"Having Begun in the Spirit"
- Andrew Murray,
The words from which I wish to address you, you will find in the epistle to
the Galatians, the third chapter, the second and third verses: "This only
would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by
the hearing of faith?
Are ye so foolish?" And then comes my text - "Having
begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"
When we speak of the quickening or the deepening or the strengthening of the
spiritual life, we are thinking of something that is feeble and wrong and
sinful. It is a great thing to take our place before God with the
confession: "Oh, God, our spiritual life is not what it should be!" May God
work that in your heart, reader.
As we look around at the Church, we see so many indications of feebleness,
failure, sin, and shortcoming. They compel us to ask: Why is it? Is there
any necessity for the Church of Christ to be living in such a low state? Or
is it actually possible that God's people should be living always in the joy
and strength of their God?
Every believing heart must answer: It is possible.
Then comes the great question: Why is it, how is it to be accounted for,
that God's Church as a whole is so feeble, and that the great majority of
Christians are not living up to their privileges? There must be a reason for
it. Has God not given Christ His Almighty Son to be the Keeper of every
believer, to make Christ an ever-present reality, and to impart and
communicate to us all that we have in Christ? God has given His Son, and God
has given His Spirit. How is it that believers do not live up to their
In more than one of the epistles, we find a very solemn answer to that
question. There are epistles, such as the first to the Thessalonians, where
Paul writes to the Christians, in effect: "I want you to grow, to abound, to
increase more and more." They were young, and there were things lacking in
their faith. But their state was so far satisfactory, gave him such great
joy, that he writes time after time: "I pray God that you may abound more
and more; I write to you to increase more and more" (I Thessalonians 4:
1,10). But there are other epistles where he takes a very different tone,
especially the epistle to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, and he tells
them in many different ways what the one reason was that they were .not
living as Christians ought to live. Many were under the power of the flesh.
My text is one example. He reminds them that by the preaching of faith they
had received the Holy Spirit. He had preached Christ to them; they had
accepted that Christ and had received the Holy Spirit in power.
But what happened? Having begun in the Spirit, they tried to perfect the
work that the Spirit had begun in the flesh by their own effort. We find the
same teaching in the epistle to the Corinthians.
Now, we have here a solemn discovery of what the great need is in the Church
of Christ. God has called the Church of Christ to live in the power of the
Holy Spirit. But the Church is living, .for the most part, in the power of
human flesh, and of will and energy and effort apart from the Spirit of God.
I do not doubt that this is the case with many individual believers. And oh,
if God will use me to give you a message from Him, my one message will be
this: "If the Church will return to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is her
strength and her help, and if the Church will return to give up everything,
and wait on God to be filled with the Spirit, her days of beauty and
gladness will return. We will see the glory of God revealed among us." This
is my message to every individual believer: "Nothing will help you unless
you come to understand that you must live every day under the power of the
Holy Spirit." God wants you to be a living vessel in whom the power of the
Spirit is to be manifested every hour and every moment of your life. God
will enable you to be that.
Now, let us try to learn what this word to the Galatians teaches us-some
very simple thoughts. It shows us how (1) the beginning of the Christian
life is receiving the Holy Spirit. It shows us (2) what great danger there
is of forgetting that we are to live know what it is, since that time, to
walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us try to take hold of this great
truth: The beginning of the true Christian life is to receive the Holy
Spirit. And the work of every Christian minister is that which was the work
of Paul-to remind his people that they received the Holy Spirit, and must
live according to His guidance and in His power.
If those Galatians who received the Holy Spirit in power were tempted to go
astray by that terrible danger of perfecting in the flesh what had been
begun in the Spirit, how much more danger do those Christians run who hardly
ever know that they have received the Holy Spirit. How much more danger is
there for those who, if they know it as a matter of belief, hardly ever
think of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and hardly ever praise God for it!
NEGLECTING THE HOLY SPIRIT
But now look, in the second place, at the great danger.
You may all know what shunting is on a railway. A locomotive with its train
may be traveling in a certain direction, and the points at some place may
not be properly opened or closed, and unobservingly it is shunted off to the
right or to the left. And if that takes place, for instance, on a dark
night, the train goes in the wrong direction, and the people might never
know it until they have gone some distance.
And just so, God gives Christians the Holy Spirit with this intention-that
every day, all their life, should be lived in the power of the Spirit. A man
cannot live one hour of a godly life unless by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He may live a proper, consistent life, as people call it, an irreproachable
life, a life of virtue and diligent service. But to live a life acceptable
to God, in the enjoyment of God's salvation and God's love, to live and walk
in the power of the new life-he cannot do it unless he is guided by the Holy
Spirit every day and every hour.
But now listen to the danger. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit, but
what was begun by the Spirit they tried to perfect in the flesh. How? They
fell back again under Judaizing teachers who told them they must be
circumcised. They began to seek their religion in external observances. And
so Paul uses that expression about those teachers who had them circumcised
so "that they may glorify in your flesh" (Galatians 6:13).
You sometimes hear the expression used, religious flesh. What is meant by
that? It is simply an expression made to give utterance to these thoughts:
My human nature and my human will and my human effort can be very active in
religion. After being converted, and after receiving the Holy Spirit, I may
begin in my own strength to try to serve God.
I may be very diligent and doing a great deal, and yet all the time it is
more the work of human flesh than of God's Spirit. What a solemn thought,
that man can, without noticing, be shunted off from the line of the Holy
Spirit onto the line of the flesh.
How solemn it is that man can be most diligent and make great sacrifices,
and yet it is all in the power of the human will! Ah, the great question for
us to ask of God in self-examination is that we may be shown whether our
Christian life is lived more in the power of the flesh than in the power of
the Holy Spirit. A man may be a preacher, he may work most diligently in his
ministry, a man may be a Christian worker, and others may say of him that he
makes great sacrifices, and yet you can feel there is something lacking. You
feel that he is not a spiritual man; there is no spirituality about his
life. How many Christians there are about whom no one would ever think of
saying: "What a spiritual man he is!" Ah! there is the weakness of the
Church of Christ. It is all in that one word-flesh.
Now, the flesh may manifest itself in many ways. It may be manifested in
fleshly wisdom. My mind may be most active about Christianity. I may preach
or write or think or meditate, and delight in being occupied with things in
God's Book and in God's Kingdom. Yet, the power of the Holy Spirit may be
markedly absent. I fear that if you take the preaching throughout the Church
of Christ and ask why there is so little converting power in the preaching
of the Word, why there is so much work and often so little result for
eternity, why the Word has so little power to build up believers in holiness
and in consecration-the answer will be: It is the absence of the power of
the Holy Spirit. And why is this? There can be no other reason except that
the flesh and human energy have taken the place that the Holy Spirit ought
to have. That was true of the Galatians; it was true of the Corinthians. You
know Paul said to them: "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual men,
but as unto carnal" (1 Corinthians 3:1). And you know how often in the
course of his epistle he had to reprove and condemn them for strife and for
LACKING THE FRUIT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
A third thought: What are the proofs or indications that a church like the
Galatians, or a Christian, is serving God in the power of the flesh-is
perfecting in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit? The answer is very
easy. Religious self effort always ends in sinful flesh. What was the state
of those Galatians? They were striving to be justified by the works of the
law. And yet they were quarreling and in danger of devouring one another.
Count the number of expressions that the apostle uses to indicate their want
of love. You will find more than twelve-envy, jealousy, bitterness, strife,
and all sorts of others. Read in the fourth and fifth chapters what he says
about that. You see how they tried to serve God in their own-.strength, and
they failed utterly. All this religious effort resulted in failure. The
power of sin and the sinful flesh got the better of them. Their whole
condition was one of the saddest that could be thought of.
This comes to us with unspeakable solemnity.
There is a complaint everywhere in the Christian Church of the lack of a
high standard of integrity and godliness, even among the professing members
of Christian churches. I remember a sermon which I heard preached on
commercial morality. But let us not speak only of the commercial morality or
immorality; let us go into the homes of Christians. Think of the life to
which God has called His children, and which He enables them to live by the
Holy Spirit. Think of how much there is of unlovingness, temper, sharpness,
and bitterness. Think how often there is strife among the members of
churches, and how much there is of envy, jealousy, sensitiveness, and pride.
Then we are compelled to say: "Where are marks of the presence of the Spirit
of the Lamb of God?" Wanting, sadly wanting!
Many people speak of these things as though they were the natural result of
our feebleness and cannot be helped. Many people speak of these things as
sins, yet have given up the hope of conquering them. Many people speak of
these things in the church around them, and do not see the least prospect of
ever having the things changed. There is no prospect until there is a
radical change, until the Church of God begins to see that every sin in the
believer comes from the flesh-from a fleshly life midst our Christian
activities, from a striving in self-effort to serve God. We will fail until
we learn to make confession, and until we begin to see that we must somehow
or other get God's Spirit in power back to His Church. Where did the Church
begin in Pentecost? There they began in the Spirit. But, how the Church of
the next century went off into the flesh! They thought to perfect the Church
in the flesh.
Do not let us think, because the blessed Reformation restored the great
doctrine of justification by faith, that the power of the Holy Spirit was
then fully restored. If it is our belief that God is going to have mercy on
His Church in these last ages, it will be because the doctrine and the truth
about the Holy Spirit will not only be studied, but sought after with a
whole heart. It is not only because that truth will be sought after, but
because ministers and congregations will be found bowing before God in deep
abasement with one cry: "We have grieved God's Spirit. We have tried to be
Christian churches with as little as possible of God's Spirit. We have not
sought to be churches filled with the Holy Spirit."
All the feebleness in the Church is owing to the refusal of the Church to
obey its God. And why is that so? I know your answer. You say: "We are too
feeble and too helpless, and we vow to obey, but somehow we fail." Ah yes,
you fail because you do not accept the strength of God. God alone can work
out His will in you. You cannot work out God's will, but His Holy Spirit
can. Until the Church and the believers grasp this, and cease trying by
human effort to do God's will, and wait upon the Holy Spirit to come with
all His omnipotent and enabling power, the Church will never be what God
wants her to be. It will never be what God is willing to make of her.
YIELDING TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
I come now to my last thought, that question: What is the way to
Beloved friend, the answer is simple and easy. If that train has been
shunted off, there is nothing for it to do but to come back to the point at
which it was led away. The Galatians had no other way in returning but to
come back to where they had gone wrong. They had to come back from all
religious effort in their own strength, and from seeking anything by their
own work, and to yield themselves humbly to the Holy Spirit. There is no
other way for us as individuals.
Is there any brother or sister whose heart is conscious: "My life knows
little of the power of the Holy Spirit"? I come to you with God's message
that you can have no conception of what your life would be in the power of
the Holy Spirit. It is too high, too blessed, and too wonderful. But I bring
you the message that just as truly as the everlasting Son of God came to
this world and did His wonderful works, that just as truly as on Calvary He
died and brought about your redemption by His precious blood, so can the
Holy Spirit come into your heart. With His divine power, He may sanctify you
and enable you to do God's blessed will, and fill your heart with joy and
strength. But, we have forgotten; we have grieved; we have dishonored the
Holy Spirit; and, He has not been able to do His work. But I bring you the
message: The Father in heaven loves to fill His children with His Holy
Spirit. God longs to give each one individually, separately, the power of
the Holy Spirit for daily life. The command comes to us individually,
unitedly. God wants us as His children to arise and place our sins before
Him, and to call on Him for mercy. Oh, are you so foolish? Having begun in
the Spirit, are you perfecting in the flesh that which was begun in the
Spirit? Let us bow in shame, and confess before God how our fleshly
religion, our self-effort and self-confidence, have been the cause of every
I have often been asked by young Christians: "Why is it that I fail so? I
did so solemnly vow with my whole heart, and did desire to serve God. Why
have I failed?" To such I always give this answer: "My dear friend, you are
trying to do in your own strength what Christ alone can do in you." And when
they tell me: "I am sure I knew Christ alone could do it; I was not trusting
in myself," my answer is: "You were trusting in yourself, or you could not
have failed. If you had trusted Christ, He could not fail." Oh, this
perfecting in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit runs far deeper through
us than we know. Let us ask God to show us that it is only when we are
brought to utter shame and emptiness that we will be prepared to receive the
blessing that comes from on high.
And so I come with these two questions. Are you living, beloved
brother-minister-I ask it of every minister of the Gospel-under the power of
the Holy Spirit? Are you living as an anointed, Spirit-filled man in your
ministry and your life before God? Oh friends, our place is an awful one. We
have to show people what God will do for us, not in our words and teaching,
but in our life. God help us to do it!
I ask it of every member of Christ's Church and of every believer: Are you
living a life under the power of the Holy Spirit day by day? Or are you
attempting to live without that? Remember, you cannot. Are you consecrated,
given up to the Spirit to work in you and to live in you? Oh, come and
confess every failure of temper, every failure of tongue however small.
Confess every failure owing to the absence of the Holy Spirit and the
presence of the power of self. Are you consecrated, are you given up to the
If your answer is no, then I come with a second question-Are you willing to
be consecrated? Are you willing to give yourself up to the power of the Holy
Spirit? You well know that the human side of consecration will not help you.
I may consecrate myself a hundred times with all the intensity of my being,
and that will not help me. What will help me is this-that God from heaven
accepts and seals the consecration.
And now are you willing to give yourselves up to the Holy Spirit? You can do
it now. A great deal may still be dark and dim, and beyond what we
understand. You may feel nothing; but come. God alone can work the change.
God alone, who gave us the Holy Spirit, can restore the Holy Spirit in power
into our life. God alone can "strengthen us with might by his Spirit in the
inner man" (Ephesians 3:16). And to every waiting heart that will make the
sacrifice, and give up everything, and give time to cry and pray to God, the
answer will come. The blessing is not far off. Our God delights in helping
us. He will enable us to perfect, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, what
was begun in the Spirit.