|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 11
Meditation Title: Bewitched - human effort
Gal 3:1,3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? …Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
You foolish Galatians? This is Paul in all-out, open and visible correction mode! It raises a question: how would you like to be talked to like this? But don't feel defensive, this is Paul who cares about these people. He is aware that these Christians up in Galatia have been duped and are now living in an effort-based Christianity and he's upset by that. He's not going to keep quiet; he's going to speak boldly because he cares. Elsewhere in his epistles, he writes about “speaking the truth in love.” (Eph 4:15) and the context shows that it is necessary if the church is to grow up: “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This situation is so serious that Paul can't mince words. You are being really silly!
So what's the cause of his complaint? “Who has bewitched you?” What's happened to you? Has someone cast a spell over you that you are acting in this crazy way? That is the gist of what Paul is saying here. So what caused him to ask this? Well, he thinks, I know I preached a right Gospel to you: “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” (v.1). I know I preached Christ crucified and you clearly saw that he died for your sins, so what has gone wrong? I know you have experienced the life of the Spirit so how did that happen? “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” (v.2). Yes, come on guys, did the Lord give you his Spirit because you followed His rules, or did He give Him simply because you believed the Gospel about Him?
This is really silly! “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (v.3).You actually received the Spirit by simply being a believer, so what more do you want? What are you trying to achieve? It must be something because you are now adding something else on to your believing, so you must think that by doing this extra, it's going to achieve something more? Is your human effort going to achieve something more than what God gave you because you simply believed?
I mean, look, you've been through tough times as believers, so what was the point of all that, if you've abandoned that initial work of God in you? “Have you suffered so much for nothing--if it really was for nothing?” (v.4). Are you now writing off that initial activity of God in and through you, because it was real, it was genuine, you know!
Think about what has been going on in your lives since you came to Christ. Yes, there has been some opposition but there has also been some powerful activity of God in and through you. His Spirit came upon you and you knew His power flowing through you. Think on it, “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (v.5). Again did God do all this because you were keeping His laws or because you simply believed?
Yes, that is Paul's line of argument in these early verses of this chapter, and they bear considering again. Paul is lining up, side by side, two different ways of being a seeker after God. The first way is by ‘doing' things to please or appease or influence God. The second way is simply to believe what He says. We like the first way because it appeals to our pride. We like to think we can contribute to becoming spiritual or becoming holy. If we can be seen to be good by our efforts, or appear religious by our rituals, then we feel good about that, but actually that is being godless, for we exclude God from the equation in reality. This is religion without God, religion by self-effort. The second way seems too simple. It's not as simple as that, we say, you've got to show you believe by doing things. Isn't that exactly what James meant when he said, “faith without deeds is dead.” (Jas 2:26)
The answer to that is all about motivation. If I am doing these ‘deeds' because I am trying to complete my salvation or trying to appeal to God, I've misunderstood all this. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17) and so when God speaks, we respond and do what He says. That is faith, but it comes as a response to His leading, NOT trying to get Him on my side! When I became a Christian, He placed His Holy Spirit within me. All I did was surrender. There was nothing positive about it. When He has done things through me, more often than not, it has been when I am feeling weak and vulnerable, not when I have been feeling self-righteous about how good I have been. That's what Paul has been challenging these Galatian Christians with here, and perhaps we need the same challenge. We do things because we are led, NOT because we are trying to manipulate God! Be a servant, not a manipulator!