Though Paul is writing to his believing friends who are forever filled by the Holy Spirit, on this particular occasion he is not bashful to call them “fools.” He calls them such in verses 1 and 3. Here, the astonished Apostle uses the same term used by Jesus when speaking to a couple dull disciples on the road to Emmaus. He uses not the Greek word for “moron,” but utilizes a term which shows they are not using their full God-given intelligence. Paul’s readers are not at the top of their game. At the present time they are not operating with a full deck. It is as if they are hypnotized; someone has lulled them to sleep and made them groggy. It is almost as if they are under a spell or bewitched.
“O 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 …. (Galatians 3:1-5)
What is the problem? Paul’s Christian brothers and sisters have seen Jesus publicly portrayed as the crucified substitute. His Galatian readers have witnessed him promote and preach the Gospel. However, many of them have abandoned the full and completed ramifications of Jesus’ work on their behalf. They are a congregation being led astray by false teachers. They are being fooled by a counter-gospel. They are being duped by a false-gospel. In their bewitched state, they are believing that Jesus paid the price to get acceptance and reconciliation started, but it was now up to them and their law-keeping-performance to keep the relationship between them and God right; it was up to them and their faithfulness to finish the deal. In other words, Jesus paid it all to get the relationship started, but they must pay God back to make sure all is square between Him and them. Bottom line, the Galatians were buying in to a false Gospel that refused to maintain the distinction between faith and faithfulness.
Therefore, in seeking to bring them back to Gospel sanity, Paul asks them four questions: You who have been chosen, called, regenerated, converted, justified, adopted, sanctified, fruited, gifted, and filled by the thrice-holy-God who can never abide with sin:
- Did you receive the promised Holy Spirit of Jesus by means of your faithfulness or by means of your faith?
- Have you really become so “foolish” that you really believe the work begun by the Holy Spirit is to be perfected or completed by your fleshly works and human faithfulness?
- You who once stood so firmly in the Gospel and even suffered a tremendous amount at the hands of Roman and Jewish authorities, are you really walking away from that for which you fought? Was it really all for nothing?
- Are the Spiritual miracles and ministerial successes you are experiencing based upon faith or faithfulness?
Clearly, the answer to all these questions is “Absolutely not!” Paul knows his Spiritual friends are becoming fools because they are seeking to add human-fleshly-law-keeping-faithfulness to that performed by Christ and received by faith alone.
Friends, do not think I am belittling obedience, worship, holiness, and faithfulness. I am not doing so. I know how important such is to God. As a matter of fact, that is why hell was created. God is incensed at those who are not perfectly righteous. Every day, his wrath burns hot against the devil and his companions. However, this I know, I am not faithful. The Law tells me so every moment of every day, and this will never change. But there is good news; the Gospel tells me God accepts me, not because of my faithfulness, but because of the overflowing faithfulness of Jesus Christ. I am saved justified and accepted by the faithfulness of Jesus alone, and this is Gospel truth.
And please, do not think I am not interested in pursuing a faithful Christian walk and testimony. Fellow believer, I desire such. I pray for such. I read my Bible, talk to accountability partners, mortify the flesh, flee temptation, check my spiritual armor, and take my stand against the devil. At least in my theological head, holiness is no light matter. My progressive sanctification is always on my mind, for faith and faithfulness are never to be divorced one from the other. And it is the interest of my Savior as well, for Jesus, who began the good work in me, promises to finish it. He is the one who grants me faith, and he is the one who grants me my present and continuing measure of faithfulness. He both declares me holy and causes me to walk in more and more holiness. And wherever I am on the “progressive-holiness-chart” today, I sure hope to be a half-step forward — at least in some small area of my life — tomorrow.
However, of this I am convinced, when my faithfulness, which is a Fruit of the Spirit, becomes the grounds for my justification, adoption, sanctification, and acceptance, I prove to be duped, bewitched, and most foolish. I prove to be partaking of the lie of Satan and his non-Gospel. Yes, in the words of Jim Stephenson who preached at Horizon Church this weekend, “My foolishness starts where my faith ends.”
Therefore my friends, please strive hard to make progress in the new holiness that is yours in Christ Jesus. As a new creature and a new man in Christ, worship well in accordance with your new identity. Work hard to walk purely before your God. Strive to worship him well. Make some progress in learning to desire, think, speak, and act more like Jesus Christ.
However, as you somewhat succeed and as you surely fail, continue to preach the unconditional, undeserved, and thoroughly completed Gospel of Jesus Christ to yourself. This is Gospel truth — regardless of what you do — for ill or for good — you have been chosen, called, regenerated, converted, justified, adopted, sanctified, fruited, gifted, and filled by the sovereign, gracious, and immutable Spirit of Christ. Today, you are his Holy of Holies, and this is not because of your faithfulness, but only because of his faithfulness upon which you have placed your faith.