“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?” (Galatians 3:1)
The Galatians received the gospel Paul preached unto them with great enthusiasm. The Galatians were apparently a very warmhearted, but fickle people. Paul found, to his great grief, that while he had been away from them, certain false teachers came in among them and turned them aside from the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. He was thus constrained to speak very plainly in this matter. In this verse he uses strong terms. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth?” I hope that no such witchery has fallen any who read these lines. Yet, being men, we are all subject to the dangerous doctrines of devils that would move us away from the blessed “simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). There are bewitching doctrines in the air these days. Many are found among men and women who profess faith in Christ, and among those who are responsible to preach the gospel of Christ, to whom these words might be properly addressed.
Here Paul reminds us of our conversion by the grace of God. He addresses us as those “before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.” The word here translated “evidently set forth” is a word that refers to the placards that were publicly displayed in a public place for all to see. Having no newspapers, public announcements were made in this way in ancient times. They were placed in areas where the public mingled so that everyone could read them.
When Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians, they could see the Lord Jesus crucified among themselves. They, in imagination and by faith, followed the procession of the Roman soldiers through the streets of Jerusalem. They heard the ringing of the hammers as the Savior was nailed to the cursed tree. They saw his tears and heard his cries of agony and pain. They felt his suffering as his blood flowed from his head, his hands, his feet, and his wounded side. Seeing him thus crucified, they were convicted in their hearts. They forsook their paganism and idolatry, being born into the kingdom of God. They became new creatures. The old life, the old world, the old ways, the old pleasures were passed away, and all things had become new. They were born again by the sovereign power of the Spirit of God, through the hearing of the Word of faith. They forsook their old gods and embraced the true and living God, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here we have a marvelous testimony to the message Paul preached. What was the theme of his sermons? It was this, “Christ died for ours sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” When Paul preached, he preached the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16). Christ and him crucified was this man’s message (Acts 9:20; 1 Cor. 2:2). That is the faith. That is the substance and the essence of Christianity. The beginning, the middle, and the end of the Christian faith is “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” When Paul preached the gospel, he preached Christ. When John wrote about the revelation of the Father and eternal life, he was writing about Christ. When James spoke of the great Lawgiver and Judge, he was talking about Christ. When Paul wrote to the Hebrew believers about the Great High priest in heaven and the Mediator between God and man, he wrote about our Savior. The Christian faith is Christ. Take that away, take the Lord Jesus Christ out of it, and it is nothing.
This is the gospel that Paul preached and the power and effect of it upon the Galatians was effectual to the salvation of their souls. It placed the light of heaven in their hearts. They cried, “Abba Father,” and Christ was formed in them. In Christ they had liberty and life. Paul rejoiced in their spiritual transformation and thanked God for his operations of grace on their behalf.
But now Paul’s astonishment is aroused by something else. It appeared that the Galatians were being taken away from their hope in Christ by false teachers who entangled them again in the yoke of the law. They had taken their minds off of Christ and focused them on something else. This is a danger of which we need a word of caution in our day. The only way that we can escape this evil, which Paul so severely condemns, is the use of proper cautionary means. Only as the Holy Spirit keeps us will we be preserved from the fascination of heresy and kept true to the gospel of Christ. We will be kept from error concerning our Christian faith only if we keep our hearts and minds fixed by faith upon Christ as the all and all of the faith.
Believers were not free from the subtle dangers of heresy in apostolic times any more then we are today. No sooner was the gospel preached and embraced in any place, than Satan sent false apostles who attempted to destroy its influence by corrupting its message, “bewitching” those who were converted by satanic perversions of the gospel. These were not out and out denials of the gospel, but more dangerous, subtle denials of it, but denials of the gospel nonetheless. Judaism subverted the gospel in the Galatian church, attempting to mix grace and works. Gnosticism arose early in the Colossian church, denying the supernatural and spiritual, making conversion to be a matter of knowledge and learning. Asceticism crept in quickly among Corinthian believers, teaching that the way to spirituality is avoiding those things that are natural, depriving the flesh of pleasure. Annihilationism also plagued the church at Corinth, teaching that there is no future resurrection.
Very shortly after the days of the Apostles, Arianism crept in, subverting the souls of many by a denial of the absolute, eternal deity and sonship of Christ. Augustine, in his day, had to resist the influence of Pelagianism, which denied the moral guilt of man, and rendered the work of Christ unnecessary. During those long, dark years of Roman Catholic supremacy, the superstitions of papacy prevailed almost universally. Shortly after the protestant reformation, the Church of England began to return to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church. During the days of John Gill and John Brine in England and Jonathan Edwards in America, Unitarianism and Socinianism crept into a great many Baptist and Congregationalist assemblies.
In our day Satan continues to pervert the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ in many ways. Russellites (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Mormons, though embraced by many as Christian societies, have at the core of their creeds the denial of Christ’s divinity. Many religious groups, commonly acknowledged as Christian denominations, teach that men and women (even infants!) are saved (regenerated) by baptism, by receiving the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, and by performing good works. None would say that we are saved by what they call “sacraments,” or by good works alone, without the grace of God and the blood of Christ. But they universally declare that salvation is not by grace alone and not by Christ alone.
But more subtle and, therefore, more dangerous heresies abound throughout what is considered evangelical Christianity. Things are no different today than when Augustus Toplady wrote…
“Every religion except one puts you upon doing something in order to recommend yourself to God... It is the business of all false religion to patch up a righteousness in which the sinner is to stand before God. But it is the business of the glorious gospel to bring near to us, by the hand of the Holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought, a robe of perfection ready made, wherein God's people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before the throne.”
Arminian, free-will, works religion is the religion of the day. Rare are the churches in which there are no altars of man’s making, with ascending degrees (steps) of righteousness and holiness upon which men expose their shame in will-worship (Ex. 20:22-26; Col. 2:23). Few there are in conservative churches (those commonly considered evangelical, let alone others) who know who God is and how he saves sinners by his almighty free grace upon the basis of Christ’s finished work, with no contribution of any kind from the sinner.
Multitudes are deceived into thinking that salvation, eternal life, and acceptance with God is theirs because they made a decision for Jesus. They actually believe that salvation is gained by responding to an altar call, deciding for Jesus, repeating the words of a prayer, or simply saying, “I want to be saved.” Few have any understanding of the teaching of Holy Scripture that faith is the gift and operation of God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:19; 2:8-9; Col. 2:12), wrought in the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners by the revelation of Christ in them (2 Cor. 4:4-6; Gal. 1:15-16) by the preaching of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23, 25).
Many try to show some respect for Christ, acknowledging him as a great man, a good prophet, and a good example to follow, while denying that he is God. Such a pretense of respect is as blasphemous as it is dishonest. If Jesus Christ is not God the eternal Son, he was a liar, an imposter, and can be of help to no one. His life and death are as meaningless as the life and death of Mohammed. In fact, to declare that Jesus of Nazareth was only a man is to declare that he was an absolute lunatic. Only a lunatic would publicly declare himself to be eternal, self-existent God, if he was, in fact, nothing but a man.
Multitudes, who vigorously defend the eternal Godhead of our Savior in theory, utterly deny it in reality. Perhaps, you think, “How can that be true?” When they speak of the work of Christ, they speak of him as a failure. They openly avow that Christ died in vain for the multitudes who perish under the wrath of God, that he tries to save multitudes he is unable to save, and that he wills what he shall never see accomplished.
You may ask, “How is this related to Galatians 3:1 and that by which the Galatians were bewitched?” The fact is, the very essence of all forms of legalism is the work of man, the supposition that man must make some contribution to the grace of God, ― that man must add something to the work of Christ, ― that man must do something to complete the work of the Holy Spirit, ― that something must be done by the sinner to complete the work of God in making sinners stand perfect and without blame before him. And that is precisely what Paul is dealing with in this passage.
The Scriptures are crystal clear. Any mixture of works with grace is a total denial of grace (Rom. 11:6). The Lord Jesus has, by his obedience unto death as our Substitute, “perfected forever them that are sanctified“ (Heb. 10:10-14). He is all our righteousness (Jer. 23:6; Rom. 10:4); and we are altogether “complete in him” (Col. 2:10). Christ is all our Righteousness and Sanctification, as well as all our Wisdom and Redemption before God (1 Cor. 1:30). In all the work of salvation, “Christ is all” (Col. 3:11).
I am fully aware that these heresies, by which many make shipwreck of their souls, are under the control of our heavenly Father, and that they come to pass according to his purpose (1 Cor. 11:19). Yet, they are a danger to be avoided, and avoided with determined care. How can we be kept from falling into these terrible heresies? If we would be kept sound in the faith, we must get the proper object fixed in the center of our hearts ― Christ and him crucified. The singular preservative for our souls is Christ. The instrumental method by which God preserves his people in grace and faith and keeps his elect from the damning heresies by which others are ruined is the preaching of the gospel of Christ, the preaching of Christ and him crucified.
Wherever Paul went he set forth the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Religion without Christ is useless religion; and any pretense of preaching, without the preaching of the gospel of Christ, is useless pretense. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of Holy Scripture. Christ must be the Alpha and the Omega of our faith. He is the Foundation. He is the Cornerstone. He is the Top Stone. Christ is all our hope. Christ is all our assurance. Christ is all our peace.
Paul did not simply preach about Christ, when he preached he set forth Christ, set him forth conspicuously and clearly. He took pains to make Christ and him crucified clearly beheld by his hearers. Christ crucified was his doctrine (Acts 9:16, 20; 1 Cor. 2:2). This is the doctrine by which men and women are preserved from the bewitching doctrines of free-will, works religion. Any doctrine divorced from Christ crucified is false doctrine. Any ordinance or religious ceremony divorced from the crucified Christ is meaningless ritualism. Any works, acts of religious devotion, or sacrifices motivated by anything other than love for, faith in, and gratitude to Christ are exercises in self-righteousness.
Christ crucified is the essence of all truth, for he is the Truth. Let him be set forth clearly among men that he may be embraced by them. He is our God, our Creator, and our Judge. And he is our Substitute, the One by whose blood we are redeemed, by whose righteousness we are righteous, by whose grace we are saved. Shun every doctrine that detracts from his glory. Judge every ministry, every doctrine, every religious thought by this one standard ― Does it exalt and magnify Christ our God and Savior?
Christ is the gospel. To preach the gospel is to preach Christ. Christ is the Truth. To preach truth is to preach Christ. The gospel of God is not a complex mystery, but the revelation of God, and the revelation is given in simple, clear, unmistakable words: ― “One Body” ― “One Spirit” ― “One Hope ― “One Lord” ― “One Faith” ― “One Baptism” ― “One God” ― “One Mediator” ― “One Thing Needful” ― “The Way” ― “The Truth” ― “The Life.” It is this very simplicity that men and women stumble over. It is an offense to them (Gal. 5:11).
We prefer things more complicated. We want signs, wonders, and a display of wisdom. We want a challenge, something to do, something to discover, something to decipher, something, anything that will allow us to have some part in the great work of grace. This was the thing that destroyed both the Jews and the Gentiles in Paul’s day; and this is the thing that yet destroys men today. It is ever the nature of man to live under the vain delusion that he is good and that he can make himself righteous before God. And it is ever the trademark of false religion to put men to work producing righteousness for themselves (Rom. 9:33-10:4).
For this reason, Christ must be constantly and evidently set forth, crucified before men. This is the message of God, which is the power of God unto salvation to every believing sinner (Rom. 1:15-17). It is this message that transforms sinners. It is this message that comforts God’s saints. It is this message that honors God. And it is this message that is honored by God. If we would be of any service to the souls of men in this world, let us seize every opportunity and use every means at our disposal to set before them Jesus Christ and him crucified, as he is set forth throughout the Book of God.