Are We So Foolish?
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Galatians 3:1–3
Why is Paul rebuking the Galatian church so strongly in these verses? Some within the Galatian church were beginning to follow the false teaching that they needed to keep the law in order to maintain their standing with God, that their ability to keep the law would contribute to their salvation, that they would be perfected and sanctified through their own efforts to keep the law.
Why is this thinking so dangerous? Isn’t it good to keep the law? Yes, it is good and right to obey God’s Word, and we should seek to lead obedient lives. The danger comes in where the emphasis is placed. The law does not save us; it should lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-26). The danger in this thinking is that if we think we obtain righteousness through keeping the law, we are negating the work of Christ on the cross.
We can all be tempted to go back and put too much emphasis or the wrong emphasis on the law. We begin to live our lives as if our righteous standing before God was due in part to our own efforts. We can begin to compare ourselves to others and think that we are somehow better and have a higher standing with God because of how we are keeping the law.
This is why Paul rebukes them and asks them how they are so easily being led astray. He points them back to Christ and how the crucifixion of Christ was clearly explained to them. The NLT puts it this way, “For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of His death on the cross.” Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. We were dead in our sin, and God made us alive in Christ through faith. The record of our sin debt was nailed to the cross and completely cancelled (Col 2:13-14).
How did we receive Christ? Was it by faith or by works of the law? When Paul asks those questions the answer becomes obvious. We received Jesus by faith, apart from works of the law. So, if we have received Jesus by faith, why are we trying to live out our lives in our own power? While it is easy to see how foolish this is, too often we can find ourselves living the same way the Galatians were. The worst part about this is that when we live this way we are downplaying and forgetting the cross. That may never be our intention, but that is the reality of the matter when we begin to place our trust on our own efforts. Paul put it very clearly at the end of Galatians 2: “ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
I am thankful for the honesty and harshness of God’s word. May we be reminded of the power of the cross today, and may we live lives dependent upon Him rather than ourselves.