Beginning and Ending by the Spirit (Galatians, Part 24)

galatians week 24

This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.

3:1O 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”?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Why does Paul call the Galatians “foolish”?

Because evidently they were considering getting circumcised and following all of Israel’s laws in order to belong to the family of God. As we’ve mentioned multiple times, false teachers were claiming that since God had promised that salvation would come to the world through the nation of Israel, everyone who wanted to enter the kingdom had to become Jews and keep all of Moses’ laws. But Paul calls the Galatians “foolish” for being taken in by this nonsense.

Why should the Galatians have known better?

Because they had already received God’s Spirit, which was their confirmation that God had accepted and adopted them.

How had they “begun by the Spirit”?

They had already begun to experience peace with God, joy in Jesus, and communion with one another as God’s redeemed people. Through the Spirit, the love of God had been poured into their hearts (Rom. 5:5). And it was because of the Spirit that they could know for sure that God was now their Father (Romans 8:15-16: “You have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons, by which we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”). Some in the Galatian church had also apparently been given power to do miracles by the power of the Spirit.

But now that they had begun in this way—by trusting in Jesus to bring them into his Father’s kingdom and receiving the Spirit as the sign that God had done it—they had gotten the idea that God was putting all of these human requirements on them in order to secure his blessing and his love.  And they were greatly mistaken in this, Paul says.

So if we don’t become children of Abraham (i.e., God’s people) by following Abraham in circumcision, then how do we become Abraham’s children?

Not by following him in circumcision, but by following him in faith. Paul points out in verse 6 that Abraham was accepted by God not because he was circumcised, but because he trusted God’s promises and put his faith in him. (In Romans 4:10, Paul points out that God accepted Abraham as his son long before he ever got circumcised, so it would be pointless to argue from the life of Abraham that circumcision was necessary to be accepted by God!) So Paul says in verse 7, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” And all who are his sons (and daughters) share in the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Through faith in Jesus, we are blessed by God and we are a blessing to the world!

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