“You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? Have you suffered so many things for nothing?–if indeed it was for nothing. Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?”
Between what we read as chapter two and chapter three Paul seems to change both his tone and his focus. Things get more serious and more aimed at the issue of supplementing faith in Jesus with law keeping.
He begins with a direct and somewhat severe “You foolish Galatians!” in v.1. This seems to be aimed at the idea that in their setting aside grace for law they are acting as if Christ died for nothing (2.21). Foolish indeed. He then asks them four questions, did you catch them?
- Did you receive the Spirit by faith or works? (v.2)
- Are you now perfected by works of law having begun in faith? (v.3)
- Was your suffering for your faith in vain? (v.4)
- Did the Lord work miracles among you by faith or by works of law? (v.5)
If we take them one by one, we will see that they are very much rhetorical. Receiving the Spirit by works of law was, essentially, impossible for the churches in Galatia because they are mainly Gentile (2.2, 7). This is true for the question of v.5 too: these believers did not previously know the law, so how could the Lord work miracles among them according to a law they did not know?
Donald Campbell wrote that there was “no provision under the Law for the Holy Spirit to do a work of sanctification”. This rules out a positive answer to the question of v.3 then.
Throughout the New Testament we see the strong correlation between coming to faith and living in faith and the suffering that the world, the flesh, and the devil will throw at us (Acts 14.21-22 for example). By trading a life of faith and grace for a life under law the Galatians were rendering their faith-based suffering pointless.
In his typical and masterful style Paul has here helped the churches in Galatia to see that what they were doing was so mind-bogglingly contradictory to what they confessed to have put their faith in that they were truly worthy of his rebuke “You foolish Galatians!”.
For you and for me, the point is the same. The questions of vv.2-5 are as true in principle for you as they were literally for the churches in Galatia. We don’t receive the Spirit by works of law, works of law don’t sanctify us, any suffering we have endured for our faith is rendered pointless if we turn to the law for respite, and God doesn’t work miracles among us by works of law or anything you do (despite what some churches will have you believe by teaching classes on ‘How To Do Miracles’ and other such nonsense).
The takeaway is clear and simple: faith and grace > law and legalism. It might be tempting for you to consider adding some law-keeping works to your Christian life, especially at the moment when the world feels out of control. Adding some works of law can help you to feel that you are in control. But, with all the love in the world, you’re not in control. Adding works may temporarily help you to feel like you are, but you’re not. He is. God is. Now and always. When things are feeling out of control then, cling all the more tightly to the One who is truly in control. He loves you and has provided everything you need by grace alone, through faith alone.