Just One Thing

Paul is pretty frustrated, and he is taking it out, in a certain sense, on the Galatians. They had heard the Gospel of Jesus crucified for each of us directly from Paul’s lips, and now they were turning their backs on the Gospel and deciding instead to follow the works for the law for their justification before God.

And Paul puts a question to them: Did you receive the Holy Spirit because you believed? Or did you receive the Holy Spirit because you followed the Law and did good religious works? Which was it?

Here is how he records the question in his letter:

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

Galatians 3:2-3

Let’s walk this back one step at a time.

Paul went to what would become the Galatian churches – Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe – and announced the Gospel of Christ to them. He spoke of Jesus Christ as the Messiah who was to come. He spoke of Jesus crucified for the forgiveness of sins, and he spoke of Jesus being resurrected of the dead. If you want to get a sense of Paul’s message, take a look at the recounting of his preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.

From here, the people believed, were baptized and received the Holy Spirit, or they did not. There wasn’t any additional teaching on how they needed to clean up their lives before they received the Spirit. There wasn’t additional teaching on how they needed to obey each of the teachings of the Old or the New Testament before they received the Spirit. There wasn’t even a waiting period prior to believing nor to the Holy Spirit coming upon them. Instead, Paul says, when they believed and had faith in Christ, they received the Holy Spirit.

But how often do we practice the opposite? In various religions, people will say that they need to be good people. They need to be righteous. They need to practice good religious deeds. As long as they continue in this way, at least according to what we see in the Bible, these people will never receive the Holy Spirit because they do not believe in Christ as the One who will save them.

But even in Evanglical churches, do we not frequently do similarly? Don’t we often teach, or at least practice, that someone needs to clean up their lives to be able to come to faith in Christ? Yes, this happens, and frequently.

Of course we must call people to repentance. Of course we must call them to leave their sin. But the thing to understand here is that it is not up to man’s understanding, or man’s wisdom to decide if someone is ready. As they believe in Christ in faith, they can receive the same Holy Spirit that we have. We are not gatekeepers. We are seed sowers. God does all of the rest.

Let us call people to repentance and faith in Christ, and let’s open the doors to the Holy Spirit to come in and make all of the change that He desires because just one thing is required, faith in Jesus.

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