“My dear flock, the approach of another year stirs up within me new desires for your salvation, and for the growth of those of you who are saved,” began Robert Murray McCheyne before his congregation, December 30, 1842.
That day, he presented a scheme of Scripture reading “so that the whole Bible might be read once by you in the year [the Old Testament once, the New Testament and Psalms twice], and all might be feeding in the same portion of the green pasture at the same time.” In order to competently rejoice in our great salvation, it is important we read the declarations and promises the Word of God make known about it from cover to cover, to be “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15; cf. v. 16).
Martin Luther similarly remarked, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold on me” (Commentary on Galatians). I intentionally open this post in this manner in order to set our great salvation in Christ in its only proper context. Belief comes from hearing the living Word of God preached concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that is where a post concerning the gospel should begin.
Christ Redeemed us from the Curse of the Law
With that set for our context, consider Galatians 3:1-14. On Sunday morning, I preached this text before a small congregation at First Baptist Church, Claytonville. However, few texts have weighed on my shoulders as heavily as the book of Galatians. In a few brief chapters, Paul exposes the hugely devastating doctrinal error that salvation is something to be attained by the works of the Law, and he then dismantles it. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the error he rebukes in this text is the most commonly believed heresy today. In fact, since the days of Genesis 3, the belief that somehow we can obtain salvation apart from grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone has manifest itself in nearly every context and church, both loudly and softly, with chameleon-like craftiness. It occurred in the churches at Galatia and it does also today.
See what is at stake. Paul begins in 3:1, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” A few paragraphs earlier, in chapter 1 verse 6, Paul sets the table for chapter three by marking a dividing line between those who preach the biblical gospel of salvation in Christ and those who preach another gospel. The language is intense: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (1:9). The Greek word translated accursed literally means, “let him be anathema” or “let him be damned.” Few instances warrant Paul’s language, but this is indeed one of them. The gospel is at stake in Galatia and Paul is incensed.
Therefore, when he turns again to this, he questions, “Who has bewitched you?” They were a bewitched congregation. It is so remarkable that the believers in Galatia had turned their ears to another gospel that Paul wonders if it is the result of witchcraft. Perhaps those startling words, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” makes the point clear: justification by faith is altogether different from a false belief that we are justified by keeping the works of the Law. For that reason, the apostle “confronted the Galatians with their folly so that by this means he might win them back to the truth they were in danger of forsaking” (Timothy George, Galatians, NAC, 206).
I will continue this exposition of Galatians 3:1-14 in my next post.