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Christianity and Religion: Some Thoughts on Galatians 3:1-5

4 May, 2009

brannansmall1These are some notes and observations on a sermon preached by Barry Douglas, available here.

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?

What are ‘religious works’? Well, it all depends on what ‘religious’ and ‘religion’ mean; for Paul here, they’re certainly not the outflow of the communal Christian life of fruit and faithfulness. Some of the Galatians are rather seeking after righteousness or uprightness through rites and ceremonies on one hand or personal standing or piety on the other (and most often its both in conjunction). But does it matter if we’re a little ‘religious’ in this sense, looking to Jesus while ‘supplementing’ him and his work with personal and corporate status or words or actions or feelings that are intended to ‘clinch’ the certainty of our redemption? Paul calls the Galatians foolish — Christianity looks from first to last to our redemption from ourselves and the spirit of the present age by God in Christ, and to our life with him and one another in the age to come by the Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone.

There are six questions in these verses, summed up in the second: did we receive the Spirit by works or by faith? Paul draws them and us to consider our own experience of redemption, as we have by the Spirit trusted in Christ and not in ourselves. If we have all become Christians in this way, can our progress be according to any other principle or power than our beginning?

If Christ is enough, then nothing else is necessary, and precisely for this reason any other thing called ‘necessary’ is very dangerous, and this is the particular understanding of ‘religiosity’ that can be dangerous as well. ‘Grace’ is in such circumstances is no longer recognized for what it is –purely gracious — and that’s misleading and hope-draining with respect to ourselves, each other, and the watching world. If we ask, Is Christ enough? Is he the ‘one thing necessary’? (Luke 10:38-42), Paul has already answered emphatically, YES.

Paul ‘placarded’ or ‘billboarded’ Christ and him crucified before the Galatians in his preaching and teaching, and did they think they could contribute something to that work? Since we take from the gospel whenever we add to it, therefore, let us be satisfied with its overflowing fullness. We have all we need in Christ on our behalf and the Holy Spirit within us, granting true grace and true peace because they are truly and wholly gracious and peace-granting.

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11 Comments
  1. Aryu-gene permalink
    4 May, 2009 6:27 am

    Yeshua (Jesus) did not come to establish a new religion called “Christianity” (that word is only used 3 times in the N.T.) Yeshua came to fulfill the Torah and the Prophets. He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When something is fulfilled it is “filled full”, but not rendered useless. Religious spirits and secular evil put Messiah on the execution stake, as He died for all of us and all of our sins. When Yeshua returns there will be only one religion and it will be Messianic Judaism. The church needs desperately to return to her Jewish roots.

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    4 May, 2009 11:48 am

    Aryu-gene~

    What do you think of Paul’s views in Galatians?

    ~B

  3. Aryu-gene permalink
    4 May, 2009 12:48 pm

    I am in complete agreement with his views that salvation comes from unmerited grace and is apart from works. I would never suggest that the Torah (Law) can give salvation. But it does teach us righteous living. God says, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will endure forever.” “His Word” means the totality of scripture. When Rabbi Sha’ul (Paul) told Timothy in 2Tim3:16….”all scripture is God-breathed and is useful in etc.,etc”…the New Covenant had not yet been written. Timothy would have understood that Paul was referring to The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.

  4. creedorchaos permalink*
    4 May, 2009 1:21 pm

    Aryu-gene~

    OK … and what about that is any different than a traditional ‘Christian’ understanding of the scriptures?

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at, especially with ‘Jewish roots.’ Jewish roots are precisely what Gentiles don’t have — unless you’re simply referring to the Hebrew scriptures as in your last comment, in which case I would think that means something completely different than Jewish roots, at least for most people.

    When I say ‘law,’ I’m using it in a different way than ‘Law’; I distinguish the two like the ESV translation of Romans 3:21: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” I’m not pitting the Hebrew scriptures against the New Testament, or the Pentateuch against Paul or anything like that. The Torah embodies within its variety both ‘law’ or commands and ‘gospel’ or promises, and its the latter that Paul is pointing up as the righteousness of God manifested in the person and work of Christ which upholds the former, the fulfillment of both the commands and promises of the Law and the Prophets, as our vicarious law-keeper and promise-keeper, the Righteous King, faithful Israel.

    ~B

  5. 4 May, 2009 4:31 pm

    Hi Brannan:

    The key to this passage and all of Galatians is a true understanding of what is covered by the term “law”. We need to directly confront and answer the key issue of whether the “law” is just Jewish ceremonial laws and rituals or whether the “law” includes the Ten Commandments. It is so easy for us Christians to agree that we are not bound by Jewish ceremonial laws and rituals and that we should not try to perfect ourselves thereby, but we are so tempted to still consider ourselves bound by the 10 commandments and to try to perfect ourselves thereby. Thank you.

    Yours truly,
    Bill

  6. Aryu-gene permalink
    4 May, 2009 4:50 pm

    Many traditional Christian teachings proclaim that “the law is dead”, thereby marginalizing Judaism and setting up a paradigm that often fosters anti-semitism.
    Whoever defines the terms wins the debate. For too long, Christians have defined the terms without fully understanding them. Example: Instead of saying, “Jesus is the end of the law”, how about putting it this way: “The Messiah is the goal at which the Torah aims” (Rom10:4) This helps to make the bible what it really is: one seamless book, not two different books for two different religions. When is the last time you heard a sermon on Romans11? It seems to be rarely preached. Perhaps Gentiles are uncomfortable with its message that we are grafted in to the Jewish olive tree. When a wild branch is grafted on to a tree, it gets its nourishment from that tree. The root of Paul’s metaphorical tree is Yeshua. The branches are Israel. We Gentile Christians are grafted in. We are not Jewish, but we have Jewish roots.

    The Messianic Jewish movement does not think itself superior to Christianity. We are simply trying to bridge the great schism of misunderstanding between the church and biblical Judaism; and provide Jews a place to come and receive their true Messiah without “converting” to a new religion. Think of the irony that is now revealed from the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. The dilemma was, “how can we bring these Gentiles into the kingdom without first making them Jews? Today, many Christians feel a corresponding dilemma and say, “how can we bring these Jews into the Kingdom of Jesus without first making them Christians?

    • 6 May, 2009 8:11 am

      A.g. :Jews need to become Christians bro.

  7. 4 May, 2009 5:03 pm

    I know the answer to this “law” business in Galatians….but you’ll have to buy “The Law is Not of Faith” to find out. My lips are sealed.
    Also see if you can find S.M. Baugh’s Gal 3:20 and the Covenant of Redemption in WTJ. It’s excellent!
    p

  8. 5 May, 2009 6:25 pm

    1) “If we have all become Christians in this way, can our progress be according to any other principle or power than our beginning?”

    2) “Since we take from the gospel whenever we add to it, therefore, let us be satisfied with its overflowing fullness.”

    Wonderful. Total grace for total sinners!

    God is salvationing from beginning to end.

    Great post!

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