CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson IX)

C. I. Scofield (1843-1921), American theologian, minister, writer, and author of the Scofield Reference Bible, tells us that the Spirit is shown in Galatians in a marvelous way. Paul says here in verse two He is received by the hearing of faith. When the Galatians believed they received the Spirit. To what end? The legalists give it little importance. Though they talk much of “power” in connection with the Spirit, it really is the power for service which chiefly needs their attention. Of God’s sovereign rights, of His blessed empowering the spiritual life, there is little worry. But it is precisely there that the Biblical emphasis falls. In Romans, for example, the Spirit is not even mentioned until we have a justified sinner trying to keep the law, utterly defeated in that attempt by the flesh, the “law in his members,” and crying out, not for help, but for deliverance.[1] Then the Spirit is brought within, Oh, what marvelous results![2]

George B. Stevens (1854-1906) agrees with Professor Lightfoot that “active hearing” is necessary for faith to be activated in receiving the Spirit for salvation. This is then contrasted with doing the works of the Law and hearing by faith what good works believers should do as God’s children.  It is a difference between the principles of hearing and the methods of doing. In the end, we could say that “hearing” is no more effective than “doing.” Stevens says that God is not asking for “favors” but for “faith.” But faith is just as much a thing of action as is doing. Faith leads to works done out of gratitude, not an obligation. Remember, the Messiah did not die on the cross out of obligation, but out of love.[3]

Says Benjamin W. Bacon (1860-1932), Paul knows that he can “rest his case” on this single issue. He did so with complete success at Jerusalem.[4] There was no escape from it; for the mother church itself dated its own foundation on the Day of Pentecost. The fundamental confession which made Christianity a true religion was: “Jesus is Lord.” It rested upon Moses’ experience on Mount Horeb, and among the Ephesians.[5] as its proof. Jewish messianism anticipated the “outpouring of the Spirit” in the last days as the token of the Redeemer’s return. For “legalists,” this was the spirit of obedience to the law; for the “wisdom writers,” it is the spirit of wisdom; for “prophecy advocates,” the spirit of prophecy.[6] The appearance of these “gifts of the Spirit” upon “faith in the Anointed One Jesus,” including the “signs and wonders”[7] was the proof on which the Church itself rested its assurance that “God made this Jesus … both Lord and Messiah.” If the Gentiles also had “the gifts of the Spirit” there was no more to be said. The only point to be made clear was when the gifts came, that is, not upon this attempt to supplement their justification in Grace with works of the Law, but before it, at the time of their hearing of faith.[8]

Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945), a Methodist minister in the United States, and a prominent teacher and conference speaker noted that as Christians, the Galatians possessed the Holy Spirit, as all true Christians receive Him and are sealed by the Spirit. They also enjoyed the ministry of the Spirit through the different gifts. And now he asks the question “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by your faith upon hearing the Gospel?” There is no promise in the Law that if it is kept in obedience, that God would send His Spirit to the heart of a person to be the indwelling guest and make them obedient keepers of the Law as the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Law does not have the authority to promise the Holy Spirit. In Ezekiel we read that the promise is made, “I will put My Spirit within you,”[9] but, as the context shows, this promise refers to the future when the remnant of Israel will turn to the Lord and the promised spiritual and national blessings are given to them through grace.

The Gentile Galatians knew nothing of the Law and were not under the Law, for they were, by nature, idolaters. They received the Spirit by hearing of faith. But, before this great gift could ever be bestowed the Son of God must die on the cross and be glorified.[10] And all who receive the Lord Jesus the Anointed One by faith, also receive the great gift of grace, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship. The Galatians Gentiles received the Holy Spirit simply by believing. They were sealed by that Spirit and knew thereby that they were redeemed and the sons of God. If they possessed this seal of divine righteousness why should they add to it the works of the Law? In doing so, they would be acting very foolishly.[11] Today we might liken it to someone who changes the electricity going to their house from the power grid and replace it with batteries instead. (By the way, how will they charge their batteries?)

However, Gaebelein adds a somewhat disconcerting footnote that reads: “Strange, unscriptural doctrines concerning the Holy Spirit are taught in different sects and parties. Some teach that the Christian should earnestly seek this gift and the baptism with the Spirit. They claim that each individual must make a definite experience of receiving the baptism with the Spirit. This seeking includes, what they term, a full surrender, etc., and after enough seeking, surrender, giving up and praying, they claim to have received the power of the Holy Spirit. The argument here refutes this teaching. The Holy Spirit is given to every believer in Christ.”[12]

It seems obvious that Gaebelein was influenced by the struggle that existed among Methodists who taught that sanctification was a second work of grace. The Methodists were also first to coin the phrase baptism of the Holy Spirit as applied to a second and sanctifying grace of God.[13] The Methodists meant by their “baptism” something different from the Pentecostals, but the view that this is an experience of grace separate from and after salvation was the same. Also, that Pentecostalism had roots in the holiness movement of the late nineteenth century. The holiness movement embraced the Wesleyan doctrine of “sanctification” or the second work of grace, subsequent to conversion. Pentecostalism added a third work of grace, called the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which is accompanied by glossolalia.[14]

With all due respect to brother Gaebelein, such a view would put the Apostles, Cornelius’ household,[15] and the disciples of John the Baptizer that Paul met in the city of Ephesus[16] in a difficult position. Did the Apostles already receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when they believed in Jesus as the Messiah as His disciples or not? If so, why did Jesus then tell them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the Father to send the Holy Spirit? There is no record of the disciples speaking in tongues before the Day of Pentecost, only after they were all filled with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room. And a study of Paul’s writings in Corinthians it is clear that Paul made a distinction between having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and His accompanying gifts.[17] I’m sure that such differing interpretations will not keep either one of us out of heaven, but I believe in giving the Holy Spirit all the credit He deserves as our Comforter with His works and gifts.

Cyril W. Emmet (1874-1924) gives his explanation of what Paul means by the phrase: “by the hearing of faith.” Says Emmet, it does not imply “listening to the faith,” but “the hearing which comes from faith.[18] The Spirit came, not because they were especially obedient to the Law, but because they opened their hearts to a new influence.[19] Kenneth Wuest (1893-1963) adds his interpretation by saying that The Greek noun akoes translated “hearing” refers either to the act of hearing a message or to the message that is heard. The second meaning agrees more with the context since Paul is contrasting his message of grace with the teachings of the Judaizers. The phrase “of faith” defines or describes the message. It is a message that announces faith as the means whereby one receives salvation. The only answer the Galatians could give to this question was that they received the Spirit, not by obedience to the law, but through their faith in Paul’s message of grace.[20]

Another Jewish writer, Ariel HaNaviy, feels that no other chapter of the Bible caused more theological misunderstandings between Jewish and Christian believers than Chapter Three of Galatians! We would do well to tread cautiously when seeking to unlock its meanings, he says. As he sees it, Paul returns to his ironic way of speaking with a rhetorical question about the origins of the giving of the Holy Spirit among the Galatian believers. Surely Paul knows firsthand that the Spirit flows from God to an individual believer. However, in this portion of his letter, he is attempting to shock the readers back into some semblance of spiritual reality. Having begun with the truth of Yeshua’s atoning death, how could they possibly be considering going back on such a revelation? To the Apostle, such a notion was preposterous!

We must remember that among the Judaism Party of Paul’s day, the Greek word for law, nomos, could include references to the verbal teachings of the Rabbis, and more specifically to the rule that governed a Gentile’s conversion to Judaism. It appears that Paul is challenging the validity of these ethnically restricted views of the Torah still be held and observed among genuine First Covenant members to Christianity. Surely, maintaining their covenant relationship with God was not acquired by human effort, that is, works of the Law, but rather by placing one’s trust in the Ultimate Son of the Covenant, Yeshua Himself.

So, we understand why the Apostle Paul begins by demanding from these mixed-up Galatians, please explain something to me, did you receive the Spirit by simply becoming members of a new Jewish sect called “The Way,” but still under the Torah, or by believing what you heard me preach when I shared the Gospel with you? Paul did not wait for the answer, he immediately provides his answer, a resounding, “You were acting like fools, weren’t you? That’s the only way you could come to the conclusion that moral human achievements could in some way exceed the grace of God as afforded by His Only Son. What an exercise in futility!”[21] It’s obvious that it takes a Jewish believer like Paul to tell us what these Jews in Galatia were really thinking. That should help us understand the situation even better.

[1] Romans 7:15-24

[2] C. I. Scofield: The Fundamentals – A Testimony to the Truth, Vol. 3, op. cit., Ch. 7, p. 91

[3] George B. Stevens: Shorter Exposition of Galatians, op. cit.,

[4] See Acts 15:8, 12; cf. 10:44–47; 11:15–18).

[5] Acts of the Apostles 2:33; Ephesians 4:7–10

[6] Joel 2:28–32; cf. Num. 11:29

[7] Joel 2:30

[8] Benjamin W. Bacon, On Galatians, op. cit., p. 74

[9] Ezekiel 36:27

[10] John 7:39

[11] Arno Gaebelein: Annotated Bible, op. cit., p. 214

[12] Ibid. p. 215

[13] Cf. John Fletcher of Madeley, Methodism’s earliest formal theologian.

[14] The West Tennessee Historical Society Papers – Issue 56. West Tennessee Historical Society. 2002. p. 41.

[15] Acts of the Apostles 10:44-48

[16] Ibid. 19:1-7

[17] 1 Corinthian 12; note 12:7-13

[18] “Obedience of faith,” Romans 1:5; 14:26

[19] Cyril W. Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 28

[20] Kenneth Wuest: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[21] Ariel HaNaviy: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p.104

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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