BY PASTOR GARETH on October 2, 2017
Yesterday, we tried to bring to the surface the centrality of faith and its connection to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as God’s children. Although we could have said much more, we looked primarily at 3 of Paul’s rhetorical questions in the opening lines of chapter 3: “Did you receive the [Holy] Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?”; “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (NIV 2011); and “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” Each of these 3 questions speaks to important functions of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians: salvation, sanctification, and multipliction. Each of these 3 questions also bring to the surface the centrality of faith in these functions of the Spirit (especially the first and third, which contrast “believing what you heard” with “observing the law”).
It is helpful at this point to remember that the Greek word pistis, can be translated into any of 3 English words depending on context: faith, belief, or trust. When we consider the full range of meaning for this word, we need to understand that we cannot limit it to any one particular translation. Typically – as logical, Western Christians – we understand the word in terms of “belief”. That is, giving mental assent to a set of propositions. In other words, when we say we believe in Jesus, we typically mean that we believe certain things about him: he is the Son of God, he is God incarnate, he was born of a virgin, he lived a sinless life, he died on the cross for our sins, etc. What our concept of belief often fails to capture is the faith and trust dimension of this word. Paul’s example of faith in Galatians 3 is very helpful on this point.
Paul appeals to Abraham’s faith as the example par excellence of faith in all of salvation history. He goes all the way back to Genesis 15, when 90 year old Abraham is given God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars, when Abraham’s barren-past-childbearing-age wife, Sarah, shows no signs of ever actually getting pregnant. Yet, remarkably, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness”. Against his better judgment; against all human odds and logic; Abraham believes God’s promise. This type of belief requires more than just the mental recognition of “2+2=4”, but an absolute trust against all human understanding. This is true faith. Bringing this back to bear on Paul’s charged questions to the Galatians, we start to understand just how interconnected faith and the Holy Spirit are in our lives. The Galatians had orginally “receive[d] the Holy Spirit” by “believing what [they] heard” – by placing their trust in God’s promises despite their own better judgments. Prior to Christ, they were outside the family of God. Prior to Christ, they were blind and without hope. Prior to Christ, they could not receive the Holy Spirit. They received the Holy Spirit as a sign of God’s promise to them that they are indeed welcomed into God’s family by faith. This is the work of the Holy spirit in our salvation, or to use the language of the Reformers, our regeneration.
But, because of the influence of the Judaizing Christians in Galatia, they are having second thoughts (perhaps it seemed “too good to be true”?). Their faith is somehow inadequate because they are not abiding by the law (or were not “law abiding Jews” before they placed their faith in Jesus)? So now, they are trying to finish what the Spirit started under their own strength. Here is the great temptation for all Christians for all times and places. Faith seems to be an answer that is “too good to be true”. So, “law” in all different shapes and sizes, starts to creep back into our existence. We want to have ways to see how well we “measure up” against the expectations we think (or know) God has of us, when really all he is asking is for us to trust him completely. It is only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, received by faith, that we can become more like Jesus, as Paul tells the Corinthian church: “All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (Common English Bible, 2 Co 3:18). This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification.
I’ll admit, the third work of the Holy Spirit identified yesterday morning is not immediately visible in the text. What was intended was to highlight the works of power of the Holy Spirit in and through God’s people when they “walk by faith”. Again, as with our growth in Christ-likeness, so also with our ability to participate in God’s powerful and miraculous activities (e.g. healing or conversion), we can all-too-often rely more on our own efforts than God’s power through faith. History is full of examples of people tring to induce their god(s) to act through any number of particular practices (see, for example, the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18). Our God is not like this. Part of the life of faith is relying on God to guide, direct, and act in and through us, his people. It is not our job to convince him that he should do something. Rather, it is our job to partner with him in what he is doing. He chooses to involve us in his work. We cannot know what he is up to if we are blinded by our own ambitions and ideas of what we think we need to do to get God to act. Rather, God works through us when we whole-heartedly trust that he can do so.
We could say SO much more on these 3 questions, but I hope this has sufficiently summarized for you some of what we tried to cover yesterday.