Tuesday
Jul202010

Who Has Bewitched You?

Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia is a study in both theology and practical discipleship.

Those two fields of study had collided in what is now the nation of Turkey as certain Judaizing teachers had introduced dangerously false doctrines there. Specifically, some with a Pharisaical spirit had brought “a different gospel,” focused upon resurrecting the defunct Law of Moses rather than upon the resurrected Christ (see Galatians 1:6-9, Acts 15:1-6). Paul’s singular objective in the letter was to remind his readers that the Law of Moses had been replaced by the covenant of Christ, and that grace now reigned where before sins had clung to the sinner (see Galatians 2:15-16).

The false teachers preferred to have it both ways – they were willing to confess Christ and reluctantly embrace his Gentile believers, but only if they would submit themselves to circumcision and other beloved facets of the Law of Moses. The image of adult men undergoing ritual circumcision comes alive in the fifth chapter, where the Holy Spirit says, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves” (12)!

In Paul’s analysis, the Galatians had been bewitched – it was as if they had been hypnotized or brought under some magical spell. To try to snap them out of it, he erected a contrast before their eyes between the two covenants, indicating that there was no possibility of harmonizing them in the church. One was obsolete and ready to vanish away, while the other was only recently enacted as part of the holy testator’s death upon the cross (see Hebrews 8:13-9:17).

The inspired apostle begins by asking a contrast question: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2)? The Judaizers wished to impress upon every disciple an impossible legalistic system, by which no soul had been made perfect. The hearing of faith, however, succeeded in acquiring God’s grace through his redeemer son (see Romans 10:17, Ephesians 2:8-10).

Paul asks another contrast question: “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” (3:5)? The Spirit did not come because people kept the Sabbath or eschewed shellfish, but because they responded by faith to the gospel message (First Corinthians 12:10).

The Judaizers’ promise was sonship to Abraham, the relationship they thought they enjoyed through the Law of Moses. Historically, however, Abraham lived long before Moses and could not have been justified by keeping the decalogue. Abraham, Paul points out, was made just when he believed God, and the same process holds for believers in the age of Christ, who keep, not the old, dead law, but the new covenant of grace. “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (9).

Note, moreover, that the Pauline contrast is between grace and the Law of Moses, not between grace and discipleship or obedience to God altogether. God still expects us to respond to the gospel call obediently, because faith without submissiveness is dead (First Peter 4:17-19, James 2:14-26).