Summary: Paul is frustrated by the Galatians and asks five pointed questions about their salvation.
Everyone gets frustrated at one time or another. When was the last time you were frustrated? I get frustrated with those non-human telephone answering machines. Do you? I really get frustrated with Cox cable’s answering service. I would always rather speak to a human being than a machine - wouldn’t you?
I have Cox’s bundle - you know, high definition television, telephone, internet. And when ever I have to call their number, my frustration grows with all the information I have to enter using my telephone key pad. I could easily explain my problem and get help from a human then deal with all the things Cox’s system wants to do to try and help me.
And even worse are those systems that require a voice response. Have you ever called one of those help numbers, and just when it expects you to respond you cough or sneeze? And the next thing you know it has transferred you to someone who can’t help you and you have to go back and start on it all over again. I would be a lot more civil in my telephone calls if I didn’t have to deal with inanimate telephone answering machines.
Paul is frustrated! He is frustrated that the Galatians have moved away from the gospel of grace that he had preached to them, that he had taught them, that he had discipled them with. They’ve moved away from God’s truth and replaced it with the false teaching and preaching of the Judaizers. And it frustrates him. See his frustration as we read verse 1 of chapter 3.
Are you foolish?
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (3:1-3)
Everyone has a testimony of how they came to faith in Jesus Christ. It’s your story of salvation by grace apart from the works of the law. Some religious groups come to Christ based on their works - we don’t. We come by faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. For us, there is no other way. Paul is calling upon the Galatian believers to remember their personal experience of the Holy Spirit when they first believed.
The Galatians themselves served as witnesses for the truth of Paul’s gospel. That is why he begins this section with a rebuke “You foolish Galatians!” The word translated ‘foolish’ literally means “without mind” or “without thought.” Paul tells them that they’ve acted without thinking. They’re gullible Galatians - they’ve bought into something without considering the gospel of grace.
Following that charge - that they were gullible - Paul asks a series of questions designed to awaken their minds to their experience of God’s transforming grace through the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s first question is, “Who has bewitched you? Who has hypnotized you?” Has someone cast a magical spell on you? Has someone given you the ‘evil eye’? The threat of the ‘evil eye’ existed as an ever present danger in the minds of many of the ancient civilizations. Many people believed that they had the power to bring destruction on others through a glance of the eye.
If the Galatians were under the curse of the evil eye of the Judaizers, what was the antidote? Paul wants them to fix their eyes on Jesus Christ, “before whose eyes (he) was vividly portrayed as crucified.” The cross is the only force that could absorb the destructive effects of the curse. Fixing their gaze on Christ as crucified meant that they have nothing to fear from the ‘evil eye’ of the Judaizers.
In verse 2, Paul raises a second question: “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” If Paul could elicit the correct response to this question, he would gain the upper hand in the debate. The Galatian believers had responded in faith to Christ’s obedient death on the cross. They had received the Holy Spirit. They were experiencing the blessings of this new life in Christ. The truth that they had already received the Spirit testified to the sufficiency of the cross and deficiency of anything else to authenticate their right standing with God.
Paul’s third question is in verse 3: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” This question assumes they answered the previous question correctly. Since they had begun their new life with the Holy Spirit as God’s gift, were they so gullible to believe that they could bring salvation to completion through circumcision?