Faith In God
During his first missionary journey, the Apostle Paul preached the gospel to people living in Galatia (see Acts 13 & 14). As the church grew in this region, the believers experienced a remarkable movement of God’s Spirit and witnessed many miracles.
Before long, false teachers infiltrated the ranks and confused the church. These false teachers tried to convince the Galatians that God moved in their midst because of the Galatians’ righteousness and religious obedience.
Paul confronted this faulty theology head-on.
He wrote his letter to the Galatians to encourage them to refocus their faith on Jesus rather than themselves.
“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? Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Galatians 3:1-6)
Notice that Paul’s reprimand questions who cast a spell on the Galatians, which led them to believe that they were responsible for God’s miraculous movement in their midst. Paul uses strong language to denounce this heresy, warning that the Galatians were “bewitched” into believing a lie. He reminds them that God moved miraculously in their midst because of their belief in Jesus and his finished work, not because they discovered a secret formula or gained something through their own merit.
As we read Paul’s letter, we discover that the group of men responsible for this bewitching was a group of false teachers called the Judaizers. These men advocated that a person was not acceptable before God unless they were circumcised and followed the Old Testament Law in its entirety. Writing about circumcision in our day is strange because it is little more than a medical procedure.
However, the significance for the Jewish people runs much deeper than our culture understands. For the Jewish people, circumcision was the outward sign that they were God’s chosen, covenant people. As Gentiles came to faith in Jesus the Messiah, some Jews struggled to understand how Gentiles were grafted into a Jewish faith. The Judaizers were on a mission to convert Gentile believers to follow the 613 commandments of the Old Testament Law.
The Judaizers believed that a person may be saved by God’s grace through Christ, but the new believer must remain in right standing through their adherence to the Law. Paul clearly stated that these added regulations were a direct challenge to the gospel, and he even called it a false gospel.
Paul rebuked the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
This scripture challenges our thinking regarding false teaching, which attempts to replace Jesus with another god. On the contrary, Paul’s letter to the Galatians teaches us that false doctrine not only takes something away from what Jesus accomplished, but also tries to add our works to the gospel of Christ. We can interact with God in one of two ways – either on the basis of our works or on the basis of Jesus’ finished work.
In our own humanity, we will never achieve perfection, but we are grafted into God’s people through the finished work of Christ. We do not need to discover a secret formula. Instead, we are free in Christ and must simply believe we are who God says we are.
I know no one in our society who advocates that a Christian must be circumcised. However, many preachers teach a kind of circumcision of the flesh that demands a perfecting of yourself before God will accept or use you. This outright challenge to the gospel renders people powerless as they hope to find perfection in something other than Christ. Each day we as Christians are saved and sustained by the grace of God. We still must pursue spiritual maturity and holiness, which is an outworking of the grace we receive. We do not mature beyond our need for grace.
The Judaizers affected one person – the Apostle Peter (see Galatians 2:11-12). He vacillated in his behavior with regard to the Jewish Law based on the presence or absence of the Judaizers. Thankfully, Paul confronted Peter in his hypocrisy, but this rebuke came long after God used Peter’s shadow to heal. Remember, the story of Peter’s shadow is recorded in Acts 5, and the Galatian churches were not established until Acts 13-14.
God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. When Jesus told Peter that he would build his church upon him (Matthew 16:18), Jesus fully understood that Peter would never be capable of fulfilling this prophecy using his own strength or ability.
Yet Jesus did not interact with Peter according to his flesh, but in accordance with the grace, he gave him. As believers, we should be encouraged to know that God factors in our imperfections and inabilities when he promises to advance his kingdom through us and bring heaven to earth.
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