O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Having rebuked the Galatians for their falling back from the gospel of grace, Paul teaches them from their own experience regarding salvation: Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? He takes them back to the beginnings of things in God. This is not a new way of teaching, Jesus used this method when he taught about divorce. In the following passage Jesus teaches us the original purpose of God for marriage, one man, one woman for life.
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
That is, divorce was not God’s original intention at all. It is important for us to get back to the beginning and see what God’s original pattern was. The Galatians had gone away from their beginnings in God, so Paul brings them back to ‘as it was in the beginning’.
A2.1 Receiving the Spirit
A2.1a The promise of God
Let us consider the ‘beginnings’ of how the Spirit was given, not just to the Galatians but all believers. The outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh was on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in the Acts.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Peter here was quoting Joel 2:28-32. and we understand that Joel was prophesying of what was to happen on the day of Pentecost, that is the coming of the Holy Spirit to all. But note that it was God who took the initiative: I WILL pour out My Spirit. Nowhere is it even suggested that human flesh would have a part to play in it at all, it would simply be a sovereign act of God alone. The human race did nothing to gain any merit in God’s sight to have the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out.
Just as the initial outpouring on the day of Pentecost was a sovereign act of God, likewise in an individual life, receiving the Spirit has nothing whatsoever to do with any works of the flesh, no one can do anything to merit the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is all of God’s free grace alone. He made the promise and He fulfils it as it pleases Him.
A2.1b The glorifying of Christ
But before God could outpour the Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, there had to be a work done , but it was God’s work and His alone. The Holy Spirit could not be given until something else happened.
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified).
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
Jesus had to be glorified, and He could not be glorified until He had been crucified. In order to fulfil His Father’s promise Jesus had to become a man, suffer and be put to an open shame and crucified. Afterwards the Father would raise Him from the dead, and then receive Him back to glory and highly exalt Him. Then and only then could the Holy Spirit be poured out. This is all of God’s doing, no human being had anything to do with it, the only reason any man or woman receives the Spirit is because Jesus is now glorified.
A2.1c The word of faith
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven?(that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed…… faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the [spoken]word of God.
The other aspect here is the word of faith. Although the giving of the Spirit is a sovereign act of God, the gift is appropriated by faith. This may seem like a work of the flesh, but reading the Romans passage above we see that it is also a work of God. As the spoken word of God is given faith is created in the heart. There is no effort of the flesh at all, God’s word creates faith in a person, so that they can receive.
It is sad when we hear of what goes on in meetings for people to receive the Spirit; the so called ‘waiting meetings’ for example. It has been known for people to be called out to the front and those leading shaking those seeking God, thinking that by this people will receive the Holy Spirit. No doubt the intentions are well meant, but they are misguided through lack of understanding. How can shaking someone bestow the Holy Spirit on someone?
No human effort can give the Holy Spirit, it is all of God from the beginning. He promised the gift, He sent Jesus to die and then glorified Him, He poured the Spirit out on the day of Pentecost and creates faith in people as they hear His word. It is God from start to finish.
Paul makes it clear that we don’t have to do anything to bring Christ down, or to drag Him up. The word is nigh indeed. The work has been done! Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and glorification has sealed the promise of the Father, and He is now pouring out of His Spirit to those who have that genuine faith of which we speak.
A2.1d How did you receive?
Paul puts the ball firmly back into the Galatians court: how did they begin? Did they receive the Spirit in any other way than that we have mentioned above? Had they gained salvation by the works of the law or by faith. Of course the questions are rhetorical. There is only one possible answer – by faith and not by works of the law. The force of the argument being: how can you live the Christian life by the very thing that couldn’t save you in the first place, indeed by the very thing that condemned you in God’s eyes?
To the Colossians Paul writes a similar thing:
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
They were to continue in the Christian life as they had begun it. Christ is received by faith, and not by self effort; likewise we are to continue in that life by faith and not the efforts of the law.
A2.2 Ministering the Spirit
Paul now makes a statement about some of those in the Galatian churches: He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Although Paul was rebuking the Galatians for their going back to the works of the law, apparently there were those ministering the Spirit and performing miracles amongst them. And the [rhetorical] question asked was: is this achieved by the Spirit or by works of the law?
The first thing we can note is that a church can have God moving amongst them in the miraculous, but still be in error. The Galatians were being rebuked for going after the works of the law, yet there were those who were ministering the Holy Spirit amongst them. Having signs and wonder occur in a church, or indeed in ones own life is no guarantee that there is no falsehood or deception going on; those who claim to be right with God on the basis that there are miracles happening are deceived. If we use such a yardstick to measure spirituality, then we would be walking by sight and not faith. We only need consider what Jesus said to see this.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
God is no man’s debtor, and He moves as it pleases Him, and uses whomsoever He will. This is not to play down the miraculous when it does happen, but rather to get things into perspective, it is not the outward miraculous signs that is the final measure of a church, or a person’s life, but the fruit as seen by God.
Secondly, those who minister the Spirit do not do it by the works of the law, but by faith. One can not ‘magic’ up the Spirit by formula of words or whatever. Simon the sorcerer thought He could do this but was sharply rebuked by Peter Acts. 8:14-25. This has many applications, when certain preachers say you have to do certain works for God to move in such and such a way then if miracles do take place it can’t be of God, for He never works to ‘magic’ incantations. Those miracles that do take place then under those circumstances have to be suspect, and rejected as being from God. God moves sovereignty and in response to genuine faith, never according to our works and systems of methodology.
The Galatians then were brought back to the fundamentals of the gospel. That is: they received the Spirit by grace alone through faith. It was not a work of theirs, so that they could not boast. They did not do anything to merit the Spirit, for no human being can do anything to gain God’s favour, no work of the law will do that. Thus Paul’s [rhetorical] question is answered: they received the Spirit by faith and not works of the law, hence in order to live the Christian life they must continue in the same way they begun, by faith and not by the works of the law.
But Paul then takes us back further to another beginning…