Summary: A message from an expository series on the Book of Galatians.
C.S. Lewis wrote this, “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” Though the Galatians had the benefit of excellent teaching, they still lacked discernment—the ability to distinguish true teaching from error. In their abundance of knowledge, they had lost the central point that God’s grace and Jesus’ death were sufficient for salvation. It was at this point that they probably would have reaped great benefits from James’ counsel. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5—NIV) We must ask God for help. We must depend on His assistance as we seek to discover and apply the principles from His Word. If you have questions about the power of grace or the forgiveness He offers through Christ, begin by asking God to show you His wisdom. When we ask God for His assistance He will help us begin to understand the Gospel and freedom.
I. Questions for those losing their grasp of the concept of grace.
A. You foolish Galatians who has bewitched you?
1. This is the first time since 1:11 that Paul has addressed the Galatians by name. Now it is by the impersonal term "Galatians" rather than by the word "brothers" he used earlier and it sets a sober tone for the formal argument to follow.
2. To call the Galatians “foolish” (The Greek means literally “not having a mind”) was to call them irrational, unthinking, or lacking in understanding.
3. The word “bewitched” comes from an early superstition based on “the evil eye”: a person might be enticed to stare at someone who could bewitch him or cast a spell on him through the magic arts and then would do things totally foreign to his natural behavior.
4. A doctrine of salvation by works foolishly denies the necessity for grace and declares the death of the Lord Jesus Christ unnecessary. This idea is totally irrational. Yet this is what the Galatians were on the verge of embracing.
5. They were being intellectually inconsistent, self-contradictory. How can such nonsense be explained? Paul suggests facetiously that perhaps they have been placed under a spell by some magician.
B. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
1. The answer would have been obvious to Paul’s readers, they became Christians only through faith, through believing what they heard.
2. Paul begins a series of devastatingly logical arguments to prove the gospel is superior to the law.
3. Like a good trial lawyer Paul asks questions and designs arguments to force an admission of the truth.
4. By their own experience they know that the Spirit became active in their lives and in their Christian community when they put their faith in Christ.
C. Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
1. In verse three Paul once again reminds them of their foolishness in embracing these ideas.
2. Having begun by faith, they must continue in faith. It cannot be otherwise, because the two ways—faith versus works—are in conflict.
3. The NIV phrase “by human effort” (literally, “by flesh”) should be understood as the best efforts which man in his fallen state can produce.
4. Men’s failure to receive the Holy Spirit before they accepted Christ was not because they had not tried hard enough. The failure came from the inability to achieve perfection, due to the weakness of the flesh.
D. Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?
1. While we do not know what specific hardships and persecutions the Galatians may have endured for the sake of the cross, we do know that some turned to circumcision as a means of escaping that persecution.
2. While there is no positive evidence that the Galatian Christians actually suffered such external persecutions, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they would have been subjected to the same kind of harassment and violent assaults that Paul and Barnabas experienced when they first brought the gospel into that region.
3. By accepting circumcision, however, they might well have reduced the brunt of such persecution since they would then have appeared more as normal proselytes in submission to the Jewish rituals of the synagogue.
4. So Paul is probably saying something like this: “Having received with me the brand marks of Christ in your bodies, being persecuted for the cause of Christ, are you now going to accept a practice that could have spared you all these persecutions in the first place? Has all this been for naught?”