Receive The Promise Of The Holy Spirit
Key verse 3:14
“He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
“All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse”! This is a pretty strong statement to make. But against whom was Paul making it? Against those who had poisoned the churches of Galatia with what Paul calls a “false gospel”. He also makes this strong statement against those who were poisoned by their teachings and had decided to follow it. Paul is saying: You are cursed and under a curse when you could have been blessed!
The story is that false Christian brothers were teaching the Galatian Christian churches that converts to the Christian faith must also follow the Biblical laws given by Moses given in the Bible— They must get circumcised, and follow other such Jewish religious observances. They were saying that unless a person does these things, they have no share in God’s blessings. These people were not denying the gospel nor faith in Christ Jesus. What they were denying was that all that Jesus had done for the salvation of mankind (through his death and resurrection) was not enough. They were saying that a person ought to believe in Jesus but that he also ought to follow the laws of Moses in order to be saved as well as to be made right with God. They were saying that Paul’s gospel teaching is faulty and that Paul himself was not an accredited apostle nor was he qualified to evangelize. So, in this letter, Paul blasts these false Christian brothers and also blasts the Galatian churches for falling into these false Christians’ trap. He tells the Galatian Christians (whom he had himself instructed in the gospel) you fools— in modern English, you idiots, how could you fall for such a teaching from the pit of hell itself? In this section he warns them again with even stronger language saying: those false Christian brothers are all cursed, they are all under a curse, and you too will be if you listen to them!
I want us to think about the difference between relying on the works of the law verses relying on faith. I want us to see what it means that those who rely on the works of the law are cursed— even if they believe Jesus’ death and resurrection, and what it means to live by faith alone. And I want us to also think about the seriousness of knowing the difference between these two— that they are contrary to each other— in opposition to one another— since one is the truth and the other is a lie! I want us to see the consequences of each, so that we might have the power of God working in us to reflect that truth and to dispel the lie. In this day and age, as in Paul’s time, there are many false gospels going around, tearing down the faith of many. Sadly, many Christians do not take this seriously! They easily fall prey to every godless teaching, especially when the lie is so deceptive it almost looks like the truth.
The Bible urges— it commands us— to examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:5) “Examine yourselves” the Bible says, “to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you— unless, of course, you fail the test?” That is what we ought to do every time we are confronted with the word of God, with the truth. We examine ourselves because the Bible truth is that holy and righteous standard by which we can see where exactly we are standing. If we find that we are standing on truth, we rejoice and praise God and dig our roots deeper into it. And if we are not, then we humble ourselves in prayer and repentance, and ask God’s Spirit to burn out the lie and to confirm the truth instead. There is only one gospel, and one truth when it comes to justification— it is justification by faith. [I explained what justification is— to be made right with God— to be reconciled to God— to have a right relationship with him, among other things] And justification by faith, is the kind of justification that does not rely on anything we have done, or are doing or plan to do— regardless of how noble and holy is what we do— but a complete and utter reliance in faith on what Christ Jesus did for us on the cross and through his resurrection.
So, when we examine ourselves, where do we see ourselves standing? If we are standing on the truth, know then, that the truth honors and glorifies God— meaning that God gets all the credit for it. But we also should know that the lie honors and glorifies us— even if it a small honor and glory that we merit ourselves with— know then, that it dishonors God and diminishes his grace in our lives. What the truth does— is the truth gives us the power to live our lives by faith as God works in and through us to sanctify us and to advance his kingdom. But what the lie does— is that the lie saps us of power because we are constantly trying to live a holy life by our own effort, hoping to gain some merit and favor with God and approval of others. No wonder there are so many Christians who are tired and weary of the Christian life— burnt out— as they strive to live their Christian life with their own self effort. Paul talks about being under a curse in this passage— so when we live like that, its like being under a curse rather than the blessing God promises all Christians. Examine yourself today then, as we look at these few verses. Where are you standing?
Read verses 10-14. In this passage there are some major spiritual principles here at work that we must come to know. The first is this: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse”— and Paul tells us why. He says because “cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” The second is this: “No one is justified before God by the law”— and Paul tells us why. He says because “the righteous will live by faith”. The third is this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law”— and Paul tells us why. He says so that “by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” These are spiritual principles that we can do well to think on, remember, and hold on to. Why? As we said before, because we can either inherit a curse, or a blessing depending on where we stand.
Look at verse 10. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” By the way, “curse” here does not mean as we might think it to mean— something like an “evil charm” or a “spell” that God puts on people. God does not do things like this at all. We will see what it means to be under a curse. But the question here is that God gave his people the law— the Bible. And then he tells them to go ahead and observe it. But then God also warns them saying: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” In other words, God knew well enough that no one, not even the most holy of people, can continue to do everything written in the Bible. God knew that they would definitely fail in keeping the laws of the Bible. So then, did God give them the law to guarantee that they would all be cursed? Not really. Then why would Paul mention it here, that all who rely on the observing the law are under a curse? To help us better understand God’s purpose for the law. Paul understood that no one can rely on the law either for blessing or for salvation. Those who were promoting observance of the Law as part of the salvation process, were actually calling on the curse of the law. Paul saw that these people were relying on something that cannot save them. They had misunderstood the purpose of law, and as such were abusing the law towards their own benefit. But in truth, they were relying on something that could not possibly bless them nor bring them close to God, but rather invite God’s judgment on them.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the Law. Such that it brings curses on people. The Law is perfect and good. The law— the bible— reveals the heart of God. It shines all the glory of God in it. We see the perfection of God— we see his love and power in it. Of course, the law was meant to be followed, but only because it is good for fallen human beings to have a standard by which they can walk their daily lives in a way that God made them to walk. Of course they fail— but they were bound to fail. The Law was not given so that we might perfectly follow it, nor for us to achieve perfection through it— but it was given so that we might know our imperfection in the face of God’s perfection. It was supposed to stir us to know the goodness and glory of God, so that we might search for him more earnestly, and desire him, and want to know him more deeply in a world of sin and filth and evil and corruption.
But besides revealing the glory of God, the law had another purpose— To point out men’s sins so that they might repent and turn to God. And the law makes it clear that the only way to turn to God for mercy is though faith. You just believe that God alone can save us from our sins. The law— Paul explains to us— in this letter and in others, cannot solve the sin problem, nor can it save us from God’s judgment when we break the law. It cannot mend the broken relationship we have with God. The purpose of the law, then, is to lead us to repentance and to point the way to Jesus Christ who alone solves our sin problem. When God gave the law to his people, he intended the law to show them and us how far we have fallen from the standard that God created us to be. A person who is honest with themselves cannot look at the law of God in the Bible and not realize his own weakness and inability to live by that holy and noble law. A person who is honest— regardless of how good of a person he is— realizes that the such a holy and noble law condemns him because it reveals the corruption of his heart and soul— his utter wretchedness.
But God did not leave us to despair as we face a law we cannot keep. In his grace God has made it so that the law does not only condemn a man and leave him to wallow in his condemnation. He made it such that the law also reveals Jesus Christ— pointing the way for us to look away fro our selves— and the demands of the law— to looking at the Christ who alone can justify us. In the law Jesus Christ is revealed as the One who would fulfill the law on our behalf and in that way also make us acceptable and presentable to God in spite of our failure to obey the law. The law teaches us clearly that it cannot give us righteousness. But it points us to the One who can! How does that happen? It happens through faith— for the law also points to faith. So, faith in Christ leads to righteousness. This was the purpose of the law. But these people were promoting relying on the law over and above relying on Christ by faith and on what Christ has accomplished for us. So Paul tells us cleary in verse 10 that we cannot rely on it because we have broken it already. In other words we must look elsewhere! Then in verse 11 he tells us how to look. “The righteous will live by faith”. We must look through faith. And in verses 13-14 he tells us who to look to— we must look to Christ— by faith— for justification. This message is as clear as sunlight.
But here is where the curse comes in for those who rely on the law. When they relied on the law, the law does for them what the law does best— it judges and condemns them. It judges and condemns them as unfit to have a relationship with God. It judges and condemns them that they will forever be with out God— denied of his presence in their lives, his fellowship with them, the blessing of living in and with them. And that is the curse of the law. Paul said that those who rely on the law are cursed. They remain without God’s blessing. They are cursed without God’s blessing because they relied on the law, and on their own ability to fulfill the law. They are cursed because they do not know God’s most basic law— which is to trust God— to depend on him by faith. They are cursed as long as they live to try hard for something that can never ever happen— and they will die cursed because they will never know God and know his love and mercy and the glory of his presence in and with them.
And that’s what happened with those Paul rebuked for relying on the law— especially after they had known Christ and known the enormous sacrifice he made to deliver us from the curse of the law. And that is what happens sometimes to Christians who begin with faith in Christ, but who end up trying to achieve holiness or sanctification or maturity by “doing things”, by “trying hard to follow Christ by their own effort”. When a man relies too much on himself in living the Christian life he becomes like this— a man who relies on “laws of do” and laws of “don’t”— relies on laws of accomplishment, on laws of duty and religious zeal, on laws of effort and hard work— all in the name of living the Christian life. These are laws that cannot be relied on. We know from experience that working our own effort in overcoming a sin, or in searching for God, or in serving God’s purpose can only lead us to series of disappointment and eventual self condemnation. After trying hard to do the right thing, despair sets in, followed by bitterness and most likely a withdrawal from God. Many find themselves mindlessly following Christian habits and customs but without the passion they once had. That is the curse Paul is talking about— to work and work hard at Christian life and growth, when God requires that we rely on him alone— when God requires that we live by faith in his Son who loved us and accepted us unconditionally.
Verse 12 says: “the law is not based on faith”. Of course, it is not, because the law is based on hard work, on human effort, on man’s achievement for God rather than based on God’s work and his achievement on our behalf. That is why the law— the bible— also clearly teaches us that we have no righteousness of our own, no goodness, no shred of anything that can remotely make us acceptable enough to God to avoid his judgment and to come into his presence. That is why the law— the Bible— teaches us that any such attempt to make ourselves acceptable to God are futile. The law condemns those who even try because any effort on our behalf to reach God is considered self righteousness and pride on out part. The law rather teaches us that God has already prepared a way for us to reconcile with him— and that through his Son. But it takes faith in his Son, it takes a humble person to realize that as I am in my sins I am unworthy— that Christ has died to cover my sins— and that I must put all my hope and faith in him. That is what the Law teaches those whose hearts are open to see the truth.
Look at what verses 13-14 tell us about what Christ has done for us, in whom we have faith. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. The law demands that we be judged and condemned because we could not keep it. But Christ Jesus himself took that punishment— or curse of the law— on himself when he was crucified in our place. On the cross, Jesus suffered all that we would have suffered if we were to rely on the law. He redeemed us— he liberated us from the endless curse of living in self condemnation and in God’s eternal judgment. But Christ redeemed us not only to set us from the curse of the law, but for another glorious thing as well. He did so that we might receive the blessing God gave Abraham and promised to give all Abraham’s children. What is the blessing? That when we put our faith in Christ Jesus, we would receive the promised Holy Spirit.
Initially, the way of receiving the Holy Spirit— the greatest blessing of all— is by humbling ourselves, repenting of our sins, and trusting in what Jesus had done for us on the cross. That is the way of the new birth, when a person is born again through confessing that Christ Jesus had died on the cross to wash away their sins, and rose form the dead to receive a justification that cannot be gotten any other way apart fro the way of faith. It’s God’s plan and will that every human being who want to reconcile with God to put their faith in Jesus and live in that grace from first to last. Living in that grace is not easy, because we have a self that wants to do something to earn God’s favor. We have a self that loves to honor itself and to boast in doing something. That is why some people receive the Holy Spirit when they first humble themselves, but then ignore the Spirit and his work, and push on with their own effort in pleasing God and in growing and in doing the work of God. And when they are totally exhausted, rather than turning to the Holy Spirit in humility and submission, they harden their hearts against him, and become proud and unthankful. They end up critical and cynical and complaining souls who no longer shine with Christ’s love and grace, but rather exude self righteousness towards themselves and self condemnation towards others.
But God gives us the Holy Spirit when we put our faith in Christ Jesus, who is the blessing of all time. He resides in our hearts and to him we look for guidance and for inner growth, because he alone can reveal God to us and bring us near to him. The Holy Spirit is the Sprit of truth who fills our hearts with the joy of knowing that we are not the children of curse but the children of blessing. And this blessing is the most precious thing that God had done for us when he liberated us from the curse. He literally came back into our lives and lives in us and with us, guiding us to our home in heaven. Paul wanted the Galatian Christians to examine their hearts. Were they living by faith, trusting God and the Holy Spirit to lead them in their Christian life, or were they now relying on their own effort or strength! If they were full of love and peace and grace, it is likely they are living by faith and relying on the Holy Spirit who sealed them for God. If they were tired and unhappy in their Christian lives, it is likely that they were living for their own glory and to please a law that cannot be pleased. It is better to repent and ask the Holy Spirit to help them to recapture faith and joy and blessing and peace, and above all love; and to give the glory to God.