Paul moves from discussing his own experience and justifying his credentials to reminding the Galatians of what they heard and believed when he was with them. He asks them about their experience with the gospel and how that affects their theology today. He makes it very clear to them that he is horrified and incredulous over their desertion of what he preached. They accepted it so well – what possibly has made them move away from what saved them? How can they willingly turn their back on the truth and follow after what is so clearly a lie (the false teachers’ premise that the Law is required for salvation)? He shows them from their own experience that what they now believe makes no sense.
All about the Cross (not about us)
You (O) foolish Galatians – Paul cannot be emphatic enough. He wants to express in the strongest language possible just how messed up their thinking is. The word translated ‘foolish’ can also be translated ‘mindless’ or ‘stupid.’ They are not thinking, they have lost their minds. It is so far outside of what is reasonable that Paul asks them if they have been bewitched (with apologies to Samantha and Darrin). That their minds have been magically altered is the only explanation for their incredible turn from the truth.
The reason their beliefs are so amazing is that Paul preached to them very clearly that Christ was crucified. He was publicly portrayed as crucified – His crucifixion was effectively put on billboards for them to see. It was not simply Jesus’ life that Paul preached – it was His crucifixion, His death for them. They know His death fully and clearly and they know the implications of His death. It was His death that completely paid the penalty for sin and His death that saved them – His death was the entire focus of what Paul preached to them – it IS the gospel. How can they now add something to their belief system that completely negates the theology that saved them? They must be bewitched because what they are doing destroys the very thing that brought them to Christ in the first place. How can they come closer to Christ – what the false teachers say they need the Law to do – by destroying the foundation upon which they approach Him?
Consider: This shows the cross to be the basis of truth. Keeping the cross at the center of theology is the key to remaining true to the gospel. The cross shatters any attempt at making salvation or sanctification or acceptance about us. The cross embarrasses any thought that God owes us something or we deserve His good will and grace. Having a hard time understanding God’s love or compassion or holiness or justice? Go to the cross. Wondering why bad things happen to good people or how there can be so much injustice and suffering in the world? Go to the cross. Becoming enamored with the world and doubting God’s good promises or wondering if God really does have what is best for us? Go to the cross. Taking forgiveness and grace for granted or playing with sin because a little sin is not so bad? Go to the cross. Wondering where God is and why He is quiet and whether He even cares about what is going on in life right now? Go to the cross.
Paul cannot believe that anyone would think so little of the gospel as to believe it needs something added to it. How can the Galatians be so foolish as to trade the freedom and glorious grace of the gospel for enslavement to good works? Or how can they be so arrogant as to think that God needs man’s help to complete salvation? A person must be bewitched to think it is a good thing to inject himself into the salvation equation. All of grace and all of God equals freedom, versus some of God and some of works equals enslavement and hopelessness. To make that trade simply because they cannot abide a theology that does not include obedience and effort is the definition of foolishness. It is mindless and irrational.
Freedom is likely what makes Paul so incredulous. They are willing to give up freedom! Freedom is the effect of the gospel. It is the outcome no other religious system provides. He died, I am free. He redeemed me, I am free. I am not responsible to earn anything. I am not bound by a system and then judged by how I measure up to it. The Law is the guide for my behavior and I strive to obey it out of love for my Savior and through the power of His Spirit, but I am not judged by it and it does not determine my salvation (obedience does not bring salvation, salvation brings obedience). I am free. My behavior does not determine my eternity. His death, His suffering, His separation from the Father, His payment, my freedom. I am free.
The basis of my freedom shows how nuts it is to make our lives about us at all. Who created us and the world we live in? God. Who sustains us and gives us every breath? God. Who gives us our abilities, talents, IQ and physical appearance? Who determined where we were born and the families we were born into? Who sovereignly brings opportunities and people and circumstances into our lives? God. Who provided for our salvation while we were sinners? Who saved us when we cared nothing about being saved? Who redeemed us through His death? Who provides His Spirit to us? Who declares us righteous? Who is the omnipotent Creator of the universe who wants to commune with us and personally know us? Who continually forgives and accepts us and does not hold our sins against us? Who loves us perfectly and completely even WHILE knowing us? Who not only condescends to hear our prayers but demands that we talk to Him? Is there any objective measure or fact that would lead a rational person to conclude that this life should focus on US?
We can go back to the beginning to see our place. They estimate the size of the universe from end to end to be roughly 93 billion light years (light year = 6 trillion miles). Does it make sense to create something that big filled with galaxies, planets, stars, black holes, etc. if the point is simply to provide a home for humans? I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space. Right? – Ellie Arroway (in the novel Contact by Carl Sagan). It certainly does not take 93 billion light years of space to house man. That size and awesomeness (and bear in mind the universe is still expanding) does one thing – it brings glory to the Creator. God ultimately created for His own glory. And man was not created because God was lonely or needed completion – he was created to also bring glory to God.
It is all about God and it has always been about God and it was always intended to be about God. God did not save man for man’s sake. He saved man because redemption brought even more glory to Him (Jn 12:27-28, Rom 3:25-26, Is 43:25). And what happened as a result – and what always happens as a result – was that man benefited. The wonderful part of God bringing glory to Himself is that He is worthy of that glory; and since it IS the purpose of creation, creation itself is at its best when it glorifies Him. And that includes man. Man finds the most joy when he fulfills his created purpose.
All about the Spirit (not about us)
Paul asks them in verse 2 how they received the Spirit. Something to keep in mind is that they likely received the Spirit before they even knew what the Law was. Paul did not preach the Law to them; they heard it from the false teachers. Thus the Law came to them AFTER the Spirit – so how can they believe that salvation is theirs only if they keep the Law when the Spirit’s coming is the sign of salvation?
Notice that Paul takes it as a given that they understand that salvation is marked by receiving the Spirit. He does not say anything about salvation apart from the Holy Spirit. When they received the Spirit they were saved – that simple. So to now assume that they need something else to complete the process is absurd. How do you add to something that is complete?
He asks them again if they are senseless and mindless in verse 3 – Are you so foolish? He will not let them off the hook for how messed up they are in their beliefs.
He changes terminology somewhat in this verse. Instead of comparing works of the Law with hearing with faith as he did in verse 2, he compares the Spirit and the flesh. The Spirit is God and the flesh is human nature and strength. They were saved when they received the Spirit, but their flesh wants to reassert itself and make it about them rather than about Christ. Paul has just said in 2:20 that the believer is no longer living his own life – he has Christ in him (the Spirit) and lives by faith in the Son of God. This is the opposite of being perfected by the flesh. They started with the Spirit – they must continue to live through and by the Spirit. It makes no sense that Christianity begins one way but continues and ends another. And it really makes no sense that through our flesh – which is fallen and sinful and desires nothing other than to satisfy and glorify itself – we can please God or earn His approval.
Consider: Do we do this? Do we live as if our works somehow justify us? Having begun by the Spirit, do we live as if God approves of us based on our works or that He somehow owes us something because of our obedience? The people of Malachi’s time thought they were not getting a fair return on their obedience (Mal 3:14-15) and so complained about the unfairness of their lives. God condemned them for thinking they earned anything by their acts and the rest of Malachi mocked their claims of obedience. This is how it always is. Any time we think we stand or fall based on our works or that blessing is the earned wage for obedience we show we have a self-centered perspective on our relationship with God and a completely unreal perspective on our own obedience. We stand before God based on the work of Christ and we live obedient lives through the power of His Spirit. [This does not mean that human effort is not involved in sanctification, but we must understand that only the Holy Spirit can change hearts and apart from Him any effort is in vain. We act only after acknowledging our utter dependence on His strength. This is why Paul will later refer to our positive works as the fruit of the Spirit (5:22). [Heb 13:20-21, I Cor 15:10, Phil 1:6]
The Christian life begins with the Holy Spirit. It is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it ends with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is about God’s power through God’s people to God’s glory and to our joy, and that’s what it’s about. – Mark Driscoll
In verse 4 Paul asks about the suffering they have endured. Without additional information it is impossible to know why they have suffered or who caused it. Apparently it is connected to their acceptance of the gospel. If that is the case, then their suffering is in vain if they reject the gospel he preached. Paul seems to cling to the hope that they will come to their senses – he adds if indeed it was in vain at the end to show that if they return to the gospel their suffering will have been worth it after all. [Perhaps they suffered at the hands of the false teachers when they resisted the teachers’ foolish theology, but now have given in and made that suffering in vain.]
Verse 2 is from the perspective of the receiver. Verse 5 is from the perspective of the Giver. In both cases the transaction is the same – it is all by hearing with faith and not by works of the Law (that is, it is NOT a transaction at all). Paul asks them if God gives them the Spirit and performs miracles because they earned it through their works or because they heard the gospel and accepted it by faith? The miracles he refers to may be what he did when he was with them.
Does God work among them because they deserve it? Do they see incredible examples of God’s power because they are righteous? Does God show up more in Galatia than in other places because of their obedience to the Law? Does He answer more prayer because they earn it? Or does God work among them as a sign they have His Spirit and because He is good? God shows up because HE is good – not because we are.
The summary of Paul’s argument is this. The Galatians were saved by Christ crucified – nothing else. They heard the gospel and accepted it by faith. When that happened they received the Spirit. The Law never entered into their salvation and it does not somehow complete the process. The cross is the basis of their salvation and the Spirit is the mark of it. They were saved when the Spirit came to them and they live obediently before God through the Spirit. They cannot perfect their salvation by works and they cannot live obedient lives apart from the Spirit. They began by the Spirit – they must continue the same way. It is about the cross and the Spirit – not about them and their works. EVERY point in this argument applies to us as well.
And where there is the truth of the gospel of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, there is freedom; there is life; there is joy that spills over into worship. The Christian life should be marked by freedom and joy and hope and life and peace because Jesus has completed our salvation on the cross and the Holy Spirit is accomplishing it practically in our lives every single day. – Mark Driscoll