“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:2)
Paul doesn’t give up, does he? He believes the answer to just one question will solve the issue once and for all. The Galatian Christians had received the Holy Spirit upon their baptism just as those on Pentecost and later Christians had. Having the Holy Spirit meant that they had also received the gifts of the Spirit. They had seen miracles resulting from the indwelling Spirit and so this question is very meaningful to them.
How did the Spirit come to them is the question. It is the same question already asked in another form. That is, the whole question is one of works of the law or the work of grace. Paul believes this will help them see where the source of their salvation really lies. Paul writes a lot about Spirit and flesh. He uses these terms to describe the old law with the new covenant. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not a part of the law, it was the result of obeying the gospel. The book of Acts is filled with conversion stories and the gift of the Spirit as a sign of God’s saving grace. Paul speaks of it in his other letters as well.
This is a question that can only be answered in one way. The Spirit came to them through their hearing and believing the gospel of Christ Jesus. “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) This passage refers to the indwelling of the Spirit rather than the miraculous outpouring (falling) of the Spirit the Apostles (first Jews) and the House of Cornelius (first Gentiles). “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13)
The last passage is interesting because it is used by many preachers and teachers of the word to show that Christians received the Spirit at the moment of salvation. They then declare that the moment of salvation is the moment of belief. In their gospel, there is no need for baptism as forgiveness of sins and the receiving of the Holy Spirit occur at the very moment one says they believe in Jesus. That, of course, contradicts Peter in Acts 2 and in 1 Peter 3:21. I’ve always wondered why Jesus was so intent on being baptized, the apostles so intent on baptizing believers and the early church insisting on being baptized in the name of Jesus since modern-day preachers and teachers so discount it.
Sometimes this is a result of confusing baptism with a work. The Bible is plain that works cannot save. Therefore, if baptism is a part of salvation as Peter suggest then it must not be a work. It isn’t. The work is done by the baptizer, not the baptized. The baptized is passive, submissive, and obedient. All the “work” is done by God who forgives sins and sends His Spirit as a guarantee.
Task for Today: Have you been baptized for the forgiveness of sins? Have you received the Spirit as an indwelling presence? If the answer to the first question is yes then the answer to the second one is yes as well. Believe in Jesus today and accept God’s grace. Do what He asks you to do. If you believe, then repent and be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit as a sign of your salvation. The Bible is not wrong. Men often are as Paul is pointing out in Galatians. The true gospel will save your soul from eternal damnation.