O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 2:17-3:6 ESV)
A clear understanding of the gospel tells us that we contribute nothing to our salvation. It is and always will be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The apostle Paul in writing to the Ephesians doesn’t mess around when he states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9 ESV). We who were dead in our trespasses and sins have been brought to life in Christ…to the praise of His glorious grace!
What is God’s intent or plan now that we are His? If you keep reading in Ephesians you will see that “we are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). In another passage Paul would write that Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). So we who have only lived rebellious, sin-drenched, destructive lives from our very first breath are now beginning to desire the things of God because of the new heart given to us. The appropriate response to God’s grace then is thankful and loving obedience to the One who rescued us. It is now our great delight and desire to live for Christ.
How is this different from what the Galatians were struggling with? At first glance it appears as if the Galatians were simply trying to live out the principle found in Ephesians 2:10 by making sure they led holy lives. However, there was a huge difference between the two and this had Paul perplexed and really torqued. The error of the Galatians, in total opposition to what they had experienced through the faith resulting from Paul’s preaching of the gospel, was that they were now convinced that in order to be justified (declared righteous before God) AND sanctified (to go on to maturity in the faith) they must keep all of the Mosaic Law. The false teachers who had slipped in the back door had tweaked Paul’s message and in so doing, had created a totally false gospel.
Paul rebukes them and says this is crazy! Since our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, how then can any Christian grow up and become a mature believer by religious acts? The God-initiated change that took place to bring the Galatian believers into the body of Christ would be the same transforming power that would complete this good work. Paul later writes that Christ is of no advantage to those who try to be justified by good works and that they are actually severed from Christ—fallen from grace. This doesn’t mean that they were once Christians and now they aren’t. It does mean that they heard the truth through the ministry and blessing of one of the churches in Galatia and have rejected that truth, and because of their arrogance and self-reliance, they will not be saved unless they repent and trust Christ only.
Martin Luther, in his monumental commentary on Galatians, helps us to understand what the Galatians were doing. He wrote:
Paul incriminates the Galatians in worse failure. "You are so bewitched that you no longer obey the truth. I fear many of you have strayed so far that you will never return to the truth."
… Paul's increasing severity becomes apparent as he reminds the Galatians that they disobeyed the truth in defiance of the vivid description he had given them of Christ. So vividly had he described Christ to them that they could almost see and handle Him. As if Paul were to say: "No artist with all his colors could have pictured Christ to you as vividly as I have pictured Him to you by my preaching. Yet you permitted yourselves to be seduced to the extent that you disobeyed the truth of Christ."
"You have not only rejected the grace of God, you have shamefully crucified Christ among you." Paul employs the same phraseology in Hebrews 6:6: "Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
It should make any person afraid to hear Paul say that those who seek to be justified by the Law, not only deny Christ, but also crucify Him anew. If those who seek to be justified by the Law and its works are crucifiers of Christ, what are they, I would like to know, who seek salvation by the filthy rags of their own work-righteousness?
… No wonder Paul employs such sharp language in his effort to recall the Galatians from the doctrine of the false apostles. He says to them: "Don't you realize what you have done? You have crucified Christ anew because you seek salvation by the Law."
True, Christ can no longer be crucified in person, but He is crucified in us when we reject grace, faith, free remission of sins and endeavor to be justified by our own works, or by the works of the Law.
The Apostle is incensed at the presumptuousness of any person who thinks he can perform the Law of God to his own salvation. He charges that person with the atrocity of crucifying anew the Son of God.
So what was Paul’s remedy to finishing well once we have begun the walk of faith—to avoid legalistic righteousness and at the same time to walk worthy of our high call in Jesus Christ? The answer is found in Galatians 5. Just briefly (it’s worth our time to go deep into the truth of chapter 5), some of the key points Paul presents here are:
> Stand firm in Christ’s freedom by staying clear of false teaching—it is false teaching that enslaves the believer (5:1-15).
> Live by the empowering strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit (5:16-23).
> Continue to crucify the flesh and fall in line behind the leading of the Holy Spirit (5:24-25).
One final question: Is there really that much of a struggle in discerning truth? Is it that difficult to constantly keep a clear eye (and hold) on the truth in the Christian life? Are there really that many nuances of doctrine and practice that may lead us down multiple destructive paths? Martin Luther again gives us clarity:
Satan is clever. He does not only bewitch men in a crude manner, but also in a more artful fashion. He bedevils the minds of men with hideous fallacies. Not only is he able to deceive the self-assured, but even those who profess the true Christian faith. There is not one among us who is not at times seduced by Satan into false beliefs.
This accounts for the many new battles we have to wage nowadays. But the attacks of the old Serpent are not without profit to us, for they confirm our doctrine and strengthen our faith in Christ. Many a time we were wrestled down in these conflicts with Satan, but Christ has always triumphed and always will triumph. Do not think that the Galatians were the only ones to be bewitched by the devil. Let us realize that we too may be seduced by Satan….
Since the devil has this uncanny ability to make us believe a lie until we would swear a thousand times it were the truth, we must not be proud, but walk in fear and humility, and call upon the Lord Jesus to save us from temptation.
Although I am a doctor of divinity, and have preached Christ and fought His battles for a long time, I know from personal experience how difficult it is to hold fast to the truth. I cannot always shake off Satan. I cannot always apprehend Christ as the Scriptures portray Him. Sometimes the devil distorts Christ to my vision. But thanks be to God, who keeps us in His Word, in faith, and in prayer.