The Experience of the Galatians (Page 1 of 3) (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

October 6, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe

Chapter III.A.1: The Experience of the Galatians (3.1-5)

Galatians 3.1-5 (KJV)
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
4 Have you suffered so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain?
5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

The key to this section is in the word “suffered” (Gal. 3.4), which can be translated “experienced.” Paul asks, “Have you experienced so many things in vain?” The argument from the point of Christian experience was a wise one with which to begin, because Paul had been with them when they accepted Christ. Of course, to argue from experience can be dangerous, because experiences can be counterfeited and they can be misunderstood. Subjective experience must be balanced with objective evidence, because experiences can change, but truth never changes. Paul balances the subjective experience of the Galatian Christians with the objective teaching of the unchanging Word of God (Gal. 3.6-14).

1 O Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

Foolish Galatians!
“Foolish” as it is used here, means “spiritually dull,” while the word Jesus used in Luke 24.25— “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken”—has the idea of a “foolish person.” Paul is declaring a fact; Jesus is warning against verbal abuse.

Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,
The Judaizers, the Jewish false teachers, were succeeding in convincing the Galatian believers that certain aspects of Jewish law (circumcision, observing the dietary laws, etc.) were necessary, in addition to faith in Christ, in order for a person to be saved. Paul is astonished that they could believe such a thing, and in this section he uses some of his strongest language to express his disapproval of them following these false teachers and returning to Judaism.

“Bewitched” has in it the notion of being charmed or misled by flattery or false promises. The term suggests an appeal to the emotions by the Judaizers. Let me translate “who has bewitched you” in good old Americano—what’s gotten into you? To embrace a doctrine which declared the death of Christ unnecessary was irrational—“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die” (Gal. 2.21) The sole reason why the Son of God came into the world to suffer death was to do away with our sins and make us righteous with God. If there was any other way to accomplish these ends, He would have stayed in heaven. It would almost seem that the Galatians had been “bewitched,” cast under a spell by some malign influence. For this, however, they were without excuse because the Savior had been “clearly portrayed…as crucified,” before their eyes. Paul had vividly and graphically proclaimed the crucified Christ to the Galatians, but their eyes had been diverted from the Cross to the Law. They were without excuse. The Galatians were known to be intelligent, and Paul uses the term “eyes” to refer to their minds; they received the preaching of Paul with both their mind and heart, and the proof of their salvation was that they demonstrated the presence of the Holy Spirit.

before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
“Christ…crucified” is the subject the apostle preached in Galatia, and he preached it with such effectiveness, that the people could almost see Jesus crucified and hanging on the cross. The words “clearly portrayed” are translated from a Greek word that means “publicly portrayed and announced on a poster.” Just as we put important words on a poster, and display it in a public place, so Paul publicly presented Christ to the Galatians, with great emphasis on His death for sinners on the cross. I am not sure that Paul actually drew pictures and held up placards to the Galatians, but I am sure he did paint word pictures for them. Now that is the way to “clearly portray” a teaching, and that is

the word Paul uses. “Clearly portrayed among you as crucified”—it was His death on a cross that made your salvation possible. They heard this truth, believed it, and obeyed it; and as a result, were born into the family of God.

The crucifixion of Christ was a onetime historical fact with results continuing into eternity. Christ’s sacrificial death provides eternal payment for believer’s sins—“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Heb. 7.25)—and does not need to be supplemented by any human works.


2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
We have to be very careful as we deal with this verse. The gospel is true irrespective 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. Everyone has different experiences.

Question 1: How “did you receive the Holy Spirit; by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?” This rhetorical question concerns the time of their conversion, when they received the Holy Spirit—“And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls "Abba! Father!" (Gal. 4.6). Paul did not question their salvation, but challenged them to consider whether they were saved and received the Spirit by faith or on the basis of works. It was of course by faith, when they heard Paul preach the gospel. As an essentially gentile church they did not possess the Mosaic Law anyway. What does Paul mean by “the hearing of faith?” Does he mean the ear, the organ of hearing, or the receiving of the message, or the message itself? I think he means the whole process. 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. The truth that many fail to comprehend is that 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. Simply stated, “the hearing of faith” is hearing with faith. The Galatians did not receive the Holy Spirit by the Law. The Holy Spirit is the only real evidence of conversion. Scripture tells us, “You, however, are not under the control of the human nature but under the control of the Spirit, since God's Spirit lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of the Messiah, he does not belong to him” (Rom 8.9). “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1.3).

It is important that we understand the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion and in Christian living. The Holy Spirit convicts the lost sinner and reveals Christ to him (John 16.7-11). The sinner can resist the Spirit—“You stubborn people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do” (Acts 7.51) or yield to the Spirit and trust Jesus Christ. When the sinner believes in Jesus Christ, he is then born of the Spirit (John 3.1-8) and receives new life. He is also baptized by the Spirit so that he becomes a part of the physical body of Christ—“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12.12-14). The believer is sealed by the Spirit—“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, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1.13, 14), as a guarantee that he will one day share in the glory of Christ.

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