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 X)

Dutch Bible scholar Alfred E. Bouter (born 1943) raises an interesting question about when do we receive the Holy Spirit. How do we rectify what Jesus said and did to His disciples when He “breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit‘,”[1] and what did He mean when He said to them, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high?”[2] So the question is, “Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit twice?”

In John’s Gospel, the Lord spoke about the coming of the Spirit.[3] To the Romans, Paul said that the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts through the Spirit whom He gave to us.[4] The point is the reception of the Spirit. Now here in verse two, Paul asked the Galatians were they given the Holy Spirit because of the good works the Law demanded? Obviously not. It was because of the hearing the Gospel by faith as Paul explained in Romans. For example, faith comes by hearing of the Word of God, a result of preaching.[5]

And so, we see here that what Paul preached made a real impact, it was not just superficial, but those believers received the Holy Spirit. When you are born again you receive the Spirit at the same time, says Bouter, but Scripture makes a distinction because the First Covenant believers who were born again did not receive the Holy Spirit to dwell in them, although they were born again. So, the moment one is born again they also received the Holy Spirit to regenerate and sanctify them and produce the Fruit of the Spirit. But when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost it was another distinct experience. It was then that they received the Holy Spirit empowering them to preach the Gospel to the whole world along with the Gifts of the Spirit. And besides that, the Holy Spirit the seal on our hearts which shows us to be God’s property. [6] [7] So, to put make it easier to understand, we can look at it this way: When a person is born again, God’s indwelling Spirit is given to them for Salvation; when they are baptized with the Spirit, the Spirit comes upon them as an anointing oil for Service.

Philip Ryken makes a good point when the Galatians were forced to admit that they received the Holy Spirit by faith alone. This truth, that the Holy Spirit comes by faith alone has a profound implication for the Christian life. It means that the Christian life begins with the Spirit and continues on in the Spirit. No wonder Paul thought they were being fools. How could they believe the Judaizes who were telling them that faith was fine as far as it went, but justification might be started by faith but it is completed through works of the Law. It’s almost as though the Anointed One did not finish the work for justification on the cross, so it is up to the new believer to finish the work for Him through works of the Law.[8]

3:3 How irrational you’ve become; after being saved through the Spirit’s help you are now trying to stay saved by way of your own efforts?

Kenneth Wuest translates this verse as: “Are you so unreflecting? Having begun by means of the Spirit, now are you being brought to maturity by the flesh?” He points out that the words “made perfect” is from the Greek verb epiteleō which means “to bring something to the place where it is complete.”[9]

We all should ask ourselves, which was it for me? Did I receive salvation after hearing a message on the Anointed One’s love, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and salvation; then confessing my sins and receiving Him as my Lord and Savior; or did I get saved through christening in infant baptism, going through catechism, confirmation, and following all the practical teachings of my church? Whichever way you answer will indicate which one you are depending on to assure your eternal salvation?

The writer of Hebrews, who many Bible scholars believe to be the Apostle Paul, makes it clear, that the Messiah did not come as a Rabbi from the family of Levi as the Law said it must be. He became a Rabbi by virtue of having the power of an indestructible life. This is what the Psalmist David exclaimed about the Messiah centuries ago, “You are a Priest forever like Melchizedek.”[10] God set aside the Law of Moses. It was weak and ineffective when it came to salvation. The Law of Moses could not make people right with God. Now there is a better hope through which we come near to God.[11] So Paul preached Jesus Messiah as God’s powerful answer to a feeble and impotent Law. How could they even imagine to turn back to such a pitiful thing as the Law to save them?

In presenting the life of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (modern-day Turkey), Philip Schaff tells us that the ministry of Gregory extended far beyond what his brother Basil enjoyed. He stepped into the place vacated by the death of Basil in 372 AD and takes the foremost rank among the defenders of the Faith of Nicaea. He was not, however, without trouble from the heretical groups that plagued the Galatian churches since the days of the Apostle Paul. Certain Galatians were busy in sowing the seeds of their own heresy among their own people. So, it appears, that despite Paul’s efforts with this letter to curb and even eradicate the false doctrine of the Judaizers, it was still going on after 300 years.[12]

Jonathan Edwards says that pride, above all things, promotes this degeneracy because it grieves and quenches the Spirit of the Lamb of God; and so, it kills the spiritual part, cherishes the sinful part, inflames the carnal affections, and fires up the imagination. The unhappy subject of such degeneracy, for the most part, is not aware of their pending calamity, but because they find themselves still strongly moved, showing greater flames of zeal, and more passionate motions of their animal spirits, think of themselves as being fuller of the Spirit of God than ever. But indeed, as the Apostle says here in verse three, they started out in the Spirit to serve God but now have replaced the Spirit with good works.

Here Paul is speaking of a spiritually mature Christian, one who is living a well-rounded, well-balanced, mature life. By the word “flesh,” he refers to all that a person is as the product of natural generation apart from the morally transforming power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. The word speaks of the unsaved person’s body, soul, mind, and spirit, controlled by his or her totally depraved nature, along with all their human accomplishments, positions, capabilities, and philosophies.[13] [14]

3:4:  And let me ask you something else, has everything you’ve suffered because of the Gospel up until now been meaningless? Did you go through all of this for nothing? Are you now going to throw it away as worthless?

We must remember, Paul did not carry a copy of the Final Covenant around with him to preach from. The only thing in his hand was the Torah scrolls, scrolls of the Prophets, and scrolls of Wisdom literature such as the Psalms which he studied from his youth on up to become a Pharisee. So, I’m sure he was acquainted with what the prophet Ezekiel said about a person trying to save themselves. When a right living and good person turns away from doing what is right and good and starts sinning by doing all the bad things that a sinful person does, will they live to enjoy eternal life? No! None of the right and good things they did before will be remembered because they were not faithful to what they know and heard from God’s Word and went back into sin. No, they will not live spiritually, they will die.[15]

No doubt this is what inspired the writer of Hebrews to point out that there are those who knew the truth; they received the gift of a new life from heaven. So, the Holy Spirit now dwells within them. They know how good the Word of God is. They know of the promises of the world to come but nevertheless feel rejected. Just being sorry for their sins and deciding to quit is not enough to restore them to right standing with God. Don’t they know that by living in sin they were nailing the Son of God to a cross again? Don’t they realize they are shaming Him in front of everyone?[16] That’s why, when a well-known Christian leader falls into sin, it is not so much that they are embarrassing themselves, but even more pitiful, they are humiliating the Anointed One before the world.

No doubt Paul was hoping they would think back to the days after they first became aware of who Jesus of Nazareth really is. Would they recall how they were publicly disgraced and persecuted, while at other times they stood loyally in support of fellow believers who were treated the same way?  Perhaps they could recollect how they felt such compassion for those in prison. Not only that but when the officials came and seized all their possessions, they accepted it gladly for Jesus’ sake. That’s because they knew far greater and more enduring possessions waiting for them in heaven.

What was the Apostle Paul trying to get them to do? He was pleading with them not to abandon their confidence in the Anointed One to save them which will lead to inheriting rich rewards. He calls on them to endure to the end, for when they do all that God expects of them, they will receive the promise of eternal life. Paul implores them to listen to what the prophet Habakkuk says: “In a little while, only a little longer, the One coming will come without delay. But the person living right must live right by faith. For if they give up, the One who is coming will not be pleased with them.[17] So, says Paul, don’t be the kind that gives up hope. There’s no future in giving up. We are the kind of believers who live by faith in the One who redeemed us to save us.[18] Giving up is for spiritual weaklings; for those who failed in trying to live their lives for God’s approval instead of letting the Anointed One within them live His life through them; for those who were more interested in the world below than the world above. They gave up living their spiritual life by faith and started living it by works. This principle was not only prevalent in Paul’s day among the congregation of believers, but it is alive today in many churches.

[1] John 20:22

[2] Luke 24:49

[3] John 16:7-11

[4] Romans 5:5

[5] Ibid. 9:30-32

[6] 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13

[7] Alfred E. Bouter: Outline to Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] Ryken, Philip Graham: On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 1599)

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

[10] Psalm 110:4

[11] Hebrews 7:16-19

[12] The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series, Vol. 5 By Philip Schaff, Editor, Ch. 1, p. 25

[13] See these scriptures that illustrate this use: John 3:6; Philippians 3:3, 4; Romans 6:19, 7:5, 18, 25, 8:3; 2 Corinthians 1:17

[14] Jonathan Edwards: Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, op. cit., Letter II, Part IV, Sect III, (Kindle Location 22393)

[15] Ezekiel 18:24

[16] Hebrews 6:4-6

[17] Habakkuk 2:3-4

[18] Hebrews 10:32-39

About drbob76

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