You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
(a) You foolish Galatians. Some of Paul’s strongest language is reserved for those who mix grace and law. “You stupid Galatians!” (CEV). The same Paul who said, “Let your conversation be full of grace” (Col. 4:6), didn’t hesitate to tell those running back to law that they were foolish and stupid.
(b) Who has bewitched you, or put an evil spell on you (to quote the CEV)?
(c) Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. The cross is the heart of the gospel of grace. Christ’s one-time sacrifice for sin was so complete that no further sacrifice is needed. Anything we might add only detracts to the perfections of Christ’s finished work.
When we are tempted into dead works, we need to be reminded about the cross. Christ’s work is a finished work. There is nothing further to be done. Your part is to believe it and thank him for it.
Further reading: “How religion makes us stupid, and Jesus makes us wise”
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?
(a) Did you receive the Spirit? Paul is speaking to Christians who have received the Holy Spirit. The Galatians were believers who had started well.
(b) By the works of the Law. The law has a good purpose (see Gal. 3:24), but the Law cannot make you right with God. Paul is contrasting two ways to live; by relying on our law-keeping, or by faith. These are not complementary for the law is not of faith (Gal. 3:12).
(c) Hearing with faith. We receive the Holy Spirit when we hear the good news with faith (Eph. 1:13). Faith is a positive response to what God has done. We hear that Jesus loves us and gave himself for us so that we might be delivered from our sins, and live in union with him (Gal. 1:3, 2:20), and we say, “Thank you, Jesus!” That’s faith.
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Some might think, “Jesus got me started, but now it’s up to me to maintain my salvation.” Or, “I was saved by grace, but now I need to make myself holy.” Or, “I’m not saved by the law, but the law shows me how to live right before God.” These are foolish mindsets because they seek to mix grace with law, or the work of the Spirit with the work of the flesh.
Then there are those who say all the right things about grace, but their lives are burdened with religious activity. They are wearying themselves because it’s expected of them or because that’s the way they’ve always done it. They are anxious and exhausted, because they have set aside grace. They haven’t done this intentionally, but they have felt the pressure to perform. Instead of hearing, “Grace is enough,” they’ve heard, “You have to obey, wrestle, contend, strive, intercede until you bleed, and fight until you die.” It sounds spiritual but it is Galatian foolishness.
The Message Bible translates this verse: “Only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.” Other translations say foolish (NASB), senseless (Darby) and stupid (CEV). Those who rely on human effort to improve their standing before God are crazy, foolish, senseless and stupid. Strong words to convey a strong message: don’t walk after the flesh.
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