Part 7: “Having begun in the Spirit”

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

When we speak of the quickening or the deepening or the strengthening of the spiritual life, we are thinking of something that is feeble and wrong and sinful; and it is a great thing to take our place before God with the confession: “Oh God, our spiritual life is not what it should be!” May God work that in our hearts.

As we look round about on the church, we see so many indications of feebleness and of failure, and of sin, and of shortcoming, that we are compelled to ask: Why is it? Is there any necessity for the church of Christ to be living in such a low state? Or is it actually possible that God’s people should be living always in the joy and strength of their God? Every believing heart must answer that it is possible.

Then comes the great question: Why is it, how isit to be accounted for, that God’s church as a whole is so feeble, and that the great majority of Christians are not living up to their privileges? There must be a reason for it. Has God not given Christ, His Almighty Son, to be the keeper of every believer, to make Christ an ever-present reality, and to impart and communicate to us all that we have in Christ? God has given His Son, and God has given His Spirit. How is it that believers do not live up to their privileges?

We find in more than one of the epistles a very solemn answer to this question. There are epistles, such as 1 Thessalonians, where Paul writes to the Christians, in effect: “I want to grow, to abound, to increase more  and more.” They were young, and there were things lacking in their faith, but their state was so far satisfactory, and gave him great joy, and he writes time after time: “I pray God that you may abound more and more; I write to you to increase more and more.” But there are other epistles where he takes a very different tone, especially the epistles to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, and he tells  them in many different ways what the one reason was, that they were not living as Christians ought tolive; many were under the power of the flesh. The text at the top is one example. He reminds them that by the preaching of the faith they had received the Holy Spirit. He had preached Christ to them; they had excepted that Christ, and had received the Holy Spirit in power. But what happened? Having begun in the Spirit, they tried to perfect the work that the Spirit had begun in the flesh by their own effort. We find the same teaching in the epistle to the Corinthians.

Now let us try to learn what this word to the Galatians teaches us – some very simple thoughts

1. “Having begun in the Spirit”

Remember that Paul had not only preached justification by faith, but he preached something more. He preached that justified men cannot live but by the Holy Spirit, and therefore God gives to every justified man the Holy Spirit to seal him. The apostle says to them in effect more than once: “How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Was it by the preaching of the law, or by the preaching of faith?” He could point back to that time when there had been a mighty revival under his teaching. The power of God had been manifested, and the Galatians were compelled to confess: “Yes, we have got the Holy Ghost: accepting Christ by faith, by faith we received the Holy Spirit.”

Now, it is to be feared that there are many Christians who hardly know that when they believed, they received the Holy Ghost. A great many Christians can say: “I received pardon and I received peace.” But if you were to ask them: “Have you received the Holy Ghost?” they would hesitatem and many, if they were to say yes, would say it with hesitation; and they would tell you that they hardly knew what it was, since that time, to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us try to take hold of this great truth: The beginning of the true Christian life is to receive the Holy Ghost. And the work of every Christian minister is that which was the work of Paul – to remind his people that they have received the Holy Ghost, and must live according to His guidance and in His power.

2. The great danger

You all know shunting is on a railway. A locomotive with its train may be run in a certain direction, and the points at place may not be properly opened or closed, and unobservingly it is shunted off to the right or the left. And if that takes place, for instance, on a dark night, the train goes in the wrong direction, and the people might never know it until they have gone some distance.

And just so, God gives the Christians the Holy Spirit with this intetion, that every day in their life should be lived in the power of the Spirit. A man cannot live one hour of a godly life unless by the power of the Holy Spirit. He may live a proper, consistent life, as people call it, an irreproachable life, a life of virtue and dilligent service; but to live a life acceptable to God, in the enjoyment of God’s salvation and God’s love, to live and walk in the power of the new life – he cannot do it unless he is guided by the Holy Spirit every day and every hour.

But now listen to the danger. The Galatians received the Holy Ghost, but what was begun by the Spirit, they tried to perfect in the flesh. How? They fell back again under Judaizing teachers who told them they must be circumcised. They began to seek their religion in external observances. And Paul uses that expression about those teachers who had them circumcised, that “they sought glory in their flesh.”

You may at times hear the expression religious flesh. What is meant by that? It is simply an expression made to give utterance to this thought: My human nature and my human will and my human effort can be very active in religion, and after being converted, and after receiving the Holy Ghost, I may begin in my own strength to serve God.

3. What are the proofs that a church is serving in the flesh?

The answer is very easy. Religious self-effort always ends in sinful flesh. What was the state of those Galatians? Striving to be justified by works of the law. And yet they were quarreling and in danger of devouring one another. Count up the expressions that the apostle uses to indicate their want of love, and you will find more than twelve – envy, jealousy, bitterness, strife and all sorts of expressions. Read in the 4th and 5th chapter what he says about that. You see how they tried to serve God in their own strength, and they failed utterly. All this religious effort resulted in failure. The power of sin and the sinful flesh got the better of them, and their whole condition was one of the saddest that could be thought of.

This comes to us with unspeakable solemnity (serious ceremony). There is a complaint everywhere in the Christian church of the want of a higher standard of integrity and godliness, even among the professing members of the Christian churches. I remember a sermon I once heard preached on commercial morality. And, oh, we do not only speak of the commersial morality or immorality, but if we go into the homes  of Christians, and we think of the life to which God has called His children, and which He enables them to live by the Holy Ghost, and if we think of how much, nevertheless, there is of unlovingness and temper and sharpness and bitterness,  and if we think how much there is very often of strife among the members of churches, and how much there is of envy and jealousy and sensitiveness and pride, then we are compelled to say: “Where are the marks of the presence of the Spirit of the Lamb of God?” Wanting, sadly wanting.

4. What is the way to restoration?

My beloved friend, the answer is simple and easy. If the train has been shunted off, there is nothing for it but to come back to the point at which it was led away. The Galatians had no other way in returning but to come back to where they had gone wrong, to come back from all religious effort in their own strenght, and from seeking anything by their own work, and to yield themselves humbly to the Holy Spirit. There is no other way for us as individuals.

There are two questions I would like to finish this chapter off with. Firstly; Are you living a life under the Holy Spirit day by day, or are you attempting to live without that? Remeber that it is only by surrendering completely to God that we can grow in Christ and please Him. The second question is: Are you willing to be consecrated (set appart) to the Holy Spirit? If you are not willing to follow God, then it is obvious that you never will follow him. If you are willing, then just give yourself wholly to Him. You will never regret it!

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