O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? [Gal. 3:1].
"O foolish Galatians" -- senseless Galatians. The Greek word is anoetoi from the root word nous, meaning "mind." He is saying, "You're not using your mind -- you're not using your noggin."
"Who hath bewitched you?" Translation: What's gotten into you?
"Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth" -- "set forth" is literally placarded or painted. Paul painted word pictures for them. I like to show PowerPoint slides in sermons. It is a great tool. For example, I would not attempt to teach the tabernacle without using slides. Now that is the way you "set forth" a teaching, and that is the word Paul uses.
"Set forth, crucified among you" -- it was His death on the cross that made possible your salvation!
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? [Gal. 3:2].
Now we need to be very careful here. How do you know you are saved? How do you know what doctrines to believe and how to practice your faith? Is it by experience? Your personal feelings or beliefs? The gospel is true regardless of experience. What experience does is corroborate the gospel. There are many people today who reason from experience to truth. I personally believe that the Word of God reasons from truth to experience. Experience is not to be discounted, but it must be tested by truth.
What does Paul mean by 'the hearing of faith?' You have to hear something before you can be saved, because the gospel is something God has done for you, and you need to know about it.
In this section Paul is raising several questions. He tells them to look back to what had happened to them and asks six questions that have to do with their experience.
This is his first question: "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Nowhere -- not even in the Old Testament -- did anyone ever receive the Holy Spirit by the works of the Law. He is received by the hearing of faith. The Galatians never received the Spirit by the Law. The Holy Spirit is evidence of conversion. Scripture tells us, "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13).
Now here is the second question:
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? [Gal. 3:3].
What Paul is asking is this: "If the Holy Spirit is the One who converted you, brought you to Christ, and now you are indwelt by the Spirit of God, are you going to turn back to the Law (which was given to control the flesh) and think you are going to live on a high plane?"
Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain [Gal. 3:4].
Paul asked the Galatians, "Are you going to let all of the things you have suffered come to naught?" He reminded them that they had paid a price for receiving the gospel. Was it all going to be in vain, without a purpose?
Now he raises this question:
He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? [Gal. 3:5].
Paul reminded the Galatians that he was the one who had come into their country, preached the Word of God to them, and performed miracles among them. He did not do it in the flesh -- Paul would be very careful to say that. In that day signs were given to the apostles. As I understand it, the apostles had practically all the gifts mentioned in Scripture; they certainly had all the sign gifts. Paul could perform miracles. He could heal the sick. He could raise the dead. Simon Peter, one of the original Twelve, could do that also. To do this was the mark of an apostle in that day.
What proved the truth of their message was their ability to perform miracles. They had the sign gifts. (After they had given us the Word of God, the sign gifts disappeared. In fact, I think they disappeared with the apostles. We see their gifts waning late in their lives.)
Paul first preached the truth of the gospel, the Word of God, to them. Then they had a miraculous experience of their own in their hearts.
"You ask me how I know He lives...He lives within my heart!" I actually know it primarily because the Bible says it, but secondarily because I have experienced new birth and resurrection myself! Experience will corroborate the gospel, and that is what Paul is demonstrating in this section. The gospel is sufficient -- experience confirms this. But beware of those who create new doctrines, or resurrect old dead ones, in the name of experience. If someone claims to have had an experience that suggests something contrary to the Word we are not to accept that.
Now we come to the heart of this book, the high water mark, where Abraham will be the illustration.
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness [Gal. 3:6].
This verse is a quote from Genesis 15:6 concerning Abraham. This verse is also quoted in Romans 4:3. The illustration comes from the early part of the life of Abraham, his life of faith. Abraham is the great illustration of justification by faith. Paul uses him as an example in both the Roman and Galatian epistles. It cannot be said that Abraham was justified by the Law because the Mosaic Law was not given until four hundred years after Abraham. Neither can it be said that he was justified before God gave him the commandment of circumcision. Circumcision was the badge and evidence of Abraham's faith, just as baptism is the badge and evidence of a believer's faith today. Neither circumcision nor baptism can save. In fact, they make no contribution to salvation. They are simply outward evidences of an inward work.
The incident referred to is in Genesis 15. After Abraham encountered the kings of the East in his rescue of his nephew Lot, he refused to accept any reward from the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. God appeared to Abraham to assure him that he had done right in turning down their payment, saying, "I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward."
Abraham was a practical sort of individual, and he began talking to the Lord rather straight -- and I feel that the Lord wants us to do that. He said, "I don't have a son, and You told me I would." The Lord said, "I'm glad you brought that up, Abraham, I've been wanting to tell you something." God had already told him that his seed would be as numberless as the sand on the seashore. Now God takes him by the hand and tells him to look toward the heavens. It must have been night time. They say that in that section of the world one can see about five thousand stars with the naked eye. With a sixteen inch telescope you would see fifty thousand stars. I don't think any telescope could give you the exact number of stars which could be seen at that time. In effect, God said to Abraham, "You can't count the stars, and neither can you count your offspring." Do you know what Abraham's response was? "And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6). In the original it is very expressive. Literally it means that Abraham said "amen" to the Lord. God said, "I'm going to do it." And Abraham said, "Amen."
Does this have an application for your life and mine? It certainly does. God says to you and me, "I gave My Son to die for you. If you believe on Him you won't perish. You will have everlasting life." Will you say "amen" to that? Will you believe God? Will you accept His son? If you do, you are justified by faith. This is what Abraham did. He believed God, and at that moment God declared him righteous. Because of his works? No! His works were imperfect. He didn't have perfection to offer to God. Although Abraham did not have perfection at that time, afterwards he did because his faith was counted for righteousness. That is the doctrine of justification. Abraham stands justified before God.
Next Abraham said to the Lord, "Would you mind putting what you have told me in writing?" Perhaps you are saying, "I have read the Book of Genesis, and I don't remember anything like that." Well, it's here in Genesis 15. Now notice: "And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it" (Gen. 15:7). Listen to Abraham's response. He is talking back to the Lord. "And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" (Gen. 15:8). In other words, put it in writing. God said to Abraham, "Meet me down at the courthouse and I will put it in writing." Now somebody says, "Wait a minute. It doesn't say that." But it does, in a way. "And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon" (Gen. 15:9). That is the way they made contracts in that day. (Jeremiah also tells about making a contract in this way in Jeremiah 34:18). You see, when a contract was made in that day, one man agreed to do something, and the other man agreed to do something in turn. They cut a sacrifice into two parts and put half on one side and half on the other side, then they would join hands and walk between the two halves. That sealed the contract. It was the same as going before a notary at the courthouse.
So Abraham prepared the sacrifices and waited -- he waited all day. Fowls came down upon the carcasses and Abraham drove them away. God was later arriving than Abraham; He did not get there until sundown. "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him" (Gen. 15:12). Just as he is about to sign the contract, God puts Abraham in to a deep sleep. The reason for this is that Abraham is not to walk with God through the two halves -- Abraham is not to promise anything. God is doing the promising. "And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces" (Gen. 15:17). You see, God passed through between those two halves alone because God made the covenant. And Abraham's part was only to believe God. So again, believing God at His Word came first, and then came the miraculous experience and the feeling that it indeed is true.
If the covenant depended on Abraham's faithfulness -- perhaps on his saying his prayers every night -- he might miss one night, and then the promise would be no good. So God was the One who did all the promising, and the covenant depended on God's faithfulness.
Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay for your sins and mine. God is not asking you to say your prayers or be a nice little Sunday school boy to be saved. He is asking you to trust His Son who died for you. He makes the contract. He is the One who makes the promise, the covenant, and He will save you. That is the new contract, or covenant. The old covenant He made with Abraham. Abraham believed God. He said, "amen," to God. Abraham believed, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. God is still asking us to believe Him.
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