Our daily reading plan is giving us three days in Galatians, and that makes me rather happy.
I have a strong personal connection to and fondness for this book. Galatians was the first book I studied in Bible college and thus the book I have known the longest. It was the first book I ever preached all the way through; I did a series on Galatians at a local church when I was in college and covered every verse of it. And, more than anything, it is the book my dad used to teach me to stay true to The Faith.
When I was a teenager, someone brought some false practices into our church. I don’t remember who that person was or what those practices were. I do remember Dad had issues with these practices, and tried to get the church leadership to abandon them. When that didn’t happen, he sat my sister and me down at our kitchen table and walked us through the first two chapters of Galatians. His intent was to show us that we should never give into falsehoods, no matter what they were or who was spreading them. To this day, I can’t read or recite Galatians 2:5 (We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you) without remembering that time with dad at the table.
Galatian’s Core Call
And this is more than just mere nostalgia for me, more than just a nice childhood memory. It is the core call of this book. My dad was no scholar, but he did have a handle on what Galatians is communicating. This book is indeed an identification of things that are opposite of The Faith and an encouragement to stay true to The Faith.
It is, in fact, an encouragement to stay true to the very core truth of The Faith, the truth of salvation by grace. Or, more accurately, it is an encouragement to flee from the opposite of this truth, which is salvation by works.
In this way, Galatians is very much the negative image of Romans. As we’ve established in previous posts, Paul is giving a systematic presentation of the truth of salvation by grace in Romans. But he’s giving a logical refutation of the falsehood of salvation by works in Galatians. They are two sides of the same coin.
This is why they are similar to each other: Romans has a section which likewise refutes salvation by works (roughly chapters 1-3), both books quote “the righteous shall live by faith” from Habakkuk 2, both have lengthy discussion on Jewish law, both have sections about how to properly live as followers of Jesus. This is also why a friend in California once described Galatians as “Romans for lazy people.” It is not just a shorter version of Romans, but it teaches the same idea from a different angle.
And that idea, that core call to turn away from the falsehood of salvation by works, is summed up in one powerful phrase. That powerful phrase is found in Galatians 3:1. There, as Paul turns from his discussion of his history with The Faith to the Galatians need to return to the faith, he asks them this: “Who has bewitched you?”
The Ugly Reality of Bewitched
Now I have long believed this statement is the summary statement of this book. I have long thought the entire message of Galatians is communicated in this simple statement, “Who has bewitched you?”
But what caught my attention during this reading is that many people today may not respond as strongly to that word bewitched as they should.
The leadership of The Church Next Door dislikes this word as well as this whole family of words; to us bewitched, witchcraft, magic and the like are all not just dirty words but ideas that are diametrically opposite to and have no place in the life of faith.
Our society, though, seems to be fond of this word and this idea, or to at least flirt with them. We have multiple TV shows and movies that promote and celebrate witchcraft. Not only so, but we have songs like “Bewitched”, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, “Witchcraft”, and “I Put a Spell on You”, all of which make the idea of being bewitched seem cute or quaint.
The reality, however, is far uglier. Bewitched as Paul uses the term here means to be tricked and led astray, that is, to have your senses dulled to the point that you can be influenced in an ungodly and anti-Gospel way and thus led to a disastrous end. To put it another way, it means to be preyed upon.
That is absolutely what happened to the Galatian Christians. Some people came in to prey upon them. That preying process involved these people first tricking them by presenting them with a mirage of a works-based religion and then second leading them away from the grace-based faith.
The Appeal of Works and the Greater Appeal of Grace
Undeniably, it was easy for these people to prey on the Galatian Christians in this way. It was easy because works-based religion appeals to mankind. It is harsh and sterile, yet we are attracted to it for some reason. It makes sense to us. I think we are hard-wired for it. I call it our default setting. Paul says as much in Galatians 6:13: “Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.” Mankind likes to boast, and a works-based religion gives us the opportunity to boast. So it is appealing.
The grace-based faith, though, is even more appealing. That is what Paul argues here, and it is true. When we walk the grace-based way, we are not only living by the only saving truth but also fulfilling the prophecies of Habakkuk (3:11) and the promises given Abraham (3:14). We are being children of God (3:26) and knowing God (4:9). We are eagerly awaiting by faith (5:5) and expressing faith in love (5:6) and walking by Spirit (5:16). And that is appealing indeed, far more appealing than the alternative.
My dad was right to stress that phrase “we did not give into them for a moment”. The bewitching of works-based religion is something all of us should resist. And Galatians blesses us to do that. Galatians exists to break the spell of works-based religion and to open our eyes to the glory of grace-based faith. May it do so for us.