“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3
Paul doesn’t quite say it this way, but it is certainly implied: “ARE YOU PEOPLE CRAZY???”
Rewind a bit into the historical setting: Paul had preached the gospel of free, forgiving grace through Jesus Christ to these Gentiles – they did not need to become Jews; they could not “work” their way to a reconciled relationship with God; they believed the good news and received the fulness of God’s pardon and adoption by faith alone, without any other condition.
Jesus, the great High Priest, had made the ultimate sacrifice for sins. The old Jewish rituals had been the shadow, the tutor – the substance was Christ. Becoming God’s people was a matter of believing reception.
(Paul reaches all the way back to Abraham in the following verses to show that faith was always the way God’s people were reconciled to Him, no matter what detailed Law-practices were later added for the Jewish nation).
But now, some Jewish believers had come to Galatia and were urging these Gentile brethren to be, not only believers in Jesus, but Law-keepers. Whereas God had poured out salvation and the blessing of His Spirit strictly on the basis of belief, these misguided teachers felt that the Galatians were incomplete unless the embraced a bunch of external rituals and practices that were never meant for them.
To summarize their teaching - God’s ongoing blessing and your ongoing salvation is contingent on keeping all these rules.
Paul explodes. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”
Most of us are not being influenced by Judaizers, but we still slip into works-righteousness. At one point, we saw our helpless and polluted state and realized we had nothing – NOTHING – to offer God. We could only cry out for mercy; and marvel of marvels, He exchanged our rags for a robe of righteousness, our sins for the holy perfection of Christ.
We abandoned our powerless works to embrace an all-powerful Savior.
Here’s where we slip: we forget that we still have nothing – NOTHING – to offer God. Our works (even Christianized works) are just as empty and powerless as they ever were. We came to receive salvation by faith alone; we come each day to experience the grace of ongoing salvation by faith alone. Grace plus nothing is our food and drink.
- If you have been given an airline ticket to California, will you instead hop on a lawnmower for your trip?
- If you are given all the gold in Fort Knox, will you then take a minimum-wage job to pay your bills?
- If Christ has given us a full pardon and exchanged our sin and corruption for His righteousness, will we now rely on a Code of Conduct to maintain it?
Jesus was, and is, fully devoted to His Father, and infinitely pleasing to Him. Your devotion (and your devotional works) do not add to your standing, nor can they replace Jesus as your only standing before God.
This is when switching horses mid-stream is stupid. You don’t trade a thoroughbred for an asthmatic 3-legged pony that’s deaf and blind.
If someone teaches Christ PLUS ___________, hit the delete key.
Joyful obedience and principled discipline are an ever-present part of the Christian journey. But our efforts and our external conformity can never be our hope. We never outgrow grace; we never depart from faith as our foundation. The promise of God is received by faith at the beginning, throughout the middle, and at the end of our pilgrimage. The Spirit who began this great work in us will complete it.
See also – Albert Mohler on Moralism is Not the Gospel (but many Christians think it is)