I might have titled this study “The Case for Grace,” because Paul gives his proof of the need for grace. “I do not set aside the grace of God for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21). And then he writes, “O foolish Galatians!” (Galatians 3:1); a wonderful statement! J.B. Phillips’ translation says, “You dear idiots.”
I had a man working at my house one time and he had this wonderful saying every time something went wrong. He spoke to himself and said, “You melon head!” — and that is the impact of the term here. The Galatians knew better. They were not ignorant people as most of them knew the Old Testament scriptures like the back of their hand, but they didn’t act on them. And so Paul is saying to them, “You dear idiots” (Phillips) or “You crazy Galatians” (Message). The word means “senseless.” This is a different word than Jesus used for “fool” in Matthew 5:22.
Now notice all the personal questions here. “Who has bewitched you?” “Bewitched” is another wonderful word. Tricked you, fascinated you, hypnotized you and turned you away from the truth by their clever words. You know you can talk to some people and they can prove to you that two plus two equals five. Have you met those kinds of people? They’re the sort of people who you ask what is the time and they tell you how a chronometer works! These Galatians had been tricked out of the great truth of liberty in Christ into legalism.
Paul wrote “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (3:1b). Paul was a great orator and had visited Galatia and preached the good news, had so clearly told them the truth about Jesus, that it was almost as if they could see Him crucified on the cross and it was actually happening in front of their eyes. That’s what those words mean there, “before your eyes,” or clearly portrayed.
Yet in spite of that experience, somebody came along with some clever words and tricked them out of the liberty they have in Christ. You see it wouldn’t matter if I’d been teaching for half a century, which I have, because all the teaching of the world and religion is only head knowledge until people have one experience — we must have an experience in meeting the living God. We have to have an experience with the Jesus who died on the cross of Calvary. Unless we have that experience we really haven’t got nothing but a head full of Bible knowledge.
We may know all the terms, we may know all about the principles of the Bible and about prosperity and health and wealth and happiness and so on, but unless we’ve had an experience we really have nothing spiritually. Now that’s the truth of the Word of God. I didn’t make that up. That is why Paul starts here in his “case for grace” because you won’t understand God’s ways and workings in your life unless you’ve had a real, clear cut experience of meeting the Jesus who died on the cross of Calvary and rose from the dead.
We had an American preacher who was in Australia one time in another denomination to which Vivien and I belonged, and he had a wonderful saying about people who questioned whether perhaps I should go to Bible College and study to be a minister. He would say to them, “It’s better to go to Calvary and miss college, than go to college and miss Calvary.” Always remember that saying because you must get your priorities right. We need the experience of meeting Jesus Christ.
Some years ago I read the life story of Norman Vincent Peale, a wonderful book. In there he tells about the time when as a minister he was discouraged about his particular church that he was at and he decided to take a holiday, went to England up into the beautiful lake country and he was sitting down there moaning about all the problems that faced him back in his church in America. His wife said to him, “What you need is to get converted.” And he said to her, “But I’ve already been converted, I’m a minister.” She said, “Well, I don’t think it took the first time.” She said, “What you need is another visit to Calvary.”
That may be true to some of my readers. What we need is a real, vital, vibrant experience of an encounter with Jesus Christ. The vital, vibrant Christian life starts with that experience. It started that way with the Galatians, an experience where Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified. A historical fact that he was crucified but with continuing a result.
Then the second question, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2) When Paul is talking about receiving the spirit he’s reminding them as in Romans 8:9 that if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ he is none of his. When you are saved you receive God’s gift of spirit within you. The Bible terms it under different names, eternal life, Holy Spirit, righteousness, many other names that describe that gift that you receive at the moment you first believe in Jesus.
So Paul is asking them, “When that happened, did you get it because you worked at it or did you get it because you simply believed?” And what’s the answer, folk? Believed, because it tells us elsewhere in the Bible, Ephesians chapter 2:8-9, that “by grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves. It is the gift of God and not of works, least any human being should boast.”
You cannot work yourself into a relationship with God. Martin Luther tried it: he whipped himself, he climbed the steps of the Vatican in Rome on his knees, he did every work that he could think about, sold indulgences and all that sort of stuff, rattled his worry beads or whatever they used to do in those days, but he still didn’t find peace in his heart. It wasn’t until he accepted by faith what God had done that a change was brought in his life. Paul also asked the the Galatians the same question, “Did you work at it or did you get it because you believed?”
Verse 3, the third and fourth questions, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The same word for “foolish” is used as in verse 1. Are you really an idiot? “Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God” (Messsage Bible). Having begun by believing, are you now keeping it going by works? It sounds like some churches of which I have been a member! Are you now trying to improve your salvation? Are you now trying to impress God by doing some good works of the flesh? And of course the simple answer is, it is a waste of time.
Put the same effort into manifesting, showing forth the Christ with you and walking on the basis of your position in Christ, and you’ll see almost immediate progress in every aspect of your life.