Bewitched!

Why this sermon title? Not because this is the last Sunday before Halloween! Rather, in Galatians 3:1-5, Paul uses the term figuratively, showing how foolish the Galatians were to be turning away from the Christ who had been so clearly preached to them. Paul can’t talk about Christ and his work without also talking about the Spirit.

Who bewitched you? Christ was crucified. You know that Christ died. Christ had been portrayed (clearly set forth) as crucified. Paul has in mind the preaching he had done in Galatia. Billboards are obvious because they seek to communicate. Ancient Pompeii had billboards painted on walls. That is the kind of clarity with which Christ’s death had been presented. Christ’s death is a crucial part of his work. Paul is concerned about the way the Galatian Christians are living, but he deals with that problem by emphasizing doctrine. There is no dichotomy between doctrine and evangelism. Paul has not hesitated to remind the Galatians of the substitutionary atonement, Galatians 1:4; 2:20. Paul had not literally painted a picture for the Galatians, but his teaching was so clear that the Galatians could see Christ as crucified.

Losing sight of Christ is foolish! “Foolish” is not a term to be used lightly. See Christ’s warning in Matthew 5:21–23. Its use here shows the seriousness of their error. The term means “mindless,” but is not a lack of intellect, but a wrong use of it. It involves a foolishness of heart as well as mind. The Galatians were bewitched! The term Paul uses is found only here in the New Testament. It’s use here is metaphorical. The Old Testament Scriptures clearly forbade witchcraft, wanting God’s people to recognize that God, not magical powers control people and events. In view is not a wave of Harry Potter’s wand but the idea of control by means of a name or spell. The false teachers used lying words to distort the truth, and the Galatian Christians were being bewitched by them! They were in danger of coming under the influence and control of false teaching. Paul has a counter-spell, not an incantation, but an appeal to the Old Testament Scriptures and to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit or the flesh? Just one thing! One question—not that there are no further questions or argumentations, but this point alone should be convincing. How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Paul is not thinking first of all about spiritual gifts (though he does come to them in v.5), but the gift of the Spirit. Paul has in mind Pentecost and the conversion of the 3,000. The Spirit is essential to becoming a Christian. He works in hearts of stone and makes them hearts of flesh. He is the wind who blew life into the dry bones to which Ezekiel preached. What had the dry bones done to prompt the Spirit to make them alive—nothing! The Spirit is not earned by payment of a price (as Simon learned, Acts 8:18-21) or by acts of obedience in observing the law. Rather, the Spirit is given, and is received by faith. Listen, not in unbelief and indifference, but with faith, believing the good news about Jesus (and his gift of the Spirit) that you hear. “In the one context in which he reflects on the psychology involved in this reception, Paul indicates that it takes place ‘by believing what you heard’ by contrast with ‘observing the law’ (Gal. 3:2, 5). The Spirit is received in the context of coming to faith in Christ the Lord.” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 92). The Spirit came upon Christ at his baptism, equipping the God-man with what he needed to do his messianic work. The risen, ascended, glorified Christ has become live-giving Spirit. His Spirit drew you to Christ. To minimize the work of Christ, as the works-righteousness of the false teachers did, is also to mistreat the Spirit, the one by whom you came to Christ.

Reach your goal by the Spirit. The initial work is that of God through his Spirit. How much more your continuing in your Christian life? Philippians 1:6. The transition was probably gradual. The false teachers may have started with a seemingly genuine concern for Christian living, but then made a gradual transition to depending on works. The same danger exists today. Beware of adding man-made regulations to the law of God, for they fast become substitutes. Beware of trusting the things you do, rather than the Savior’s work. Is it all for nothing?, v.4. Paul had encouraged these believers in the persecution they were facing, Acts 14:22, but it all appears to be for nothing. God has given you the Holy Spirit. The giving of the Spirit is the crown of God’s grace. He is the down payment—your future life in the new heavens and earth will be Spiritual (capital “S”) existence. See Ephesians 1:13–14, where the Spirit is both the seal and the down payment or deposit. He had been evident in the working of miracles in that area, Acts 14:8ff., and in other ways, including the transformed lives of the believers. Although miracles, properly speaking were tied with the giving of new revelation (Hebrews 2:4), the Spirit is still active. he works in and through the Word as he works in your heart and life. You received the Spirit by faith. How can you now return to works as the basis for salvation?!? Give thanks that the Reformation included a rediscovery of the importance of the Spirit’s person and work. “[T]he French-born second generation Reformer of Geneva in Switzerland, John Calvin, has been described, as we have noted, as ‘the theologian of the Holy Spirit.’ Of course the new understanding of the nature of justification (imputed, not infused, alien, not self-attained, righteousness) was a central feature of the new teaching. But this was accompanied by a desacramentalizing of the application of redemption, and a corresponding restoration of the role of the Spirit. Not that the sacraments were denuded of their power, so much as subordinated to the joint action of the word and the Spirit. . . . [I]n the Reformation teaching it was emphasized that the Holy Spirit brought the individual directly into fellowship fellowship with Christ, of which fellowship the sacraments were seen as signs and seals. . . . This is in fact a more ancient question than medieval discussions of it, and surfaces already in Scripture, for example, in the controversies over the relationship between grace and law. Paul explicitly indicates that this soteriological issue is also a penumatological one when he writes: ‘Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?’ (Gal. 3:2).” (Ferguson, pp. 96–97).

Don’t fall under a spell. The Spirit drew you to Christ. You began in him. Continue in the power of his Holy Spirit.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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