Teaching series from Galatians

God's Grace Confirmed by Spiritual Experience

Galatians 3:1-5

Teaching t12623


Brief recap of author/audience (MAP). Gal. 3:1 informs us of the setting of this letter (read).

Paul had clearly instructed the Galatians about the meaning of Jesus’ death – that through it He paid for all of our sins, so that we may be fully and permanently accepted by God by simply putting our personal faith in Jesus. Paul calls this “justification by grace through faith alone.”

Then false teachers (called “Judaizers” because they were Jews from Judea) “cast a spell” on the Galatian Christians. They rejected justification by grace through faith alone. They claimed it wasn’t enough to believe in Jesus; the Galatians also had to become Jewish (observe circumcision, dietary laws, and Old Testament festivals). In other words, they taught “justification by faith plus works.”

The Galatians were listening to these Judaizers and beginning to be persuaded by them. Paul calls them “foolish” because they knew better because of Paul’s instruction.

So Paul writes this letter to refute the Judaizers’ objections about God’s grace (2:15-21; LAST WEEK), and to provide additional confirmations that justification by grace through faith alone is God’s way.

In 3:6ff., Paul shows that the Old Testament taught that God accepts people by grace through faith alone, and not by obeying the law. This is a confirmation 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 appeals to their experience of God’s Spirit to prove that God accepted them by grace through faith, and not obeying the law. This is a conformation based on spiritual experience, which corroborates what God says through scripture. Let’s see how Paul makes his case...

The passage

Read 3:2,3. Paul reminds them of their conversion. When they believed the gospel, they received God’s Spirit. (Define Holy Spirit: Person; confirms our adoption). On what basis did they receive the Spirit? Not by obeying the Law, but by simply believing Paul’s message. Since their spiritual life began this way, it is foolish to think they can become more spiritual by law-keeping through moral will-power/religious observance.

Can you see that Paul’s argument makes no sense unless they experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence when they believed Paul’s message? Suppose I was gravely ill, and you offered me free medicine. I ingested it, and I quickly recovered. Later, someone insists that I need to buy their expensive medicine to recover my health. You’d say to me: “You don’t need that expensive medicine; my free medicine was effective. Don’t you remember how you felt better after you took it?” Your argument would be unconvincing unless I actually felt better after taking your medicine. In the same way, Paul’s argument is unconvincing unless the Galatians experienced the Spirit after believing the gospel (more details on this later).

Read 3:4. Paul asks them another question about their experience of the Holy Spirit. (Other versions translate pascho as “suffer” – but the immediate context makes “experience” a better translation. ) “Are you ready to discount your entire experience of the Spirit for the sake of embracing Jewish religion?”

Read 3:5. Paul reminds them now of their ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit (epichoregeo is present tense – “He who keeps supplying you with the Spirit”). He mentions miracles as an example of the Spirit’s work. By the Spirit’s power, Paul and Barnabas healed a lame man when he simply believed in Jesus (Acts 14:8-10). They had evidently experienced some additional miraculous acts. Paul’s point is that even after their conversion, they experienced the Spirit’s activity not because they became religiously-observant Jews, but because they simply exercised faith in Christ.

SUMMARIZE: “How can you listen to these guys who are saying you have to obey the Law in order to get or stay accepted by God? This totally contradicts your own spiritual experience! You received God’s Spirit when you believed the gospel, not when you started keeping the Law. God has continued to bless you through His Spirit as you simply believe His promises, not because you have been religiously observant. This alone should convince you that God accepts you by faith in Christ alone, not by faith plus works!”

Now that we understand Paul’s argument, let’s consider three important truths this passage teaches us about the Holy Spirit ...


The first application is that people normally receive the Holy Spirit when they believe in Christ, not at some later time (3:2). The Galatians were not an exception in this regard. Paul says the same thing about the Ephesian/Asian Christians (read and explain Eph.1:13,14 NLT). Pentecostalism’s teaching that people normatively receive the Holy Spirit sometime after they believe in Jesus is unbiblical because it is based on a couple of extraordinary exceptions in Acts (Acts2,8,19) rather than on the clear teaching of the rest of Acts and Paul’s letters.

The second application is that it is normal for Christians to experience the Holy Spirit when or soon after they believe in Christ (3:2,4). According to the New Testament, the Spirit is God’s “Helper” (Jn.14:16-18) given to us by Jesus through His death on the cross. The Spirit provides His help to true Christians in a variety of ways:

He helps you to relate personally to God (Rom.8:15,16). You used to pray only in times of great need, and in impersonal ways. But now you find yourself talking to God informally about what you’re thinking and feeling—and you sense He is somehow helping you do this so you can know you are His beloved child.

He makes the Bible come alive (1Cor.2:12). It’s not that you suddenly understand everything it says, but what it says about God, you, others, etc. starts to become understandable and personally relevant to you (EXAMPLE).

He sensitizes your conscience (Eph.4:30,31). 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 pierces your heart (EXAMPLE).

He gives you a special bond with other Christians (Phil.2:1). 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, you have a new and deeper kinship.

He gives you the desire to defend Jesus and share your faith (Acts1:8). 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 delivers you from destructive habits (Gal.5:16). Sometimes you just lose the desire to do what enslaved you. More often, He gradually weakens the desire as you replace it with other healthy desires/habits.

He prompts you to love people in specific ways (Acts8:26-38). You sense His specific guidance to encourage a brother or sister—and discover after doing that they were discouraged or in doubt. You sense that He wants you to help someone at work—and this leads to an opportunity to tell them about Christ.

He gives you peace and hope in spite of difficult circumstances (Rom.15:13). They still hurt, but they don’t devastate you because you sense that Jesus is with you, and that He will help you through this and bring good out of it.

QUALIFY: The Bible doesn’t say that you will experience all of this immediately when you receive Christ, or that you will experience this all the time, or that your experience will be exactly like other people. We are unique persons, and the Holy Spirit gives each of us exactly what we need to assure us of His presence. But if you have put your faith in Christ, He has given you His Spirit, and His Spirit will show you experientially that you are now God’s child. If the above activity of His Spirit is totally foreign to you, it is probably because you don’t have God’s Spirit. If this is the case, don’t focus on the experiences you lack; simply receive Christ! Then you will begin to experience the Holy Spirit working in your life (Acts2:38).

The third application is that we receive the Spirit’s help by simply believing God’s promise (3:5). The Spirit is God’s Helper given to His children. If your child asks you for a hug or help tying his shoes, do you deny him unless he has behaved according to your standard? Do you want him to not ask for help unless he has been good? No, you want him to come to you and ask for help, believing in your love for him. How much less is God like a legalistic parent! How much more is God our loving Father who gives the help of His Spirit to all His children who simply ask Him, believing in His love (quote Lk.11:13)!

Commenting on this passage, Chuck Smith makes this same point: “God’s blessings (i.e., the above works of the Spirit) are not dependent upon our goodness or our righteousness. The blessings of God depend solely upon His desire to bless us. Our part is simply to receive and believe Him for His blessings... It is so hard for us to repudiate the idea of deserving a blessing. Simply to believe and to expect God to bless us – though we have been failures and don’t deserve it – is extremely difficult for us. But when we finally get over that barrier and come to expect God to bless us simply because He has promised to bless us, there is nothing that can stop His blessing from touching our lives.”

Smith is so right. Deep within us is the sense that God’s willingness to bless us is based on something worthy in us rather than on unmerited love within Him and our simple faith in Christ. This is why people intuitively assume that they must earn God’s acceptance through their good works. It is alien and humbling to think that God would want to accept us freely even though we deserve His condemnation. But even Christians, who understand justification by grace through faith alone, often assume that the Holy Spirit’s help is based on having a certain level of devotion, commitment, rule-keeping, etc. Do you assume this? Do you find yourself thinking:

“I can’t expect the Spirit to help me draw near to God because I really blew it yesterday.”

“I can’t expect the Spirit to empower me to serve since I’ve hardly prayed at all this past week.”

“I can’t expect the Spirit to help my rotten attitude until I have first scolded myself for this.”

“I can’t expect the Spirit to help me share my faith since I chickened out last time.”

These are all thoughts I have had as a Christian worker who teaches regularly on God’s grace! Do you see the common element in them? “I must do something to merit the Spirit’s willingness to help me.” Which is another way of saying: “God’s favor is something I must earn.” But this is what Paul rejects!

Paul will have more to say about how to receive the Holy Spirit’s help in Gal.4,5. But this point, that the Spirit’s help is a free gift received by simple faith, is foundational! How often do you ask for the Spirit’s help with child-like faith? Start asking this way today!


NEXT WEEK: Grace in the Old Testament

SUMMARIZE: 3 truths about the Holy Spirit >> Q & A

“W. Michaelis, in fact, argues that when πάσχω is used absolutely it always implies suffering, except where the context suggests it should be understood sensu bono (TDNT 5:905–23). On the other hand, there are instances in Greek writings where πάσχω is used of favorable experiences (cf. BAG, though Josephus, Ant. 3.312 is disputed). So some recent interpreters have taken ἐπάθετε here to refer to positive experiences of the Spirit, either referring back to “having begun with the Spirit” of v 3 or forward to the statements about God giving his Spirit and working miracles among them of v 5—or both (so Lietzmann, Bligh, Mussner, and Betz)... If one gives attention only to etymology and frequency of usage, then a meaning sensu malo must prevail. It is possible, however, indeed even likely, that if context is given primary importance, then a meaning sensu bono would appear more likely... More pertinently, v 4 is set in the immediate context of vv 3 and 5, where God’s giving of his Spirit and God’s working of miracles in the midst of the Galatians are highlighted. So τοσαῦτα ἐπάθετε (“have you experienced so much”) should probably be taken as a recollection of the Galatian believers’ past, positive spiritual experiences—perhaps even should be translated “have you had such remarkable experiences”” Longenecker, R. N. (1998). Galatians (Vol. 41, p. 104). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

Chuck Smith, Why Grace Changes Everything (The Word for Today, 2007), pp. 98,99.