough, but now they were turning away to false teachings and justification by works, then Christ died in vain. If Christ did not do enough on the cross to bear the penalty for your sins, then what He did on the cross was pointless.
Law or Faith? (2-5)
Next a series of questions is asked of the Christians so that they can answer for themselves, yet the answers are obvious. The letter will soon get to the answer which is stated in 5:5 “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” These are questions that we can also answer for ourselves to remind us of what it means to be a Christian.
From verse 2 to verse 3 we can see the contrasts laid out: work vs. hearing, law vs. faith, beginning vs. ending.
How did you become a Christian? You heard the Gospel message and you believed in your mind and heart, truly in your soul. All you did was hear. You did not work, but you were worked upon. James says in 1:18 “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” The biblical principle is that all of God’s gifts and blessings come to believers by grace through faith. Works of the law, or any law (because Americans attempt to set up their own moral law and traditions), do not usher in the presence of the Spirit, they do not make us righteous, they do not make us perfect, and they do not force God into a box that states if we do “good” then God must act a certain way in response. Only by faith, that is purely by grace, does God favor us. When we are weak then He is strong in and among us and not when we think we are mighty.
What does flesh mean in verse 3? The flesh is not skin and bones. It is our own capacities apart from the work of the Spirit in our lives. The great erroneous philosophy of Christian growth to maturity and perfection that is so prevalent in America says that a Christian begins a new life by faith and then that individual completes the process on their own by working (works of the law or moral tradition). That false teaching tells us that justification is by faith and sanctification is by working. All this does is set aside the grace of God. It nullifies the cross and the work of Christ for our redemption and righteousness.
“God helps those who help themselves” is not a verse in the Bible nor is it a biblical principle. The biblical principle is God helps those who can’t help themselves because the fact is that none of can help ourselves. We are all fallen, sinful, rebellious beings. The flesh can produce a very rigorous morality, but that only nullifies what Christ has done. It thwarts the grace of God found in Christ. So the question is, are you relying on God or yourself? Galatians teaches that we rely on God in the beginning and we rely on Him for eternity. This was the issue of the first sin in the Garden. What did Satan cause Adam and Eve to do? Lust for independence. This is the first a great sin of mankind.
(End of v3). There is no better illustration of someone who began in the Spirit and attempted to finish in the flesh than King Saul, Israel’s first king. When Samuel anointed Saul as king, the Spirit of God soon came upon him, gave him another heart, and he prophesied. Later, after he was announced as king of Israel, the Spirit of God came upon him again, and he went out to battle and had a major victory. After a couple glaring incidents of disobedience and selfishness by Saul, we are told that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul. He began in the Spirit, but tried to finish in the flesh. The Lord was with him in at first, but he tried to do his own thing later. Ultimately, Saul went down in history as a shameful man who died a humiliating death. How you being is important, but how you finish means everything.
Let me briefly address one last question that may be on your mind. We are told that our working cannot save us nor complete us, but that it is the Spirit’s working in us that does all of this.
How do we know that the Spirit is working in us? This is an important question that I have struggled with. Some churches and even whole denominations teach that you must speak in tongues at least once to know that you are a Christian. Is this the truth or is there another way to know? Well there are many evidences. I will give you a couple of evidences now that will help you with this question. Let’s look at Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Also, Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. . . .” So, here are two ways of knowing the Spirit is at work in you: (1) you are producing the fruit of love (in ways that you could not before Christ), and (2) you have the inner-witness of the Holy Spirit telling your spirit that you are a child of God.
Believing Abraham (6-9)
The Judaizers probably used Abraham as a great example too, but Paul uses him to show that he was a man of faith. (Now, maybe the false teachers said that Abraham did this and did that to show how he was obedient to God’s commands). Paul wants to show how above and beyond everything, from beginning to end, Abraham trusted God. The passage that is referred to about Abraham’s faith is from Genesis 15:6 where God directs Abraham out under the stars and tells him that he will have an innumerable number of descendants (although he did not have a son yet) like the overwhelming number of stars in the clear, night sky. Abraham believed that promise, and it was his trusting in God that God labeled “righteous.”
The Genesis 15 narrative followed after the great promises that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12. In chapter 12, the Lord promised Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The apostle calls that statement “the Gospel.” When you get the big picture that the apostle is showing us from the life of Abraham, you see that God’s plan is to bless all the world with salvation by faith.
Conclusion and Christian Application
Now, let us finish where we started, and I will remind you of the remainder of what Jesus told Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit. . . . And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So, you see, the Spirit does a wonderful and miraculous work in your life when you put your faith in Christ, that is, when you trust Christ’s person and work. This is how you begin the Christian life, and this is how you finish life–by faith. I think that we can probably all agree that it is not so much how you begin as it is how you end. It is great to begin in the Spirit; in fact, there is no other way, but that means nothing if you try to finish by observance of the law or any other works of religious performance.