Good News of God’s Grace
A Sermon Manuscript by Brian Mann on Galatians 1:3
The Good News of God’s Grace
The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. ~Elihu in Job 33:4
Why is it that some denominations particularly focus on the Holy Spirit? Because there is a hunger for God’s grace. The grace of God is directly related to the Spirit of God. He is called the Spirit of Grace. It is good there is this hunger,though it misplaced and perverted, because true understanding of God’s gracious Holy Spirit is combative to legalism. Some disconnect grace from God and others God from grace, both are problems! When the Holy Spirit is seen rightly as directly connected to Grace, then there can be a real and effective battle against the flesh that does not look to substitute proofs for salvation. For example, many pentecostals look to healing, speaking in tongues, etc as proof of salvation. But Spiritual proof does not exist in these things, but in foremost peace and all the fruit of the Spirit. Certainly there was a time for healing and miracles of the extraordinary type, but the apostle does not so much mention any of that to the Galatians as proof. It is absent. There is something more perfect that is to be desired.
The Grace of God wished for the believers in Galatia who were challenged by the false teaching of legalism is the Holy Spirit received by faith, and increasingly enjoyed in prayer, and perceived in life. God’s graciousness received, enjoyed and perceived in the Holy Spirit is then combative to Galatian legalism.
We must first establish that there is a Holy Spirit. Some in the book of Acts did not even know He existed (Acts 19:2). We read in Genesis 1:2 that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” So, there has been, is, and always will be a Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like the precious oil running down from the Head to the members of Christ’s body that brings us together (cf. Psalm 133:2). The sum of the gospel is the giving of the Holy Spirit of God to the church as promised. It has been long God’s desire to dwell with man, and to dwell in man . Only because of Jesus with whom the Father was pleased did the Holy Spirit descend like a dove showing us where our true rest is to be found. Christ’s members all are given the Spirit at salvation, but not all of Christ’s members are equally filled with the Spirit of God. One of Paul’s antidotes to legalism is therefore to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit increasingly.
Receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit by Faith
Such was Paul’s greeting, “Grace to you…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson is nearly right to say grace is Jesus Christ. However, here grace is the Spirit of Christ given by the Father and the Son. We must not think of grace as a thing to be received, but a person. So, we are called to receive the Holy Spirit, and in receiving the Holy Spirit we receive the Father and the Son. He brings to us in the gospel, God’s grace irresistible! He who is responsible for changing the sinners heart at the start is able to increasingly conform the now believer to Christ’s likeness. Nothing external will do. In the gospel, one is called in this grace of Christ (1:6) and by this grace (1:15). Paul says in 3:10–14 that the work of Christ on the cross, bearing the penalty for our sins, was “so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Just a few verses later he said, “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” To accept another gospel that is by the law instead of by grace is to fall from grace because “through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves wait for the hope of righteousness. for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (5:5–6).
It was Augustine who first equivocated the Holy Spirit with God’s love. Following Augustine, Jonathan Edwards spoke of the Holy Spirit as the love and grace of God. Some theologians who likely wish to espouse their own ideas find problems with this, but the apostle Paul makes clear that the grace he wishes his readers to receive increasingly is the grace of the Holy Spirit who comes from the Father and the Son. Have you received the Holy Spirit?
This was the blessing of the gospel after the resurrection (John 20:19–22). In committing his disciples to the conquest of world evangelization “he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In doing so he was fulfilling Ezekiel 37:5 (raising the dead dry bones of Israel), putting his love in them (John 17:26), and making good on his promise “Because I live, you will also live” (John 14:19).
Thus, many instead of receiving the Holy Spirit, we grieve the Holy Spirit by disconnecting God from God’s grace, and merely treating grace as a benefit that stands alone without God.
Enjoy the Grace of the Holy Spirit in Prayer
In Galatians 4:1–7 the Spirit is given to those who are sons, because they are sons and heirs of God. They are to enjoy this new status and relationship being adopted as sons through the Holy Spirit in prayer. This too is grace that Paul wished for his readers:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
The Spirit is always willing even when the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Jesus demonstrated this very thing when he said in Mark 14:36,
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
This is what it means to enjoy God. It means to choose the will of God over the will of one’s human flesh. Salvation is utterly spiritual as purchased by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul said he was crucified with Christ and Christ lives in him. The Spirit is the great purchase and sum purchase of the gospel.
In Romans 8:14ff we read,
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
So, it is like this: when the will of God is met with your will, God’s will wins, and this brings the basis for joy, to rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory! (cf. 1 Peter 1:7–9) Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:13ff
“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
Joy in Jesus is when the Holy Spirit increases in your lives so as to increasingly and more often choose what pleases God and therefore grow your assurance that you are indeed an heir, a child of God in Christ Jesus. This is the grace wished toward the Galatians by Paul. Are you enjoying the Holy Spirit in prayer?
When Noah’s Ark was safe on land it was only for sure to Noah when the dove came back with the olive leaf in his beak, a symbol of peace (Gen. 8). So, Grace comes with peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3). In Song of songs, when the bride longed for her true beloved while in this world seduced by false lovers, she dreamt saying,
I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one… (Song 5:3)
When asked why she longed for her beloved over that of any other, she said,
His eyes are like doves beside streams of water (Song 5:12).
Likewise, her lover said to her,
Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. (Song 1:15)
So, the church is to Christ one whom He has sent his Spirit of Grace together with peace into her heart to enjoy communion with the Father. In this she may rest and enjoy perfect peace not as the world gives, but peace that is desired, promised, performed by Christ, and enjoyed by his bride the church.
Perceive the Holy Spirit in the Christian Life
The Galatians were being told they needed to observe something that was temporary, circumcision in order to truly be loving and obedient to God and ultimately saved. The apostle wishes them grace to increase so they would no longer accept this false gospel, but actually become fruitful in the Christian life and be aware of such. It is expected that the Holy Spirit’s grace can be perceived by men. The apostle says in 2:9,
when James and Cephas and John…perceived the grace that was given me, they gave the right hand of fellowship.
Paul’s life was clearly Christian. No longer would he hold up the emblem of his being a Hebrew (which is national) or being circumcised (which is temporary) but he says in 2:19ff,
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify [i.e. make void] the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Demonstrably, the apostle wished for his readers to be filled with and marked by God’s Spirit increasingly as he was being filled and marked as well. He says in 5:16ff,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these….But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
He goes on and describes the church as “spiritual” that is filled with God’s Spirit or Grace, saying in 6:1ff,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
Furthermore, he describes the importance of sowing to the Spirit and from the Spirit reaping the benefit of eternal life (that is a quality of life here and now and increasingly forever) cf. 6:8. How is one to walk this way? He closes speaking of living by this rule of a new creation created by grace of the Spirit (6:15–16) and wishes that the grace or Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (6:18). He is arguing that legalism is combatted by an increasing measure of God’s gracious Holy Spirit. The apostle says in 1 Cor 6:17 that the Spirit of God becomes one with our Spirit. And even that in another place we read Christ says this,
“that the love which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26)
A life that is being thus increasingly in line and yielded to the Spirit of God’s grace is perceived by self and others as a life of grace, a life marked by God’s Spirit over and against a life marked by fleshly living and out of step with the Spirit of grace. Do you perceive in your own life and the lives of other believers around you the Holy Spirit, the Grace of God? Where such increases legalism simply doesn’t have a place. In Colossians another form of false teaching was taking place, though similar legalism, and he taught there in chapter 2 that these things had no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Only the grace of God increasing in the church moves out legalism and increases in biblical love so as to fulfill God’s perfect law. Life doesn’t come from the law (Paul teaches) but from grace, from the Holy Spirit. We can perceive such a mighty work in us and among us as we give ourselves more to God’s grace and true gospel and put human traditions that men seek to manipulate us by away! We do this not by physical action, but by spiritual commitment to Grace and the household of faith (6:10) refusing to make our lives about a show of the flesh (6:11) and refusing to believe any who come with a gospel that promotes our fleshly egos in place of pleasing God’s glory for our lasting joy. Do you perceive the grace of God? Is your life marked by the Spirit’s Word and the Spirit’s fruit? Is your church family? Are those professing to be believers around you?
It is important in our battle against legalism to always remember the Protestant Reformation was built on this grace versus law idea. The matter of the Spirit of God over and against the tyranny of Rome. The reformers came to rediscover the kingdom of God is not in eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
Moreover, there is a grave danger in insulting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). Let it be that our lives and church would be increasingly those whom believers can come and see “the grace of God” and be “glad” like Acts 11:23 describes so that any full of the Spirt can exhort us all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose (Acts 11:23) and actually call us Christians (Acts 11:26).