“Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?”This is Paul’s question Paul asked Galatian believers in Galatians 3:2. It was important at the time and it is important today for all born again believers. It gets direct to the nub of the question: How is your walk with God? How is your Christian life being worked out? Are you hearing by faith or are you seeking to work out your salvation and Christ-likeness by your own works?
This is important for us, for as Romans 8:2 tells us, the Spirit of the Law brings life, but the letter of the law brings death. When Paul talks here in Galatians 3:2 is asking a question for which he already knows the answer, for he has just told them a few lines earlier in his letter in v2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And that life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith toward the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself on my behalf” (emphasis added) – “I live by faith”, he is telling them – and us, if we are Christians. We need to live by faith and by hearing from the Holy Spirit.
To help us grow in faith, we need to discern the Holy Spirit. How? One way we do this by “watching” for the Holy Spirit. Watching in the Greek is grēgoreuō and means to watch; to give strict attention to; to be cautious; to be active, to take heed lest through remission and indolence some destructive calamity suddenly overtake one. Watching, is not a sedentary pastime; it is an active participation, an active seeking in what the Holy Spirit is doing now. For the Holy Spirit is our paraclete, our helper, the one who comes alongside us to guide us in the ways of the Father.
In the New Testament there are a number of passages which encourage and require this from us:
Matthew 24:42-43 “Therefore watch; for you do not know what hour your Lord comes. But know this, that if the steward of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be dug through.”
Matthew 25:13“Therefore watch, for you do not know either the day or the hour in which the Son of Man comes.”
Matthew 26:38-41“Then He said to them, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Wait here and watch with Me. And He went a little further and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will. And He came to the disciples and found them asleep. And He said to Peter, What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Mark 13:33-38“Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time is. As a man going away, leaving his house, and giving authority to his servants, and each man’s work to him, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Then you watch, for you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, at evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or early; lest he come suddenly and find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all. Watch.”
Luke 21:36 “Watch therefore, praying in every season that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things which shall occur, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Acts 2-:31“Therefore watch and remember that for the time of three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”
First Corinthians 16:13“Watch! Stand fast in the faith! Be men! Be strong!”
First Thessalonians 5:2-4“You know very well that the day when the Lord comes again will be a surprise, like a thief who comes at night. People will say, “We have peace and we are safe.” At that time destruction will come to them quickly, like the pains of a woman giving birth. And those people will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not living in darkness. And so that day will not surprise you like a thief.”
Revelation 3:3“So don’t forget what you have received and heard. Obey it. Change your hearts and lives! You must wake up, or I will come to you and surprise you like a thief. You will not know when I will come.”
Revelation 16:15“Listen! I will come at a time you don’t expect, like a thief. Great blessings belong to those who stay awake and keep their clothes with them. They will not have to go without clothes and be ashamed for people to see them.”
The references, the allusions, the meanings are very clear. We are to be watchful, constantly on our guard, constantly aware and attentive to the Holy Spirit, for we will never know when He will come, and the Lord insists that we are not asleep, not surprised, not unprepared. First Thessalonians 5:6 puts it simply “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
In a sense, the ultimate focussed advice is given in First Peter 4:7“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” When we are self-controlled, when we are sober-minded and when we are prayerful, what is the result? Hebrews 11:6 tells us that if we do this with Faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” When we seek Him in faith, we will be rewarded.
In the flesh, for us to be ever watchful to the extent required, is beyond human endurance. But First Peter 4:7 gives us a place to start, in our prayers. Colossians 4:2 brings this together for us saying “continue in prayer and watch in it with thanksgiving.” Not only are we to watch, but we are to watch in prayer.
Typically our prayers are short, perhaps focussed on a particular concern. We need to broaden them: we need to live our lives as prayer offerings to God. In every single task we undertake during our waking day, we need to do it as a praise offering to God. Hebrews 13:15says “so through Jesus we should never stop offering our sacrifice to God. That sacrifice is our praise, coming from lips that speak his name.” Yes, the bar is set high, but we are called to achieve that which in our flesh, may be beyond us. Yet, as we strive toward that goal, we need to recall that “he rewards those who seek him.”
Paul teaches in Galatians 3:2 that we receive communication with the Holy Spirit by hearing with faith and confidence. To achieve this, we need to watch, to be ever aware, and to be focussed on the Lord. If our minds and hearts are elsewhere, all we will typically hear is what is happening elsewhere.
When Christians talk about hearing the Holy Spirit, the phrase “the still, small voice” is often used to explain what it sounds like. Christians cry out to the Spirit, saying “please, talk louder – I just can’t quite hear!” What they misunderstand is what God is saying at such times; for He is saying to them “Come Closer, Come Closer.” If we can’t head God, we’re not close enough to Him.
When we do hear from the Holy Spirit, what is it we are hearing? Revelation 19:10 tells us: “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” I believe this is one reason for words of God through the Prophet Joel as recorded in Acts 2:18 which says: “in those days I will pour out my Spirit on my servants, men and women, and they will prophesy.” We are these people, and if we are in God, we can prophesy. Through the Holy Spirit we receive prophecy, though not all of us to the same degree. Why different? Romans 12:6 clarifies that while “having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, if prophecy, according to the proportion of faith.” According to the portion of our faith, we prophesy. First Corinthians 14:5 explains why we all need to prophesy, as Paul writes “I wish all of you to speak in languages, but rather that you may prophesy; for greater is he prophesying than he speaking in tongues, unless he interpret so that the church may receive building up.” That we my build up the church. This is the purpose that we all have the ability to hear the Holy Spirit and therefore, we all have the ability to prophesy.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for the benefit of the recipients, but for the benefit of His Church. This is why the Lord wants our attention, why He wants us to watch, wants us to pray, wants us to be diligent, to be productive. Not for ourselves, but for His Church. Yes He loves us, yes, he cares for us, but we need to recall the underlying understanding that, God does not want to lose any of His sheep. We need to play our part and watching, is an important part of God’s calling for us.
Amen and Amen.