Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
Paul’s second letter to Timothy was the final correspondence we have recorded in Scripture from the pen of Paul. He had seen it all and now faced death at the hands of the Romans. Confined in jail he spoke his heart to Timothy, his beloved spiritual child. He exhorted Timothy to be faithful in the face of false teaching, to be bold and to endure.
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
His advice was more than theoretical. It had been forged in the furnace of personal experience. As I think of his admonition I can’t help pair it with chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians.
His opponents had been working to capture the hearts of the Galatian church. The gospel they preached, grace coupled with works, was in reality no gospel at all. Paul writes to the church and his correspondence is not lukewarm or half-hearted. In fact, it has been argued that the sixty verses that make up chapters 3 and 4 are the strongest writing that Paul ever produced. The reformed Pharisee was no amateur debater. We can see his ability in the passage; it is nothing short of withering.
After rigorously defending his credentials in a three part argument, he now turns to a six pronged attack to reprove, rebuke and exhort the Galatians. It begins with an appeal to their own experience.
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”?
The linchpin of the personal experience argument is verse 2: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” I have to confess, this opening gambit makes me smile. It reminds me of the old TV Dragnet series where Detective Friday would say “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”
The form of the question (literally) “This only do I wish to learn from you.” suggests that Paul wants only the most basic answer to his most simple question.
He asks the question to put the Galatians back in touch with their own experience of knowing Christ. The question comes before any statements or commands from Paul.
He knows the answer to this rhetorical question. You can see it reflected in verse 1:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
Paul calls them “foolish”. He is not violating Jesus’ command in His Sermon on the Mount, rather he is stating a fact. The Greek word Paul uses conveys the thought that the Galatians are spiritually dull. What’s more, this word often conveyed the idea that a wrong attitude was clouding judgment. The Galatians were spiritually dull because they had become careless with the Gospel.
Paul admonished Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it…
The Galatians had irrationally turned from what they learned and firmly believed. So illogical was this turn of events that Paul can only explain it by bewitchment. He does not really believe this; he wants the Galatians to understand just how incredible their turn from the truth is. No sane person would trade the freedom of the truth for the bondage of law.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Paul knows the Galatians believed. He had seen their conversions first hand. He had preached to them the unvarnished gospel and they had responded. The last half of verse 1 says “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”
Paul was in some ways a “one hit wonder”. His message was always the same.
1 Corinthians 1:22-23
we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
1 Corinthians 2:2
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
In all of these texts (including the Galatian passage) Paul uses the perfect passive tense for “crucified” which indicates a historical fact with continuing results.
No ritual, ceremony, regulation or any other thing devised or accomplished by man can pick up where the cross leaves off – because the cross never leaves off. The cross is the continuing and eternal payment for all sin and every sinner who puts his trust in the cross is forever and continually forgiven. …[The cross] will stand forever as living proof that men cannot redeem themselves.
This was the message that Paul delivered to the Galatians and it was the message they embraced. How could Paul be so sure that the Galatians had, in the beginning, understood and embraced his message?
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.
His surety can be inferred from his next argument. He asks how they received the Holy Spirit. He says salvation was begun by the Spirit and power to abide is supplied by the Spirit, all through hearing with faith.
A person who does not have the Holy Spirit present in his life is not saved. With the new birth comes the presence of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is unmistakable evidence of salvation and God’s guarantee of our reaching heaven.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
1 John 4:13
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Paul explained to the Ephesians (1:13-14)
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The Greek here is very specific. When Paul says the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee” the word refers to a down payment or earnest money given as a pledge that the full amount would be paid. A modern Greek form of this word is used for engagement ring. What a picture – the Holy Spirit is the engagement ring given in pledge that we will participate in the marriage feast of the lamb!
The Holy Spirit is not the goal of the Christian life but its source. He is not the product of right living but is the power behind it. Paul makes this point to the Galatians. He says look to your own experience for proof. He asks in verse 4 “Did you suffer so many things in vain” can be translated “Did you experience so many things for nothing?” My mom used to say that I had sense but no common sense because I wasn’t good as a child in applying the things I had learned to the world around me. Paul makes the same point here in a different application. Did you experience a saving knowledge of Jesus, did the Holy Spirit come into your lives and do you experience Him daily? What does your experience tell you? Did all this happen because you kept the law perfectly?
Of course not – you are Gentiles who were far off. You were saved by God’s grace apart from your obedience to the law. Why then would you think you need the law now to perfect you?
He then deftly shifts his argument. Aware that they are Gentiles and have fallen under the spell of Judaizers who claimed they need to follow the works of the law in addition to having faith, he brings up the Father of all Jews.
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.
Paul has turned the argument to another arena. He points them to the examples recorded in Scripture to point out that the gospel has always been the same. Note the order here – we never judge the Scripture by our experience – we test our experience by the Word of God. Paul shows how the Scripture validates their own experience.
He points them to Abraham and says Abraham was saved by faith which God counted for righteousness. Read the account in Genesis 15:1-6. The Jews come to faith just like the Gentiles. It is through faith apart from works. It has always been that way. Paul is about to launch into a very powerful argument which we will unfortunately have to leave to next week.
The application to our lives is straight forward. The history of the church illustrates strong starts in the truth. Every mainline Christian church started rooted in the Gospel of grace. Yet some have fallen into a system of legalism that promises more but delivers the very bondage it is supposed to liberate from. They devolved into a system of “Do’s and don’ts” looking for a closer walk with God. Others left the gospel looking for a second blessing that would somehow enhance their walk with God.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Paul says the only remedy is to be sober-minded (not under bewitchment). We are called to be those that rightly divide the word of truth.
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA