O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by 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 who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 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.”9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:1-14
Wow! Paul lays it on kind of thick here. He calls the Galatians fools and then asks them who bewitched them. Paul plasters them with the epithet of being such fools that a Judaizer could bewitch them from the truth. Again, it is obvious that Paul is a little miffed.
These folks obviously did not, in fact, see Jesus in the flesh. He never made it that far north or west of Bethlehem to Galatia. However, Paul knows that through his preaching they did see Jesus as the one who died for them, the crucified savior. They saw him clearly enough to be willing to suffer the hard persecution of the anti-Christian Jews in Galatia, the ones who persecuted Paul and on one occasion left him for dead after stoning him. They saw, as Paul describes it elsewhere, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Their experience of Jesus, while not in the flesh, was real enough, all right. I am sure that is part of what frustrated Paul. These folks had a very real experience with Jesus and still allowed themselves to be sold a bill of goods that would take them back under the law as a means of justification. Paul labels it “foolish.”
Through rhetorical questions, Paul emphasizes that they did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were born again by obeying the law, nor did they experience the daily supply of the Holy Spirit and the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives because they performed well. They had these experiences of the Holy Spirit in their lives by hearing the word of God with faith. The inclusive gospel that allowed gentiles and Jews alike into the Kingdom of God was preached to/through Abraham when the promise was given that all nations would be blessed in Abraham.
Those who attempt to be righteous through their obedience to the law of God and/or the religious regulations created by men actually find themselves under a curse because no one can perfectly obey any laws whether God’s or ones we make up ourselves. This is the beauty of the gospel, Christ has redeemed us from this curse by becoming a curse on our behalf, our substitute. The result is that the blessing of Abraham, being named as righteous, comes to we Gentiles as well as to Jews and the promise of the Holy Spirit is ours, through faith alone.
What is the significance to us today? Most of us at one time or another strive to find acceptance on the basis of our behavior. Stop it! You and I are doomed to failure when we approach God on that basis. Face it, we are failures when it comes to obedience and our only safety is to rest in the finished work of Christ. That is really what the Sabbath is all about. On the Sabbath, God rested. We are called to enter into that Sabbath rest with Christ where all the work is done. It is called the rest of faith, not the rest of obedience. Only as we rest in faith are we able to even approach a life of obedience.
So, as Paul says, don’t be a fool and try to satisfy God with your obedience, believe the promise of God and rest in Christ alone by faith alone. It is in the walk of faith that we receive the Spirit and it is by the Spirit alone that we can walk out any reasonable semblance of obedience to God’s law. Rejoice in the Lord and his finished work on your behalf.