O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? 5Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – 6just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
When Jesus addressed the greed of the Pharisees in Luke 16:14-31, He concluded His discourse by explaining that the Pharisees would not believe even “if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). It is pent up in the heart of man to pursue self-righteousness. The appeal of the I saved myself posture is tremendous. Likewise, it is equally appealing to feel a great sense of self-exalted pride in our faulty attempts to garner some sort of leverage above those around us.
Indeed, that is the quandary facing the Galatian believers. They are striving to be proven holy on their own terms rather than trusting completely in Christ for their righteousness. They have decided that they need to add some sort of pious action to their already redeemed state. Yet, this is the struggle of the Pharisee in Luke, the pre-resurrection disciple in John, and in the anticipating crowds of Matthew. Humanity strives to prove itself. Born in the human spirit is a need to be right with God. Equally prevalent in the heart of man is a propensity toward law in an effort to answer the need and an unwillingness to surrender that need to God.
Paul is shocked by his brothers and sisters. Surely those who have seen the messiah crucified before their own eyes would not turn back to the religious system that demanded such a sacrifice when the sacrifice has been paid! His shock is warranted and understandable. What fool would surrender the gift of grace for the regulation of law!? So Paul poses the question in verse two, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” His assertion is clear – the Galatians received the miraculous salvation through no work of their own. They did not become believers because they somehow earned it or by some merit of their own doing. They became believers because they heard the gospel and believed it. The Spirit did not come to them because they were good enough. He came precisely because they were not good enough and Christ was good in their place! Christians enter into the sanctification process by the power of the Holy Spirit, a relationship that is initiated and completed by the Spirit (Philippians 1:6). Paul’s shock is manifest in three questions – 1. Who initiated your salvation? 2. Was your suffering vain? 3. Who enables and empowers your sanctification?
The Spirit begins the work and the Spirit completes the work. Thus, the correct course of action in a believer’s life is an abandonment of self-righteous attempts towards righteousness in favor of obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This striving to follow the Lord may look similar to an attempt to live according to the Law. Indeed, people who strive to follow the Spirit will often strive towards holiness and those who seek to follow the law are seeking to live holy lives. However, there is a distinction – The pursuit of the law is a pursuit of self-exalting works in an effort to be saved. In contrast, a pursuit of the Spirit is a laying down of self-exaltation in order to love and know Christ more. The one pursuing holiness by the Law submits to laws that claim to make them righteous and are subsequently condemned by that law. The one pursuing holiness by the Spirit is set free from restrictions and is enabled to be righteousness because they are able!
One who trusts in the law for their salvation nullifies the grace of Jesus. If you trust in the law for your salvation, you will not be saved. But, if by faith you place your trust in the work of Jesus Christ you will be saved from the wrath of God. All the suffering and struggles that the Galatian believers endured validate and prove their faith. They suffered because they shifted from Judaism or Paganism respectively and surrendered to Christ. Their society rejected them, their prior religious organizations rejected them, and many lost family and friends for the sake of the gospel. So Paul asks, was it in vain? This question cuts to the heart. If one returns to religion for salvation, then they are spurning the grace of the gospel and all that early suffering was for naught.
Finally, Paul asks who it is that enables the miraculous, life-shifting, change that they are experiencing. It is not the Law that brings the miraculous. It is not the law that changes hearts. It is not the law that is manifest in their community. It is the Spirit of God. To add a requirement of obedience to the law is to credit the law for the work of the Spirit. So, Paul challenges the reader to abandon the law as a means of salvation and trust the Spirit.
Our example in this text is Abram who was counted righteous apart from circumcision (the law). God makes his covenant with Abram before He institutes a law. Abram is counted righteous before God because “he believed the LORD” (Gen. 15:6). According to Romans 4, believers share in this kind of salvation. We are counted righteous because we share in this same faithful belief that Abram exemplifies.
Oh dear Christian, do not return to a yoke of slavery by instituting a law over your soul. Trust in Christ and in Christ alone for your salvation and do not add to the work of the Spirit. Only in trusting Christ will you be able to pursue a holy life.