Because You Believe What You Heard
Key Verse 3:5
“Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
The hope of every Christian— and that’s our confidence as well— is that on the day God calls all human beings to judgment, and he will— is that as I stand before his throne to give an accounting for the life that I lived here on earth, his verdict for me will be “Righteous”— that I am righteous in his sight and sealed by the blood of his Son and marked by his Spirit. Meaning: that I will escape the eternal condemnation that awaits those who will not be found righteous in his sight, who will have to pay for their own sins. My hope as a Christian is found in these verses where “righteousness” is assured me not by anything that I had done to deserve it but by the faith I have in Christ Jesus and what he has done for me. And the Spirit of God who lives in me assures me of this, and I can continue to trust him. That’s the main point of 3:1–5, perhaps even of the whole book.
And it’s the same for all people. A person is justified by faith alone! It is the grace of God. Jesus has done it for you. You are justified before God. You have to do nothing any more in order to be who God made you to be in Christ Jesus and to grow into his likeness. You just stand in that position of a son or a daughter— justified— and stand tall. When you know this you can move on from a life of “Doing” to a life of “Being”— “being” the man or woman of God you are and living by the Spirit of God for his glory. When you know in your soul that you are justified— then you go and be all that God wants you to be in your relationship with him. Be free in your heart to worship him and to commune with him and to grow to full maturity in him and through him. The secret is In Him and Through Him alone, and not in you nor through you. As for you— what you have to do— is you just have to die to yourself and let Christ and his Spirit live in you. This is what Paul wanted the Galatians to know in their souls and to hold on to it
Look at verse 1. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” Who has bewitched you? Who has brainwashed you into believing something conceived in the pit of hell itself? Who has taken away the pure joy and peace you had when you first heard and accepted the gospel? Something had stripped them from the joy they had as the growing children of God. Religious legalism does that. Futile and useless human effort at bettering ourselves does that. Trying hard to please God with works does that.
What a rebuke for a church that was about to throw away the glory of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit working in the heart for a futile attempt at becoming more religious. We understand them. We want to grow in our inner person. We want to be more spiritual. We want to be able to overcome some of the things that we think we should have overcome a long time ago. We want to grow closer to God. We want to do something, anything, to make us feel as if we are doing something to mature faster, and be better. And that’s the trouble and the trap of the devil. Whenever we begin to think that we ought to do something to help God in our spiritual growth— or to better perfect ourselves in the sight of God— it is foolishness. That is why he calls them foolish. Because there is nothing more foolish than a man or woman who have been justified by faith to want to now work on their spiritual growth. You say that would never happen to me. It does— when you think that if you spend half an hour extra in Bible reading, you will grow closer to God. Or it happens when you sin and then spend all your time in repenting because you think that repentance will make you more righteous or will restore the righteousness with God that you lost through your sin. You foolish Galatians! They were still young spiritually and easily fooled by those who wanted to show them some extra steps to make them extra spiritual, and help them grow closer to God.
“Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” Portrayed as in placarded before them— or lifted up high, in plain view, like a billboard on the highway— for every one to see. This was the whole point of Paul’s ministry there. Paul held up before them Jesus on the cross. This was what Paul had talked to them about the whole time he was with them. “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified … so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1Co 2:2-5) And so Paul portrayed to them the crucified Christ. He must have explained to them the meaning of the cross and the suffering of the Messiah. Jesus died on the cross for their sins. When Paul portrayed Jesus as crucified to them, their hearts were broken over their own sins. Proud hearts were smitten with Jesus’ humility. Selfish hearts were broken with his selflessness. They repented of their sins. And then something great happened among them. Paul now begins to ask them several questions to bring them back to their senses.
Read verse 2. “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” And here’s the first question. Did you receive the spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? No one— not even in the Old Testament did anyone ever receive the spirit by observing the law. The Holy Spirit is received when the gospel message is heard and believed by faith. These Gentiles never received the Holy Spirit by obeying or practicing the laws of God. Paul is asking this question because the Holy Spirit is the clear evidence of spiritual conversion. Look at what Romans 8:9 says: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Here we have two kinds of people, those who live by the flesh— the sinful nature and those who live by the Spirit— and the difference is staggering and frightful. The difference is that the first kind of people do not have the Spirit of Christ, nor do they belong to him; while the others have his Spirit and belong to him as well. And again it says in Ephesians 1:13. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” So these people had heard the message of the gospel and had believed it by faith. So God had given them the gift of the Holy Spirit who now lived in them. That was the evidence of their conversion. That was the evidence that they belonged to Jesus— the evidence that they were Christian— that they belonged to the family of God. Paul asked them this simple question. Think on how you came to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! Was it by following the law, or by believing the gospel message? Think you foolish people— think!
Read verse 3. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” And here is the second question he asks them. If the Holy Spirit is the one who converted you, and brought you to Christ who filled your hearts with the Holy Spirit when you believed, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? The goal he is talking about here may be the goal of salvation or more possibly that of sanctification— or inner cleansing— the process of growing in the image of Christ which God begins to do for those who have been born again and who have attained salvation. He asks them now that they had received the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ Jesus— and had been marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit for eternal life— are they now trying to perfect that salvation by adding their own effort to it— by observing the law? Many people do that after they had come to Christ— even though when you think about it, it makes no sense! It’s kind of spiritually foolish for anyone to work on salvation by one’s own works after having known the work of the Spirit in one’s life. But people do. The Holy Spirit who is given for the work of salvation in our lives is the same Holy Spirit given also for the work of sanctification or perfection in our lives as well. God who saved us by his Spirit— also by the same Spirit helps us mature into the likeness of Christ. That goal— which is a glorious hope— the best hope you can ever have in life— the hope of being sanctified on the inside and made into the likeness of Jesus— that hope cannot be met by observing the law. That would be as if one is trying to perfect himself— his own spiritual life— by his own effort. And effort had already been proven that it does not work neither for salvation nor for sanctifying the inner person. Works just doesn’t work! How many times must we say that? Until people get it in their heads and hearts and finally submit to Christ and to his Spirit.
Then you say, why was the Law given to the people of God in the Old Testament? The law wasn’t given for salvation nor for the reception of the Holy Spirit. But it was given for a very good reason. The only thing the law did for the people of the Old Testament was to help them control their own flesh. It was difficult for them to do, because they had to fight against all the powerful sinful desires that come from the sinful nature— all the time! They had this enormous enemy Satan working in the world through their flesh to destroy every effort they made to remain close to God and to remain faithful to him. God sheltered them— and in a sense gave them grace to control some aspects of the fleshly sinful nature. But for generations they had to slaughter animals shedding their blood as an atonement for their sins. And still they could not stop sinning, for they were still slaves to sin. That’s all the law did for them, until Christ Jesus came. And when he came he offered himself as an atonement for sin— once for all— all the sins past present and future. He rose from the dead and conquered the mighty power of sin working in the hearts of men, and he ascended to heaven in order to send us the gift God promised those who repent and believe. The law could not do anything but put some control on the sinful desires of the flesh. Why were they tempted— bewitched— deceived into going back to following the mosaic laws!
Paul asks a very interesting question to Christians in general? After being saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ; after God had given you the promised Holy Spirit as the seal of your salvation; after God had begun his work in your hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, are you now deceived to think that you could actually grow in your salvation— by adding on to it works of the law. Do you think that inner maturity can actually come from your following rules and regulations, by following some strict moral code, by some earnest hard work on your part, by studying and memorizing Scripture, by praying in a certain way for so long, by doing something on your part! These Galatians knew nothing of the Biblical laws and of Jewish feasts on the day they put their faith in Jesus. Then by the work of the Spirit in their lives they began to grow in their salvation. The Spirit in each of them was working in their hearts to grow them in the image of Christ. Then some people came and bewitched them, deceived them to believe that to perfect their salvation, they needed to be circumcised and begin observing laws. Their teaching must have been magnificent because they fell for it. But it was not the gospel. We have to be careful. Yes, we need to grow and mature inwardly into the image of Christ. And yes, that maturity has much to do with obedience to the words of Christ— the truth of God. But we do that by the Spirit, by walking in the Spirit, by dying to ourselves and submitting ourselves to the Spirit. When a man is deceived to do something for his own salvation— through a lapse in faith, through a weakness to the flesh, through the tempting of the evil one— guilt and shame and condemnation set in— and there is the danger of believing that we ought to do something to gain favor again and restore righteousness, or there is something that we are not doing, that if we did we would be accepted by God. Then we are trapped into this kind of thinking which is not in step with the gospel.
Paul asks them another question. Read verse 4. “Have you suffered so much for nothing— if it really was for nothing?” How did these people suffer so much already— to have it all come to nothing? Here’s what he was talking about. He was talking about the suffering that comes from living the life that Jesus calls Christians to live for him and the gospel. The gospel is free for the asking. Jesus paid the price himself and no one can add to that. The gospel also frees us from the power of sin and seats us with Christ in the heavenly realms. But as free as the gospel may be, it demands a high price as well. It demands our lives. You die to yourself. As Paul said: “I no longer live.” We receive a new life from God, when we die to ourselves. That’s the price. And that’s when the suffering begins. The world cannot understand you. Our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 10:38: “And anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” These are an invitation of the Lord to anyone who follows him— a life of taking up the cross. Paul said to his son Timothy: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Suffering follows those who live godly lives for Jesus. Peter told the early church: “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17) So there is a kind of suffering when a Christian does the will of God in doing good in a world of evil. And here is word that sobers us about the necessity of suffering. Paul told the Philippian church: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29) That is what has been granted to us on behalf of our Lord, that we not only believe in him, but also to share in his suffering. And the Bible tells us all, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:16) This is what every Christian can expect when the gospel takes a hold of our lives. We are called to participate in that glorious suffering.
Christians suffer. The Galatians suffered to uphold the gospel truth and to live by it in a godless and ungodly generation. They suffered in loving, in forgiving, in serving, in sharing, in being harassed and persecuted, in giving of the love of Christ to those who did not deserve it, nor appreciate it, nor want it. They suffered to reflect the grace of Jesus to all men, always generous as the Lord had been generous with them. This kind of suffering wasn’t bad. It enriched them and purified their lives. This kind of suffering was not a surprise to them either. Rather they welcomed it with open hearts because they loved Jesus and eagerly wanted to share in his suffering. They didn’t whine and complain at their suffering, nor were they angered when God in his grace blessed them with suffering. All this was part of their rich heritage in Christ, and they would some day share in Christ’s glory. Paul was incredulous with them when he said: “Did you suffer so much for nothing— if it was really for nothing!’ Of course it was not for nothing! They suffered because the gospel we have is worth suffering for. People suffer in the world for many reasons. But mostly they suffer because they don’t have the gospel. They suffer tragically from the oppression of sin in their lives. The guilt and shame and condemnation they carry day after day upon their hearts is a suffering that can crush any man or woman. But when we are delivered by the gospel, and we suffer for it, it is worth it. It is a suffering for the one we love.
Paul’s question to them is this: If now after you have suffered so much for the gospel, you turn your heart from the gospel and the Spirit to observing laws and feasts and ceremony and circumcision— because you are deceived to think that by these things you can perfect your salvation— I feel sorry for you, for you have suffered for nothing. All your suffering would have amounted to nothing because you would have forfeited the glory of God and are pursuing your own glory through your own works. If you do that, you will suffer again under the burden of slavery and would no longer be free. That suffering is indeed for nothing too.
And here’s the final question Paul asks them. Read verse 5. “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” In this question he wants to ask them to seriously consider why and how God works. Why did God give them the Holy Spirit? Why did God work miracles among them? Was it because they followed the law? Or was it because they believed what they heard— which is the gospel? In other words how were they born again, was it by the work of God through faith, or was it by their own obedience to the law? Of course, it was by the Spirit of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. And when they believed they had witnessed the greatest miracle of all time. They were filled with the Holy Spirit who came to live in them and to begin to transform them into the children of God. And there were many more miracles performed by the hand of God among them. Heavy hearts that never saw a moment’s rest experienced peace. Heavy hearts that had held grudges for what seemed like ages, melted down by the love of God. Troubled souls were delivered from Satan’s oppression. Jealousies and feuds were dissolved. Hatred and enmities were turned to love and forgiveness. The miracle was the Holy Spirit taking hold of them and purifying their hearts from all that weighed heavy upon them. Paul reminded them that their conversion was by the work of the Holy Spirit through believing the gospel they heard. Never by observing the laws. And their sanctification or their inner growth, their spiritual maturity ought to continue in the same way. As you began with the Spirit, continue in the spirit. As you began by faith continue by faith.
Whatever we do in our Christian life, we must begin by faith and continue by faith. The heresy in that church was that you begin by faith and you must complete it by works. You are born again by the sprit but then you have to do everything in your power to mature yourself into the man or woman of God that God wants you to be. You have to pour yourself into a rigorous life of dos and don’ts; you have to abide by certain Biblical rules and regulations; you have to follow a regimented lifestyle designed to make you a holier person; you must pray a certain way; you must keep up a certain way. People are always asking for plans, programs, books, aids anything they can do that can help them grow in their inner person into a more spiritual person. That thinking is so dangerous, because the approach is wrong. We cannot mature in our faith by doing anything, by reading books or by following plans. Not even a life spent in repentant fasting prayer can help us one bit in our Christian maturity or in our sanctification— in perfecting our salvation. The truth is that only the Spirit of God works in us to do that— through faith. He alone can help us mature into the image of Christ. And when we actually deny ourselves— and that’s something we do, or when fast and pray— and that’s something else we also do, we do so not for righteousness nor inner growth— but we do this to surrender ourselves to the Spirit who lives in us. We do this to surrender our will and desire to him. We do this as a confession that there is nothing good that lives in me— that I can do nothing— that all I do is never enough— that I do this to completely rely on you. So Lord, I humble myself before you to let you live in and through me to grow me in your image— and to make me the instrument of righteousness you for serving your purpose. I am already righteous by faith, and I continue to be righteous only by faith. May the Holy Spirit continue to impress this upon my heart.