NT, Part 13. Part 6 in our discussion of Galatians.
In Galatians 3:1-7, Paul details the difference between living by faith and living according to the Law. He begins by interrogating the believers in Galatia with a series of questions flowing from the fact that they have been “crucified with Christ” (2:20) and now live by faith in the Son of God. However, they are not behaving as if this is true.
#1: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1)
Have they been so foolish as to throw away the most incredible truth since humankind began? Were they lacking all reason, Paul wonders. He has seen Jesus face to face. He knows firsthand that Christ has risen and ascended, and he has made that completely clear to the Galatians.
Paul set Christ before them with clarity of speech and power of the Spirit, getting across to them the sacrifice Christ made on the cross and the glory of Christ’s resurrection. So many witnesses had seen Messiah Jesus afterward that without a doubt, Jesus had been resurrected. Everything had been explained clearly.
Paul probably verbally passed on this information first to the Galatians, for later, he penned this to the Corinthians: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV).
The evidence is so solid, the work of the Holy Spirit so powerful, that the Galatians accepted Christ as their Savior. After traveling across southern Galatia to establish churches there, Paul and Barnabas then returned to every single Galatian church they had founded. They taught the Galatians, passing on even more faith-strengthening facts about Messiah Jesus, and they established elders in these churches.
But, soon after the two men left, the Judaizers began to unravel the faith of the new believers.
The word “bewitched” in Paul’s first question indicates pagan magic, meaning “to utter foolish babble, i.e., to mislead by pretenses as if by magic arts, to bewitch.” Given all the truth the Galatians had embraced, the fact that they would now so hastily set the Gospel aside is so astonishing to Paul that he wonders if they have come under the evil spell of false teachers.
#2: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2)
This is a significant point. We can often overlook the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He convicts us, makes us new, empowers us to obey God, transforms us, comforts us, and encourages us. Before any of the believers in Galatia became Christians, they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering them.
They did not receive the Spirit by keeping the Law. It never happened. That alone should indicate that the power of the Gospel and receiving it by faith is the way to salvation. The confirmation of the Holy Spirit alone could carry the argument. It’s illogical to think they can now live a full Christian life by keeping the Law. It didn’t work before. Why would it work now? The Spirit didn’t work the miracle of salvation in their midst because they obeyed the Law.
No, they received the Spirit when they believed the Gospel. Then they were sanctified and empowered by the Spirit. This experience was so vivid and real, that Paul knows they still recall it and that this question will cause them to doubt their legalism.
#3 & #4: Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)
Paul reiterates the first two points with these questions, because the answers are so obvious as to remind the Galatians that, no, they never were perfected by the Law. They had tried to keep the Law, and they had failed. Therefore, having been filled and empowered by the Spirit — a brand-new, life-changing experience — why would they even consider returning to their previous attempts to keep the Law. Surely, they aren’t that foolish.
#5: Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? (Galatians 3:4)
Becoming a Christian in the first-century was an experience that’s hard for us to comprehend. No one in any town in that region knew a Christian. No one in any town understood. Pagan families, the Celts of that region, frowned on a family member turning away from the gods they worshiped for fear that these gods would become angry, causing crops to fail, illness to befall them, and their livelihoods to be destroyed.
Therefore, to become a Christian was to lose one’s extended family. A new believer would be cast out.
Likewise, Jewish families didn’t want their family members to leave the synagogue, to worship this Man who claimed to be the Messiah. They had expected the Messiah to come with an army from heaven to overthrow the Romans who held them captive. And yet, that hadn’t been the purpose of God the Son’s first coming. So, why would they follow this Man, Jewish families wondered?
As with pagan families, in the Jewish families these new believers would have also received persecution. Their synagogues and perhaps their trade guilds would have ostracised them. Their town’s leaders would be concerned that these beliefs would anger the pagan gods and would ostracize the Jewish families. It was “bad enough” that they worshiped Yahweh, but now also this crucified Man that all had heard had risen from the dead.
The social fabric of small towns requires public approval. New Christians lost work and income, were thrown out of their families, and probably faced public persecution. In many parts of the world, this still happens to new believers.
If they continued to entrust themselves to the Lord, then all of this suffering would not have been in vain. God sees it all. They will receive an eternal reward. The Holy Spirit will continue to empower and comfort them.
But, if they return to the Law and turn away from grace, perhaps they aren’t truly believers. If that is the case, they have suffered for nothing. They lose it all.When persecuted, if we entrust ourselves to the Lord, then our suffering will not have been in vain. God sees it all. We will receive an eternal reward. The Holy Spirit will continue to empower and comfort us. #Faith Click To Tweet When persecuted, if we turn away from grace, returning to legalism, perhaps we aren't truly believers. If that is the case, we have suffered for nothing. We lose it all. #Doubt Click To Tweet
#6, Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:5-6)
With these questions, Paul recaps.
None of these blessings of the Spirit came to them when they were striving to keep the Law. None of the miracles that occurred among them (unknown to us) ever occurred because they were keeping the Law.
However, when they heard and believed, when they — just like Abraham — also believed God, entrusting themselves to God, believing that God the Son, Jesus, was Messiah, then it had also been counted to them as righteousness. They were then truly sons and daughters of Abraham.
The same is true for us.
Because of Christ, we are also made righteous. Because of Christ, we are also now truly sons and daughters of Abraham, sons and daughter by faith, members of God’s family, born again into a new life.Because of Christ, we are made righteous. Because of Christ, we are now truly sons and daughters of Abraham, sons and daughters by faith, members of God's family, born again into a new life. #Faith Click To Tweet
#7, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7 ESV).
“Abraham is the father of God’s people not because he is the biological ancestor of the Jews but because he has a family of spiritual children who follow in his footsteps by believing as he did. God promised Abraham that he would bring life from his dead body (see Romans 4). Thus Abraham is a living Old Testament prophecy of the gospel: he was not an Israelite but a pagan, and God justified him by faith.” 1.
Whether Jews or Gentiles (non-Jews), when we place our faith in Jesus Messiah, we become “sons” of Abraham, both men and women, now spiritual descendants of Abraham, members of the family of God’s Messiah, heirs of God’s promises. And not only that, we are members of the Body of Christ on the earth.Whoever we are, when we place our faith in Jesus Messiah, we become spiritual descendants of Abraham, members of the family of God's Messiah, heirs of God's promises, members of the Body of Christ on the earth. #Faith Click To Tweet
Why would they throw that away, Paul reasons with them. Consider what happened, he appeals to them. Remember your confession and all of the abundant blessings that came with it. Turn back again to the Lord.
How do these arguments and proofs strengthen your faith?
- ESV Study Bible Note on Galatians 3:7-8, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.