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14 October 2018

Having Began in the Spirit….

SynopsisThe receipt of the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state was irrefutable proof that the Galatian Christians were accepted by God.

Photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash
By Mark Basarab on Unsplash
In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul addressed a growing danger to his congregations. Certain Jewish believers claimed that Gentiles must keep some of the required deeds and rituals of the Mosaic Law in order to “complete” their faith. They were “compelling Gentiles to Judaize”; that is, to conform to Jewish customs. This included circumcision, the observance of Jewish feast days and, possibly dietary restrictions (Galatians 2:11-14, 4:10).

Paul would have none of it. Unlike his other letters, his opening salutation was curt and, immediately, launched into a diatribe against the Judaizing faction. He admonished the Galatians not to accept “a different gospel” different from the one he had delivered to them:

(Galatians 1:1-8) – “Paul, an apostle,—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from among the dead, And all the brethren with me;—unto the assemblies of Galatia: Favour unto you and peace, from God our Father, and Lord Jesus Christ,—Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,— Unto whom be the glory unto the ages of ages: Amen! I marvel that, thus quickly, ye are moving away from him that called you in the favour of Christ, unto a different glad-message,—Which is not another, only there are some that are troubling you, and wishing to change the glad-message of the Christ. But, even if we or a messenger out of heaven announce a glad-message [unto you] aside from that which we announced unto you, accursed let him be!” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Already, they were “moving away from him that called them in the grace of Christ.” As for the Judaizers, Paul twice pronounced a curse (anathema) on anyone who proclaimed a “different gospel”. He had received his gospel by direct revelation from Jesus, NOT from any human institution or authority. The leading (Jewish) Apostles in Jerusalem had accepted his Torah-free gospel to the Gentiles, requiring only that his churches contribute to the relief of poor believers in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:5-2:10).

Paul described a previous uproar in Antioch when a group of Jewish believers from Jerusalem pressured Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians to withdraw from table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles. He even found it necessary to rebuke Peter publicly for his hypocrisy in the matter (Galatians 2:11-14).

Paul laid out the key proposition of his gospel in Galatians 2:15-21: A man is “not set right on the basis of the deeds of Torah but through the faith of Christ Jesus.” Having come to faith in Christ, Paul “died to the Law” and was “crucified with Christ,” now, to “live unto God.” To rebuild a Torah-observant lifestyle was tantamount to declaring that Jesus "died in vain,” which would make Paul a “transgressor” of the worst sort. To regress to life under Torah would be to “set aside the grace of God.” Paul next presented his first proof to support his version of the gospel:

(Galatians 3:1-5) - “O thoughtless Galatians! who hath bewitched you,—before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth as a crucified one? This only am I wishing to learn from you:—by works of law received ye the Spirit? or by a believed report? So thoughtless are ye? Having made a beginning in Spirit, are ye now in flesh to be made complete? Such things suffered ye in vain,—if, at least, [it is] even in vain? He then who was supplying unto you the Spirit and energising mighty works among you, by works of law or by a believed report [did he it] ?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The Galatian churches initially received the gift of the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state and, therefore, without the “works of Torah.” This came about in response to faith in the gospel message. The activity of the Spirit among them demonstrated that God had accepted Gentile believers as true members of His covenant people without circumcision or other requirements of the Torah.

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Peter earlier made a similar response to Jewish critics of his table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. Upon seeing God’s Spirit fall on Gentiles, he declared, “surely then water can no man forbid that these should not be baptized, seeing they have received the Holy Spirit just we…if the same free-gift God gave to them just as to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that could withstand God” (Acts 10:47, 11:17).

It was God who poured out His Spirit, therefore, the granting of that gift was indisputable proof that He had accepted the Gentiles in their uncircumcised state. Having received the Spirit on the basis of faith, to add Torah-keeping in order to “complete” one’s faith was tantamount to abandoning the Spirit and regressing to “the flesh,” and “no flesh shall be declared righteous from the works of the Law.” To get circumcised and “observe days, months, seasons, and years” was to return to bondage under the “weak and beggarly elemental spirits” (Galatians 4:7-11)!

Just as Abraham received the promise of blessing without circumcision, and before the Torah was even given, so those in Christ Jesus receive “the blessing of Abraham…the promise of the Spirit through the faith” in the very same way. Anyone who is “led by the Spirit is not under the law” (Galatians 3:6-14, 5:18).

Believers who regress by embracing a Torah-observant lifestyle may find themselves “severed from Christ…fallen from grace.” Since the age of the Spirit has been ushered in by Jesus, the Levitical rituals and regulations, including circumcision and Sabbath-keeping, no longer are “of any avail.” What matters is “faith working through love.” The Galatian Christians began “to run well but are now hindered from obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:1-7).

To adopt a Torah-observant lifestyle is to come “under the Law,” under its jurisdiction, and, once more, to be enslaved by the “elemental spirits” of the old order, powers already defeated on the Cross. Having received the fulness of God's Spirit, the Galatians were contemplating its abandonment, wittingly or not (Galatians 4:1-6).

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