Pastor David B. Curtis

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Acting Like Idiots?

Galatians 3:1-5

Delivered 01/16/2005

Before we begin chapter three, let's review for a moment what we learned in the first two chapters. We have learned several things that we need to keep in mind as we begin the main body of the letter. 1. There are false teachers in the Galatian churches preaching what Paul calls a different gospel (1:6), which is no gospel at all. 2. The opponents of Paul are trying to discredit his message by denying Paul's authority as an apostle. They are saying he has his gospel and apostleship secondhand, and that the real authorities are the Jerusalem apostles. 3. Paul establishes by historical reports that his gospel and authority are not from any mere man but came by revelation of Jesus Christ, and not only that, there is a deep unity of theology and faith between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles in spite of their independence. 4. The way Paul has defended his authority and his gospel show the kind of false teaching that is threatening the churches of Galatia.

It appears that a Jewish group of professing Christians are teaching that it is not enough to trust Christ for righteousness. So faith must be supplemented with "works of the law." Trusting in what Christ did for you has to be supplemented by what you can do for Christ. God's work plus your work equals justification. So the Judaizers required circumcision (2:3), dietary restrictions (2:12,13), and the keeping of feasts and holy days (4:10), and at least implied that by these works the Galatians could contribute their part to the transaction of justification.

Having concluded his autobiography, Paul addresses his readers directly with a series of piercing questions. These questions are asked in a tone of rebuke.

Let's imagine that I decide to start a business, and so I go to my friend Ron, who is a very successful business man, for some business advice. I lay out my business plan to him and he says, "David , that cannot work. That is doomed to fail. You have got to make radical changes." But I don't listen to him. I am determined to do it my own way. So I go to the bank, get a loan and start my business. The business struggles, and pretty soon it is going down into the tube. I work hard to try to keep this business afloat, but it is going down.

So I go back to Ron and say, "Ron, I've got big problems here." He says, "David, I told you it won't work. You have got to completely abandon that whole plan you have, and you have got to do this." I listens to him, but I am kind of hardheaded. So I decide that I am really not going to make a change; I just decide to tweak this and tweak that. I say, "I will take a little bit of what Ron says, but I think I can make it work." So that is what I do. I only make a few minor changes and tweak this and that. And the business just keeps doing down, down, down.

Finally, I reach a point of desperation where I am in a lot of trouble, and I go back to Ron. This time I am a broken man. I say, "This is what I did. I tried this, and now I am really in trouble." Ron looks at the financial sheets and says, "You are really in trouble. This is just what I told you before. You have got to completely abandon your business plan. There is no way that can possibly work. You are going to have to completely change your thinking. You are going to have to do it this way." I am broken enough this time that I listen. I completely abandon my way and try his way. And what do you know? Things begin working, and the business starts creeping up out of the hole. Soon it is going pretty well.

But then the strangest thing happens. I start to think, I know my way didn't work back then; but now the business is up and it's going. I think I'm going to try my way again. And so I do and down the tube it goes. I go back to Ron and say, "This is what I did." Ron looks me in the eye and says, "You are an idiot. I think you may have mental problems."

Now knowing the circumstances, do you think that Ron was too harsh with me? No, not at all. And when you understand the circumstances in Galatia, you understand that Paul is not being too harsh on the Galatians when he calls them, "Idiots". The Galatians had done, spiritually, the same thing I had done in my business. But their mistake was much more serious than mine. And, therefore, their situation called for a strong rebuke.

In 3:1-5, Paul does the same thing to the Galatians that he did to Peter in 2:11-14ff - he confronts them head on with their folly and the inconsistency of their behavior. They have begun to be sucked in by the Judaizers, and Paul shows them that their action contradicts the work of Christ on the cross and contradicts the work of the Spirit in their lives.

Galatians 3:1-5 (NASB) You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain-- if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

We could paraphrase Paul as saying, "How could you?" He can't believe the report that has come to him! He had been there in Galatia with Barnabas, they had preached Christ and His crucifixion as the only means of salvation, and yet now he was being told that the brothers and sisters in Galatia were being bewitched into believing that there was something more! Something more than Jesus? Come on, you've got to be kidding!

In Galatians 1, Paul calls the believers in Galatia, "Brethren" and "the church," the ones that Jesus Christ "gave Himself for" to pay their sin debt. Now in Galatians 3:1, he uses a little different language, calling them, "Idiots."

Why does Paul call those to whom he writes, "Foolish"? Does he not know that if he insults those to whom he writes, they will pay no attention to his message? How is it that he violates the accepted principles of dealing with people? Wasn't Paul afraid that he would offend them?

He calls them, "Foolish," because it is an apt description of them. The word that our translators chose to translate "foolish" is the Greek word anoetos, when originally coined for use, meant: "to act as though the mind was inoperative, or worse, non-existent." This is a word that means to know the truth and to just simply act unreasonably or irrationally - basically to be an idiot. As a matter of fact, if you look at the Phillip's Translation of the New Testament (which is a paraphrase), Galatians 3:1 reads like this: "Oh, you dear idiots of Galatia." That is a very accurate translation. That is pretty much the tone of the word Paul uses. The people were not using their capacity for understanding, and as a result, they thought and acted like idiots.

He writes, "who has bewitched you?" - bewitched is an odd word to the New Testament. It is used only this one time in all of the writings of the authors of the New Testament. The term was pregnant with meaning to the first readers of this epistle. Barclay translates bewitched as: "put the evil eye on." And he cites this closing, commonly found in ancient Greek letters: "Above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously." The ancient Greeks were accustomed to and afraid of the idea that a spell could be cast upon them by an "evil eye."

The "evil eye" was thought to work in the way a serpent could hypnotize its prey with its eyes. Once the victim looked into the "evil eye," a spell could be cast. In his commentary, F. F. Bruce stresses this nuance when he renders the term "hypnotized." Therefore, the way to overcome the evil eye was simply not to look at it. In using this phrasing, and using the word picture of bewitched, Paul is encouraging the Galatians to keep their eyes always, steadfastly, upon Jesus.

By using the term "bewitched," Paul gives the idea that the Galatians are under some type of spell. He doesn't mean this literally, but their thinking is so clouded and so unbiblical that it seems that some kind of spell has been cast over them. It amazes me when I talk with some Christians how absolutely absurd some of their beliefs are. They seem to be hypnotized.

For example, there are some Christians who actually believe that the KJV is the inspired English translation of the Bible in the same way that the first transcripts were inspired when Paul originally wrote them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, according to them, until 1611, or thereabouts, no one had an English Bible which could be reliable. No one in the English speaking world had a Bible that could be considered the true word of God. It took the Holy Spirit almost 1600 years to finally inspire, in the same way He inspired Paul, an English Bible for the world. They seem to be hypnotized by the power of the 1611 KJV.

Now if you have the KJV or the NKJV you'll notice that they add the phrase - "That ye should not obey the truth" to verse 1. The NASV and the NIV omit this phrase.

Paul most likely did not write these words. You can check out any good commentary on the book of Galatians which appeals to the original language to see that this phrase was most likely inserted by copyists.

Paul goes on in verse 1 to say, "before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?" Now, is Paul saying that before their very eyes they literally saw Jesus Christ hung on the cross for their redemption some 17 to 18 years earlier? Were they actually there? No. Actually watching the death of Jesus on the cross might mean nothing. Hundreds, if not thousands, saw Jesus dying on the cross, and most of them only mocked Him.

That phrase "publicly portrayed" is an interesting Greek word which demonstrates how they had been given the truth of Christ so convincingly that in their mind's eyes they saw it for what it was; the absolute truth. In fact, the word used for portrayed, or publicly portrayed, is the Greek word prographo. The suffix grapho is where we get our English word graphic, something that can be clearly seen.

In the ancient world, they did not have all of the multimedia that we have in order to communicate. When they communicated, they posted whatever it was. If the emperor had a new decree, or if there was something the people needed to know, they posted it somewhere in the public square. That is what this word means. It means to take it and post it in the public square.

What is he posting? He is posting Christ crucified. As a matter of fact, the word "crucified" is in the emphatic in the sentence, which simply means: the most important thing. It could be bold type, or it could be in red ink. It is a way of saying, "This is really the point. I publicly portrayed to you (I posted, I put on the billboard) Christ crucified." What he means by that is, "It was Christ crucified for our sins (Galatians 1:4). I told you that is the basis upon which you are saved - salvation by grace through faith." That has been the theme so far in the book of Galatians, and Paul says, "You knew that. You saw that. I posted it very clearly in your presence."

What Paul is saying is that salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ was the central theme of his teaching. He had put up billboards, so to speak, proclaiming the Cross as the final solution to human sin. He wrote to the Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." The Cross is the gospel and the gospel is the Cross. Eugene Petersen writes:

The single, overwhelming fact of history is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is no military battle, no geographical exploration, no scientific discovery, no literary creation, no artistic achievement, no moral heroism that compares with it. It is unique, massive, monumental, unprecedented and unparalleled.

The cross of Christ is not a minor incident in the political history of the first century that is a nice illustration of courage. It is the center of redemptive history.

Galatians 3:2 (NASB) This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Now, this is a very important question, because it forces these Galatians to choose between two options, not a third which is what the Judaizers were proposing. Two, and only two, options are given as to the way of salvation: achieving or believing. Remember, they were not denying that Christ died on the cross for their sins, but they were adding the law as a requirement to their salvation.

It is interesting when you go through the New Testament to notice all the different language used to describe salvation. When Paul talks here about "receiving the Spirit", what he is talking about is being saved. It is a synonym for salvation.

We are saved by faith:

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

And we receive the Spirit by faith:

Acts 11:15-17 (NASB) "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?"

Peter is preaching the gospel to Cornelius. As he preaches, Cornelius believes, and the Holy Spirit descends upon him as he had upon the 120 at the beginning. Notice that it is after they believed that they received the Holy Spirit. To not have the Holy Spirit, is to not be saved:

Romans 8:9 (NASB) However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

When Paul talks here about receiving the Spirit, what he is talking about is being saved. It is a synonym for salvation. It is very consistent with Galatians 2:20, which says that I have been crucified with Christ, but the life I live now is not my own. It is the very life of Christ living within me. In other words, I have received the Spirit. It is the very life of Jesus within me that now lives. So to describe salvation in this case, he is simply saying, "When you receive that new life, you receive the very Spirit of Jesus within you."

In the Mishnah, the codification in the second century A.D. of Jewish customs and traditions, we find this kind of thought about the Holy Spirit: "Rabbi Phineas Ben Jair says, `Heedfulness leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness leads to purity, and purity leads to separatism, and separatism leads to holiness, and holiness leads to humility, and humility leads to shunning of sin, and shunning of sin leads to saintliness, and saintliness leads to the Holy Spirit.' " But in the experience of the Galatian Christians, the demonstration of the Spirit's presence came before they were even taught the law or tried to live by its requirements.

So Paul is asking them, "Did you receive the Spirit by faith or law keeping?" Are we saved by what we do or by what Christ has done for us? Just keep that in mind as we work through this middle section of the book. Every verse and every argument ultimately makes its way back to that core issue. It's faith versus works; Grace versus the Law of Moses. The very heart of the gospel is at stake in this discussion.

So let me begin with a simple theological quiz. Here's a multiple-choice question: How good do you have to be to go to heaven?

A) Pretty good
B) Really Good
C) Perfect

The answer is C. If you want to go to heaven, you have to be perfect. And I don't mean "sort of" perfect, "mostly" perfect, or 80% perfect. Being 80% perfect is like being 80% pregnant. Either you're pregnant or you're not. Either you're perfect or you're not. The kicker in all this is that 90% of the world believes the answer is either A or B. Most people would say it's A. If I'm pretty good on the relative scale of goodness, surely I'll go to heaven. But God demands perfection. And only when we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are we given His righteousness and are thus perfect.

Because Paul and the Galatians both knew that the Gift had been bestowed upon the Galatians at the point of their belief in the message heard, this was all Paul needed to say to establish once and for all that salvation is by grace and not by any works of any law.

The young believers in Galatia had been saved under Paul's teaching that one gets right with God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but now they were being told by the false teachers that good works and law-keeping must play a much larger role in their theology. I suspect most of them didn't doubt their own salvation; they knew their lives had been changed by Christ. But this new teaching tempted some to reorient their thinking about sanctification or spiritual growth. They might continue to hold on to salvation by faith, but they would accept sanctification by works. To such a view Paul says:

Galatians 3:3 (NASB) Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Having clearly established in verse 2 that the Galatians had been granted the gift of the Holy Spirit when they believed the message of the gospel, and not after they had obeyed certain commands given by God, Paul introduced in this verse his real burden in this letter: How the

Galatians were to grow to maturity in Christ, having been saved by grace through faith.

In our studies so far, we have seen that Paul did heavily emphasize the issue of the beginning of the Galatians' experience of life from God. But he did so, not because he feared that they really had not begun, but because he wanted to clearly establish that God began with them in grace, and, therefore, He would not switch to law after such a beginning.

The false teachers, the Judaizers, were saying, "Okay, even though you have been saved (now that you have been saved in order to perfect that), in order to bring it to completion, you have to do this, this, this, and this." Paul says that is idiotic. He says you have a mental problem if that is what you think. How could the Law, which was unable to accomplish salvation, now bring about practical holiness?

The contrast between beginning with the Spirit and trying to attain perfection by the flesh sets up the antithesis between spirit and flesh which recurs in 4:29, 5:16-23 and 6:8.

What does Paul mean by "flesh"? If we look at Paul's prior uses of flesh in Galatians, we see him using "flesh" to refer to something that is totally human, with no special grace attached. In Paul's use of the term "flesh" in Galatians, he does not simply mean: "possessed of a physical body"; rather, he means: "limited to only a physical body and the physical strength it contains".

It is this truth which is at the heart of Paul's question in the verse before us. If physical life is limited to the natural functions of the physical body, how is it that the Galatians think they can operate on a "spiritual" level while depending upon their own human abilities?

To live by the flesh is depending upon the resources and abilities of the physical body or humanness. To live by the Spirit is depending upon the resources and abilities of the Spirit, whom God gives by grace through faith. In both cases, the fundamental issue is "depending." The critical difference is the object of the dependence. In "living by the flesh," the person who is living is depending upon what he is and has as the result of his physical heritage (genetic composition, intelligence quotient, education, etc.). In "living by the spirit," the person who is living is depending upon what the Spirit of God is and has - and what God has promised to do through Him.

It is this issue of the "object of dependence" that reveals whether a person is living by the Spirit or by the flesh. The reason that Paul could tell that the Galatians had reverted to life by the flesh is that he knew what they were depending upon for their lives. How did he know? By their theology! The telltale characteristic of fleshly living is the theology of legalism - "life by obedience."

The point of the verse is that you must go on in the Christian life the same way you started it. Since we began by the work of the Spirit, we must go on relying on the Spirit. The essence of the Galatian false teaching is that you begin the Christian life by faith, and then you grow in the Christian life by works, that is, by drawing on powers in yourself to make your contribution to salvation. This false teaching is alive and well in the church today. Paul is saying that we are saved and sanctified by God's grace and not our own efforts.

To live by the Spirit or grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ. To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight.

A Christian realizes that he is justified, declared righteous, solely on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by God through faith. But I think that very few Christians realize that we are also sanctified by grace through faith in Christ.

2 Peter 3:17-18 (NASB) You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

It is by God's grace that we are saved, and it is by God's grace that we grow or are sanctified. The word "sanctification" means: "to make holy, separation from sin." The Bible speaks of sanctification as the possession of every believer, and as something which we are to grow in. One is the objective holiness that we have in Christ, the other is the subjective holiness produced by God in our lives.

So, the Bible teaches that you are already holy, because Christ's holiness is imputed to you. You have been made perfect forever. This is Positional sanctification. But, it also teaches that you are being made holy day by day through the work of God in your life. This is Practical sanctification. Both aspects of sanctification, however, are gifts of God's grace. We began in the Spirit, and we are perfected in the Spirit. We do not deserve our holy standing before God, and we do no not deserve God's power working in our lives to make us holy. Both come to us by His grace because of the merit of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3:4 (NASB) Did you suffer so many things in vain-- if indeed it was in vain?

Is Paul now talking about their sufferings? One view is that the built-in implication of this issue, at this point in the flow of Paul's thought, is that maturity in Christians is effected by the combination of God's supply of the Spirit and suffering. Also, there is the implication that God's process of bringing His children to maturity requires both the Spirit and suffering. That means that if the Spirit is in control of the believer, His leadership will cause them to do what Jesus would do in their shoes, and that will bring about suffering - just as Jesus' actions brought suffering to Him. And, it means that suffering without the leadership of the Spirit is "vain."

Paul could be teaching the Galatians that suffering was inevitable for those who walk by the Spirit (note 2 Timothy 3:12). And he was teaching them that for suffering to have its intended maturing impact, it had to be endured with faith in the Spirit.

We know that Paul did suffer persecution in this region. Acts 14 makes it clear that Paul and his companions were persecuted vigorously (Paul even being stoned and left for dead) by the Jews when they were among the cities of Galatia. Surely some of this persecution spilled over to the Christian congregations Paul left behind in Galatia.

Another translation of the phrase, "Did you suffer so many things in vain" may be, "Have you had such wonderful spiritual experiences, all to no purpose?" This may fit the context better. The word "suffer" is from the Greek word pascho, a word that carries the basic idea of: "experience and sometimes that of pain or hardship." Since the context suggests nothing of suffering or hardship, it seems best to take the word here to refer to "experience"; the believers' personal experience with the Holy Spirit. Paul wonders if all the gifts of the Spirit they had received would amount to no lasting value, because now they try to walk by law, not by faith.

The NEB translates it in this way: "Have all your great experiences been in vain?" Since the verses before and after verse 4 speak of the gift of the Spirit and the occurrence of miracles, it seems that Paul is asking them if all these marvelous spiritual experiences have not had a positive effect in their lives. Their acceptance of the message of the Judaizers makes Paul wonder whether they have learned anything at all from all the great things God has been doing in their midst: of what value is the gift of the Spirit if you strive for perfection without the direction or power of the Spirit?

But Paul cannot accept that God's gracious provision of the Spirit and His miraculous work will be in vain, so he adds the disclaimer at the end of verse 4: "if it really was for nothing." Such a great experience of God's work cannot be for nothing.

He is saying, "You have experienced this new life, and it was evidence of salvation by grace through faith. But is it all now in vain? Is it all meaningless that you have reverted back to the way of the Law?"

Galatians 3:5 (NASB) Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Notice that verse 2 was in the past tense. That is how we began. Now verse 5 is in the present tense, talking about experiencing the life of the Spirit. The word translated provide was used in marriage contracts to express the husband's commitment to provide faithful and generous support for his wife. God is the faithful husband caring for his bride. The experience of God's continuous and generous supply of His Spirit to the Galatian believers is linked with his work of miracles in their midst.

Acts 14:8-10 (NASB) And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he leaped up and began to walk.

Paul recounts such overwhelming evidence of God's gracious work in order to draw his readers away from their present fixation on the stringent requirements of the teachers of the law.

Paul's argument in these five verses is this: If a person has received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at the same moment, and has the power of the Spirit working within him, how could he every improve on that by trusting in his humanness, his own efforts? You can't, and you would have to be an idiot to try!

The Galatians were slipping into legalism, which we see happening to many Christians in our own day. How do we protect ourselves from falling into the trap of legalism?

We must start with a right view of God. God is gracious, really gracious. He's not just a God of grace when it comes to salvation, He is always a God of grace. The only way He deals with His spiritual children is through grace. His wrath, and His anger will never touch those who are His by faith in Christ. He accepts you when you perform and He accepts you when you don't. He wouldn't love you one iota more if you were absolutely perfect, nor one iota less if you were absolutely horrid. You cannot earn God's favor by what you do, you already have God's favor because of Christ.

So to guard against legalism, we must start with a right view of God. Then we must gain a clear understanding of the doctrine of grace. This is, of course, our goal in this entire series on Galatians. I frankly cannot think of any doctrine the understanding of which can have a greater impact for good in the life of sinner and saint alike than this doctrine. All of God's dealings with us, from choosing us in the first place, to helping us grow in our faith, right through to our entrance into His presence in eternity are saturated with grace - unmerited favor.

I want to read a paraphrase of these first five verses of Galatians 3, which I feel puts the meaning right on a level all of us can grasp:

You idiotic Galatians! It is obvious that you no longer have the crucified Christ in clear focus in your lives. He was certainly set before you clearly enough. Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your fool heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's grace working in you? Only idiots would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.

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