Piercing Questions: Galatians 3:1-5
“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 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?” ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭3:1-5‬ ‭
Wow! Paul now asks four rhetorical questions to the Galatian believers to demonstrate the difference between faith in Christ and trying to keep the Law through fleshly self effort. These questions all boil down to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It should be noted that Judaism was based solely on self effort, but faith in Jesus Christ was accompanied by Pentecost and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Before looking at these questions, it might be helpful to review Joel 2:28-32. This was the promise God made to Israel of the Holy Spirit. It would usher in something new and refreshing for the common people.
This was also Peter’s sermon text on the day of Pentecostals recorded in Acts chapter two. The contrast between the old wine of the flesh and the new wine of the Spirit comes down to this text. This is what the Old Testament saints longed for!
Paul now moves right to the heart of the issue. The first question he asked in Galatians 3:2 was; “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by hearing with faith?” Bingo! The issue should have been settled with this first question. Did the Holy Spirit come through empty religion or by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and responding with personal faith?
The second question was equally as profound; “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” His point was obvious. Moving back to Old Testament legalism adds nothing to the inner transforming work of grace and the Holy Spirit! To the contrary, the deeds of the flesh grieve the Holy Spirit. It dampens the walk in the Spirit. It moves from freedom back to bondage. (Preview Galatians 5)
The third question looks back on the persecution of the early believers. Peter and James were part of the harsh treatment dished out by the Jewish religious leaders. Paul asks; “Did you suffer so many things in vain, if indeed it was in vain.”
A quick review of Acts 4-9 is sufficient to bring this question into focus. They early Christians suffered much for the gospel. Ironically, Saul himself was the one who had inflicted much of the suffering on the early believers. Suddenly, there was a role reversal. Paul was now the one suffering at the hands of Jewish believers for the very things they defended so courageously at the beginning. This question should have served as a wake up call. Something had drastically changed!
The final question comes in verse five; “Does He then who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law or by hearing with faith?” During His public ministry, were the miracles coming through the priests and Pharisees or through Jesus Christ? After Pentecost where was the power Holy Spirit working? Was He with the Jewish religious leaders or the Apostles and early believers? The book of Acts was written to record the contrast between the empty works of the Law and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit that accompanied the gospel.
These are practical but profound questions. They bring to light the contrast between dead human religion and the life giving power of the gospel. These questions were intended to be a wake up call for the churches in the region of Galatia and the church leadership back in Jerusalem.
The drift from the Spirit back to the flesh happens so subtly. It is the move from dependency on grace and the Holy Spirit to self effort and rigid legalism. It is a move from joy in the Lord to gloom and despair anchored in personal inadequacy. It is a shift in focus from God to self. It often involves displacing prayer and intercession with clever programs. It happens whenever we get so busy for God we no longer have time to spend with God.
It can be summarized as nothing less that a remake of the Old Testament religious system complete with traditions, rituals and lip service to God. In this drift, people hold to a form of godliness but deny the power of the Holy Spirit and the gospel. (2 Timothy 3:5)
Make no mistake, Satan loves every form of flesh based religion so long as Jesus Christ, the gospel and the work of Holy Spirit are set aside. Empty religion satisfies the inner void for God, but displaces Him with self. The Galatian churches were drifting in that direction very fast. They were becoming Christian Pharisees.
So, be honest, how do you answer these questions in your life? God has used this text as a wake up call for me numerous times over the years when the fire was being quenched by a return to self effort and self dependency. It is easy to go through the motions of religion but be tragically out of fellowship with God.
This is why revival tarries today. Revival is a radical return to God. It is often mistaken for a return to dead religion. Revival involves repenting from flesh based religious effort and embracing Jesus Christ, the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global