We live in an age where it is not easy to confess before others that God’s Word is the foundation for everything we do and believe. Sometimes when we express to our non-Christadelphian friends that we believe what God has plainly stated in the Bible to be true, then they may openly laugh at us, or they may inwardly despise us for having such a “narrow” outlook on life in view of all of the knowledge that mankind has achieved, which, in their view, renders much of the Bible’s content as wrong or irrelevant. It is a basic instinct of human nature to want others to think of us in a respectful or credible manner, and so we need to be aware of the potential danger of credibility before men at the expense of that which really matters—even our credibility before God.

This is exactly the reason that almost 2000 years ago, many Jewish believers in Galatia, who had been baptised into Christ, ended up yielding to the pressure from false teachers and turning back to the law of Moses. After starting well on a new life in Christ based on faith in God’s Word, false teachers deceived them into thinking that keeping the law of Moses would make them look more credible or respectable before others. But in so doing they became blind to seeing and deaf to hearing God’s viewpoint—that He simply wants them to exercise unconditional faith in His Word, and the salvation He has provided through His only begotten son. Only by this method could they be accounted as righteous before Him.

Hence, this is the reason the Apostle Paul commences chapter 3 by addressing them as “Foolish Galatians”. Paul did not mean that all Galatians were foolish people, as evidently the Galatians did have a reputation for being quick-witted. Rather, Paul was referring to their present folly in embracing the arguments of false teachers, who had convinced them that salvation could be achieved by the works of the law of Moses. In truth, Paul spoke these words to his brothers and sisters in Galatia as a true shepherd, out of genuine love and concern. Jesus Christ, after his resurrection, reproved two disciples using similar language: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). Paul’s foremost desire was to correct the false teaching which, unfortunately, many of them had swallowed. He was astonished that they could ever yield to such a teaching after having the light of the true gospel so clearly preached to them.

Any anger the Apostle Paul may have had, was reserved for these false teachers, and not for the brothers and sisters who had been deceived by this false teaching. And so he asks, “Who hath bewitched you?” Here the Greek word baskainō conveys the sense of being fascinated or charmed into accepting a false representation. They were behaving in a way that was so unlike their normal selves: “O foolish Galatians, to what spell of sorcery have you succumbed?” The false teachers were able to fascinate the brothers and sisters because their doctrine of justification by works appeals to the flesh. It is gratifying to the carnal mind to reason that you deserve salvation particularly, when based on your own self assessment, your works indicate that you are living a life that is more righteous than others. It is a deceptive teaching because it operates like a charm on the pride of human nature.

In the second half of verse one, Paul emphatically states the great truth that they had unfortunately become blinded to the Truth: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”. The Greek word for “publicly portrayed” is proegraphe and refers to something written in large writing on a tablet or stone that is placed in a public place for all to read. It reminds us of the “vision” that Habakkuk was told to write up in plain letters on tables so large that even a person running by would be easily able to read them. This message was that “the just shall live by faith” (Hab 2:2-4), and the Apostle Paul quotes this very verse in Galatians 3:11.

Although it is unlikely that any of the Galatian brothers and sisters had directly witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the preaching of the apostles had made the death and resurrection of Christ vividly clear in their eyes. No doubt the apostles would have explained to the brothers and sisters at Galatia how that the death and resurrection of Jesus and the confirmation of the new covenant in his blood, fulfilled the law of Moses and rendered its sacrifices and requirements obsolete. And so Paul was appealing to them—how is it possible for you to allow your eyes to wander back to the law and your own works, which can never save you? How is it possible that you have so easily yielded to the deadly fascination of these Judaising teachers when you know very clearly what the death and resurrection of Christ means?

Paul cuts to the key issue by asking them one simple question: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (v2 ESV ). Note that Paul didn’t give a lengthy exposition of how all the types in the law pointed forward to Christ. He didn’t attempt to counter all the academic reasoning that the false teachers were using to seduce the believers on a point by point basis, even though he could easily have done this given his background as a pre-eminent Pharisee schooled at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). There is a great lesson for us to learn here. Often asking a simple question based on what God has revealed in His Word is the best way to appeal to our brothers and sisters.

The question he asked—“Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith”—was enough to prick their conscience and wake them up. He did not need to expound any further. The answer was obvious. When they repented and believed the true gospel, they obtained the blessings of the Spirit, which no doubt included the various Holy Spirit gifts that were available in the first century through the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18), as well as the spirit of wisdom and knowledge in being able to understand the true gospel. And note that the Apostle Paul states that they received the spirit by the “hearing of faith”. So faith is generated by hearing the gospel, either by someone preaching the Word of God to us, or by ourselves directly reading and meditating upon the Word of God (Rom 10:16-17). The “hearing of faith” is a contrast to the “works of the flesh”.

Paul elaborates on the importance of this one simple question over verses 3-5. Faith based on “hearing God’s word” was the reason for their new spiritual life in Christ, not the works of the law. However, after starting out so well, it was a tragedy that they were now seeking to be justified by the flesh; and even more so, because they suffered persecution for believing in Christ. So Paul reasons with them: Was this all for nothing? He exhorts them that they must continue to walk a spiritual life based on faith in God and His Word, because there is no other way. He reminds them of the example of all of the apostles who came to them as ministers or servants, including himself, teaching them the Spirit Word of God and performing many miracles, which they could not deny. This was nothing to do with the works of the law, but all about “hearing with faith”.

From verse 6 onwards the Apostle Paul turns their attention to focus on Abraham as an outstanding example of someone who had unconditional faith in God’s Word. He quotes first from Genesis 15:6, [Abraham] “believed Yahweh, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (ESV ). This was a powerful argument, because Abraham was declared to be “righteousness” by God well before He became a “Jew” via the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17:10-12.

Abraham simply believed God’s promise that he would have children and that his offspring would grow to be an incalculable number. Humanly speaking, Abraham knew that this was impossible. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren, and Abraham himself was likely too old to produce children. However, his full and unconditional faith in God’s Word completely vanquished any objections that may have been going through his mind from a human point of view. Hence, unconditional faith in what God plainly stated, notwithstanding all the opposing suggestions from a human point of view, is what enabled him to be accounted as righteous before God.