2 Let me ask you only this: (A)Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by (B)hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish?(C)Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a]the flesh? 4 (D)Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? (Gal. 3:2-4, ESV)
With respect to our final approval or disapproval by God can it get any simpler than this statement by Paul? Who is responsible for your initial faith and thus for your salvation in Jesus Christ? You or God? If you believe that you are a great person who because of your greatness sought out and believed upon Jesus all on your own, then you might believe that your salvation rests upon your own shoulders. But, I doubt that many of you think that. I know that I can still look back thirty-five years to a young man barely twenty-one years old who was about to cast everything away for a life of sin when I began to feel a longing inside for “truth.” Shortly thereafter God put the “New English Bible” in my path along with the thought, “I have always heard that the truth is in this book. Why don’t I just buy this, read it, and see if it is.” Within three months, and in a story I have told before, God revealed to me that he wrote the Bible and that indeed the truth did reside in that book. He further showed me that his truth had a name and that his name was Jesus Christ. I then believed in Jesus, determined that I had better start doing what he said, and was baptized in water as I made that confession of faith.
During those three months while I first read the Scriptures God’s Spirit slowly, but surely, convicted me of sin. I was not convicting myself; my flesh did not say, “Flesh, you are bad and sinful.” No, the LORD began to say through his word, “The things you are doing in your flesh are bad and you need to stop doing those things and obey me instead.” When I finally realized that Jesus was in fact the God of the Bible, when I came to faith in him, suddenly I had both the conviction that my sinful behavior was wrong and the power to stop doing those things. Those two things did not come through my flesh, they came by the Spirit of God. Thus I received the Spirit of God by “hearing with faith.” The first time that I “heard with faith” was when I realized by reading the Bible that God wrote the Bible (through men). Simultaneously, as I came to this understanding, God spoke to me in a voice which seemed audible (yet I believe it was within me), “That’s right, Glenn, and I want you to teach my word.” Since then, the spring of 1977, it has been a struggle to understand and follow the leading of the Spirit versus the leading of my own flesh.
At this time in our spiritual journey the LORD communicates to us through our “flesh,” through our minds (souls) which are housed in these temporary bodies of dust. We also each possess a spirit and if we have believed in Jesus Christ as our LORD and Savior, then our own particular spirit has been “quickened” or “born again.” This occurs when we first hear the Word with faith. If we do not believe in Jesus then our spirit remains dead. This is what Jesus meant when he spoke to Nicodemus.
3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named (A)Nicodemus, a (B)ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “(C)Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these [a](D)signs that You do unless (E)God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him,“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one (F)is born [b]again he cannot see (G)the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of (H)water and the Spirit he cannot enter into(I)the kingdom of God. 6 (J)That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’ 8 (K)The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, NASB)
To be “born of water and the Spirit” means that Holy Spirit has breathed upon the word God has spoken to a person individually resulting in a new spiritual life within that person. This must happen to each person before he or she can ever enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul makes it clear to the Galatians that this process of entering the Kingdom of Heaven begins and ends with the Spirit. None of us can pummel our bodies hard enough to earn entrance into that kingdom. Particular good works neither earn our initial salvation nor gain our entrance into the Kingdom of God.
On the other hand Jesus, Paul, and every other prophet testifies that if we do not have good works, then we will not enter the Kingdom. James especially makes this clear. The Bible says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Likewise, out of the abundance of the heart (the Word and the Spirit) the body acts. Examine yourself. Do you see your body perform good or evil works? If you are caught up in evil, then read God’s Bible and ask him to reveal himself to you. When he does, then respond to that revelation and do what he tells you. This will be your first step toward salvation and God’s kingdom. With each step of faith you take you heart will change so that eventually you will find that your flesh does the good things that reside in your heart.
I write this today because many people walk insecurely with God. They believe they cannot succeed with him because they still do sinful things. But know this, none of has yet been perfected in our flesh because none of us has yet been glorified. Do you mourn about your still sinful flesh and wish that you were perfect? Then be encouraged for God will comfort you. Do you consider yourself poor in spirit? Then rejoice for you accurately see yourself; yours will be the Kingdom of Heaven. Do you meekly submit to wrongs against you without fighting for your “rights?” Be glad! for you shall inherit the earth. Do you hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, longing to be filled with his holiness? Then know that you will one day be filled to overflowing with all these good things. Rejoice, I say, because you are being perfected by the Holy Spirit himself!