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Bewitched: A Defense of Justification by Faith from Experience

Galatians 3:1-5


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? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law or by hearing with faith? (3:1-5)

Defection and desertion are contemptible because they involve disloyalty and betrayal. Few things are more tragic or disappointing than a Christian who deserts the purity of the gospel for a false form of Christianity that presumes to improve on the finished work of Christ. Yet that is what many believers in the Galatian churches had done or were in danger of doing because of the Judaizers.

Throughout the history of the church some believers have begun well but later have been pulled away from the truths they first believed and followed. They receive the gospel of salvation by grace and live for the Lord in humble faith, but then fall prey to some system of legalism and works-righteousness that promises more but produces much less. Some fall into formalism, substituting external ceremonies and rites for the internal reality of personal growth in the Lord. Others fall into legalistic systems of do's and don'ts, proudly hoping to improve their standing before God by doing or not doing certain things. Still others look for a second blessing—a spiritual secret to unlock some higher plane of spirituality, an additional experience of grace—hoping to receive more of God than they imagine was granted to them at conversion.

Paul had been used by the Lord to introduce the gospel of sovereign grace to the Galatians, first to bring them the truth that salvation is received by faith in Christ's atoning work on the cross plus nothing else. Now they were drifting away from the way of pure grace and had accepted an inferior and impotent substitute based on the old Mosaic rituals and ceremonial standards that the New Covenant in Christ had made invalid—and that, even under the Old Covenant, had no power to save. The defecting believers had not lost their salvation, but they had lost the joy and freedom of it and had returned deceived, to the uncertainty and bondage of a self-imposed legalism. They were still in Christ and right with God positionally, but they were not practically living in conformity to the truth by which they had been made righteous. They substituted a form of religion that had no power or joy for the fullness of life in Christ they once enjoyed. Because they allowed themselves to be deceived, they also projected to the deceived unbelievers around them the thinking that Christianity was a matter of law rather than faith. They had robbed themselves of the fullness of God's blessing and were in danger of robbing their world of the knowledge of the only way of salvation.

Satan never ceases his effort to destroy God's way of salvation, and because God's way is by His grace working through man's faith, Satan's is the opposite, the way of man's own effort and work. From the time of Cain's first works-righteous offering of a grain instead of an animal sacrifice, unbelieving man has sought to make himself right with God through his own goodness and merit.