Galatians 3:1-14
RECEIVING THE BLESSING OF ABRAHAM
(c) Copyright 2004 Rev. Bill Versteeg


In the past month, we have been looking at Galatians 3 and Lord’s Day 3 in the Heidelberg Catechism and its instruction on the consequences of sin and the blessing of faith.  We have found that those who depend upon the law, who depend on their own good qualities for their righteousness are under a curse, whereas those who place their trust in Christ receive the blessing of God. Let’s  read form Galatians 3

Galatians 3:1-14
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

You have heard the phrase before "Gimme Gimmes never get!"

I'm sure that very few of us have not heard it.  Its a common piece of advice that we give to children who either in their hurry or in their demanding attitude neglect to say "Please." We see the "Gimme" attitude most often when one child gets something, and the others have to wait, or it is not their time to receive it yet.

We get irritated by children who neglect to say "please" because behind their forgetfulness is an immature attitude which says "I deserve"

"I deserve so give it to me now."
"I deserve because I've been good - gimme!"
"I deserve because I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth..."

When we meet that immature attitude self deserving attitude - Oh how it irks us. The attitude betrays a self serving legalism that we hope that we can train out of our children.  Its the old linkage between performance and reward, the insistence of rights that were never given. Impoliteness and ingratitude are connected in the heart of the old nature.

But Gimmes don't just come in small packages, they also come in adult size packages, of all ages, of both sexes. And the "Gimmes" are lurking in each one of our hearts. And the "Gimmes" come out in the most interesting ways especially when it comes to receiving the Holy Spirit.

John was a grey haired "Gimme." A long time member of the church, having faithfully served as both elder and deacon, a quiet gentle man, but still a "Gimme." And the "Gimme" came out in his relationship with his daughter. His daughter had gone through what we commonly understand to be the hormone years, but back then the hormone years were mixed with a drug culture and his daughter jerked John and his wife through those earth quake years with little mercy. Over time the rebellious flower child got married.  John looked forward to a few years of peace. But that wasn't the end.  His daughter got involved in a group of Christians, she became a person who bubbled over with excitement because the Spirit of God was in her. Her life changed, radically. She quit drinking, she quit smoking. She became more involved in the church than her own father and mother.

We would have expected John to be celebrating that a lost one was found, a very thankful father that his daughter was now God's child too, God had been so faithful to his promises.  But no! John's relationship with his daughter got a whole lot worse. His daughter, in his eyes had become a Holy Roller and he did what he could to resist his daughters unfading excitement. To visit with her father and mother meant that she had to virtually spiritually shut down, she could not mention anything about the Lord or the church.

I sat down with him a number of times, each time trying to understand his resentment. And that is when, quietly, I heard the voice of the "Gimme" that to one extent or another resides in each one of us. It seemed to him that his daughter was boasting about the Spirit that God had given her in such rich measure.  But in truth, he envied her. He deserved the Sprit more then she did.  Contrasting his years of service against her years of rebellion, the math of what God gives did not make sense. It was not fair that his daughter have more of the Spirit than he did. (Now I am certain that his daughter did not boast, and I am certain that the fruit of the Spirit was more evident in her life than her fathers.) But to him, trembling he told me, these holy rollers needed a little more experience of life to take the wind out of their sails.

The truth is that John was listening to an old form of legalism that was embedded deep within his heart, a formula that said - “If I have been good, I deserve God’s gifts,” an old “Gimme” attitude that connected love and gifts with performance. And when he saw his daughter filled with the Spirit, that old legalistic attitude came out in a relationship destroying envy.

The Galatians Christians had the same problem. They hungered for the work of the Spirit of God among them. They had started with the Spirit but when it comes to the Spirit there is always somebody who has more, a different gift, a more evident fruit of the Spirit - and the Galatian Christians wanted more. And then there came Judaizers with their three step plan.  They taught that if a person didn't eat unclean foods, if they kept these other laws and especially if they include getting circumcised, then the spirit would certainly fall upon them in renewed power. After all, with circumcision, they would be righter with God having fulfilled the Old Testament expectations and the New Testament expectations, they deserved more of the Spirit.

But God does not give his Holy Spirit based on what we do. God does not anoint with his Holy Spirit because of our righteousness. God does not give the gifts and power of his Spirit because of our great qualities. We very frankly don't deserve. The only reason why we receive the Spirit is because we have a relationship with Christ.

Listen closely to the words of the Heidelberg Catechism #33.

Why are you called Christian? Because I share in Christ and his anointing! Christ is the one who received the Spirit because he deserved it, he was without sin, perfectly doing the will of his heavenly father. And the only reason we receive the Spirit is because we are joined to Jesus by Faith.

So Paul says again and again in our passage in a variety of ways "It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit." The Spirit is a gift from God that he imparts to us simply because we have a relationship with his Son.

It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is never a reward for our actions.

You see, there is no formula but Faith! Nothing else gets us closer to God. Nothing else moves God to anoint us with the Spirit of His Son. It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit which is the blessing of Abraham and so share in the anointing of His Son.

Over the years, I have met many Christians who are listening to variations of the three point plan to receiving more of the Holy Spirit.

Consecrate yourself more, Get involved in this, do that, pray more fervently, read the bible for hours a day, attend that workshop, sing praise every day even when your heart is crying. Now each piece of advice might have its worth for growth, but none of them make us more deserving of the Spirit of God. There is only one way to receive the Spirit - that is by faith in Jesus Christ. The same faith by which we recognize that our sins are forgiven. The same faith by which we recognize that we have eternal life. It is by faith that we share in Christ and his anointing! Each one of us knows that even though our parents failed in many ways, yet when we asked them for the things we need - they gave us what we needed. How much more will our Father in heave give the Holy Spirit to us when we ask for it!? (Luke 11:13 applied)

Now it would be very understandable for many of us to have a variety of questions about the topic of receiving the Spirit, questions which would reflect the theology we have grown up with, or the experiences we have had. And I encourage you to ask them - come to me, help me write sermons to come.

But Before I close this morning, I think it is important that I make just a couple of comments about faith since it is by faith that we receive the promised Holy Spirit.

Receiving forgiveness and eternal life, has to do with faith, receiving the Spirit has to do with faith - and faith, in the context of this passage might be best understood as trust.

Have you really trusted Christ as your Saviour? This might sound like a question that I should not have to ask - but the first question that must be asked is - was there a beginning in faith? The reason why I ask is because I have met many people who have gone through the motions of being a Christian without ever really doing the transactions of faith within their hearts. They have never really bowed before the Lord, they have never personally said to the Lord, no longer me, just you, just your righteousness, just your work, just your sacrifice.  They have never abandoned their own righteousness and wholly depending on Christ’s righteousness. The transaction has never occurred. In truth, they still depend on their own ability, they are legalistic to the core.

In Northern Ontario, their lives in the woods a wonderful illustration of trusting faith - it is called the grouse, a kind of wild forest chicken with brown and purple feathers. But like all chickens, it is a ground bird, able to fly but not well, not quickly and not quietly. If you are walking in the woods and happen to scare a grouse, you will be shocked at the loud thumping that occurs when it takes off. But the grouse is especially vulnerable to Snowy Owls, Hawks and Eagles, as it rests in the stillness of trees especially in the winter when its brown feathers do not hide it among the foliage of the forest floor.

It is during these times of rest that a grouse can be easily spotted by a flying predator, and if spotted it only has one chance of escape - that is to plunge, head first into the snow below the tree. It does that with incredible trust. In diving, it could hit crusted snow, or a log hidden under the snow, or a rock and instantly break its neck. But the grouse abandons all attempts at fleeing or saving itself and puts all its confidence in the snow. By diving in the snow, it escapes those birds that cannot land on soft snow and return to flight.  The grouse has an incredible faith in the snow as it dives head long under its cover.

Are you a person who has not only said you have placed your trust in Christ and his covering of righteousness, are you a person who has abandoned your self righteousness, your human effort, and depended on Christ alone? That is a decision of trust, of faith, it is the beginning where the Galatians started to. We begin salvation by faith, by trusting in Christ alone.

It is that same Trust, that same Faith by which we receive the Spirit.

I don't know if you have noticed this in your life but to receive somebody’s ministry you have to trust them. I think this is a universal rule of life - we even see it in our dog.

If you have been at our house, you know that often we will hide our dog.  Its not because we're ashamed of him, its simply because he trusts very few people. If you are a visitor, you might have the best intentions to pet him and make him feel good and give him a treat but you will notice even while you are still outside of the house that there is a dog with his hair standing on end, teeth bared, ready to take a few layers of skin off of you. Its not that he is a mean dog, its just that he doesn’t trust. No matter how much you might want to be kind to him, he will not receive your kindness because he has difficulty trusting you.

Or take your car. Have you ever been on the highway and your car has broken down? And you have to somehow get it to the nearest garage -  the mechanic looks untrustworthy -  he tells you that to fix your fan belt its going to cost $450.00. You'll find it very difficult to accept his ministry to you (if that's what you can call it) if you don't trust him.

As I have reflected on ministry for the last 7 years, one thing I have discovered, for me to receive ministry from anyone, from a house dry Waller to a pastor, I have to trust in order to receive.

It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit. It is by trusting what the Spirit does that we receive from him. And so much of the Christian life is learning to trust what he does in us and through us. So much of Christian growth in the Spirit is learning to trust his leading, the gifts he brings, the truth he reveals. We are called to be people, who having started by trusting in Christ, now continue to trust the Spirit and his work in our lives.

So brothers and sisters, the Word gives us one formula for receiving the Spirit - and that formula is faith - in trust asking, seeking, knocking - knowing that our Father in heaven longs to share with us the anointing of his Son.

Prayer

Lord, your Word tells us that You, Jesus, came to baptize with the Holy Spirit.  This morning we come, not with our great qualities, simply with our need and desire to know you and we come in trusting faith, to receive from you a baptism in your Spirit, a fresh anointing in your Spirit for Lord it is by your strength that we stand, it is in your strength that we minister, it is by your power that we persevere.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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