The Foolishness of the Galatians
AN EXPOSITION OF GALATIANS 3:1-2
The First Question
Who Has Bewitched You?
A useful form of teaching is to ask a question. When properly used, a question can be very effective as it provokes insight, demands discernment, and invites a comment. When used improperly a question can be harmful and destructive. Sometimes a person will ask a question, not to elicit information, or to engage in a dialogue, but to intimidate, or entrap. As much as I enjoy a question, I can remember several times in life when I was asked something, only to have my answer used against me in a harmful way. Perhaps you have had that experience.
In the passage before us, Paul is very angry with the Galatians. They have become distracted from the gospel of Jesus Christ, and from sound doctrine. To re-orientate the Galatians, to set the Churches in that region back on the right course of belief and behavior, the apostle Paul asked five penetrating questions in verses 1-5, but not before plainly stating that the Churches in Galatia were not obeying the truth, and because of that, they were being very foolish.
1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
Paul wanted to know who had bewitched the Galatians. The word in the Greek is baskaino, and means to malign, i.e. (by extension) to fascinate (by false representation). Someone had fascinated the Galatians with a false representation of the gospel. Heresy can be intriguing. Paul knew that Judaizers had come to the Churches in the region, and convinced God’s people that salvation was not by grace through faith alone, in Christ alone, but through Christ, plus a good work.
The Judaizers came into the Church to tell individuals they must keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. The Judaizers were persuasive and convinced many Gentile converts it was a good work to go back under the Law in order to keep the Sabbath, receive circumcision, and honor the Jewish holy days. But all of this was contrary to what the Galatians had initially been taught.
Before the spiritual eyes of the Galatians, Jesus Christ had been set forth in His solitary splendor and grace. But they could no longer clearly see the grace of Jesus. Why? Because they had been “bewitched.”
It is instructive to know that in the Greek culture of the Galatians, there was a social fear of the “evil eye”, or being exposed to magical powers. Paul was saying that the Galatians had a spiritual eye problem. They had taken their eyes off the Lord, and returned to a legal law work for salvation. They were looking backward. By their backward look, the Galatians were being foolish. The Galatians were foolish because they were abandoning the gospel of justification by faith alone. Good works were replacing free grace.
This was happening for the simple reason that individuals are incurably in love with themselves, and their good works. Because of this, many of the Galatians wished that Paul would not rebuke them. They wished the apostle Paul would just go away.
In the 15th century there lived a Scottish poet, Sir David Lindsay’s (b. c. 1490). One of his most famous works is a play, “A Satire of the Three Estates.” In the play, the character Pardoner exclaims at one point, “By him that bore the crown of thorns, I would St. Paul had never been born.” This is the feeling of many people who emotionally reject the doctrines of grace, and God’s sovereignty. They do not want anyone telling them that to move from free grace to free will, and good works for salvation, is a departure from the historic faith, and the pure gospel. They do not want anyone to tell them they are being foolish.
The word for foolish in verse 1, is the same word our Lord used to describe the disciples on the Emmaus Road. It is the word anoetos and means to be unintelligent, and unwise. “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:” (Luke 24:25). To be “slow of heart” means to be spiritually dull, spiritually blind.
It is not a flattering image Paul is presenting of the Galatians. They have been bewitched by the Judaizers. They have not obeyed the truth, by forsaking the works of the Law for salvation. They have a spiritual eye problem, because they have forgotten, that before their very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Jesus was crucified to do what the works of the Law could never do, take away sin, and make a person justified in the sight of God.
The temptation for the Galatians was to turn on Paul, and resent him for pointing all of this out. The temptation for the Galatians was to rebuke Paul, for making them feel guilty for doing what they believed was a good work.
“Paul, what difference does it make?”
“Paul, why are you making such a big issue out of mingling good works with God’s grace for salvation?”
I believe I know why Paul was willing to rebuke the Galatians, and challenge their behavior. Many years ago, in the middle part of the 1970’s, I attended a Christian school in Kansas, that taught that water baptism is necessary for salvation. I knew this teaching was contrary to Scripture. I knew this doctrine diluted the pure gospel of grace. I knew that the Bible teachers were adding a good work to faith for salvation. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons I enrolled in the Bible College.
Most of the classes were orthodox. The friendship among the students was lovely, until we began to discuss the issue of baptismal regeneration outside the classroom. With one serious student I pressed the issue to the point that he became exasperated. One day, after a heated exchange, he asked me, “Why are you making such a big issue out of this?” I replied, “Because one of us does not understand the gospel!”
Either a person is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, or a person is saved by grace, through faith, plus water baptism, plus the sacraments, plus keeping the Law—depending on which theological bias is embraced.
Paul would not be silent when writing to the Galatians about their spiritual status, because the purity of the gospel was at stake. Someone did not understand the gospel. Paul was not being unkind or unloving by pressing the issue. He was being faithful to the cause for which he had been called, which was to make the crucified Christ known to others.
If individuals can be saved by their good works, then Jesus Christ died on the Cross in vain. Jesus Christ did not die to save anyone, but to make individuals savable, by His sacrifice, and their good deeds. “Unacceptable!” cried Paul. “Churches in Galatia, I will not allow you to embrace such a belief. It is that belief of salvation by good works, by the works of the Law, that Christ came to destroy. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4).
The Second Question
How Did You Receive the Holy Spirit?
2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Paul had another specific question for the Galatians, and for this reason. The apostle wanted to end the debate between Law and grace as quickly as possible. He wanted to silence the argument of the Judaizers as effectively as he could. Therefore, Paul was willing to hang his whole argument on the answer to this question. “Churches in Galatia, how did you receive the Spirit? Did you receive the Holy Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?”
Paul is not expecting an answer. He just wanted the Churches to think, remember, and embrace the truth. The gospel truth is this. All that a Christian is, and all that a Christian receives, including the indwelling Holy Spirit, is based on God’s grace, and not on the works of the flesh, or the works of the Law.
“Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide;
What can we do to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?”
Julia H. Johnson, 1910
Anyone who adds to God’s sovereign grace robs the Lord of His glory and honor. That this robbery takes place in the disguise of good works, or by exalting man’s will, makes it no less offensive.
Let the word go forth, from one end of the universe to the other, there is nothing any person can ever do, in the flesh, to please God. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
There are three other questions in Galatians 3:3-5 that Paul asks that enlarges upon his main argument that those who believe God have righteousness charged to their account.
For now, let the Church hear this word of exhortation. “Do not dilute, or distract from the pure gospel.”
As the Churches in Galatia can testify, this exhortation is easier to give, than to follow, because the world, the flesh, and the devil unite to dilute the gospel, or distract from obeying the truth of the gospel. The gospel is diluted when anything is added to God’s grace for salvation.
A person, who believes they are saved because they raised their hand during an evangelistic service, got up, walked down an aisle, were baptized, and joined a church, has diluted the gospel, if they are not casting themselves upon the grace and mercy of God.
A person, who believes they are saved because they keep the sacraments, has diluted the gospel.
A person, who adds baptism as an essential element for salvation, has diluted the gospel.
A person, who insists on Sabbath keeping for salvation, has diluted the gospel.
The gospel is detracted from when it is not obeyed. Paul said to the Galatians, “You are not obeying the truth.”
What would Paul say to the Church today? Is this charge still valid? Are there facets of the gospel which Christians are not obeying?
God the Holy Spirit will reveal the correct answer to every individual heart that sincerely asks, “Lord, am I obeying the truth of the gospel that I have received?”