“Who Hath Bewitched You?”
Paul is astonished that those very same men and women who had received him and the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ were now so easily turned away from the gospel and counted him as their enemy (4:13-16). “I marvel,” he wrote in chapter 1, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel,” which is not even similar to the Gospel of Christ. Here he again writes in utter astonishment, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?”
The Galatian church was being turned away from the Gospel. They were being persuaded to exchange Calvary for Sinai; Christ for Moses; sonship for slavery; liberty for bondage; and faith for works. They had been charmed into evil, hoodooed by false prophets who flattered them with the notion that they must seek righteousness by their own works, and that they could attain it. Oh, how foolish, how senseless they were! Yet, there are multitudes today, who, in the face of this horrible example, follow after the Galatians, clinging to Moses, legal principles, religious ceremonies, the commandments of men, and their own filthy rags of self-righteousness, refusing to submit themselves to the righteousness of God, refusing to trust Christ alone for all righteousness with God (Rom. 9:31-10:4).
Paul had proved that the gospel he proclaimed—justification received by faith in Christ apart from any human effort—is the gospel of God. He now proceeds to show in chapters 3 and 4 that both the universal testimony of Holy Scripture and the experience of every saved sinner verify the doctrine of the gospel. Sinners receive the justification that Christ accomplished at Calvary (Rom. 4:25) by faith alone, apart from anything done or experienced by them.
When the Scriptures speak of justification by faith, they are speaking of faith’s reception of the finished work of Christ, not of faith’s contribution to it and completion of it. It is this reception of Christ and his finished work as our all-sufficient, effectual Substitute and Savior by which our hearts and minds are reconciled to God. Sinners are not judicially pardoned by their faith, but by the blood of Christ. We simply receive the knowledge of that pardon and the peace that knowledge brings by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:24; Heb. 9:11-12; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 4:25-5:5, 10).
Verse 1—"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?"
Here Paul does the same thing with the Galatian church that he did with Peter at Antioch (2:11-17). He confronts them head-on because of their departure from the gospel. He writes, as he does, not in a harsh spirit to reproach them, or provoke them to anger. His language was not a violation of our Lord’s admonition (Matt. 5:22). Rather, he wrote with the tenderness of a pastor’s heart (2 Tim. 3:15), as one like the Savior (Lk. 24:25), concerned for the souls of men.
The Galatians had been bewitched. They had been turned away from the simplicity of the gospel. The word “bewitched” implies deceitful charm, a seduction. They had been charmed away from the gospel by teachings that flattered the flesh. There is witchery in the very air of works religion. It is a deceitful flattery of the flesh. As the deceitful harlot allures a foolish man to her bed by appealing to his pride, so Babylon’s religion seduces foolish men and women and destroys them forever (Pro. 7:1-27). Satan’s ministers transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, teaching sinners to live good, morally righteous lives, even to live by the law. Thereby the fiend of hell beguiles the souls of fools from the simplicity (the singleness of faith) that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3, 13-15).
The Galatians had verbally denied Christ. They had begun to mix works with grace, their own righteousness with Christ’s righteousness, their performances with Christ’s blood. They had been tricked into thinking that Christ’s work must be supplemented by their own works. Paul’s object in this Epistle (in all his Epistles) is to demonstrate the fact that Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted (Gal. 5:2). In the matter of faith, Christ is all or he is nothing.
“Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently setforth”—These men and women were in great danger of total apostasy. Paul was very concerned for their souls (4:11, 20). The doctrine they had embraced from false teachers was horrible and deadly. Yet, Paul is hopeful that they will recover. He addresses them as brethren, people who know and trust Christ, and reasons with them upon the basis of their professed faith in Christ.
Paul himself had preached Christ to them. He had clearly set forth the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God as the crucified, accepted Substitute for sinners. With this phrase, Paul gives us a clear description of what preaching is. It is the setting forth of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
Many preach a vague, indistinct Christ, who did something or other, but no one knows just what or why; not Paul. He distinctly painted a picture of Christ before the eyes of his hearers (2 Cor. 1:2; 4:4-6; Rom. 10:4; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; Gal. 6:14). If we do good to the souls of men we must constantly set Christ crucified before them. There is no righteousness for sinners, except the righteousness of God in Christ, the righteousness he brought in by his perfect obedience to the law in his life and his infinitely meritorious, effectual satisfaction of its justice by his blood.
Verses 2-5—"This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"
Paul moves from a denunciation of justification by works to the denunciation of sanctification by works. Justification is righteousness imputed. It is a work done outside our experience. Sanctification is righteousness imparted in the new birth. Both are totally the works of God’s free grace, works of grace to which we contribute nothing.
The Spirit of God comes into our lives in regeneration sovereignly (John 3:8). He comes in and works his work through the preaching of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23-25), “the hearing of faith.” The gifts of the Spirit come through the preaching of faith, not of law works (Rom. 10:16-17; Acts 11:14; 2:38; 5:31-32; Eph. 1:12-13; John 7:38-39).
Sanctification comes not by the law, but by Spirit wrought faith in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). I am fully aware that this is not commonly accepted. But I am just as fully convinced that it is the teaching of Holy Scripture. To those who try to teach salvation by grace alone and still make sanctification to be the result of our works, I ask only that they show their doctrine from the Word of God. That cannot be done.
The words “sanctify,” “sanctified,” “sanctifieth,” and “sanctification” are used more than thirty times in the New Testament. We are said to be sanctified by the purpose of God, by the blood of Christ, by the Spirit of God, by faith in Christ, and by the Word of God. But never, not even once, are we said to sanctify ourselves. Sanctification is the work of God alone. We are not made perfect, complete, by the works of the flesh. Our life in Christ began as a life of faith, and must continue to the end as a life of faith (Col. 2:6).
Verses 6-9—"Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham."
The first mention of a man having righteousness accounted (imputed) to him is found in Genesis 15:6. That man was Abraham. He was not justified by being circumcised. Circumcision had not yet been commanded. Abraham was justified by faith alone (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:2, 9-10, 13, 20-25). If Abraham was justified by faith without works, only those who are justified by faith without works, and all those who are justified by faith without works are the children of Abraham. That is to say, the people of God, the heirs of God’s covenant and God’s promises, those who are saved, the Israel of God are all those, and only those, who trust Christ alone for all their acceptance with God (John 8:39; Phil. 3:3).
Verse 10— "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."
Justification must be by faith and cannot come by the works of the law, because all who live (profess to live) under the law are under the curse of the law. No man can obey God’s holy law. No man can perform the righteousness required by the law. No man can satisfy the debt owed to the law. Only Christ, the God-man, could do that. Sincere obedience is not sufficient. Obedience must be perfect. The law can do nothing but condemn and kill (Rom. 3:19). It can never justify and give life. If we would be justified, we must be justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ.
It is very important for us to take note of the fact that Galatians 3:10 is a quotation of Deuteronomy 27:26. It is important for this reason—Those who endeavor to make the law of God the believer’s rule of life insist that when the New Testament teaches our total freedom from the law in Christ (Rom. 6:14-15; 7:4; 10:4), it is only talking about freedom from the ceremonial, Levitical law. But the passage cited here has nothing to do with the ceremonies of the law. Deuteronomy 27:14-26 speaks only of what is called “the moral law.” Galatians 3:10 specifically states that all who attempt to live before God by the ten commandments are yet under the curse of the law.
Verses 11-12— "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them."
Justification must be by faith, because the life of faith is above the law. The life of faith has a superior principle. Faith works by love (2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 5:6; Heb. 8:10; 1 John 3:23). The life of faith has a superior power. Christ lives in us (1 John 3:9). The life of faith has a superior promise. Moses, in the law, promised only temporal blessedness to moral obedience. Christ in the gospel promises eternal life to the obedience of faith (12, John 17:2).
Many were justified before the law was given at Sinai (Abel, Noah, Job, Abraham); and many were justified during the legal dispensation; but none were justified by obedience to the law. The law was given to identify, expose, and condemn sin and to lead us to Christ. It has no other function. The Scriptures declare, “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:38). The law is not of faith. The law does not demand faith. It demands obedience, perfect obedience, external obedience, internal obedience, constant obedience, perfect obedience, obedience in thought, in motive, and in attitude. Therefore, it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Verses 13-14— "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
Justification must be by faith, because Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, thereby fulfilling the law and bringing the law to its end. Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4). He is the conclusion of the law. He is the purpose for which the law was given, the One to whom it pointed. And he is the termination of the law (Heb. 10:1-14). He endured its curse for us and redeemed us from it (2 Cor. 5:21; Isa. 53:5-6).
“Christ”—the appointed, anointed, accepted Redeemer and Savior, God’s own dear Son—“hath”—once and for all, with finality, by his one great sacrifice for sin—“redeemed”—effectually ransomed and delivered by a just and legal payment—“us”—God’s elect, every sinner who trusts him—“from the curse of the law”—from all possibility of judgment, condemnation, penalty, and death by the law—“being made a curse for us”—being made to be the object of God’s just wrath, the object of the law’s just curse, by being made to be sin for us!—“For it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23).
Christ died in our room and stead, satisfying all the demands of God’s holy law as our Substitute for this purpose—that the blessing of Abraham, the same blessing that God gave Abraham - justification, imputed righteousness, and eternal life, might come upon us (Rom. 4:7-10) through him. Abraham was not justified by works, or by circumcision, but by Christ (Rom. 4:20-25).
When Paul says, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” he is not saying that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in regeneration by faith. It is this gift and operation of the Holy Spirit that creates faith in us (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 1:19; 2:8-9; Col. 2:12). The promise of the Spirit, which we receive, is the gift of faith which was symbolized in circumcision, by which all the blessings of God are sealed and assured to us, the Spirit of adoption that enables us to confidently call God himself our Father, through faith in Christ (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:4-7; 1 John 3:1-3).
Verses 15-18— "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise."
Justification must be by faith, because all the promises of God are made to faith. Justification before God cannot be by the law, because all these promises were made by God in a covenant 430 years before the law was given. A covenant or testament made by a man cannot be overturned or nullified once it is confirmed. Certainly, if a man’s covenant cannot be nullified, God’s covenant cannot be.
These promises of acceptance with God, justification and eternal life, were not made to Abraham’s physical seed, but to Christ as the federal head and representative of God’s elect, his church, his body, Abraham’s spiritual seed. They were made to him for us before the world began (Eph. 1:3-6; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2). The Levitical law, which was given 430 years after the covenant God made with Abraham concerning Christ and the blessings of grace in him (Gen. 12:1-3), does not and cannot nullify God’s covenant grace or make his promises of mercy, grace, salvation, and eternal life in Christ of non-effect.
What Paul says in verse 18 is very much the same thing he says in Romans 4:16 and 11:6. — "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all… And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." If justification can be obtained by something we do, it cannot be received by faith in Christ. Faith and works cannot stand together. If we bring in works, we push out faith, push out grace, and push out Christ completely. But God gave the inheritance of grace to Abraham by promise.
How long beneath the law I lay,
In bondage and distress!
I toiled the precept to obey.
But toiled without success.
Then all my servile works were done,
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely chose his ways.
To see the law, by Christ fulfilled,
And hear his pardoning voice,
Will change a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.
In the matter of salvation Christ is all (1 Cor. 1:30-31). Let us trust him, love him, serve him, and seek his honor always and in all things, who loved us and gave himself for us (1 Cor. 10:31).