SYNOPSIS – The receipt of the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state is irrefutable proof that Gentile Christians are accepted by God – Galatians 3:1-4.
In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul addressed a growing danger to his congregations. Certain Jewish believers from Jerusalem were claiming that Gentiles must keep at least some of the required deeds and rituals of the Mosaic Law in order to “complete” their faith. They were “compelling Gentiles to Judaize” – To conform to Jewish customs and otherwise “live as Jews.” This included circumcision, the observance of Jewish feast days, and possibly dietary restrictions based on the Levitical purity regulations – (Galatians 2:11-14, 4:10).
Paul would have none of it. Unlike his other letters, his opening salutation was curt and launched immediately into a diatribe against this Judaizing faction. He admonished the Galatians not to accept “a different gospel” different from the one he and his companions 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,” even if that person was “an angel from heaven.”
Paul had received his gospel by direct revelation from Jesus, NOT from any human institution or authority. The leading 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 incident in the church at Antioch when a group of Jewish believers, also from Jerusalem, pressured Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians to withdraw from table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles. There, 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 the second chapter of the letter.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 had “died to the Law” and was “crucified with Christ,” now, to “live unto God.”
For him to now 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 waw to “set aside the grace of God” – (Galatians 2:15-21).
Paul next presented his first argument in support his version of the gospel – The experience of receiving the Spirit:
(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 Galatians received the Spirit initially while in an uncircumcised state, therefore, without the deeds required by the Torah.” This experience resulted from their response in faith to 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.
Earlier, in Jerusalem, Peter made a similar argument in response to Jewish critics of his table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. Upon seeing the Spirit fall on Gentiles, he had declared:
“Surely no man can 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).
The granting of the Spirit to Gentiles was indisputable evidence that God had accepted the Gentiles while still in an uncircumcised state. Having received the Spirit on the basis of faith, to add Torah-keeping in order to “complete” their 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 and 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 obligations; to once more be enslaved by the “elemental spirits” of the old order, powers already defeated on the Cross. Having received the fulness of the Spirit, the Galatians were contemplating its abandonment, wittingly or not – (Galatians 4:1-6).
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