Receiving the Gift and Supply of the Holy Spirit

Dr. Brian Allison

We read in Galatians 3:1-5: "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you [i.e., who has cast a spell over you? who has worked some black magic on you? who has bedeviled you?], before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? [i.e., before whom Jesus Christ was so clearly presented, so openly pictured, that you could not be in any doubt concerning the truth of the Gospel as it relates to Him?]. This is the only thing I want to find out from you [because you should have known better; it is inconceivable that you could have been misled; it is unbelievable that you could have been led astray in light of that clear, plain teaching]: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law [by following the path of Judaism], or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish [not that you are acting silly, but you seem to be devoid of understanding]? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh [by relying upon your religious works and exercises]? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? [i.e., having spiritually embraced Christ, and paid the price of ridicule and rejection, are you now setting Him aside? Was it all for nothing?] Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you [which is the manifestation of that Spirit], do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing with faith?" The larger issue in this epistle to the Galatians concerns the means of justification – how one is saved. The question that the apostle addresses is whether one is saved by conforming to the Mosaic Law or by having faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul presents two opposing systems of religious thought. On the one hand, there is the system of Law – what a person must do in order to save himself. On the other hand, there is the system of grace and the Gospel – what God himself does in order to save a person. Now, though this is the larger issue in this epistle, I simply want to concentrate on the specific teaching concerning the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a promised gift

Again, the apostle Paul inquired, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" In asking how these Christians actually received the Spirit, the apostle implied that the Holy Spirit was in fact given. God himself gives the Spirit; and when we think of God giving the Spirit, and someone receiving that Spirit, we are certainly thinking in terms of a gift. Indeed, the New Testament uses the language of 'gift' for the giving of the Spirit by God. For instance, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out and miraculous signs appeared. Jews from various nations were gathered together to the 'upper room' residence because of the commotion. Peter stood up and began to preach. Subsequently, we read, "Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37,38).

Now, the gift of the Spirit is that which has been promised; that is why we read the language of the 'promise of the Holy Spirit.' So, again, in Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost, he proclaimed, "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Christ] has poured forth that which you both see and hear" (Acts 2:2:33). The Spirit was promised to Abraham and to his Seed (i.e., Jesus Christ) (Gal. 3:16,19). This promise was revealed to, and recorded in the book of, Ezekiel (Eze. 36:26,27; 37:13,14; 39:29). This promise was announced and confirmed by Christ in His preaching ministry (Jn. 7:37-39; 14:16ff; 16:5ff.). The promise of the gift of the Spirit has come – "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us...in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:13,14).

Now, consider some simple thoughts concerning this notion of a gift. When you think of a gift, what comes to mind? How do you understand a gift? A gift is an expression of favour; it is that which is graciously given. For instance, this past week someone dropped into the Church and brought me a gift of a bottle of apple juice; that was very nice of this person. This person was not obligated to bring me this bottle of apple juice; this person was pleased to do it; it was something graciously given.

Further, a gift is unearned; it is not something you strive or work for. You are to simply accept and enjoy it. There is no expenditure of energy, nor any loss of time, on the part of the one who receives it. For instance, this past week my wife and I received a note from a couple who were married in June, thanking us for a gift that we had made for them. Now, they did not work for that gift. A gift is not only graciously given, but unmeritedly given.

Further, a gift requires no compensation; it does not demand some payment in return. It is freely given. Over the years I have given books away, and every now and again some one will say to me, "Well, what can I give you for it?" And I reply, "Nothing; it is a gift." Now, these are simple remarks, to be sure, in considering this notion of a gift, but consider afresh that the Spirit is a gift. Consider the fact that God has given to you the Spirit as a gift – an expression of His love and His favour. God has been pleased to give you, my Christian friend, His Spirit; no strings attached.

Now, if the Holy Spirit is a gift, it is utter nonsense to think that you need to strive for, wrestle for, or work for this gift. To do so is to render the status of the giving from that of gift to that of reward. Moreover, it is utter nonsense to think that you must beg God for this gift. You cannot merit it, nor can you live your life so as to obligate God to give it to you. It is a gift. I remember a number of years ago, I and some other Christian brethren met every morning during the week at 6:00 am in order to seek the Lord for revival, for the outpouring of His Spirit. My understanding at that time was very wrong. My understanding was this: if we pray, and continue to pray, then God will send His Spirit. Do you see the problem? I was putting more stock in the act of prayer, than in the 'heart' of prayer. I believed that the longer we prayed, and the more often we prayed, the greater the likelihood in securing His Spirit. The Spirit did not come. You see, our religious exercises can in no way obligate God to give His Spirit. Why? It is a gift. He chooses when He will give it; and He gives it according to His good pleasure. Now, I am not saying that we should not pray much for revival and the outpouring of the Spirit. But I am saying that it does not depend upon the length of prayer and how much time one commits to prayer. That is not the determining factor. The issue is the burden of heart to pray; and that burden to pray for revival must come from the Spirit himself. It is possible to have a burden that has its source in 'the flesh' (i.e., the self life).

Now, what should be your response to receiving a gift? You should respond with courtesy and gratitude. Have you thanked God for the gift of the Spirit? If you have not, why don't you do it now. We take some things for granted. Let us continually thank God for the gift of the Spirit.

The gift of the Spirit is received through faith

However, you may be saying to yourself, "I am not sure that I have the Spirit. I profess to be a Christian, but I am not sure that I have the Spirit." If you are a true Christian, then you received the Spirit at your conversion, whether you felt it or not. The Holy Spirit is given as a gift to everyone who truly believes in the Gospel; or, the Holy Spirit is given as a gift from God to everyone who has faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. That is what our text teaches – "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" The original Greek reads, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by the hearing offaith?" Again, there is a contrast between two religious systems by which one may approach God. On the one hand, we have Judaism – conforming to the Law; standing alone on one's own merit before God. On the other hand, we have the grace of God, the Gospel, and God being pleased to save one simply by his or her faith. So what is Paul saying here? He is saying, in effect, "Did you receive the Spirit by doing what the Law demands or by believing what you heard about Jesus Christ? Did you receive the Spirit as a gift by performing legal requirements or by simply accepting the truth of the Gospel?" And, of course, the implied answer is that it was through the hearing with faith, or better, the hearing of faith, which simply means hearing related to, and defined by, faith. If you like, it is 'faith's hearing' of spiritual truth.

The hearing with faith is the reason, not the cause, for receiving the gift of the Spirit. Again, God is not obligated to give us His Spirit. The presence of faith does not automatically mean that one will receive the Spirit, but rather God is pleased (it is a principle of the kingdom) to respond to faith by the giving of the gift. He is pleased to respond in such a fashion to the presence of faith because faith honours Him and His Word. So, the Spirit is God's gift only to believers. For example, while Peter was preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, the Spirit fell upon them; the Gentiles had received God's gift. Afterwards, Peter reported to the Jerusalem church, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them [the Gentiles], just as He did upon us [Jews] at the beginning [i.e., on the day of Pentecost]. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?' And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'" (Acts 11:15-18).

Again, the presence of faith does not merit, nor earn, the Spirit, but the presence of faith favourably disposes God to freely bless because God delights in faith, for faith honours Him. The reality of faith in Christ Jesus invites the gift of the Spirit, which is simply God making good on His promise, that which He promised to Abraham and to His Seed. So, everyone, without exception, who has this faith, has received the Spirit. Do you believe that Jesus is the Saviour of the world? Do you believe that He is your Saviour? Do you believe that He died and was buried, and that God raised Him up from the dead on the third day? Do you believe that He is coming again in power and great glory? If you believe these things, and so live that you do, you have the Spirit indwelling you. Thus, we read, "In Him [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, [hearing] the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). In receiving the Spirit, one is sealed with the Spirit; that is, there is the guarantee or assurance that one is a child of God. The sealing spiritually marks that one belongs to God and is destined for an eternal inheritance of glory. In receiving the Spirit, one simultaneously receives the seal of the Spirit – God ratifies the fact that the believer belongs to Him.

The gift of the Spirit occasions the supply of the Spirit

But maybe you are saying, "Okay, I have the Spirit, but if I were honest with myself, it really does not seem like it. The Bible says that I have the Spirit, but it sure doesn't look like it. It seems that I am always struggling. It seems that I lack power. I hear about the Spirit, and how one can overcome with the Spirit and have victory through the Spirit; and I hear people's inspiring testimonies, but I am always struggling. There seems to be no power in my life; there does not seem to be any difference." Accordingly, you may feel disturbed and confused because you read and hear one thing and apparently you are experiencing another. Is that your experience? Be honest with yourself.

Now, as a Christian, the issue is not whether you have the Spirit, but rather the issue is whether you are accessing, and actually living in, the Spirit. Consider, for example, 2 Timothy 1:6,7, "And for this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but [a Spirit] of power and love and discipline." God had given His Spirit as a gift, but somehow and in some way, in the mystery of Christian experience, Timothy had allowed the Spirit's 'fire' to wane and His power to decrease. How that is possible I am not sure, but that was the case. Paul thus reminded Timothy that he had the responsibility to stir up afresh the gift of God who was in him. Accordingly, though God has freely given us this gift of the Spirit at conversion, we can access more and more of the power and grace of that gift. Thus our text reads, "Does [God] then, who provides [or better, who supplies] you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:5).

So, on the basis of receiving the gift of the Spirit, one may receive the supply of the Spirit (Gal. 3:5). Again, we receive the Spirit at conversion, but in our Christian life, God is pleased to supply us with that Spirit according to our need. As with the initial giving, so with the subsequent supplying, it is a gracious act on God's part; He takes the initiative and provides. So what does His supplying of the Holy Spirit look like? Well, for instance, that boldness that one may have in standing before a group and speaking may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That peace and joy that one experiences in the midst of tragedy and misfortune may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That understanding and insight that comes in dealing with some complicated issue, and the ability to wisely handle a situation, may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That courage that allows one to stand in the face of opposition and refuse to capitulate may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. That inner strengthening in hope so that one eagerly anticipates the coming of the Lord may be a specific demonstration of receiving the supply of the Spirit. Thus, we read in this same epistle, "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness" (Gal. 5:5).

So, the believer has received the Spirit as a gift, but God continues to supply power and grace through that same Spirit. The problem for you who are struggling is not that you do not have the gift, but may rather be that you are not enjoying the benefits of God's provision of the Spirit, and so Paul could say to Timothy, "Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you." How can it be that our actions and behaviours can prevent us from receiving that supply? It is almost inconceivable, for we are not stronger than God, and His will cannot be frustrated; but this matter relates to the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Notwithstanding, the believer has the responsibility to kindle afresh the gift of God.

The supply of the Spirit comes through prayer and faith

So, God is pleased to supply the Spirit to His people. For instance, we read that when Paul was in prison in Rome, he experienced privation, and yet he had hope. He testified, "For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Php. 1:19). Didn't Paul already have the Spirit? Yes, he did, but God was pleased to continue to manifest that Spirit in his life. The supply of the Spirit, the provision of the Spirit, is simply the Spirit's enablement and energy. Did you notice that prayer is instrumental in receiving this supply?  He wrote, "Through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit." This is one way that we kindle afresh the gift of God that is within us. It is prayer that turns on the spiritual faucets so that the Spirit may freely flow. Show me someone who knows the power of the Spirit, who is living in the Spirit, who knows the supply of the Spirit, and I will show you someone who prays. When the Lord Jesus Christ entered into His passion in the garden of Gethsemane, He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood; and He prayed more fervently. As a result He received a supply of the Spirit. Through prayer, He received boldness and determination by which He was thus prepared to die on the cross.

But further, coupled with prayer is faith. Faith is not only instrumental in receiving the gift of the Spirit, but it is equally instrumental in continuing to receive the blessing and supply of the Spirit – "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles [by the Spirit through the demonstration of power and grace], do this by the works of the Law, or by the hearing with faith?" Of course, the implied answer is 'by the hearing with faith.' Through faith, we receive the gift; and through faith, we have access to this gift and continue to enjoy the depths and fullness of it. As you have begun your Christian life believing and trusting in Jesus, so you must continue in the Christian life believing and trusting in Jesus; and not only that, but you must believe and trust everything that He has taught. Could it be that you are not enjoying the supply of the Spirit (even though you have the Spirit) because you are entertaining doubts about Christ? Could it be that you really do not believe God's Word; you do not accept it as the truth?

Trusting faith receives the Spirit

What is Biblical faith? It is essentially, not only, a decision. Faith is based on knowledge, and thus is an assent to a fact or witness, but the act of the will underlies assent. You must choose to accept the fact or witness without question and without reserve. In accepting God's Word without question and without reserve, you invite and make room for the Spirit's activity and ministry. I would not be surprised that if we could look into the hearts of some of those who are spiritually struggling, that we would find a heart of unbelief. It is faith that opens up the floodgates for the free flow of the Spirit; and those who have faith experience the deep wells of the Spirit.

Many Christians, as mentioned, are struggling, not because they do not have the Spirit, but because they waver in their faith; they are plagued with doubts; or to change the language (and this is the key when we think of faith), they are lacking trust in God and Jesus Christ. Why are Christians weak and defeated? They lack trust; they are not resting in the truth of God's Word. If that is your situation, then you need to feed your faith. John Wesley (1703-1791), the father of Methodism, grew up in a Christian home. He had a very godly mother, Susannah, who gave him, and his siblings, individual religious instruction every week. During that time together, she would question him about his soul's state and his relationship to God. She would also pray with him. Wesley later received theological training and became a minister in the Church, following in his father's steps. He taught the doctrines of the Bible; he preached the doctrines of the Bible; he was a leader of a Christian society, the Holy Club. Moreover, he went from England to America with his brother, Charles, to be a missionary in Georgia. He wrote in his journal on January 24, 1738, in his 34th year, "I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh, who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief?" Yet, he wrote in his journal on May 24th of the same year, with all his religious training and experience behind him, "In the evening I went unwillingly to a [Christian] society gathering in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the Law of sin and death." Wesley previously had possessed an intellectual faith in Christ, but on this memorial evening, he acquired a real faith, which entails trust – a resting in the love and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. And with 'faith's hearing,' he received the Holy Spirit and His seal, which entails 'assurance' (Note: this assurance may not always be subjectively experienced, though it is always objectively true. The true believer is eternally secure in Christ. No one or no thing can remove him or her from the Father's hand).

You may ask, "How may I acquire this kind of faith which truly rests in Christ?" We read, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rm. 10:17). With the speaking of Christ (which is the better translation; the original Greek is rhema, not logos), one spiritually hears; and real faith arises from such a spiritual hearing. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (Jn. 10:27). If Christ is actually speaking to someone, he or she cannot help but hear; and the act of spiritual hearing is, of necessity, the act of faith. In being encountered by Christ, one must believe. Yet you may say, "But I cannot control when Christ will speak." That is true, but you have a responsibility to do all that you can so as to make possible or occasion such speaking. Thus, you have a responsibility to expose yourself to the Word of God, either proclaimed or written, even as Wesley did. Hence, the Scriptures teach, "How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!" (Rm. 10:14,15). Christ is pleased to speak His personal and spiritual word in the context of the human proclamation of the God's objective Word, the truth of the Gospel. Christ does not savingly and sanctifyingly 'speak' apart from, or independent of, His revealed Word, but only in and through that revealed Word. And when He speaks, one must hear; and in that hearing, faith is brought to birth; the faith that receives God's Spirit, both the gift and the supply.