Summary: If we're not supposed to follow the law to please God, then what is its purpose? Do we ignore it altogether? Paul wants the Galatians to understand the two main purposes of the law.
Driving down the freeway there are two types of signs we encounter: billboards and direction signs. Direction signs tell us of upcoming exits and towns. Billboards advertise products and services to us. It’s important that billboards use a graphic that grabs the attention and no more than eight words—a driver just doesn’t have the time to read more than that while going along at, um, 65 miles an hour.
As Paul the Apostle talks about the purpose of the law in order to counter those who were trying to make Christians into Torah observant Jews. He says the law is like a billboard in that it pictures Jesus Christ, and God broke the eight word rule a little—doing it in ten—commandments—to reveal His character. But it is also like a direction sign pointing the way towards the coming of Jesus Christ.
Before we get to that, the Apostle gives us a little lesson on contract law in order to show that righteous standing before God comes from believing a promise God made, and kept before the giving of the law.
We’re been talking a lot about legalism. There are really two types of legalism. The first, brought by the Judaizers, brought the Law as a gate to salvation. The second group, called “Nomists” or “Labelists” allowed people to come to Christ through the gospel, but then added rules and requirements to them afterwards.
Nomists stress earning your salvation. Today the Seventh Day Adventists might fall into this category. Labelists insist on form to show your piety. You’re okay as long as you perform the right ceremony or use the right method to reach God. A wide range of groups might fit here, but certainly the Catholic Church. But any kind of superstition to gain God’s blessing would make you a labelist.
Bottom line: you can’t improve upon the salvation of Jesus Christ! As we get into this, let me remind you of my definition of legalism: “Legalism is the application of an external set of principals or goals to your life (or the lives of others) in order to feel better about yourself or your relationship with God rather than letting God transform your life from the inside out.”
Paul calls them “fools” but it basically means people who know better but are not using their minds to perceive truth. HCSB says “who hypnotized you.” King James says “bewitched.” The Greek word means to “fascinate by false representations.” It’s kind of spiritual sleight of hand. Sometimes someone’s presentation is so slick that you don’t see the problem until it’s too late. We need to pay attention to the words and then check it out with the Scriptures!
He says Jesus was “vividly” portrayed to them by Paul as crucified. It means as if he’d put it on a billboard it was so clear. The word “Crucified” is in past perfect, a past action with continued effect. The salvation we get from Jesus’ crucifixion cleansed us from sin and continually gives us everything we need to have right standing with God.
See, the presence of the Spirit of God in a life is a key. In the days of the Old Testament Law, the Holy Spirit would descend upon or “envelope” a person for a specific time and purpose. Gideon, for instance, was empowered by the Spirit to fight the Midianites. Sampson was enveloped by the Spirit to fight the Philistines. But in Joel 2:28 God promised to pour out His Spirit “on all humanity.” We saw this happen on the day of Pentecost.
Then in Romans 8:9, Paul says: “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you.” The word “lives” is the Greek word oy-keh-oh which means “to remain.” When you become a member of God’s kingdom through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Spirit takes up permanent abode within you. Jesus called it being “born again” in John Chapter 3. But the thing about being “born of the Spirit” is that you can’t birth yourself. You can’t save yourself. God has to do it for you. So when Paul wants them to think about how they got the Spirit was it by “works” or by “hearing of faith”? And then the punch line:
Again with the foolish! Paul is trying to goad them into actually thinking. They began their relationship with God by the Holy Spirit regenerating them and coming to live inside of them. He is taking an active part in transforming them. So now they are going to take over for the Holy Spirit to finish the job? Having a relationship with God is not like getting a jump on your car battery. “Thanks for the new charge, Lord. I can take it from here.” No. You are plugging into a new power source and you must “abide” or “remain” connected to that source as Jesus said (John 15:4).