The Cost of Changing Course (Galatians 3:1-9)
In the 1929 Rose Bowl, Georgia Tech was playing the University of California when the ball popped out of the hands of a Georgia Tech back. Roy Riegels, the University of California center, scooped it up and cut across the field. Then, finding himself hemmed in, he reversed his field. It was at this point that Riegels lost his bearings and began to run down field in the wrong direction. He broke loose, dashing toward the wrong end zone. Seventy thousand fans watched Reigels dumbfounded as Graham McNamee, the radio announcer, shouted into the microphone as Riegels crossed the 50-yard line: “What’s the matter with me? Am I crazy?”
The crowd shouted at Riegels in vain attempt to turn him around. His teammate, Benny Lom, pursued Roy downfield, screaming at him from behind to turn back. Finally Lom was forced to tackle his own teammate one yard short of scoring for the other team. When the University of California team attempted to kick out of their own end zone, it was Riegels who centered the ball. The kick was blocked by Georgia Tech and rolled out of the end zone—a safety. That safety won the game for Georgia Tech, by a score of 8-7.
Nine years later “wrong way Corrigan” flew his plane from the East coast of the United States bound for California. He reached Ireland instead. In this instance, there was some question as to whether “wrong way Corrigan” really made a mistake or just wanted to attempt something not accomplished before in a plane of his type. Apparently Corrigan, hoping to set a new world record, had applied for permission to fly to Ireland in his small plane, but permission had been denied him. A friend of mine knew Corrigan’s mechanic and asked him if the trip to Ireland was a mistake or a deliberate decision. The mechanic said he couldn’t say for sure, but it was really difficult to find a place for the extra fuel tanks Corrigan had ordered installed in the plane!
There seems to be a considerable difference between the Corrigan “error,” which landed him in Ireland, and Roy Riegels confusion on the football field which won the game for Georgia Tech. The Judaizers’ error was similar to that of Corrigan—more deliberate than accidental. These men perverted the gospel by demanding that law-keeping be added to faith. Worse yet, they not only practiced this error but propagated it amongst the Gentile believers, thus corrupting the church. Peter’s error, described in Galatians 2, was more like that of Roy Riegels. Peter momentarily lost his bearings and gave way to the Judaizers, thereby compromising the gospel. Paul’s rebuke, unlike the shouts of Benny Lom, turned Peter around.
The Galatians, like Peter, had become disoriented in their doctrine and in their conduct. At least some of the Gentile Galatian saints had adopted the view of the Judaizers. They were willing to submit to the rite of circumcision, thereby obligating themselves to keep the whole Old Testament law. In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul has defended his apostleship against the charges of the Judaizers. In chapters 3 and 4, Paul vindicates his gospel against the “different gospel” charges of the Judaizers. In verses 1-9 Paul turns to the experience of the Galatians (vv. 2-5) and that of Abraham (vv. 6-9) to show that salvation and sanctification both are the result of faith, apart from law-keeping. In verse 10 Paul addresses the subject of the law, explaining what it can and cannot do.
The Failure of Faith
Just as Paul dealt with the error of Peter in chapter 2, so he sets forth in the first verse of chapter 3 why the faith of the Galatians faltered: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?”
Here we find several issues emphasized which require a very direct approach by the Apostle Paul. To orient ourselves to the issues which underlie chapters 3 and 4 of this epistle, let us consider these.
First, Paul stresses the gullibility of the Galatians. In certain contexts the word “foolish” can imply a lack of “gray matter”—a low intelligence, but this is not Paul’s point here. The Greek term is the antonym of the word for wisdom. The willfulness of the Galatians in wandering from the truth is evident to Paul. Their foolishness was deliberate and therefore deserving of a rebuke. The bluntness of the word “foolish” is intended, I believe, to jar these saints from their error, and to quicken their interest and attention in what Paul is about to say.
This term “foolish” is not only discomforting; it is humbling. I believe that this error, like most which creep into the church, was held with a fair measure of pride. Error of this kind appeals to one’s pride. The Galatians likely claimed a new level of truth, a higher level of spirituality. This was certainly true of the teachers of this “different gospel.” Paul strategically used the word “foolish” to challenge the pride of those who professed to be newly enlightened.
Second, Paul exposes the guile of the Judaizers who taught this “new gospel.” The term “bewitched” was pregnant with meaning to the first readers of this epistle. A “hex” or “spell” was cast on another by giving him the “evil eye.” In his commentary F. F. Bruce stresses this nuance when he renders the term “hypnotized.”54 Barclay cites this closing, commonly found in ancient Greek letters: “Above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously.”55
While the Galatians were foolish to have fallen for such teaching, Paul acknowledges that those who taught such heresy were indeed cunning characters. They had, so to speak, cast an evil spell on the Galatians. Their teaching had the effect of mentally disarming the saints so as to convince them of doctrine which should have been seen as false.
Third, Paul seeks to contrast the method with which he preached the gospel to the Galatians with the method of the Judaizers. There is a word-play which was evident to the Galatians. It highlighted the contrast in Paul’s method of proclaiming the gospel with that of the Judaizers. The Judaizers’ gospel had “bewitched” the Galatians by giving them the “evil eye.” Paul’s preaching had converted them by portraying Christ before their very eyes.
The expression “publicly portrayed” is the rendering of one Greek term. Literally, it means, “to write before,” and thus could refer to something previously written. Here the term means to portray before someone’s eyes. There are numerous examples of this usage in the papyri, the ancient Greek documents which have been discovered and translated. There is, for example, in one, the public announcement by a father, stating that he is no longer liable for his son’s debts, and in another, the announcement of an auction. I suspect that this Greek term might be used today for signs which we post along the street to advertise garage sales. Thus, we might view Paul’s presentation of the gospel as deliberately visible.
I believe that by the use of these two expressions (“bewitched” and “publicly portrayed”) Paul is contrasting his methodology with that of the Judaizers. Their method is underhanded, secretive, and subtle. Paul’s method is direct, open, and public. I sense the same contrast that we find in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is portrayed as publicly calling forth, speaking forthrightly, inviting all to gain knowledge. Folly is more secretive and seductive; her appeal is to that which is either forbidden or unavailable to the masses. Error is sneaky while truth is straightforward. Error is offered to the elite—truth, to the all.
Fourth, Paul once again tells us the central truth of the gospel—Christ crucified. Paul proclaimed Christ. He was always the essence, the focal point of Paul’s preaching. More than this, though, Paul preached Christ crucified (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:2; 15:3). Many then, as now, would gladly speak of Christ as an example, an inspiring teacher, a man committed to truth and justice. But Paul, however, spoke of Christ who was hung upon a Roman cross and put to death for the sins of men. It is the death of Christ followed by His resurrection and ascension which is central to Paul’s teaching and doctrine. You will not find Christ apart from His cross in Paul’s gospel. To the Jews, the cross was a stumbling block; to the Gentiles, an offense (1 Cor. 1:23). Paul was not a man-pleaser and so the crucified Christ was his message to all men.
The Continuity of Faith
2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
Last year I learned a little lesson about staying with “the program.” Before leaving on a trip to India, all of my airline arrangements had been made here, in advance. Once I had established my travel plans and purchased my tickets, the airline made no provision for change, and I’m sure there are plenty of reasons for this policy. What this meant was that I had to keep within the schedule at every point. When my wife Jeannette joined me in Bombay, we decided it would be nice to leave a day early and spend one day in Bangkok. To us, it was a very simple matter; all we had to do was leave Bombay one day early, and then catch the same plane we were to meet the following day in Bangkok—really no problem at all—or so we thought. We learned quickly the realities of air travel!
In Paul’s dispute with the Galatians he claimed that in adopting the teachings of the Judaizers the Galatians had departed from the principle of faith by which they had begun as believers. In verses 2-5 Paul asks a simple question, requiring a simple answer; yet the answer had profound implications. The question is a fundamental one, for by establishing one fact Paul can prove the genuineness of his gospel: “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (v. 2)
When Paul speaks of “receiving the Holy Spirit,” he is referring to the salvation of the Gentiles. In verse 3 Paul makes this very clear by the expression, “Having begun by the Spirit …” There is a very good reason for Paul’s selection of this expression. At the Jerusalem Council, Peter described the conversion of Cornelius and his household (all Gentiles), speaking of the fact that God had given these people the Holy Spirit, since He knew their hearts (Acts 15:8). Peter used a similar expression in Acts 11 when he was called on the carpet by the Jerusalem (Jewish) saints for preaching Christ to the Gentiles. Peter’s response to them was a detailed account of God’s leading, concluding with these words: “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?” (Acts 11:17).
The fact that God had saved the Gentiles and accepted them, evidenced by the same gift of the Holy Spirit, compelled the Jewish Christians to accept the conversion of the Gentiles. Some of these same Jewish Christians later conceded to the accusation of the Judaizers that the Gentiles, apart from circumcision and the keeping of the law, had an inferior status (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). By referring to their reception of the Holy Spirit, Paul sought to remind the Galatian saints of their equal status in Christ.
In addition to this, Paul sought to remind the Galatian Christians of the means by which they received the blessing of the Holy Spirit. There were two possibilities presented in this context: either they received the Holy Spirit as the result of faith or as the result of works. Faith is referred to by the expression, “hearing with faith,”56 while works are called “the works of the Law.”
The “works of the Law” were those deeds which would be done in compliance with the Old Testament law as demanded by the Judaizers. To suggest that the Gentiles were saved by law-keeping was ridiculous. They formerly had not been under the law, and Paul never required law-keeping for salvation. No, the Galatians had been saved by the hearing of the gospel which was accompanied by faith. The Spirit of God quickened the Galatians and enabled them to understand and respond to the gospel (cf. Titus 3:5). There was no disputing this fact.
The implications of this fact are significant. How could the Galatians be so foolish to suppose that they were saved by faith and yet sanctified by works? If keeping the law cannot save, how can it possibly sanctify? Do you remember the account in chapter 2 of the gospel of Mark in which the paralytic was lowered through the roof? Our Lord’s first words to this man were, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). This statement raised a very logical question in the minds of the scribes and Pharisees: How could any man have the authority to forgive sins, a power which belongs only to God? Jesus responded with a question: Which is easier, to tell a man that his sins are forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk? If one is able to do the greater, than surely he can do the lesser. On the other hand, to be unable to do the lesser surely suggests an inability to do the greater. Since faith was sufficient to save, it was also sufficient to sanctify. If, on the other hand, law-keeping cannot save (as we have already seen in Gal. 2:16), neither can it sanctify. The opposite sort of reasoning (or the lack of it) exhibited by the Galatians was rightly labeled “foolish” by the apostle.
Verse 3 presses home the point of verse 2. Having begun by faith, why did the Galatians fail to follow through faith to completion of what the Holy Spirit began. Why were they so foolish as to trust in the work of Christ by faith for salvation, and afterward hope to finish the process by a means which was inadequate to commence it? Paul’s argument is based upon a principle which is both logical and biblical: the means for justification is the same means for sanctification.57
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Col. 2:6).58
Consider this simple illustration of the principle which Paul is addressing. Do you remember how you first learned to swim? At first, if you are like me, you fought the water, trying desperately to keep yourself above. Yet the harder you tried to keep yourself up, the more exhausted you became. Eventually you would drown. Then you learned a very interesting and encouraging fact: While you could not keep yourself above the water, the water itself could keep you up. The first lesson to teach a person to swim is to teach him to float. The more we relax, the more we sense the security of the water to keep us afloat. Once we have learned that we can always trust the water to keep us up, we can then advance to learning how to move about in the water. We can learn different strokes. We can swim on our stomachs or on our backs. We can even swim under the water.
How foolish it would be, once we have learned that the water will keep us afloat, to turn from this truth and once again strive to keep ourselves up by working with all our might to do so. How much wiser to work with the water, rather than against it. The fundamental principle which keeps us from drowning is the same principle which underlies everything we do in the water. Having learned to trust the water to keep us afloat, how foolish to later reject this truth.
Verse 4 raises the subject of suffering. Apparently the suffering of the Galatian Christians was a sore point, one on which the Judaizers must have dwelt. It would seem that the Judaizers had an appealing alternative to suffering and adversity. If the source of the suffering was the persecution of the Jewish unbelievers, as it sometimes was (cf. Acts 14:1-7), the Judaizers might have suggested that keeping the law would appease their anger and thus eliminate or at least alleviate suffering. Another possibility was that the Judaizers tended to oversimplify the Old Testament teaching, concluding that blessing was the result of law-keeping, while suffering was the consequence of neglecting the Law. If the Gentile Christians would only submit to the Law, the Judaizers may have taught, then they would not suffer God’s wrath.
Contrary to the Judaizers’ belief that suffering was an unnecessary evil, Paul and Barnabas taught that it was unavoidable and that the real evil would be to have suffered in vain. Both Paul and Barnabas had taught that suffering was an inescapable part of their Christian experience, something which they must endure (Acts 14:22). While Paul does not consider the Galatians a lost cause, nor their sufferings a vain experience, surely the Judaizers promoted this possibility. What a waste, Paul protested, to have invested so heavily in the gospel, only to cast it all away by a foolish decision to follow the teachings of the Judaizers. The Judaizers thought of suffering as a needless waste, whereas Paul thought of sufferings as wasted by the believer who forsakes grace to put himself under law.
Verse 5 turns from the past to the present. Paul asks a second question. Did the believer receive the Holy Spirit by faith or by works? Paul wants the Galatians to recognize the source of the Spirit’s on-going, gracious, miraculous ministry. By what principle does God so graciously bestow His blessings through His Spirit? Is it the principle of faith or the principle of works? “Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith” (v. 5)?
In verses 2 and 3 Paul focuses more on the beginnings of the Spirit’s working in the life of the Galatian saints. In verse 5, Paul presses his readers to identify the basis for God’s on-going blessings in their lives. If law-keeping is so important—as the Judaizers were insisting it was—then what does law-keeping produce? Is “works” the basis for God’s blessings? Then surely works would be worth the effort (assuming, of course, that they could bring about blessing). It is not behaving that moves God to act graciously but believing. It is by the “hearing with faith” that God’s blessings are realized.
Verse 5 teaches us several truths which I believe we dare not overlook. First, Paul reminds the Galatians of the generosity of God in their lives. The word “provides” in verse 5 fails to convey the abundance of the provision of God as suggested by the original term.59 Herein lies a clue to the error of legalism, so evident in the teaching of the Judaizers. They tended to look upon God as miserly and condemning. It was as though God hated to bless and that He must be bribed by the good works of men which moved Him (begrudgingly) into action. Grace and generosity are bed-fellows, just as are severity and legalism.
Second, note the emphasis on the greatness of God’s power as He continually bestows grace in the lives of His people. The Spirit who is so generously given, also greatly works among the people of God. The Spirit, which was first made manifest by miraculous signs, is still spoken of as a miracle-working Person. While this should not be taken as a proof-text for those who expect miracles as a norm, neither should those who differ fail to observe that miracles need not cease. The exact nature of the miracles (cf. “works of power,” v. 5, NASB, margin)60 is not defined, so we dare not speculate. The point Paul is seeking to drive home is that the same God who manifested His power in saving the Gentiles continues to work in them in a mighty, even miraculous, way.
It would seem that this point would strike at the weakness of the Judaizers. The more one is convinced of the greatness of God’s power, the less he is inclined to depend upon himself or his own works. To stress the works of the law implies God’s lack of ability (countered by an emphasis on God’s power) or His lack of willingness (countered by an emphasis on His graciousness) to act. If God is both gracious and great in power, believing is all that is required. Belief (faith) relies on God to act; law-keeping suggests that man has to take matters into his own hands (“God helps those who help themselves”).
Third, Paul views God’s interest and activity in the lives of His people as on-going. Verses 2 and 3 focus upon the initial aspects of the Galatians’ faith; verse 5 dwells on the continuity of God’s working in the lives of these saints. Was it possible that the Judaizers, like some people today, supposed that God intervened in order to save men, but sanctification was something men had to do for themselves? If so, they were wrong, for Paul sees salvation as the beginning of God’s life-long involvement in the lives of His own.
The Father of Faith
6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Paul seems to have won the debate already. Had he not demonstrated from the experience of the Galatian Christians that it was faith which was the basis for their salvation just as it was also the basis for their sanctification? The Judaizers, however, could protest on several counts. Was this not an argument based upon experience? The Judaizers might counter that the gospel which Paul preached, was something new and novel—a radical departure from the Old Testament Scriptures and from the “faith of their fathers.” Lest this argument of the Judaizers go unanswered, Paul presses the principle of faith (as opposed to works) to its founder.
Abraham was the founding father of Judaism, so far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned. The Jews erroneously took pride in being Abraham’s physical offspring, and they were confident of God’s acceptance and blessing on this account (cf. Matt. 3:9; John 8:33). Abraham was the first to be identified in Scripture as saved by faith (Gen. 15:6), and Paul seizes upon this fact to show the Galatians that the principle of faith is not new at all, but as old as God’s first dealings with men. Since the Judaizers appealed to Abraham, Paul did so also to prove that Abraham established the principle of faith, not works.
Verse 6 begins with the words “even so,” integrating verses 6-9 with the argument of verses 2-5. Were the Galatian saints saved and sanctified by faith? So, too, was Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15:6 (years before Abraham or his son was circumcised, cf. 17:22-27). Moses, who wrote the Law, also wrote that Abraham was justified on the basis of his “hearing of faith,” just like the Gentiles had been.61
While the Judaizers believed that their physical descent from Abraham was the key to their acceptance and blessing by God, Paul maintained that it is those who by faith are believers in God are really Abraham’s sons (verse 7). It is faith, not physical descent that constitutes a person as Abraham’s son.
The Judaizers saw their physical relationship to Abraham as the basis for their superiority over the Gentiles. Paul has already alluded to this “superiority complex” in chapter 2: “We are Jews by nature [that is, by birth], and not sinners from among the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:15).
In verse 8 Paul reminds his readers of the promise which God gave to Abraham and shows us from this promise that God had included the Gentiles as the recipients of His blessing. God had promised Abraham that in him all the nations would be blessed. Did the Abrahamic covenant give hope to the Jews? Of course it did. However, it also gave hope to the Gentiles—-a fact which the Judaizers had chosen to overlook.
Paul went so far as to call this passage in Genesis the “preaching of the gospel” (Gal. 3:8). The gospel was not new, nor was the principle of faith. It could be seen as far back as the Abrahamic Covenant. Once again, the Judaizers were wrong. With Abraham, all those who are of faith, including the Gentiles, are blessed (v. 9).
Paul was certainly accurate in referring to the teaching of the Judaizers as a “different gospel.” The gospel Paul preached was the public proclamation of salvation through faith in Christ crucified. His gospel was a matter of faith (vv. 2, 5, 6-9), not works (vv. 2, 5). His gospel relied on the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 2, 3, 5); theirs on the works of the flesh (v. 3). His gospel did not discriminate against the Gentiles, but theirs did (vv. 6-9). To capitulate to the Judaizers (as Peter had done) or to surrender to circumcision (as some of the Galatians were doing) was no small matter. To follow this “different gospel” was to turn from the way in which they had been saved and from the way in which they were being sanctified. “Wrong-way Corrigan” looks good in comparison.
Our text has much to say to Christians today as well as to the Galatians. As we seek to apply the truths of this passage to our lives, let us consider three principles which this text teaches.
First, we should learn the expediency of experience. While I have always considered the book of Galatians to be a heavy doctrinal book, let us not overlook that experience has played a strong role thus far in the argument of the epistle. When Paul’s authority and integrity as an apostle was challenged (cf. 1:10), Paul’s defense was an account of his experience. First, he described his salvation and early years as a Christian (1:11-24). Then, he told of his later experience in Jerusalem (2:1-10) and in Antioch where he found it necessary to confront and correct Peter (2:11-21). Furthermore, in the first nine verses of chapter 3, a doctrinal section, Paul’s argument is based upon the experience of the Galatians (vv. 2-5) and that of Abraham (vv. 6-9).
I do not in any way wish to minimize the importance of sound doctrine, but only to underscore the fact that we must experience sound doctrine. Suppose for a moment that the Galatians had not experienced the grace of God in their lives through faith, either in salvation or subsequently. Paul would have little grounds for an appeal to them, at least on the basis of their experience. It is my opinion that many of those who “fall away” from orthodox Christianity, either in doctrine or practice (or both), have failed to experience the Spirit of God in their lives. Christians who opt for divorce have falsely concluded that Christianity doesn’t work, when in reality they have not put Christianity to work in their lives. Their marriage has failed to experience the grace of God, not because God has failed them, but because they have failed to experience God’s grace and power in the healing of their relationship. There is no despair any greater than that of the Christian who concludes that his faith doesn’t work. Paul’s appeal to the Galatians was on the basis of how their faith had worked.
My orientation in the past few years has been strongly cerebral and creedal. That is, I have greatly benefited from those who have placed a very strong emphasis on sound doctrine. Yet, sound doctrine is not sufficient. Sound doctrine must be accompanied by a lifestyle which manifests the grace and power of God through His Spirit. This is an area which needs improvement in my life, and I would suspect that this is true for you as well.
Second, continuity is the basis for consistency. The thrust of Paul’s teaching in our passage is that we must continue as we have begun. As we were saved by faith, so we must walk by faith. As God’s Spirit was given and as He continues to minister mightily within us by faith, so we must continue on by faith. If we began by faith, we must press on in the same way. Thus, there is no need to “change horses in mid-stream” by seeking to please and serve God by law-keeping, as the Judaizers have insisted.
My concern here is with the underlying principle which enables Paul to appeal to us to keep on as we first began. Why are we to continue as we began, rather than to change (from grace to law)? Simply, because the gospel never changes, just as God does not change! We keep on as we have begun because the gospel does not change. The same principles on which we were saved are those by which we are sanctified. This helps me to better understand some of the terminology in the Bible. When Paul says that we grow “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17), I understand that I do not leave faith behind in my growth as a Christian, but I grow in faith to even greater faith. God is both the “Author and the Finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2); its beginning and its culmination. All things, we are told, “are of Him, and through Him, and unto Him” (Rom. 11:36). He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Rev. 1:8; 2:8; 22:13).
This is not what the Judaizers were saying. They taught that while faith in Christ was sufficient to save, “real spirituality” required something more, something better: the addition of law-keeping. In other words, change was the key to spiritual growth and maturity, not continuation. We hear something very similar today when people tell us that we need to have a second blessing, a second work of grace, some greater experience of a different and higher order than what we have previously experienced.
Such teaching looks at the Christian experience similar to the launching of a space rocket. Our reaching the goal of godliness requires us to have several “stages.” The gospel is the “first stage.” By it, we are set in motion. Eventually, they believe that stage burns out, requiring the ignition of the “second stage,” which may be a second work of grace, dedication, or some other dramatic crisis experience. According to this erroneous viewpoint, after several such “stagings,” we can expect to arrive at maturity and godliness.
Paul knows of no such thing. In our passage he views the Christian’s experience as a continual process of growth in grace, and according to the gospel by which he first was saved. Yes, the Christian will grow and will change, but the gospel does not change; we change as we understand and apply it more fully in our lives. The difficulty with us is that we think the gospel is what we need to be saved but then we set it aside. However, it is the gospel which provides us not only with the way of salvation, but with the way of sanctification. We fail desperately when we preach the gospel to the unsaved, and then fail to follow through with those who come to know the Lord by teaching the continuing process of the gospel in the life of the believer. In Galatians chapter 2, Peter’s failure, even in his maturity, was to cease to live in accordance with the gospel. We, too, must live according to the gospel.
This principle of continuity is the reason why the New Testament instructs us to regularly observe the Lord’s Table, as we do at Community Bible Chapel. The remembrance of communion not only reminds us of how our salvation commenced but also how it must continue. We can never hear the gospel enough. We can never fully grasp the gospel in this life. Until our Lord takes us home, we should not cease to reflect on the gospel, seeking to understand it more fully, and to apply it more consistently.
Third, we find the principle that discontentment is the basis for deception and disobedience. As I have been thinking through the book of Galatians, I have been puzzled by what possible reason, what conceivable basis, there would be for the Galatian saints to set aside the gospel for “a different gospel.” By using the terms “foolish” and “bewitched,” Paul indicates that this change is completely unreasonable. What then precipitated the basis for setting aside the gospel? I think I have been helped by attributing much of the reason to discontent. When we are discontent with our circumstances, we are overly eager to find a way out, a “better” way. That better way for the Galatians was the “different gospel” of the Judaizers, which promised a higher level of spirituality.
Communism has mastered the ability to utilize discontentment to peddle the unsound dogmas of socialism. While their message (socialism) is unworkable, their method (dialectic) is very effective. They capitalize on discontent, especially the discontent which is related to the different social or economic classes. If there is no discontent, they promote it. Then, after people are sufficiently discontented with things as they are, the Communists offer a better world, but one that must be brought about through revolution and upheaval.
The Communists did not invent this strategy. This methodology comes straight from the pit of hell. We find this very strategy employed in the temptation of Adam and Eve which resulted in the fall of man. Satan “bewitched” Eve, turning her mind away from the grace and generosity of God evidenced by the variety and freedom given them in the garden. Out of the vast variety of God’s provision in the garden, Satan focused her attention on the one, forbidden tree. God, he implied, is really miserly and has withheld the best for Himself alone. Having aroused discontentment in Eve, Satan offered her a higher level of spirituality. “You,” he promised, “can be like God Himself.” Now, being human did not seem like such a blessing. Would it not be preferable to be divine, rather than human? Thus Eve’s discontent with herself as God had made her and with the blessings He had given her made the forbidden fruit look all the more inviting. The means to a higher spiritual existence was to obtain a higher spiritual understanding, “knowing good and evil.” But the price was high—disobedience to God.
The Judaizers seemed to capitalize on, or perhaps even sought to create, discontentment in the thinking of the Galatians. Was persecution (cf. 3:4) the basis of their discontent? We do not really know. I believe it is safe to say that the Judaizers, like Satan, offered a higher, illicit, spiritual state. This new plane was to be reached by a knowledge of what was good and what was evil—a legalistic system, which clearly defined the rightness or wrongness of everything. Paul states that the bottom line is disobedience and the surrender of faith for works and grace for law.
Is it possible that Satan has been seeking to create discontentment in your life? Temptation may come even at a time when you desperately hope for a higher spiritual existence. You may encounter a bewitching teacher with a system that appears to be so appealing and so alluring that though the teaching may be one to which you would normally not succumb, your heightened desire for a utopian experience, your despair of suffering, or your discouragement with a seemingly unspectacular spiritual state may tempt you to fall victim to that false teaching. Contentment is the cure, not change of doctrine.
To be sure there are times and things about which we should not be content. Complacency is contentment gone to seed. Complacency is being in bad shape and not caring one whit about it. The Laodicean Christians had such an attitude. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the discontentment which makes us eager for change, any change, and vulnerable to deception. Let us learn to be content, without complacency, and without the compulsion to seek change.
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
55 William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976 [revised edition]), p. 24. (Barclay here quotes from Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri, No. 14.)
56 In my opinion the literal expression “hearing of faith” is significant in the light of the error Paul is refuting. Hearing is a passive term which stresses our response to the working of God, as opposed to the active concept of works advocated by the Judaizers
57 Virtually the same Greek words (translated “having begun” and “being perfected”) which are found in Galatians 3:3, are also used in 2 Corinthians 8:6 of Titus completing that which he had previously begun. The only difference is the Greek prefix pro added to the first term. Just as “follow-through” is important in almost any sport, so it is essential to the Christian walk. We must continue, “follow through,” just as we have begun—by faith. To attempt to add law-keeping to faith is to depart from the faith by which we were saved.
58 Notice the verse (8), which immediately follows, warning of the dangers of false teaching which stresses legalism. It is the sufficiency of Christ alone which saves and sanctifies, not asceticism and self-abuse (vv. 9ff.).
59 “The root of this word is the Greek choregia. In the ancient days in Greece at the great festivals the great dramatists like Euripides and Sophocles presented their plays; Greek plays all have a chorus; to equip and train a chorus was expensive, and public-spirited Greeks generously offered to defray the entire expenses of the chorus. (That gift is described by the word choregia.) Later, in war time, patriotic citizens gave free contributions to the state and choregia was used for this, too. In still later Greek, in the papyri, the word is common in marriage contracts and describes the support that a husband, out of his love, undertakes to give his wife. Choregia underlines the generosity of God, a generosity which is born of love, of which the love of a citizen for his city and of a man for his wife are dim suggestions.” Barclay, p. 25.
60 The Greek term which is translated “miracles” in verse 5 is not always a reference to miracles as we might think. The term may refer to God’s power in various manifestations. For example, in Romans 1:16 the gospel is the “power” (the same Greek term, though singular) of God unto salvation. My point here is that this verse does not require miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit in order for God’s power to be manifested through the Spirit. It should also be pointed out that verse 5 stresses that it is God who provides the Spirit and is working mightily in His saints.
61 The difference is that Abraham was saved on the basis of his faith in the Christ who would come (cf. John 8:56), while the Galatians were saved on the basis of their faith in the Christ who had come. Some might disagree, insisting that in the context of Genesis 15:6, Abraham’s faith was in God’s promise of a son, but in Galatians 3:16 Paul presses the force of the singular “seed” to show that this promise was specifically a promise of the Son who would come in the course of time, not just the son who would be the offspring of Abraham and Sarah.