whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

March 8, 2012 Reflection – Galatians 3:1-6

Galatians 3:1-6 KJV (NIV Link below)

1O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

5He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

6Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

(Link to NIV Text)

The Spirit’s Work versus Ours

For someone who has experienced the transformative power of Jesus’ salvation, what Paul has been talking about seems basic. The only conclusion Paul can draw from the behavior of the Galatians (who have been trying to perform the works of the Jewish Torah in order to “gain” salvation) is that they have been bewitched. Yes, Paul is using a bit of rhetoric at this point, but the emphatic sense of outrage mixed with bewilderment stands. This is especially true for the Galatians, who were within a generation of the life and death of Jesus Christ. God had come in the flesh and died in the living memory of the church. Paul, recognizing that this has apparently been unconvincing, therefore asks the Galatians about the Spirit, the person of the Trinity whom every Christian is intimately acquainted. Did this Spirit come because they had circumcised themselves, or held to a food law, or observed the Jewish holy days? This highlights an interesting contrast in the covenant before Christ and after Christ.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God was indeed active and even came upon people with power. However, every time this occurred, at least from the information we have, the Spirit only rested upon a single individual. The Spirit came upon a lone deliverer in Judges. In Samuel it rested first upon Saul, but once David was anointed, the Spirit departed from Saul and was with David. At Pentecost, however, all that changed. The Spirit came upon them, like the sound of a mighty rushing wind and as a tongue of fire. This would be readily understood as the Spirit of YHWH. Then, something curious happens: the Spirit doesn’t come upon one of them, but upon all of them. Not only did the death of Jesus Christ blow wide open the door of grace, making it available to all, but he blew open the presence of the Spirit. Anyone who accepts this new covenant receives the Spirit. Not for a time, or a brief period, but forever. The Spirit of God indwells the believer. It is by the Spirit’s presence in our hearts that we say that Jesus resides there as well. With such a marked distinction between the covenant under law and the covenant under Christ, how could the Galatians think they needed to return to the law?

In God’s covenant under Christ, he begins to transform people by the Spirit. It’s nothing we can do. This wave of transforming forgiveness is something that every believer has begun to experience. Yet, we live in a tension between the beginning of the Spirit’s work and its conclusion. Why, though, would God begin a transformation by the Spirit, out of Grace, only to require its completion by works? The fundamental question Paul asks is: how wide, strong and far is the scope of God’s grace? Is it only to get things started, or is it to finish it? Which sounds more like God? In the way of example, Paul reminds us of Abraham: his faith is what counted as righteousness, not his works. God is transforming you, but works of righteousness are the result, not the cause of this transformative effect.

What do you think? Join the conversation. Here are some reflections questions to consider: Do you remember the transformative effect of the Spirit upon your life when you first became a Christian? Are you sometimes tempted to think your transformation is dependent on your actions? Do you find it liberating to be reminded that God loves you and is powerful enough to complete what he began in you? What do you think about the suffering that Paul mentions the Galatians had gone through because of their faith? How does that relate (positively or negatively) to understanding the relationship between faith and works?

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