OK God, I Got This From Here (Galatians, Part 25)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians, this time turning to New Testament scholar N.T. Wright for an illustration that helps explain Paul’s exasperated questions in Galatians 3:2-3. In those verses, Paul says: “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?”
N.T. Wright explains the sentiment behind Paul’s frustrated questions with the following example:
A famous story tells of the tight rope walker Charles Blondin (1824-97), who set up a rope across Niagara Falls and walked across several times. So confident did he become that he made the journey backwards as well as forwards, and performed various tricks on the way, like sitting on a small stool and eating a meal. But the most famous trick was when he asked for a volunteer to be carried over on his back. In what must have been one of the most supreme acts of physical trust ever placed by one human being in another, a brave, or perhaps foolish, man stepped forward, and was carried over on the great man’s shoulders.
Now supposing, halfway across, the man had said to Blondin: ‘Look here, this is all very well, but I really don’t trust you any more. I think I’d better do the rest by myself. Let me down and I’ll walk from here without you.’ One can only imagine the retort he would have got, not only from the professional, but from any watching friends or family. Had he taken leave of his senses? How did he suppose he would get across by himself?
That is exactly the reaction Paul has on hearing that his beloved Galatians are thinking of getting circumcised. Who has cast a spell on them? Are they out of their minds? Twice he calls them ‘mindless’ or ‘witless’; they seem to have lost the power to think straight. Having begun in the spirit, do they think they can continue in the flesh? Having begun with faith, do they think they can continue with works of the Jewish law, the Torah?
Wright’s illustration works particularly well when we realize that the task of crossing Niagara Falls on a tight rope is a piece of cake compared to the impossible task of earning our way into God’s family and securing our own place in the kingdom of God. Our only hope is to cling to Jesus in faith and trust him to carry us through to the end!