Summary: The presence of the Holy Spirit is the start of a new age. It points to the future, and it also points to courage, strength and power that we need to live as Christians in our sin-filled world.
In the reading we heard from Galatians 3:1-14 a few minutes ago, the apostle Paul is chastising the Galatians in love for wandering away from the truth of God’s Word. He calls them foolish (or having a lack of wisdom) for living by the world’s rules instead of living by God’s rules.
In verses 2-5, Paul asks the Galatians a series of rhetorical questions that were designed to cause them to return to the foundation of their faith-the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They had already received the Holy Spirit at the moment when they believed in Jesus. Any Christian who believes that he/she does not have the Holy Spirit is either untaught or unsaved-and the Galatians were neither. The Holy Spirit is every believer’s unmistakeable proof of salvation and greatest guarantee of eternal glory.
In Galatians 3:3, the word “perfect” means mature, not sinless. Spiritual maturity and salvation both come from faith in Jesus. Faith changes the motivation of our hearts from seeking to be acceptable to Jesus through our deeds to wanting to live for him.
The Galatians were persecuted when they broke away from the Old Testament law. If they returned to following the law, their persecution would have been meaningless in the eyes of Jesus. The law could not be obeyed perfectly. If one law was broken, all of the laws were broken. Only one person obeyed the law perfectly-Jesus.
Believers in the law were proud of being Abraham’s seed. Abraham was justified when he had faith in God and God’s promise to give him numerous descendants. Abraham was taught in Genesis 12:1-3 that salvation was for everyone. Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be saved, and that was contrary to what the religious keepers of the law-namely, the Scribes and Pharisees-were teaching. If the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved, that would have been an example of salvation by deeds, and Paul said that was not the truth of the Gospel. Deeds can only be a sign of our salvation. They are not the way to salvation. The only deed that earned our salvation was Christ’s death on the cross.
Most of us know as Christians that God works in mysterious ways-ways that are different from our own. We see this in Scripture and in our own lives, but we refuse to learn from experiences that we don’t like. When we refuse to learn, we have to repeat the process. God uses the bad experiences of our lives to teach us something. We have to learn from life’s difficulties, including those that are caused by our belief that we have to earn our salvation.
The gift of the Holy Spirit-our salvation- depends on faith. Our supernatural Christian life shows God’s supernatural power. Faith is not a deed that makes us righteous. It unites us with Christ, who is our righteousness. In other words, we are made righteous by faith in Christ. We have to submit to God’s grace by faith and not by deeds. If we want to be justified or declared righteous before God, we have to place our faith in Jesus and his sinless perfection. He bears our rightful curse and is our righteousness. He paid our sin debt on the cross. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves-he restored our relationship with God. Through the cross our sins are buried and forgiven. Everyone who puts his/her faith in Jesus receives the promise of the Holy Spirit and becomes spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham.
Abraham was justified by God not because of his deeds, but because of his faith. Gentile believers were made sons and daughters of God and sons and daughters of Abraham because of their faith. The law and the deeds it required could not make people children of God-only faith in God could. The law was not God’s way of salvation. The only way of salvation is by our faith. Faith gives us life, but the law leads to death because it has to be obeyed perfectly-and humans are not perfect. Failure to obey the law leads to a curse on those who insist on living under the law, and that curse eventually leads to death. Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to the curse of the law so that we could live without the curse. Our redemption is in the cross.
The fact that the cross was set in a sinful world and that Christ lived and died outside of the world means that there is no person or place outside the domain of his powerful suffering love. The cross shows that God is free to justify the whole world and everyone who lives in it. God’s justification does not depend on human readiness, achievement or self–attained merit. It depends on God’s grace alone. Unconditional love can change our lives. God loves us so much and so unconditionally that he sent Jesus to free us from the curse of the law. God’s sovereign hand has given us the spiritual sight we need to see joy in great and small things. We are less and less bound to our own impulses and desires. We will be free to show God’s love by serving others. Relying on our faith comes with blessings and the power of God.