How did you receive the Spirit? 你们是如何受了圣灵？Sermon passage: (Galatians 3:1-6) Spoken on: May 16, 2021
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Galatians
Title: How did you receive the Spirit?
Date: 16th May 2021
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
In the past few years, we have used passages from Isaiah quite a few times as our devotional materials for Advent and Lent. The reason was for us to revisit the ancient promises of the restoration of God’s kingdom found in Isaiah. And one of the key promises was the coming of the Spirit of God. When the Spirit comes, he will bring life to the people (Isaiah 32:15). He will bring rest to those in difficulties (Isaiah 63:11,14). The presence of the Spirit of God will be the sign that God is personally guiding his people and bringing peace upon them. Out of the many references to the Holy Spirit, my favorite one is from Isaiah 42: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 4 He will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
The reason why I especially like this passage is that its vision goes far beyond the restoration of the Jews: it is a vision for the entire world. This passage was referenced by the gospel writers at Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit as prophesized descended upon the one chosen by God. And since God is not just God of the Jews, but creator of all humanity, the justice that the anointed one would bring would also be for all nations. Jesus the Messiah is not just “a covenant for the people”, he is also “a light for the Gentiles”. And the Holy Spirit plays a key role in this vision. Right before Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist informed us in Luke 3:16 “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
So right at the beginning of the story, we see that God’s restoration through his Spirit is for all of humanity. Was the prophecy of Isaiah for the gentiles fulfilled? Yes, in the landmark story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. Allow me to do a quick recap. First, God sent an angel to Cornelius to ask him to invite Peter to his house to preach. Then God gave Peter a vision with a voice 15“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Because of such a vision, Peter who was a Jew, willingly went to Cornelius’ place, even though Cornelius was a gentile (Acts 10:28-29). When he was there, he preached the gospel to a large gathering of people, who we can assume were also gentiles. 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. As you can tell from the story, the Holy Spirit is the sign that God’s salvation is not just for the Jews, but also for the gentiles. Then Peter baptized them all, presumably because he perceived that they were all already Christians.
This was the landmark case that was later retold in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council to declare that since gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit just like that, they did not need “to be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” Though the event in Acts 10 did not happen in Galatia, we can assume that similar things must have happened when Paul was evangelizing there. One of such stories was recorded in Acts 14: 8 In Lystra (a Galatian town) there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. This story showed that this Galatian experienced the Holy Spirit simply out of faith in the gospel told by Paul. This was Paul’s personal experience of his evangelism work in Galatia.
It was why Paul could question the Galatian church in this way, “2 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? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” There could only be one answer to all these questions because Paul was there right when all these things happened: they received the Spirit and experienced the works of the Spirit when they believed by faith, not by works of the law or by flesh. We see that the story began in the Old Testament when God wanted to restore all humanity through the Holy Spirit, and the story reached a climax in the New Testament when the gentiles did receive the Holy Spirit as prophesized. Hallelujah!
If this was the experience of the Galatian Christians, why then did they still want to consider circumcision and the other parts of the laws of Moses as essential to their salvation? This is the last part of the story I need to share. The Holy Spirit was promised by the prophets, the Holy Spirit was experienced by the gentiles, why then were the Jewish laws still an issue for the gentiles? Briefly speaking, it depends on how these laws are perceived, and whether our Christian faith is a continuation of the Old Testament or a break-away from the Old Testament. If you argue that these laws help you stay close to God’s will and God’s restoration is about restoring people back to the ancient chosen people of God, then it makes sense to become a proper Jew to secure your salvation. Given that these were the early days of grappling with such a theological problem, you can see why such an argument was both confusing and tempting to the early gentile Christians.
But the early church made a key decision on this matter. The Jewish laws did not apply to the gentile Christians. Why? Simply because the presence of the Holy Spirit proves that gentiles can be accepted by God without becoming a Jew. In short, God had personally indicated his decision from what happened in Acts 10-14. And I think this argument trumps over all arguments, because the grace of God is his own sovereign decision. If God accepts Gentiles just as they are based on their faith, who are we to say that they must add on any extra criteria? In fact, it would make any suggestions to add on further confirmations to our salvation, be it circumcision or any other things, totally unnecessary.
One might argue that even though it is unnecessary, it would still be good to promote the Jewish laws as a form of bonus for the gentile Christians, right? You are saved as a Christian, but you are even better as a Jewish Christian, how about that? To answer this, the early church in Acts 15 added two other reasons why we should not mandate the Jewish laws onto the gentiles. It would be testing God and making it difficult for evangelism.
Peter argued this in Acts 15: 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
Then James argued this in Acts 15: 19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 
Therefore, adding the Jewish laws unto the gentiles is not a form of upgrade, but a form of downgrade because the laws become an additional burden for them, one that you cannot totally fulfill, and yet you sabotage others by making the Christian faith hard for them to fulfill as well.
This was why Paul called such Galatian Christians foolish. It arises from a kiasu mentality to desire something more just to confirm what you already have.  But that mentality is the biggest problem. They had already received the Holy Spirit, which was the best confirmation of God’s acceptance. By seeking something more, they were actually contradicting their original faith, which meant that they didn’t really believe that what they had received was enough. Losing that faith was a bigger loss than adding on the extra laws.
Now that we know the entire story, I would like to share a few reflections.
First, we need to emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit as a seal of our faith. If you believe Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you declare God as your heavenly father, that is already the work of the Holy Spirit. You do not need to seek for miraculous or supernatural manifestations to prove that you have the second blessing or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. All those are based on the theological misunderstanding of some charismatic churches, and seeking after such add-on confirmations is no different from what the false teachers were doing in Galatians in seeking after bonus confirmations for salvation.
Two, having said that, our lives should reflect our faith. The Holy Spirit prompts us to obey God and bear spiritual fruits. We will explore this in the later chapters, but the point is that the Holy Spirit is an active agent, and not something that we merely use for going to heaven. So, we do not need the Jewish laws though they can be helpful as a guide. We have the Holy Spirit to enlighten us regarding God’s will. This means more than just praying fervently for some special revelation though I admit it happens sometimes when God wants to give someone a special calling. Listening to the Holy Spirit means spending daily quiet time on God’s Word, and learning to submit to God’s promptings through his Word.
Lastly, I want to talk about sharing God. From the entire story, I hope you appreciate the grace of God for the entire world. God’s grace transcends all kinds of backgrounds and his acceptance goes beyond our expectations. So we should feel free to just share the gospel. Maybe we feel theologically inadequate. Maybe we feel shy and fear the rejection of others. But maybe these are just criteria that we needlessly added to ourselves. We share the gospel simply because God is the God of all humanity and he loves us all, and we believe his grace is sufficient for all. Our theology may not be perfect and we may be sharing God with our awkward shyness. But it is the Holy Spirit at work that will reveal God to them and move their hearts. So I pray that the Holy Spirit prompts you at the right moments, and you obey such promptings to share the gospel. You can use the tools of 幸福小组, or parts of other Jubilee sermons that you think are moving, or your personal testimony. Then you leave the rest of the work to the Holy Spirit. Just as each one of us comes into faith through the Holy Spirit, the same will happen for those whom God has called. May God have mercy and work through each one of us, just as how he has used Paul to preach to the Galatians. Amen.
Galatians 3:1–6 (Listen)
3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?