The NIV translates it this way: "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" The word for "foolish" here is the same one used in Galatians 3:1. Paul sounds incredulous that a group of people could be so blind in terms of spiritual understanding, especially after they had had the gospel preached to them and appeared to have fully comprehended it. Paul is saying, in essence, "Is it possible that you have completely stopped thinking?"
Our relationship with God is initiated by Him. He calls us (John 6:44) and causes us to approach Him (Psalm 65:4). Our minds are spiritually opened when we receive His Holy Spirit, and it is only then that we can truly obey God (in the letter and the spirit). The Holy Spirit is the essence of God's mind—His thoughts, motivations, attitudes, principles, mood, frame of mind. When we repent and are baptized, we receive a small measure of the Spirit—of the mind of God. As we grow and mature spiritually, we are growing more into God's image. We are beginning to think like Him. Thus, we are getting more of God's perspective and mindset—God's Spirit.
It is ludicrous to think that our spiritual lives began with God giving us His Spirit, but then we take over the reins and are in control from that point on. Yet this is what Paul is chastising the Galatians for—believing that their works and righteousness would carry them through this life and into the next. This notion completely denies what Christ did for us in sacrificing Himself for us, what God does in allowing Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins, and what God does in making us into the spiritual image of His Son and ultimately bringing our salvation to pass. Similarly, to negate the part the Holy Spirit plays in our life is to negate the owner and source of that Spirit. If we begin trusting in ourselves to bring our own salvation to pass, we are exhibiting the epitome of pride and presumptuousness—and we are also severely deceived.
David C. Grabbe
Those who say that Paul's words mean that one does not have to obey God in order to receive His Spirit simply do not understand what he was talking about. They also do not understand the circumstances that the apostle was addressing. The main problem in the churches in Galatia was that people were being taught that they could be justified—have their sins forgiven and be brought into a right relationship with God—by lawkeeping. The people's minds were being turned away from faith in Jesus Christ. Paul was reminding them that the only way anyone can receive forgiveness of sins is through faith in Christ's sacrifice.
To drive his point home, Paul reminds the Galatians that they did not receive God's Holy Spirit by lawkeeping while ignoring faith in the sacrifice of Christ. He points out that, without faith in the sacrifice of Christ, no one can be justified, no one can be forgiven of sins, and no one can be given the gift of God's Holy Spirit.
This does not negate the fact that there are still basically two requirements for receiving God's Spirit, namely, repentance and faith in Christ. Both of these requirements must be met before one can receive the Spirit. Repentance involves turning from sin and turning toward obedience to God's commandments.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Is Obedience Required Before Receiving God's Holy Spirit?
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