Text: Galatians 3:1-5
Date: 15 Apr 2018
This morning we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and explore a little further the basis of the disagreement that Paul was having with Cephas and the Galatians. In previous sermons we have seen some pretty strong opinions expressed by Paul against Cephas who Paul felt had “sold out” the gospel by siding with the Judaisers, the group who wanted the Gentile Galatians to become Jews before they could become “true” followers of God and therefore recipients of salvation. In today’s passage Paul addresses the Galatians directly and asks them a series of straight-to-the-point questions.
Where do you stand with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you heard it, responded to it and accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? Many of course have accepted the gospel and then had their heads turned by another, perhaps more glossy, gospel. They’ve heard the wonderful message that Jesus died in their place to pay the price for their sins; that is, all that they’ve ever done wrong; and yet they turn away to something else. Some turn to a faith group who say that knowing Jesus is not enough, more is needed. That was the crux of the disagreement between Paul on the one hand and Cephas and the Judaisers on the other. Paul felt that accepting by faith that Christ was crucified to pay for our sins was enough, nothing else was needed. Cephas and the Judaisers however put forward a “different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (1:6-7), and the Galatians, like a number of others, had believed them and joined them in their way of thinking.
These five verses contain six rhetorical questions which in a strange way go towards outlining Paul’s core beliefs. They are beliefs that he had held ever since that fateful meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road and they can be found scattered throughout his many letters.
Sadly it seems that while the Galatians had initially accepted that belief they were now straying away from the true gospel. It is for that reason that we now see Paul rebuking the believers in Galatia for the way that they had been “bewitched” by this other gospel.
Paul was never one for beating about the bush and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he starts this short passage by calling his readers, “foolish Galatians”. The well known Bible translator J B Phillips makes it even stronger when he calls them, “you dear idiots of Galatia”. I rather like that since it expresses Paul’s view of their attitudes and behaviour very well indeed. Having opened in such an interesting way Paul poses the question, “Who has bewitched you?” That word “bewitched” does not mean that they were under a spell but that their thinking had become so clouded and unbiblical that it may have seemed that they were under a spell. J B Phillips does in fact use the phrase, “who has been casting a spell over you?” That isn’t quite right since it suggests that someone had used magical or mystical powers had been used to change their beliefs. One commentator [William Barclay] changes the thought of being “bewitched” to meaning that someone had their “evil eye upon them”, which would have been a helpful analogy to the Galatians since the idea of a spell was similar to an “evil eye” being cast over them. In the natural world some creatures can stare at their prey so steadily that the prey then freezes before being killed. The way for the Galatians to overcome this was not to look at the “evil eye” but to stay focussed on Jesus. Sadly there were some who were gullible to new or different ideas that drew them away from Jesus Christ; something which still happens today. Such people are like those who will follow anyone with a new and more beguiling idea; the basic problem for the Galatians being that they had lost sight of all that they had heard and learned about Jesus.
The central plank of Paul’s preaching platform was always Christ Crucified. For him there was no other message and it is that message that he had endeavoured to share with the Galatians. Many had accepted the message and come to faith in Christ. Sadly though many were now turning away and towards another gospel. It is for that reason that we see Paul in the opening five verses of Galatians 3 rebuking the believers in Galatia for the way that they had been “bewitched” by this other gospel. This left Paul bothered and bewildered as to why they should have chosen to follow a different path by “turning to a different gospel” (1:6). He was curious to find out more which is why he was anxious to challenge them over their faith and leads him to ask the Galatians six questions in an attempt to establish why that should be.
Paul’s basic belief can be summed up in that wonderful verse in 1 Corinthians 1:23 where he simply said, “We preach Christ crucified”. He went on in that verse to admit that the thought of Christ our Saviour being crucified was “a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles”. Whether it was a stumbling block or not, Paul had the thought of Christ crucified in mind wherever he preached and nothing changed during his visit to Galatia.
The Apostle was always consistent in his preaching and whenever people heard Paul preach they only ever heard about Jesus Christ crucified something I liken to that recent movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” where the message was posted on huge billboards. It should be obvious but that phrase “before your very eyes” doesn’t mean that they had literally witnessed the crucifixion, rather, that they had heard enough about it to almost have been there. Paul had preached in such a way that they could visualise the suffering and pain that Jesus experienced when He had been crucified. They had been won over by that message and vision whilst many of those who were present at Calvary and witnessed the actual event had simply mocked Jesus. For Paul the cross of Christ was absolutely central to his preaching and beliefs and that meant that the Galatians would have heard nothing but the message of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
We saw the importance of the cross of Christ in 2:20 where Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul it was the cross of Christ that saved him and brought him the righteousness that he knew the Law couldn’t bring. It was that message of the crucified and risen Christ that Paul preached which had led the Galatians to come to faith in Jesus. Now they appeared to have turned away which is why Paul was asking these questions.
When anyone comes to faith in Christ they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Galatian believers were no different and many would have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit through having Spirit-led charismatic experiences. It was not unusual at the time for there to be plenty of manifestations of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, prophesying and performing miracles. In 3:5 Paul asks “does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you ...”, a question which suggests that they could only have performed miracles through having been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The only way that we can receive the gift and infilling by the Holy Spirit is through faith in Christ. Paul explained this to the Romans in 8:9b-11 when he wrote, “... if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Despite what the Judaisers were saying, we cannot earn the gift of the Holy Spirit by adhering to the works of the Law since there is nothing that we can do to bring Him into our lives other than by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately the Galatians now seemed to think that more was needed and they could somehow “earn” the gift of the Holy Spirit. That confused Paul which is why he asked how they could be so foolish. Once again J B Phillips put it a bit more strongly when he said, “surely you can’t be so stupid”. Paul simply couldn’t understand why and how the Galatians could move away from their faith and towards what the Judaisers believed.
What Paul finds so foolish is the fact that having come to faith in Jesus and having received their salvation and been empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Galatians now seemed to believe that that could somehow be improved or augmented by following the “means of the flesh”. What Paul was implying was that they now believed that coming to faith in Jesus wasn’t enough and so in order to achieve a “full” and “real” salvation they also needed to obey the Law and follow all the Jewish rites and customs.
Faith or Law
Coming to faith in Christ comes with a price since it is not uncommon for Christians to suffer for their faith. The Galatians were no different and had no doubt suffered for their faith. Paul reasoned that such suffering would mean that they had already experienced a great deal in their short Christian lives. Suspecting that led Paul to wonder if their suffering had been in vain. Christians will suffer at some stage although some of that suffering may come in different and subtle ways. Such suffering goes with being a Christian, a situation which Paul outlined in Philippians 1:29 where he wrote, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”. Perhaps the Galatians hadn’t heard that part of Paul’s message or perhaps they had been led to believe that there would be no more suffering if they accepted this “alternative” gospel?
Suffering can be endured if we can see an end in sight, if we know that there will be some relief in the future. For Christians that relief in the future means being with Christ in heaven for all eternity. It’s difficult to know if the Galatians knew or understood that as it seems that they may have suffered for their faith but then passed up on the opportunity to be in paradise with Christ. If that was the case then, as Paul reminds them, their suffering had been totally in vain. Would we want to suffer under those circumstances? I somehow doubt it! By moving away from the true gospel Paul was suggesting that the suffering they experienced really was in vain, that their suffering was all for no purpose. It follows that the gifts of the Spirit that the Galatians received were wasted since they had now turned away from Christ to live by the Law and not by faith.
Paul’s final question asked: Who was it Who gave them the Spirit and the associated gifts? It was obviously a gift from God since only God gives the Holy Spirit through someone coming to faith in Jesus Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit does not come through following and observing the works of the Law; the miracles that Paul referred to could only come through the power of Holy Spirit and not through any “works of the law”. The Judaisers had somehow fooled the Galatians into believing that such miracles could come about through observing the Law; which is why in 3:1 Paul had talked of them being “bewitched”!
In his final question Paul made it clear that the Galatians had a choice to make: they could either follow Christ through faith or they could move away to a false gospel based on the Law. That is a choice that still exists today and sadly too many people seem to make the wrong choice by following the false gospel of the modern world. The Galatians had initially come to faith in Jesus Christ but had now moved away to become observers of the Law as if more was needed for salvation as the cross of Christ was insufficient. Whilst Paul doesn’t say it explicitly the implication is simple, the blessings that God gives can only come through faith and believing in Christ and cannot be earned or bought by following any other “gospel”.
I view these five verses as being extremely powerful. They may contain six vital questions but when you read between the lines you can see Paul making a very clear statement of what he believed.
Paul had made it clear in his preaching that Jesus Christ had been crucified for their sins. He had made that obvious and they had accepted his message. As a result of accepting Christ as their Saviour they had also received the gift of the Holy Spirit and been empowered by Him to perform miracles, speak in tongues and prophesy. They may also have suffered for their faith in Christ; something which Paul now suggests may have been in vain.
On the other hand the Judaisers had “bewitched” them with a different message, which Paul had already referred to as being “a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (1:6-7). They had fallen for the idea that Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t enough and that more was needed; they also needed to become Jews and then observe the Law and all the associated Jewish customs and rites.
Whilst the Galatians appeared to be “bewitched”, Paul was bothered and bewildered by all that happened and was doing his utmost to turn them away from this travesty of a gospel and back to the true gospel: faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
I would hope that the true gospel of a risen Jesus Christ is the only one that people here would accept and believe and that no one would turn away to the type of false gospel put forward by the Judaisers in Galatia and elsewhere. The true gospel is simple: Jesus Christ died and rose again to pay the price for our sins. All who believe in Christ will be forgiven and have everlasting life with Him in paradise.