Sermon – December 31, 2017
Galatians 3 begins Paul’s main argument in the letter. This argument starts not with an appeal to Scripture, nor an appeal to pure logic, but rather to experience. The Galatians had clearly received the Spirit during Paul’s missionary journey to their area. Today, before we look into the importance of this event within the epistle, we will study the background and NT evidence about the importance of the Spirit, and its relationship to us.
1. The reason for the Spirit
Paul’s main reason for writing the epistle to the Galatians is to counter the idea that circumcision is needed for the Gentiles to be considered God’s people. Why, then, does he turn to the reception of the Spirit? Why is that not a separate issue? Paul, and apparently the Galatians, know that the gift of the Spirit was the gift God would give to his people in the new age. The Spirit is the sign that the last days have arrived, and the mark of God’s people during that time. Therefore, if the Galatians have the Spirit, and received him without works of the law, they have no need of circumcision.
2. The experience of the Spirit
But what did their experience of the Spirit look like? And how much should it match ours? Galatians 3:5 implies that miracles were part of their experience, should it be of ours? Speaking in tongues is a regular indication of the Spirit in the NT, should it be of ours? While these are indeed the most famous indications of the Spirit, if only for their irregularity compared to normal life, they are not the most important signs of the Spirit. A new and true love for God, manifested in songs and melodies from the heart, a love for God’s word, repentance, a love for God’s people, and unity with them are the key signs of God’s work in your life. These marks of a new heart are not things that you can manifest in yourself, but only the Spirit can give you such hearts.
3. The continued work of the Spirit
In Galatians 3:3 Paul seems to switch from the initial act of justification to the process of making you holy, called sanctification. The rhetorical question drives home Paul’s point effectively: you don’t start with the Spirit and then work out the rest for yourself. This doesn’t mean that good works are not a part of the Christian experience, or even a necessary part of it. Rather, it means that the flesh, the work of humans unaided by the Spirit, is not how you progress. Your being made holy is always a function of the work of the Spirit in you.
God’s great gift of his Spirit to us should be a great comfort to the people of God. God doesn’t require great works of power and demonstrations of ecstatic experiences from you; rather the quiet power of a changed life, and a holy life, led by the reliance on the Spirit of God. This reliance gives us assurance that God the Spirit is working in us, and assurance of our inheritance in Christ.