Having Started in the Spirit
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul addresses a growing danger. Certain “men from Jerusalem” claim that Gentiles must keep the deeds of the Mosaic Law to “complete” their faith, or at least, some of them. They are “compelling Gentiles to Judaize” by adopting circumcision, calendrical observances, and perhaps the Levitical dietary restrictions.
Paul would have none of it. Unlike his other letters, this time, his opening salutation was curt, and he immediately chastised the Galatians and launched into a diatribe against the Judaizing faction from Jerusalem.
And he admonished the congregation NOT to accept any gospel that deviated from the one he previously delivered to them:
- (Galatians 1:6-8) – “I marvel that, thus quickly, you are abandoning 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, the Galatians are “moving away from him that called them in the grace of Christ.” As for the Judaizers, twice Paul pronounces a “curse” (anathema) on anyone who proclaims a “different gospel,” even if done so by “an angel from heaven.”
He received his gospel by direct revelation from Jesus, NOT from any human authority or angelic visitation. The leading apostles in Jerusalem accepted his Torah-free gospel for the Gentiles, requiring only that his churches contribute to the relief of poor believers in Jerusalem - (Galatians 1:5-2:10).
Paul describes a previous incident in Antioch when a group of Jewish believers, also from Jerusalem, pressured Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish believers to withdraw from table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile believers - (Galatians 2:11-14).
In the second chapter of Galatians, he presents the key proposition of this letter; namely, that man is “not set right (before God) on the basis of the deeds of Torah, but through the faith of Christ Jesus.” Having come to faith in Jesus, Paul “died to the Law” and was “crucified with Christ” so that he now “lives unto God.”
To rebuild a Torah-observant lifestyle after encountering Jesus is tantamount to declaring that he “died in vain,” and to regress to life under the regulations of the Torah is to “set aside the grace of God” - (Galatians 2:15-21).
RECEIPT OF THE SPIRIT
Next, Paul presents his first argument in support of his Torah-free gospel, the experience of having received the gift of 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? Are you so thoughtless? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now to be completed in the flesh? Such things did you suffer in vain, if, at least, it is even in vain? He, then, who was supplying the Spirit to you and energizing mighty works among you, did he do it from the works of the law or from a believed report?”
They received the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state, and therefore, without the deeds and rituals required by the Law. That experience resulted from their response in faith to the gospel preached by the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The activity of the Spirit among the Galatians demonstrated that God accepts Gentile believers as true members of His covenant people without circumcision, and circumcision is one of the basic requirements of the Law delivered to Israel by Moses.
Earlier, 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 in Caesarea, 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 Gentiles was and is irrefutable evidence that God has accepted them even in an uncircumcised state.
Having received the Spirit from faith, to now add Torah-keeping to “complete” their faith meant abandoning the Spirit and resorting 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” means returning to bondage under the “weak and beggarly elemental spirits” and to an immature and far less enlightened state - (Galatians 4:7-11)!
Just as Abraham received the promise without circumcision before the Torah was even given, so those in Christ 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 abandon the gospel by embracing a Torah-observant lifestyle to achieve right standing with God may find themselves “severed from Christ… fallen from grace.”
Since Jesus inaugurated the age of the Spirit, the Levitical rites, including circumcision and Sabbath-keeping, are no longer “of any avail.” They are not evil or sinful, but their time and purpose came to an end with the arrival of God’s Son in the “fullness of time.”
What matters now is “faith working through love.” The believers in Galatia began “to run well but were now hindered from obeying the truth.” They were “bewitched” by the false gospel proclaimed by the “men from Jerusalem” - (Galatians 5:1-7).
To adopt a Torah-observant lifestyle is to come “under the Law” - its jurisdiction and obligations – and once more to be enslaved by the “elemental spirits” of the old order, powers already defeated on the Cross by Jesus.
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 one under its “curse.” If the Galatians get circumcised, they will be obliged to keep ALL its regulations, commandments, and rituals.
Thus, having received the fullness of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus in Galatia were contemplating the abandonment of the gospel of grace proclaimed by Paul, whether they understood so or not.