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Teaching series from Galatians

Grace Confirmed By Experience

Galatians 3:1-5

Teaching t20280


Galatians is a letter written out of passionate concern.  Paul writes to people he loves in an attempt to rescue them from serious spiritual danger.  You can feel this passionate concern in the first part of today’s passage (read 3:1a NLT).

Certain people have “cast an evil spell” on the Galatians.  They were not wizards who cast a literal spell—they were false teachers who were undermining their assurance of God’s acceptance.

PAUL: BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH ALONE – “You can be completely and permanently accepted by God as a free gift by placing your faith in Jesus and his death for your sins.” (cf. Acts13:38,39)

JUDAIZERS: BY FAITH PLUS KEEPING GOD’S LAW – “You must complete your faith in Jesus by obeying the Law of Moses/becoming Jewish—or God will not accept you.” (cf. Acts15:1)

There are still a lot of present-day “Judaizers” who will undermine your assurance that God accepts you by grace through faith alone.  If you listen to them, they will lure you into believing that you have to “pay as you go” to get/keep God’s acceptance—and this will rob you of the security and power of grace that can transform your life (LAST WEEK).

Paul calls the Galatians “foolish” because they knew better than to buy into the Judaizers’ message.  In Gal.3, Paul reminds them of two things they already knew that proved that God accepted them by grace and not by law.

In 3:6ff., Paul reminds them that the Old Testament teaches that God accepts people by grace, and not by law.  This is an argument based on scripture—and we each need this objective basis of assurance.  We’ll cover this important subject NEXT WEEK.

In 3:1-5, Paul reminds them that God proved that he had accepted them by grace, and not by law, based on a personal experience God gave to each of them.  This is an argument based on experience—and it subjectively corroborates what God says objectively through scripture.  Let’s see how Paul argues this (read 3:1b-5)...

Paul’s argument from experience

“I told you good news—Jesus’ death has paid for all of your sins.  Now you can be completely and permanently accepted by God by simply placing your faith in Jesus.”

“You believed this good news—you entrusted yourself to Jesus and his death to make you acceptable to God.”

“When believed this good news, God confirmed it by granting you two experiences—he gave you his Spirit and he worked miracles (probably of physical healing through Paul & Barnabas – cf. Acts 14:3).

NOTE: The miracles were non-normative confirmation that apostles were authorized to perform (2Cor.12:12).  The Spirit is God’s normative confirmation, as we will see below. 

“Why would you contradict your own experience by now believing that you must earn God’s acceptance by obeying his Law?”

I think you can see the power of Paul’s argument.  Suppose you were sick, and I offered you free medicine—and after taking it you quickly recovered.  Then someone told you that my medicine was inadequate—that you also needed to buy their medicine to get/stay well.  I’d say, “What are you doing?  You saw what happened when you took my free medicine!  Why are you buying that guys’ medicine when you already know that my medicine works?”

God’s Spirit as experiential confirmation of his acceptance

Paul’s argument from experience was not only valid and important for the Galatians.  It’s also valid and important for all Christians.  We can be confident that God accepts us by grace, not only because scripture promises this, but also because we experience his Spirit after we believe in Jesus.

Check out these two passages that emphasize and elaborate on this important truth:

Read Eph.1:13,14.  Paul had never met many of these people, yet he knows their salvation followed the same order as the Galatians—they heard the good news, they believed it, and they received God’s Spirit.  And notice why God gives believers in Jesus his Spirit.  Through his Spirit, we experience something that identifies us as God’s children.  And through his Spirit, we receive God’s guarantee that we will one inherit eternal life.  This “guarantee” is literally God’s “down-payment”—a real, advance foretaste of life in God’s kingdom that we can experience now.

Read Rom.8:9,15,16.  Paul had never met most of these people.  But he can say that people who don’t have the Spirit living in them don’t belong to Christ.  In other words, we know we belong to Christ because we have his Spirit dwelling in us.  And we know we have Christ’s Spirit dwelling within us because he experientially assures us that we now belong to our God who dearly loves us.

That brings us to the question most of you are asking by now: What does this experience look like?  How does God’s Spirit manifest himself?

My first response to this question is a warning—beware of “standardizing” how God’s Spirit manifests himself.  Christians commonly make this mistake in two ways. 

Some say silly things like: “Everyone who has God’s Spirit speaks in tongues, or has a dramatic conversion experience, or is instantly delivered from a strong addiction, etc.  Unless you’ve had the same dramatic experience I’ve had, you don’t have God’s Spirit and you don’t belong to Christ.” 
Others, reacting to this group, say equally silly things like: “The Spirit no longer grants such dramatic experiences.  He only manifests himself in non-dramatic ways now—a subtle sense of security, a gradual deliverance from bad habits, a gently growing motivation to serve God, etc.  Anyone who says they’ve had dramatic experiences of God’s Spirit is either lying or self-deceived.”
The Holy Spirit is a Person, and he knows what we are like as unique persons—so he enables us to experience God’s presence in ways that he knows are personally helpful for us.

Having given this important warning, the Bible tells us that God’s children can expect to experience his Spirit (in varying degrees, over a period of time) in various ways:

He makes the Bible come alive.  It’s not that you suddenly understand everything it says, but what it says about God, you, others, etc. starts to become personally relevant to you (TEACHINGS; READING; DISCUSSION).
He gives you the desire to defend Jesus and share your faith. You never used to care what people thought about Jesus, but now you’re pained when people defame him and you want to tell people that you believe in him.
He sensitizes your conscience.  You still sin—in fact, you are far more aware of this—but you can’t enjoy it like you used to because God’s Spirit tells you it’s wrong and destructive (e.g., LYING).
He delivers you from destructive habits.  Sometimes you just lose the desire to do what enslaved you.  More often, the desire is gradually weakened and replaced by other healthy desires/habits.
He prompts you to love people in specific ways.  You sense his specific guidance to call someone to see if they’re OK—and they were praying for help just then.  You sense that he wants you to do a deed of kindness for someone you don’t know well—and this help them toward Christ.
He helps you to pour your heart out to God.  You used to pray only in times of great need, and in impersonal ways.  But now you find yourself just talking to God informally about what you’re thinking and feeling—and you sense he is somehow helping you do this.
He gives you a special bond with other Christians.  When you discover that someone you already know is a Christian, you are glad and want to talk with them about the Person you have in common.  When someone you know becomes a Christian, it gives you joy that you want to express to them.
He gives you peace and hope in spite of difficult circumstances.  Circumstances that used to devastate you still hurt—but somehow you sense that because Jesus is with you, he will help you through this and bring good out of it.
He gives you spiritual gifts to serve him in a unique way.  He reveals these gifts in different ways (e.g., through persistent desire and/or through others’ feedback), and using them gives you great joy and motivations and a healthy sense of significance.
In these (and other) ways, God’s Spirit lets us know that God is real and that he loves us and that we belong to him.  We still have problems, we still go through difficult circumstances, we still have times of confusion and deep pain—but God’s Spirit provides this wonderful compensation that keeps us going.  (“I am with you.”)

This brings us to another important question: “How can I experience God’s Spirit?”  This is a deep subject, and we’ll learn more about it in the weeks to come (Gal.4-6).  But the basic answer to this question is simple—depend on Jesus:

If you want to receive God’s Spirit, depend on Jesus’ death to make you acceptable to God.  Remember, God gives his Spirit to his children—and his children are those who hear this good news and receive it by faith.  You don’t have to earn it by cleaning up your life, or joining a church, or giving your money, etc.  God has already done everything needed to forgive you—he gave his own Son to pay for your forgiveness.  You just have to humbly agree that you need Jesus’ death for your sins, and thank him for doing this for you.  The moment you make this decision, God will give you his Spirit—and you will experience his presence in your life either immediately or soon.  Would you like to receive God’s Spirit right now?  Then pray with me...

If you want to continue to experience God’s Spirit in your life (as described above), you just need to keep depending on Jesus’ help to enable you to live for God (2:20 – “Christ lives in me, so I live... by trusting the Son of God”).  Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Helper” (Jn.14:16).  The more consistently you depend on Jesus’ help to live for God, the more consistently you will experience his Spirit.  Conversely, the less you depend upon Jesus, the less you will experience his Spirit’s presence. 

Maybe you’ve stopped depending on his guidance for your life.  Maybe he has shown you that he wants you to turn away from sexual compromise to sexual purity, or from bitterness to forgiveness, or from deception to honesty, or from materialistic greed to generosity.  But you’ve said: “No, I know better than you do how to live in these areas.  I’ll let you know if I need your guidance.”  So he waits until you are ready to depend on Jesus’ guidance...
Maybe you’ve stopped depending on his resources for your life.  Maybe he wants you to rely on his acceptance, but you’re relying on certain people’s acceptance.  Maybe he wants you to rely on his ability to provide for your needs, but you’re relying on your ability to manipulate/intimidate others into getting what you need.  Maybe he wants you to rely on his power to serve him (so he gets the credit), but you’re relying on your own power to serve him (so you get the credit).  So you’ve said: “I can meet my needs better than you can.  I’ll let you know if I need your help.”  So he waits until you are ready to depend on Jesus’ resources...
Do you want to experience the help of God’s Spirit more consistently?  Live more dependently on Jesus.  Do you need help to know where you are living independently from Jesus?  Ask him, and ask some spiritually healthy friends (HOME GROUPS).  He will show you.  And when you respond with humble dependence, you will begin to experience his Spirit’s help (as described above).  Where do you need to replace independence with dependence?