In Galatians 3:14, we read about "receiving the promise of the Spirit through faith."
What does this mean? It may be helpful to think, first, about what it doesn't mean.
We must never think of the Holy Spirit as a reward that is given to us because we have faith - the more faith we have, the more the Holy Spirit is given to us. Where does this kind of thinking come from? It comes from human pride. We make too much of our faith - and we get things the wrong way round.
When faith is real, it changes us. This is something that we must always emphasize - but we must make sure that we never give the impression that the Holy Spirit is a reward - God's way of recognizing how well we are doing in the life of faith. When we think that we are being rewarded, the focus is on ourselves - 'Look at what I've achieved. Look at the progress I've made.'
We are called to make progress in the life of faith - but we must never forget where this progress comes from. It comes from the Lord. Every thought of holiness comes from the Lord. He puts it into our hearts. We do not begin with our faith - 'I'm going to live a godly life', and, then, somewhere along the line, we start thinking about the Holy Spirit as God's reward, earned by us because of our growing desire to become more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit isn't God's way of rewarding us - 'You've made some progress. I'll reward you with the Holy Spirit.'
How did we come to faith? The Holy Spirit, brought us to faith. He was working in our hearts. He was leading us to see that there was nothing good in ourselves. He was leading us to stop trying to save ourselves. He was leading us to look away from ourselves to Jesus. He was leading us to stop trying and start trusting - looking to Jesus to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
How are we led in the paths of righteousness? It's the Holy Spirit who leads us closer to our Saviour, Jesus. He shows us that the self-centred way of life will never satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. He keeps on saying to us, 'There's something more. There's a different way of living. There's a better way of living.'
Where does this new life come from? Do we make up our minds that we're going to live a better life - and hope that God will reward us with His Holy Spirit? What is this? - It's the religion of the Pharisees.
What does it have to do with God's salvation? Nothing! It's all about our human achievement. We'll never start looking to the Lord for salvation until we stop trying to save ourselves. A reward is earned by us. Salvation is given to us. A reward sends us back to our own human resources. It says to us , 'What are you going to do to show that you are worthy of this reward?' Salvation points us to Christ. It tells us what He has done for us. It calls us to look to Him - to trust Him as our Saviour, to confess Him as our Saviour. It calls us to live for Him - without ever forgetting that He died for us.
The religion of the Pharisees is all about keeping the law, and hoping that you'll be rewarded. What happens when we're honest with ourselves, and say, 'I can never keep the law the way I should'? That's when we start to realize that we need more than the law. We need the Gospel.
We don't begin with the law - what we can do for God. We begin with the Gospel - what He has done for us. Go back to Exodus 20. There, we have the Ten Commandments. Before that, there is God's declaration, 'This is what I have done for you' (Exodus 20:1-2).
We must never begin with something that we do. We must always begin with what God has done. Even, beginning with faith is missing the point of the Gospel of grace. Our faith can never be any more than a response to God's grace. His grace comes before our faith. In grace, He reaches out to us. His grace brings us to Christ. His grace leads us to put our faith in Christ.
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