October 6, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

III. Doctrinal: Defense of Justification by Faith (3:1–4:31)

            A: Vindication of Justification by Faith (3.1-18)


Chapter III.A.1: The Experience of the Galatians (3.1-5)


Galatians 3.1-5 (KJV) 

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 

2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 

4 Have you suffered so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? 

5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?



The key to this section is in the word “suffered” (Gal. 3.4), which can be translated “experienced.” Paul asks, “Have you experienced so many things in vain?” The argument from the point of Christian experience was a wise one with which to begin, because Paul had been with them when they accepted Christ. Of course, to argue from experience can be dangerous, because experiences can be counterfeited and they can be misunderstood. Subjective experience must be balanced with objective evidence, because experiences can change, but truth never changes. Paul balances the subjective experience of the Galatian Christians with the objective teaching of the unchanging Word of God (Gal. 3.6-14).


1 O Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 

Foolish Galatians!

“Foolish” as it is used here, means “spiritually dull,” while the word Jesus used in Luke 24.25— “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken”—has the idea of a “foolish person.” Paul is declaring a fact; Jesus is warning against verbal abuse.

Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,

The Judaizers, the Jewish false teachers, were succeeding in convincing the Galatian believers that certain aspects of Jewish law (circumcision, observing the dietary laws, etc.) were necessary, in addition to faith in Christ, in order for a person to be saved. Paul is astonished that they could believe such a thing, and in this section he uses some of his strongest language to express his disapproval of them following these false teachers and returning to Judaism.

“Bewitched” has in it the notion of being charmed or misled by flattery or false promises. The term suggests an appeal to the emotions by the Judaizers. Let me translate “who has bewitched you” in good old Americano—what’s gotten into you? To embrace a doctrine which declared the death of Christ unnecessary was irrational—I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Gal. 2.21) The sole reason why the Son of God came into the world to suffer death was to do away with our sins and make us righteous with God. If there was any other way to accomplish these ends, He would have stayed in heaven. It would almost seem that the Galatians had been “bewitched,” cast under a spell by some malign influence. For this, however, they were without excuse because the Savior had been “clearly portrayed…as crucified,” before their eyes. Paul had vividly and graphically proclaimed the crucified Christ to the Galatians, but their eyes had been diverted from the Cross to the Law. They were without excuse. The Galatians were known to be intelligent, and Paul uses the term “eyes” to refer to their minds; they received the preaching of Paul with both their mind and heart, and the proof of their salvation was that they demonstrated the presence of the Holy Spirit.

before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

“Christ…crucified” is the subject the apostle preached in Galatia, and he preached it with such effectiveness, that the people could almost see Jesus crucified and hanging on the cross. The words “clearly portrayed” are translated from a Greek word that means “publicly portrayed and announced on a poster.” Just as we put important words on a poster, and display it in a public place, so Paul publicly presented Christ to the Galatians, with great emphasis on His death for sinners on the cross. I am not sure that Paul actually drew pictures and held up placards to the Galatians, but I am sure he did paint word pictures for them. Now that is the way to “clearly portray” a teaching, and that is the word Paul uses. “Clearly portrayed among you as crucified”—it was His death on a cross that made your salvation possible. They heard this truth, believed it, and obeyed it; and as a result, were born into the family of God.

The crucifixion of Christ was a onetime historical fact with results continuing into eternity. Christ’s sacrificial death provides eternal payment for believer’s sins—Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Heb. 7.25)—and does not need to be supplemented by any human works.


2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 

We have to be very careful as we deal with this verse. The gospel is true irrespective of experience. What experience does is corroborate the gospel. There are many people today who reason from experience to truth. I personally believe that the Word of God reasons from truth to experience. Experience is not to be discounted, but it must be tested by truth. Everyone has different experiences.

Question 1: How “did you receive the Holy Spirit; by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?”  This rhetorical question concerns the time of their conversion, when they received the Holy Spirit—And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls "Abba! Father!" (Gal. 4.6). Paul did not question their salvation, but challenged them to consider whether they were saved and received the Spirit by faith or on the basis of works. It was of course by faith, when they heard Paul preach the gospel. As an essentially gentile church they did not possess the Mosaic Law anyway. What does Paul mean by “the hearing of faith?”  Does he mean the ear, the organ of hearing, or the receiving of the message, or the message itself? I think he means the whole process. You have to hear something before you can be saved, because the gospel is something God has done for you, and you need to know about it. The truth that many fail to comprehend is that nowhere—not even in the Old Testament—did anyone ever receive the Holy Spirit by the works of the Law. He is received by the hearing of faith. Simply stated, “the hearing of faith” is hearing with faith. The Galatians did not receive the Holy Spirit by the Law. The Holy Spirit is the only real evidence of conversion. Scripture tells us, You, however, are not under the control of the human nature but under the control of the Spirit, since God's Spirit lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of the Messiah, he does not belong to him” (Rom 8.9).  “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1.3).

It is important that we understand the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion and in Christian living. The Holy Spirit convicts the lost sinner and reveals Christ to him (John 16.7-11). The sinner can resist the Spirit—You stubborn people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do” (Acts 7.51) or yield to the Spirit and trust Jesus Christ. When the sinner believes in Jesus Christ, he is then born of the Spirit (John 3.1-8) and receives new life. He is also baptized by the Spirit so that he becomes a part of the physical body of Christ—“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12.12-14). The believer is sealed by the Spirit—“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1.13, 14), as a guarantee that he will one day share in the glory of Christ.

Since the Holy Spirit does so much for believers, this means that the believer has a responsibility to the Holy Spirit, who lives within his body—“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's” (1 cor. 6.19, 20). The Christian should walk in the Spirit—“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5.16, 25)—by reading the Word, praying, and obeying God’s will. If he disobeys God, then he is grieving the Spirit“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4.30), and if he persists in doing this, he may quench the Spirit“Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5.19). This does not mean the Holy Spirit will leave him, because Jesus has promised that the Spirit abides forever—“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (Eph. 14.16). But it does mean that the Holy Spirit cannot give him the joy and power he needs for daily Christian living. Believers should be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5.18-21) which simply means “controlled by the Spirit.” This is a continuous experience, like drinking water from a fresh stream (John 7.37-39). In their conversion experience, the Galatian believers had received the Spirit by faith and not by the works of the Law.

Paul appealed to the Galatian’s own salvation to refute the false teacher’s false teaching that keeping the Law is necessary for salvation.

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 

Question 2: If the Holy Spirit is the One who converted you, brought you to Christ, and now you are indwelt by the Spirit of God, are you going to turn back to the Law (which was given to control the flesh) and think you are going to live on a high plane?” 

Are you so foolish?

Shocked at how easily the Galatians had been duped, Paul asked another question, but he assumed that he knew the answer they would give, so he asked them a rhetorical question, again rebuking them for their foolishness—were they so foolish that they thought they could begin the Christian life in one way (by faith), and then move on to spiritual maturity in another (by works). This was what the Judaizers promoted, but the means of justification and sanctification were (and are) the same. There was no provision under the Law for the Holy Spirit to do a work of sanctification. The Galatian believers probably thought that keeping the old Law would aid them in their spiritual lives, but it would not. The notion that weak, sinful, fallen human nature (“the flesh”) could improve on the work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous to Paul.

Having begun in the Spirit,

Having begun with the Holy Spirit ruling your spiritual life as its “essence and active principle” are you now willing to be ruled by the “flesh” which is how the Law works. Having begun your Christianity in the Spirit, that is, in the divine life that proceeds from faith, are you now seeking something even higher (the perfecting of your Christianity) in the sensuous and the earthly, that cannot possibly elevate the inner life of the Spirit through outward ceremonies. No doubt the Corinthians thought they were going more deeply into the Spirit; because the flesh can be easily mistaken for the Spirit even by those who have made progress, unless they continue to maintain a pure faith.

are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 

If you did not begin with the Law, why bring it in now. If you began with the Spirit, can you go on to maturity without the Spirit, depending on the flesh?  The word “flesh” here does not refer to the human body, but rather to the believer’s old nature. Whatever the Bible says about flesh is usually negative—“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6.63). Since we were saved through the Spirit, and not the flesh, through faith and not the Law, it is reasonable that we should continue that way.

4 Have you suffered so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? 

Question 3: Did you suffer in vain?  He reminds them that they had paid a price for receiving the gospel. Was it all going to be in vain, without a purpose? “You have begun in the Spirit,” writes Paul. “Nothing need be added! Walk in the Spirit and you will grow in the Lord.”

The third question has been interpreted in at least two way

     1.    It looked back on the persecution the apostles and new believers experienced in the region of Galatia. As Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps at the end of their first missionary journey, they warned their converts that they would suffer as Christians—“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14.21, 22). Persecution evidentially soon followed, and Paul reminded them that if they turned from grace to Law they would brand their former position “in vain” and would then have suffered so much for nothing. But the apostle was unwilling to believe that they would turn from grace.

     2.    “Suffered” probably does not refer to persecution or to the burden of law-keeping,” but is used in a good sense—experienced. The Greek word rendered “suffered” has the basic meaning of “experienced,” and this interpretation is favored by the continuing mention of the Spirit in the next verse; therefore, it does not necessarily imply pain and hardship. Paul used this word to describe the Galatians personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ.

“Many things” refers to all the blessings of salvation from God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1.3).

“In vain” means fruitlessly, needlessly, since they might have avoided persecution by professing Judaism, or by worshipped some heathen deity. Or, shall they, by falling from grace lose the reward promised for all their sufferings, so that it was all done in vain.

Paul does not give up hope in the Galatian believers—I hope for better things from you, because I hope you will turn from legalism to grace, and if I am right, you will not have “suffered so many things in vain,” because “God has given you the Spirit and has wrought many mighty works among you” (v. 5).

5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

 Qestion 4: On what basis did God perform miracles? The book of Acts records that miracles were performed among the Galatians by divine power: “Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14.3). It was clear that these supernatural works were not the result of “the works of the law, but from the hearing that leads to faith. The Galatians did not know the Law and Paul’s message was justification by faith.

The “He” in this verse refers to the Father as the One who “supplies the Spirit” and “works miracles among you [them].” The same Holy Spirit who came into the believer at conversion continues to work in him and through him so that the whole body is built up:

     ·         “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4.16).

     ·         “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God” (Col. 2.19).

The Father continues to “supply the Spirit” in power and in blessing and this is done by faith and not “by the works of the Law.” When they were saved and received the Spirit, the Galatians didn’t know anything about Jewish Law; therefore they were not saved by keeping the Law, but through saving faith granted when hearing the gospel—“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10.17). The “hearing of faith” is actually hearing with faith. Paul appealed to the Galatians own salvation experience to refute the Judaizers false teaching that keeping the Law was necessary for salvation. The phrase “among you” can also be translated within you. These miracles, therefore, would also include wonderful changes in the lives of the Christians, as well as signs and wonders within the church fellowship.

The Holy Spirit was an obvious possession of new converts, without the outward tokens of the Law. It is the same argument that carried the day for Peter after the conversion of Cornelius—“Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11.16-18). He also used this argument effectively at Jerusalem—“So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 14.8, 9).

Paul speaks of these “miracles” as if they were a matter of unquestioned notoriety among those he addressed, which is an undesigned proof of their genuineness. The miracles would probably have included those supernatural evidences of the Spirit which were common in the early churches, such as healing the sick and afflicted. But here the “miracles” may refer to the working of the Spirit on moral qualities which undoubtedly included the patented moral transformation of many of the converts.

You will recall that Paul’s apostleship was attacked by the Judaizers. They said he was a Johnny-come-lately apostle. He was not with Christ during His ministry but came along later. Paul reminded the Galatians that he was the one who had come into their country, preached the Word of God to them, and worked miracles among them. He did not do it by the works of the Law—Paul would be very careful to say that. He preached the Lord Jesus Christ as the ONE who died for them, was raised again, and in whom they placed their trust. When He did that, a miraculous thing took place. They were regenerated. Paul had the evidence he was an apostle. In that day signs were given to the apostles. As I understand it, the apostles had all the gifts mentioned in the Scriptures; they certainly had all the sign gifts. Paul could perform miracles. He could heal the sick. He could raise the dead. Simon Peter, one of the original Twelve, could do that also. To do this was the mark of an apostle in that day.

Now the apostles have given us the Word of God. We have a faith that is built upon Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone, and a faith built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets. That which gave credence to the truth of their message was their ability to perform miracles. They had the sign gifts. (After they had given us the Word of God, the sign gifts disappeared. In fact, I believe they disappeared with the apostles.) The important thing for us to note here is that Paul came to the Galatians not as a Pharisee preaching the Law, but as an apostle preaching Jesus Christ. That was something these people had experienced, and Paul rested on that.

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