The word of the day is “Spirit.” Paul emphasized that we are saved through faith as he wrote in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (OSB Ephesians 2:9). Yet, despite its critical importance, many mistake faith for something less. They substitute what is essential for salvation for something inferior that cannot save.
In Paul’s day, the primary rival to faith was the works that the law of Moses prescribed. In today’s reading of Galatians 2:21-3:17, Paul attacks this challenger. He writes, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (OSB vs. 2). He is so adamant that he asks the same question twice (OS vs. 5).
Salvation is a Process
That powerful question seems a bit off track. Why didn’t Paul say, “Were you saved by faith?” The answer is that “salvation” is a process. The Greek Archdiocesan Website states, “The reception of the gift of salvation is not a one-time event, but a lifetime process. St. Paul employs the verb “to save” (sozesthai) in the past tense (‘we have been saved,’) [Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5], in the present tense (‘we are being saved,’) [1 Cor 1:18; 15:2], and in the future tense (‘we will be saved,’) [Rom. 5:10]. He can think even of justification as a future event and part of the final judgment (Rom. 2:13, 16) (Stylianopoulos 2012).
The Question: Have You Received the Holy Spirit?
Therefore, we might put the question, “Have you received the Holy Spirit as a sign of the promise of salvation?”. The Holy Spirit, you see, is the guarantee of the promises of God because He is the down payment of the future blessings of the Kingdom (2 Corinthians 1:22).
Paul’s reasoning is based on his experience that the hearing of the Gospel inspires faith, and faith receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. For example, when Peter preached to the Gentile Centurion Cornelius, Luke reports, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the Word” (Acts 10:44). In response, Peter asked, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (OSB Acts 10:47).
The Gift of the Holy Spirit: A Sign that God Had Given Grace Through Faith
Accordingly, at the Jerusalem Council, Peter testified, “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us” (Acts 15:8). The decision to admit Gentiles into the church’s fellowship was grounded in the idea that the reception of the Holy Spirit was an unmistakable sign that God had extended His favor to the Gentiles through faith.
Faith is only visible to God, who alone sees the heart. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest what is in the inner self. Thus, Paul wrote, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Likewise, as a tree is known by its fruits (Luke 6:44), the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) give outward testimony to the inner condition of the soul.
Paul’s point is that this reasoning denies that we can be saved by keeping the Mosaic law. If we can earn our salvation by observing the Law of Moses, then faith is not only unnecessary but negated. And if faith is void, then Jesus Christ died for nothing (vs. 2:21).
Created in Christ for Good Works
However, recall that salvation is a process. In the same letter of Ephesians that declares that we are saved through faith, Paul writes, “For we are His [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
The Lord sends us the Holy Spirit to equip and empower us to grow in our faithful response to God, becoming more and more like Him in “deification.” Thus in Against Heresies, Irenaeus writes, “But we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God; which also the apostle terms ‘an earnest,’ that is, a part of the honour which has been promised us by God, where he says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, ‘In which ye also, having heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, believing in which we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.’ This earnest, therefore, thus is dwelling in us, renders us Spiritual even now, and the mortal is swallowed up by immortality” (Irenaeus, Book V, Chapter 8).
Irenaeus. Against Heresies. edited by Kevin Knight: New Advent.
Stylianopoulos, Theodore. 2012. “How Are We Saved?” Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. https://www.goarch.org/-/how-are-we-saved-.