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”?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
~ Galatians 3:1-9
In my arrogance and lack of understanding, I have read this statement in the harshest of terms. See, the term “foolish” means “stupid” and therefore I read it as though the Apostle Paul were standing over the whole of the Galatian church and wagging his finger at them in anger at their surprising ignorance. That, however, is not the case at all.
Paul opens his rebuke of them, not by insinuating a lack of intelligence, but a lack of understanding. The question that follows his opening statement (which I read as though it were spouted with his usual sarcastic wit) confirms that Pastor Paul is reaching to the church in his care and simultaneously forgiving their confusion, he is accusing those who taught them false doctrine. They were “bewitched”, tricked, fed lies and took it because they thought that it was the true Word of God. Paul then goes on to remind them that Jesus was portrayed by him to them as crucified and they have already been taught that a crucified Christ kills the effect of the law on them.
In order to explain his point further, Paul asks a series of pointed rhetorical questions aimed at revealing to them the truth that they already know. This is part of the Socratic method which Paul often uses when pointing out error. The Socratic method was developed and used by Socrates to teach his students by using their own intellect as their guide. Logic, when used properly, will point to the truth every time. Paul asks them things that he has already taught them – “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” He had just reminded them in the last chapter that the law is dead through Christ and He had already taught them these things while he was present with them. Pushing the point further, he asks if they who have became free from the curse of the law (which only brings death because, again, no one can survive the law – it only exists to point us to Christ) they seek to “perfect” themselves through the law.
“Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain?” Many of those converts to Christianity have lost possessions, homes, and family members due to their conversion. Was it necessary to suffer through that loss for the sake of Christ if that was unnecessary? The Jews biggest complaint against these Gentile Christians was that they were not following the Mosaic law and by adopting the practices of this modified law with which they had been presented they were no longer held in derision by the Jews. Paul is showing them that their suffering was NOT in vain and that it is necessary to break free from the legalism that they are currently experiencing.
“Does God, who provides the Holy Spirit to you, and who works miracles in your lives, do so because of your own work (adherence to the law) or by your faith?” This, while fairly self-explanatory, is monumental. In fact, it’s on this that the principle of preservation of the saints swings. Let me restate it in another way to make it stand out more: Is God obligated to provide you with salvation, the Holy Spirit, and to work in your life because He owes it to you based on the works you have done for Him, or does He do it out of His own mercy when you heard the Gospel and believed in it? If God is obligated to provide your salvation to you, then you are the one upon which the glory rides in this relationship. You are the one who does the work necessary to achieve your own salvation and God owes it to you like a wage that you earn based on you accomplishing a set of requirements. The gospel, however, operates outside of our own merits and instead is a gift of mercy by the grace of God. How do you attain this gift? You believe that He has done it for you. Can you lose this gift? No – because the act necessary to receive the gift (faith) was placed in you by the work of the Holy Spirit at your conversion. Abraham, for instance, was counted as justified by God at his FAITH, and before he had done anything (Genesis 15:9; Romans 4:9, 21-22).
Those who are of a like faith with Abraham (who trust in God alone for their salvation and for every aspect of their lives) are “children” of Abraham. This means that we Gentile Christians are now seen as part of the “true Israel” – adopted by God into His family. How do we know this? This is how we know that the original “Israel” that the Jews thought of as being those who were in a direct genetic line with Abraham is untrue, and instead it is those who exhibit the faith of Abraham by releasing control of their lives over to God and trusting in Him alone when all things come up. For more information on this, read Romans 4 where Paul makes and solidifies his case. Ultimately, there is no longer Jew and Gentile, but Christians. Through the cross of Christ, the “nation” of Abraham was extended to the whole world and all who trust in Christ are grafted into family of God.