CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson VII)

3:2 So let me ask you this one question: Was it by obeying the religious rituals and regulations given by Moses that brought God’s Spirit into your life, or by hearing the Gospel preached?

Richard Weymouth in his translation has a question in verse one and then demands an answer in verse two: “You foolish Galatians! Whose sophistry has bewitched you – you to whom Jesus Christ has been vividly portrayed as on the Cross?” Answer me this one question, “Is it on the ground of your obedience to the Law that you received the Spirit, or is it because, when you heard, you believed?”[1] Paul asked a rhetorical question in verse one, but now he asks a real question. He wanted them to explain what happened and how it happened.

He then offers two reasons why they changed their perspective on salvation so quickly. One, either they were saved through the power of the Anointed One and then were persuaded to pursue religious rituals, rites, and regulations to perfect what He did in their spiritual life; or two, religious rituals, rites, and regulations saved them and then they were told to add the work of the Anointed One to their spiritual life just to make sure. So, what’s Paul’s purpose behind this inquiry? He knew that through the preaching of the Gospel they were delivered from the slavery of sin, and the bondage of those religious rituals, rites, and regulations. So, it’s important for them to confess what really brought the Spirit of freedom into their lives. Was it their continued obedience to religious rituals, rites, and regulations, or was it their faith in the cross of Jesus the Anointed One that Paul taught them?

Perhaps Paul considered comparing them to the Corinthians. He told them, you seem so gullible: you believe whatever anyone tells you even if they are preaching about another Jesus than the one, we preach, or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit you received, or shows you a different way to be saved. You swallow it all![2] Or it could be that he was prepared to repeat what he told the Ephesian believers, that when they heard the truth about the Anointed One did for them, as well as others, they put their trust in the Anointed One. Then God gave them a gift that identified them as belonging to Him. He gave His Holy Spirit to dwell in them, something He promised all believers long ago. His presence within them is God’s guarantee that He will finish the work He started in them so that they will become better and better. It was all intended to show what a wonderful, loving, caring God He is.[3] So how could they so easily throw that away for something that only promised that if you aren’t perfect, you’re going to hell?

The truth that he wanted to restate to them was what he would tell the Romans in his letter to them, that it is the Gospel that tells us if we are made right with God by faith in Him. Then, by faith, we continue to live that new life with His help.[4] Then Paul calls on the prophet Habakkuk to verify what he was saying, “The person who is right with God will live their lives by trusting in God.[5] Not only that, but the problem is that they didn’t pay attention to what Paul was telling them through the Gospel. This is something he shares with the prophet Isaiah.[6] So it seems perfectly clear that trust comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from preaching the Gospel about the Messiah.[7]

In response to Paul’s question whether or not the Galatians received the indwelling Holy Spirit as a result of faithful law-keeping, or did it come after they put their faith in the Anointed One, early church writer Ambrosiaster (circa 335-397) sees Paul laying down a doctrine that could not be denied at that time. That is, the Holy Spirit dwells in believers. This gift was manifested by God to recall the basic elements of the faith, as it was at the beginning when it was practiced among the Apostles and the other disciples. The Holy Spirit descended on them and gave them the capacity to speak in many tongues,[8] with the gift of interpretation, so that no one dared deny the presence of the Spirit of God in them.[9]

Haimo of Auxerre (820-885 AD) gives an explanation of what he saw happening in Galatia that prompted Paul’s letter of reprimand. He questioned them by asking: Are you that foolish, after being made new in the Spirit to try now and perfect what the Spirit did, by adding your own good works? Haimo goes on to say what he really believes Paul is saying: You were converted through the power of the Holy Spirit, you began to speak through the Holy Spirit with other tongues, but you discarded all things spiritual in favor of rites, rituals, and regulations. Haimo is perplexed that they started their Christian journey by being born again, they then received the Holy Spirit, just as people did in 800-900 AD which caused them to speak in other tongues as a way of demonstrating that they possessed the Holy Spirit.[10] So he asks, did the Law do the same thing for you? Did it make you a child of God and receive the Holy Spirit that gave them the gift of speaking in tongues?[11] Sounds like Haimo was a good Pentecostal who wondered why the Galatians gave up being Pentecostal so that they might attain a higher status with God through rites, rituals, and regulations.

Thomas Aquinas adds what he finds in verse one by pointing out that by Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians he was showing the insufficiency of the Law and the influence of Faith. He is able to do that by appealing to something they experienced through the Spirit coupled to something he experienced under the Law. This then opened the door for him to magnify the fact that what they received through the Spirit was a gift, but what they expected to receive through the Law would be earned by hard work observing all the rites, rituals, and regulations of the Law.[12] Aquinas is right! You cannot earn or merit heaven.

Martin Luther adds a touch of humorous irony to Paul’s question here: It’s like Paul is saying, “Come on now, you smart Galatians, you who all of a sudden became professors, while I seem to be your pupil. I don’t think you are foolish enough to believe that you received the Holy Spirit from the Law because of your good works, or even by the preaching of the Gospel? This question gave them something to think about because their own experience contradicted such an idea.[13] After all, did not Jesus say seek and you will find?[14] And seek the kingdom of God?[15] Also, seek to enter into the narrow gate?[16] So when it comes to the Holy Spirit, all believers should seek to be filled with God’s Spirit, not just wait for it to miraculously happen without showing any desire to be filled.

John Calvin makes an observation here on Paul’s question about whether the Galatians received the infilling of the Holy Spirit by keeping the Law or from hearing about the Anointed One? Someone might object, says Calvin, that the Spirit was not, in this respect, given to all. But it was enough for Paul’s purpose, that the Galatians knew that the power of the Holy Spirit accompanied Paul’s doctrine and that believers were variously endowed with the gifts of the Spirit for general edification. Calvin goes on to say, it may likewise be objected to that since this indwelling of the Spirit could not be seen, they would not qualify without an infallible sign of adoption, and so Paul’s question does not apply to them. Calvin replies that it was enough that the Lord confirmed the doctrine of Paul by the visible gifts of His Spirit.

A still simpler view of the case, says Calvin, is that they became distinguished by the ordinary privilege of adoption before those impostors from Jerusalem brought their modifications to the Gospel. What Paul asks here complies with what he told the Ephesians, “The truth is the Good News. When you heard the truth, you put your trust in the Anointed One. Then God marked you by giving you His Holy Spirit as a promise.[17] [18] It appears that Calvin, in his own way, understood the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The first comes at conversion and involves the gift of salvation that then blossoms into the Fruit of the Spirit. The second comes with the commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel exercising the Gifts of the Spirit.

John Bunyan (1628-1688 AD), gives his Puritan view of what Paul says here about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit’s influence on our lives. Just like a person drinks water, if they drink good doctrine into their soul it will show great reverence for God. Therefore, the more they drink the more they will revere Him. So, if they drink a lot of good doctrines, they’ll develop even greater reverence for Him; if they just sip a little, they’ll experience little reverence for Him. And, of course, those who do not drink from the fountain of good doctrine will stimulate no respect for God. Let this be a lesson on how to discern those who revere the Lord. Those who learn and stand in awe of the Word will be those whose reverence for God will glow with its radiance in their countenance and souls.

Bunyan goes on to say that on the contrary, those with no reverence for God, that do not love good doctrine, that make no room in their hearts for the wholesome truths of the God of heaven revealed in His Covenant, to take place in their souls, are those who despise good doctrine and are only professors of its truth and not possessors of it. Earlier Bunyan pointed out that this reverence for God flows from a genuine impression so that the Word of God becomes etched in the soul. Therefore, this godly reverence flows from faith, for where the Word makes a comprehensive impression on the soul, by that impression, the fountain of faith comes alive, and from there this reverence for God flows. That’s why a proper hearing of the Word results in what the Apostle Paul asked the Galatians in this second verse: He wanted to know, did they receive the Holy Spirit by hearing what the Law said, or did they receive the Holy Spirit by listening to the Anointed One?  In fact, the writer of Hebrews tells us that a similar thing happened to Noah[19] As one Bible School teacher said, “You can’t get too much of the Word of God.”[20]

[1] Richard F. Weymouth: New Testament Translation, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] 2 Corinthians 11:4 – Living Bible

[3] Ephesians 1:11-13

[4] Romans 1:17

[5] Habakkuk 2:4

[6] Isaiah 53:1

[7] Romans 10:16-17

[8] In a footnote there is a comment that this facility to speak in many tongues could refer to many known languages (as In Acts of the Apostles 8-10), or ecstatic utterance (as in the Corinthian controversy. cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10). If they were given the ability to speak in many languages that were understood by those listening, why would they need an interpreter? At least Ambrosiaster confirms that this was the practice among the early Apostles.

[9] Ambrosiaster: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., p. 36

[10] See Acts of the Apostles 19:1-7

[11] Haimo of Auxerre: Commentary on Galatians, Location 1292-1306, Kindle Edition

[12] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[13] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., pp.56-57

[14] Luke 11:5

[15] Ibid. 12:21

[16] Ibid. 13:24

[17] Ephesians 113

[18] John Calvin: The Biblical Cabinet, op. cit, pp. 61-62

[19] Hebrews 11:7

[20] John Bunyan: Vol. 4, The Fear of God, Ch. 3, p. 209

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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