Galatians 3:1-5 Contentment and the fruit of righteousness are the evidences of faith

Galatians 3:1-5 Contentment and the fruit of righteousness are the evidences of faith

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 (experience) 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?

Background

The Judaizers preyed on the Galatian churches enticing them to adopt the Jewish Law. The Galatian believers were lured by the false security that the Jewish Law affords thus releasing them from the obligation of righteous living. Paul was exasperated at the Galatian believers that despite the miracles and the spiritual experiences, they were turning away from faith to the Law. A closer examination reveals the Galatians’ ungratefulness and discontentment towards God. Today’s devotion teaches us: Contentment and the fruit of righteousness are the evidences of faith.

Observation

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?

Paul’s exasperation aimed at the Galatians’ intention to adopt the Jewish Law is not without reason. Paul said, ”if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you… You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to justified by law, you have fallen from grace.” (5:2, 4). In no uncertain terms, the Galatians stand to lose everything including their salvation.

Paul enquired of the one(s) who bewitched them into adopting the works of the Law. Paul might have in mind individuals from the party of circumcision (see 2:12), who might even have witnessed Christ’s crucifixion. To Paul, Christ’s crucifixion is the sufficient condition to make righteous all who believe. And the baptism of the Spirit is the unequivocal evidence of righteousness bestowed.

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

It is common knowledge among Jewish believers in Jerusalem and even to the party of circumcision that the Spirit has come upon the Gentiles. Indeed, the baptism of the Spirit is in itself the bestowment of righteousness. Peter remembered the word of the Lord, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 11:16). While John administered a righteousness of the flesh, Jesus administered the righteousness of the Spirit.

Peter, having witnessed the Spirit coming upon the Gentiles said to the Jerusalem church,

“Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

And when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem heard Peter’s testimony, they quieted down and glorified God saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:17-18

If the Galatian believers received the Spirit’s baptism by faith alone, they have indeed acquired the same righteousness as the Jews who observe the works of the Law. Therefore, having been made righteous by faith alone, adopting the works of the Law is tantamount to denying Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the values He stood for. It is evident that Jesus (on several occasions) did things that went against the legalistic mentality of the Jews:

  • Jesus appeared to have broken the Sabbath Law (see Mark 2:23-28).
  • Jesus appeared to have broken the Law (Leviticus 20:10) when He allowed the adulterous woman to go free (see John 8:3-11).
  • Jesus replaced the Law with just two commandments (see Matthew 22:35-40).
  • Jesus “fulfilled” the Moses’s Law, so we don’t have to (see Matthew 5:17-18).
  • Jesus abolished the dietary laws before He went to the cross (see Matthew 15:11).

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Paul’s fourth question sets out two antitheses: the Spirit versus the flesh. The Spirit signifies a persistent dependence on God in the struggle against sin. The flesh signifies self-dependence, a false righteousness that predisposed one to sin and worldliness. The main point here has to do with the Galatians starting out well with the Spirit and then backsliding into worldliness. The Galatian believers were probably enticed by something the Judaizers offered that appealed to their fleshly desires.

Did you suffer (experience) so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain?

Paul instigated them to reconsider their decision in the light of past, positive experiences of faith: Are all your remarkable experiences of breakthroughs and abundant living of no significance to you when you consider adopting the Jewish Law? These positive experiences of the Spirit will by no means continue should they adopt the Jewish Law.

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?

Paul’s final question reveals their unbelief and ungratefulness; that despite the miracles, they left the path of faith. The purpose of miracles is to demonstrate God’s faithfulness thereby eliciting a response of faith from those present. Such is not uncommon even in the days of Jesus. Jesus, upon returning to Galilee chided the Jews that despite the miracles, they were unwilling to follow Him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” (John 4:48). Apparently, the divine gifts and blessings did not produce in the Galatians a conviction and commitment to walk on the path of faith and righteousness.

Truth

Contentment and the fruit of righteousness are the evidences of faith.

The mass desertion by the Galatian believers teaches us not to undermine the lure of the Law and worldliness. Many in our churches today, are falling into a kind of law or legalism which results in their lukewarmness and worldliness. Churchgoers are offered a salvation based on mental assent as opposed to conviction. For their sins to be forgiven, they only have to agree that Jesus died on the cross. And they will immediately receive the gift of salvation by means of the “sinner’s prayer”. This “Law” of salvation (a false security based on knowledge) leaves the hearer with a false assurance of salvation. And many backslide into sin due to two reasons:

  • They are discontented with the blessings that God has given them.
  • They are not taught the full counsel of the gospel, and given a false security based on knowledge.

The problem with discontentment

For one to enter God’s kingdom, he must be grateful and contented with what God has given and stay on the path of righteousness. The Galatians left the faith for more appealing causes because they were discontented despite the miracles and the breakthroughs they experienced. A person who is discontented will constantly be tempted to stray from faith towards the Law. The Law (which is antithetic to the full counsel of the gospel) affords a false security while he explores the paths of sin and worldliness. As many churches do not preach the full counsel of the gospel for fear that people may leave, their members are going down the slippery path of sin oblivious to the eternal destruction that awaits them. Discontented people look for a Law, a false security based on knowledge so that they may continue to live as they please.

A false security based on knowledge

Believers are made to believe that as long as they possess the right doctrine, salvation is secured. For them, salvation is a matter of the mind as opposed to the regeneration of the heart. But the church’s obsession with selective doctrines and knowledge unwittingly presents a false security that blurs the line between mental assent and faith. Mental assent agrees with God but does not believe God. When we have mental assent, we merely accept the Word as the truth but do not allow it to impact our lives. This is also a type of legalism, a mentality of the Law. The Jewish Law espouses: those who practice the Law will be saved. Mental assent espouses: those who know the truth, will be saved.

That said, many today are taught a false truth concerning faith and works. They supposed (to their detriment) faith pertains to knowing doctrine, and works pertains to righteous living. And hence, one who is saved by faith is “freed” to take a cool stand against sin. They justify themselves: the sins I commit are attributed to the universal weakness of man. And this (they assert)…. is where faith and grace comes into play!

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Someone I know has decided to divorce his wife of 20 years leaving behind two children. He claims (to no fault of his wife), that he “happens” to fall in love with this other lady. “Make no mistake about it!” He said, “I don’t intend for it to happen, but it just happened!” Thus, he absolves himself from all responsibilities because he did not deliberately go out to seek out the lady, but it just happened! And because it just happened, God will certainly understand his circumstances and forgive him. By virtue of Christ’s “irrevocable” act on the cross, he continue to attend church, being confident that all is forgiven despite his impenitence in this matter.

This person knows the bible and has been attending church since he is a toddler. But he did not stay on the path of faith towards salvation. Why? Because the church has been teaching a doctrine that is unclear, that which focuses on blessings and forgiveness, not on righteousness and faith. And because of discontentment and ungratefulness, he looked for “other” avenues to satisfy his fleshly desires. For such, the “Law” of salvation provides a convenient exit from the path of faith. Churches that give their members an easy and false security have little defence against sin. And many will lose their salvation.

If the Galatian believers who were personally taught by Paul could stray from the faith, how much more susceptible are our churches today to the onslaught of worldliness and false doctrine! Like the Galatian churches, the problem today, is not just the lack of understanding, but rather discontentment.

Blessing and spiritual experiences alone cannot keep people on the right path.

Some Galatian believers were leaving the faith even though they have been experiencing the blessings of Abraham. In response, Paul reinforced the doctrine of faith through which Abraham was declared righteous and blessed. He later went into great lengths clarifying the role of the Law in bringing the forgiveness of Christ into the world.

Blessings and positive experiences are the result of the right belief system. And in order for the people to keep growing and experiencing the blessing of the Spirit, leaders of the church must keep teaching and clarifying the doctrines of faith. When believers are steadfast in walking in the truth, in sanctification by the grace of God, they will keep experiencing the blessings of the Spirit.

Many church leaders focus on speaking about the goodness of God to draw the masses in. Even though many responded to the gospel and experienced the blessing of the Spirit, they did not grow in understanding of the doctrine. Regrettably, many fell away, enticed by prospects of greater blessings through another gospel.

Application

Are you harbouring some kind of legalistic thinking that motivates you to conform to some religious practices or acts of charity in order to gain God’s approval? Faith is a matter of the heart: to love the truth and be contented with all that we possess. Change your motive from the mentality of the Law to faith. Be motivated not by fear, but by love.

Are you struggling with a sin, a behaviour that you do not support but found yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of sin and guilt? If this sin concerns a matter of personal purity, and not the high level vices of greed, and evil oppression … then you should continue to pursue the love of God and His truth. Do not dwell on guilt! Move on! Read the word consistently and seek profound and intimate encounters with Christ in heaven. In so doing, we unwittingly destroy the bondages of our sinful desires and set us free.

Dear Lord, I thank you and I am grateful for the breakthroughs that you have given me. I am contented, believing the things that I possess… my career, my family, and my church is a gift from you. With these gifts, I can live life abundantly. As I pursue your face, and the things of heaven, cause me to become more like you in your wisdom, love and glory. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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