One Thing!

1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain– if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

 (Gal 3:1-5 NASB update)

 One thing!

 One thing would conclude the dispute between Paul and his opponents. One thing would fix Galatian loyalty. One thing would expose their confusion to be a bewitched denial of the meaning of Christ’s death. One thing would keep them from making even their own previous suffering meaningless. One thing would make it blatantly obvious to them how the Christian life is to be lived. One thing would settle the matter. “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (v. 2)

 This is surprising. This is the most passionately urgent of Paul’s letters. He lets it all hang out. He is intensely concerned over the Galatians.

 Look at the beginning of this series of questions, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?”

 Look at the beginning of the letter. It’s the only one of his letters to the churches, besides 2 Corinthians, without a thanksgiving section (compare Rom 1:8ff; 1 Cor 1:4ff.; Eph 1:15ff; Php 1:3ff.; Col 1:3ff; 1 Th 1:2ff; 2 Th 1:3ff.) 2 Corinthians still begins with an encouraging affirmation; in the midst of his opening blessing he affirms, “our hope for you is firmly grounded” (2 Cor 1:7). But, he doesn’t have anything good to say about the Galatians. After the normal salutation, “Grace to you …” (1:3-5) Paul exclaims, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ.” Rather than thanking God for them, he accuses them of desertion. Paul was able to thank God for the Corinthians, a church that not only tolerated incest, but bragged about it. (1 Cor 5:1,2) The Corinthians were morally confused; some advocating asceticism within marriage, some frequenting prostitutes. (1 Cor 7:1; 6:16) They were also so doctrinally confused that they denied the resurrection of the body, not knowing that necessarily implied a denial of the resurrection of Christ, too. (1 Cor 15:12-14) Yet Paul is somehow able to give thanks for them, and call them saints. He has no such nice things to say about the Galatians, neither addressing them as saints nor giving thanks to God for them. Paul’s urgency in this letter is unparalleled.

 Look at the solemn curse he pronounces on anyone who would distort the gospel — not once but twice! “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!” (1:8,9) Paul believes that blessing and curse is at stake in this letter. The false teachers in Galatia are distorting the gospel to such an extent that they have brought eternal condemnation upon themselves. The Galatian Christians have to be shaken out of their befuddlement to see for themselves the very real danger they are in. They are at risk of falling from grace, denying Christ, and being cursed.

 Look at the shocking language he uses. Paul is so angry he wishes these false teachers would even castrate themselves. (Gal 5:12) If they are so eager for circumcision, let them Bobbetize themselves! Can you imagine a pastor saying anything like this from the pulpit, today?

 There can’t be any question that the issues Paul deals with in this letter are urgent. Paul dispenses with his usual formalities at the beginning of this letter, he pronounces a solemn curse on his antagonists, and he uses shockingly strong language to denounce them. Yet, he says, “this is the only thing I want to find out from you … “

 Paul is obviously appealing to the Galatians’ experience. And this raises many questions for us[1], but the most important – the most urgent — is this, would Paul’s argument work on us? Are we so intimately familiar with the Holy Spirit that this is where Paul would begin with us? Is our own experience of the Spirit’s ongoing ministry so real that Paul could use it as the foundation for a defense of justification by faith and an explanation of the believer’s freedom from the Law? Do we know the Spirit as a Person? Do we know His ministry as teacher, guide, comforter, sanctifier, witness, as the one who enables all our worship, as the one who will transform our bodies? Would one thing settle the matter for us?

 [1] For example, aren’t arguments from experience, especially experience of the Spirit, dangerous? Aren’t we notoriously prone to misinterpreting our own experience at the expense of sound doctrine? To what extent does experience outpace our theology and so guide our thinking? To what extent does sound doctrine precede and determine whether our experience is valid? How do we keep this tension in balance? None of us fully understands all that is happening when we are first converted; we take a lifetime to grow into our initial experience. Isn’t this true too of our experience of the Spirit?

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