03 July 2021

Having Begun in the Spirit

River Rapids - Photo by Jade Lee on Unsplash
In Galatians, Paul addressed a growing danger to his congregations. Certain “men from Jerusalem” claimed that Gentiles must keep the deeds of the Mosaic Law to “complete” their faith, or at least, some of them. They were “compelling Gentiles to Judaize” by adopting circumcision, calendrical observances, and, quite possibly, the dietary restrictions of Leviticus - [
Photo by Jade Lee on Unsplash].

Paul would have none of it. Unlike his other letters, in this letter, his opening salutation was curt, and he launched immediately into a diatribe against this Judaizing faction. He admonished the Galatians not to accept any gospel that deviated from the one he and his companions had delivered to the congregation:
  • (Galatians 1:6-8) – “I marvel that, thus quickly, you are moving away from him that called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel, which is not another, only there are some that are troubling you and wishing to pervert the gospel of the Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven announce a gospel aside from that which we announced to you, accursed let him be!
Already, they were “moving away from him that called them in the grace of Christ.” As for the Judaizers, twice Paul pronounced a “curse” (anathema) on anyone who proclaimed a “different gospel,” even if that person was “an angel from heaven.”

Paul received his gospel by direct revelation from Jesus, NOT from any human institution or authority. The leading apostles in Jerusalem had accepted his Torah-free gospel to the Gentiles, requiring only that his churches contribute to the relief of poor believers in Jerusalem - (Galatians 1:5-2:10).

The Apostle described a previous incident in Antioch when a group of Jewish believers, also from Jerusalem, pressured Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians to withdraw from table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles - (Galatians 2:11-14).

Paul laid out the key proposition of his gospel in the second chapter of the letter. A man is “not set right on the basis of the deeds of Torah, but through the faith of Christ Jesus.” Having come to faith in Christ, Paul had “died to the Law” and was “crucified with Christ,” now, to “live unto God.” To rebuild a Torah-observant lifestyle was tantamount to declaring that Jesus “died in vain.” To regress to life under Torah was to “set aside the grace of God” - (Galatians 2:15-21).

Next, Paul presented his first argument in support his gospel, the experience of receiving the Spirit:
  • (Galatians 3:1-5) - “O thoughtless Galatians! who has bewitched you, before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth as a crucified one? This only am I wishing to learn from you: from the works of the law did you receive the Spirit, or from a believed report? So thoughtless are you? Having made a beginning in Spirit, are you now to be made complete in flesh? Such things did you suffer in vain, if, at least, it is even in vain? He, then, who was supplying to you the Spirit and energizing mighty works among you, from the works of the law or from a believed report did he it?
The Galatians had received the Spirit already while in an uncircumcised state, therefore, without the deeds required by the Torah. This experience resulted from their response in faith to the gospel. The activity of the Spirit among them demonstrated that God had accepted Gentile believers as true members of His covenant people without circumcision, or the other requirements and rituals of the law of Moses.

Earlier, in Jerusalem, Peter made a similar argument in response to Jewish critics of his table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles. Upon seeing the Spirit fall on his Gentile audience, he declared:
  • Surely no man can forbid that these should not be baptized, seeing they have received the Holy Spirit just we… if the same free-gift God gave to them just as to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that could withstand God?” - (Acts 10:47, 11:17).
The granting of the Spirit to Gentile believers was indisputable evidence that God had accepted them while still in an uncircumcised state. Having received the Spirit from faith, to add Torah-keeping to “complete” their faith was tantamount to abandoning the Spirit and regressing to “the flesh” - And “no flesh shall be declared righteous from the works of the Law.” To get circumcised and “observe days, months, seasons, and years” was to return to bondage under the “weak and beggarly elemental spirits” - (Galatians 4:7-11)!
Just as Abraham received the promise of blessing without circumcision, and before the Torah was even given, so those in Christ now receive “the blessing of Abraham… the promise of the Spirit through the faith.” Anyone who is “led by the Spirit is not under the law” - (Galatians 3:6-14, 5:18).

Believers who regress by embracing a Torah-observant lifestyle may find themselves “severed from Christ… fallen from grace.” Since Jesus has inaugurated the age of the Spirit, the Levitical rites and regulations, including circumcision and Sabbath-keeping, no longer are “of any avail.” What matters is “faith working through love.” The Galatians began “to run well, but are now hindered from obeying the truth” - (Galatians 5:1-7).

To adopt a Torah-observant lifestyle is to come “under the Law,” under its jurisdiction and obligations; to once more be enslaved by the “elemental spirits” of the old order, powers already defeated on the Cross. Not only so, but, according to the law itself, anyone under its jurisdiction is obligated to keep the WHOLE law, and failure to do so places on under its “curse.”

Thus, having received already the fullness of the Spirit, now, the Galatians were contemplating its abandonment, wittingly or not - (Galatians 3:10, 4:1-6).

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