Free to Think
by Jack Wald | June 2nd, 2002

Galatians 3:1-14

[Start with kids building a block tower, adults a second tower and put a plate on top of each.]

How stable were the churches Paul and Barnabas started in the area of Galatia? How vulnerable were the churches in the area of Galatia?

Think about it. You live in a small city and one day Paul and Barnabas come into town and begin to preach in the local synagogue. Paul’s preaching creates quite a stir and the news he brings of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who rose from the dead is incredible news. Those who were at the synagogue and heard Paul preach tell their neighbors and before long, the whole city knows of the news.

But then the leaders of the synagogue for whatever reason, rise up in opposition and Paul and Barnabas begin to speak outside of the synagogues. They meet in the market place and preach each day and as they preach, they are debated by the opposition. The religious leaders of the synagogue are influential people in the city and opposition to Paul and Barnabas and those who follow them increases. Imagine the cultural pressure on those who decided to follow Paul and Barnabas. If you were one of those who supported Paul and Barnabas, it might be your neighbors, your parents, your siblings, maybe even your spouse who separate themselves from you because of your decision to follow Jesus as the Messiah.

Paul and Barnabas do not stay for more than a month or two. Just 30 to 60 days of preaching and teaching.. How much can you accomplish in such a short time? And then Paul and Barnabas are gone.

So now this church is on its own. Who leads the church when Paul and Barnabas leave? Who teaches? Even a gifted teacher and preacher with several years of training would find it difficult to lead a new church in an area hostile to those who brought the message. Remember that Paul left one city because of threats to stone him and was carried out of another and stoned and left for dead. These new churches were not begun in friendly, supportive communities. The churches do not seem very permanent to me. Kind of like these plates on the block towers that were just built.

But the churches continue meeting and worshiping based on the teaching they had received from Paul and Barnabas.

Then come some Jews from Jerusalem. Jews from the same place where Jesus died and rose from the dead. They come with a message that affirms the truths Paul brought to them and add a few important details Paul had not mentioned. Since Jesus was a Jew and since Jews followed the example of Abraham, the father of the Jews, there were some important elements of Jewish faith that needed to be observed by these new believers – so said these Judiazers.

You can imagine that these men were met with great joy. Paul and Barnabas had brought them the Gospel, now these men could help them continue to grow in their new faith. Do you blame the churches of Galatia for being influenced by these Judiazers?

Yet Paul certainly expected them not to be taken in by the Judiazers. There is not a hint that Paul sympathized with their struggle. He seems not to have any sympathy for their inability to discern the falsehoods in the message that was brought to them. He writes and asks five questions of them, challenging them to think, to use the minds God gave them to discern the false teaching that had been brought to them.

The need to think in Christian faith is of high importance. We do not have a faith with a set of five things to do or eight things to do to reach for salvation. Our faith is not based on adherence to any set of rules. Our faith is not so easy. We have a much less neat and clean faith than that. Using the minds God gave us and seeking the Holy Spirit who lives within us, we need to consider in each situation what we should do.

The stability of the new churches in Galatia was dependent on the Galatians seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit and using their minds to discern truth from falsehood.

In writing to the churches, Paul uses a form of writing and speaking called diatribe. This was a common form of communication in the Greek and Roman world in which the writer or speaker used ironic, satirical or even abusive speech to make a point. Paul asks these questions to get their attention and then makes his points.

Remember the context of these verses. Paul has just finished making the point that to be acceptable to God we must be justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone. He finished the last paragraph with this sentence
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Paul’s response to this is Foolish! You crazy Galatians!
And now he begins asking questions.

1. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

Paul begins by reminding the churches in Galatia of all he had taught them. Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Thirty or sixty days may not seem like a long time to us, but the sense of what Paul  is saying is that he painted a picture for them, making it as clear as if they had been present with Jesus when he had died and been resurrected.

Paul had spoken with multiple eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and undoubtedly used that information when he painted a picture of the crucifixion to the churches in Galatia. But in addition, he spoke eloquently and powerfully about the implications of the crucifixion of Jesus. In the limited time Paul had to teach and preach, he had covered this material in great detail. The churches in Galatia could not say they had not heard and understood Paul’s teaching on the crucifixion of Jesus.

2. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?

Paul asks them to reflect on their experience. Go back and remember how it was at the beginning? What had they done to earn what they had received?

Putting it in modern terms, was this their story?
I remember how it was before I received God’s salvation. First thing I did, every morning when I woke up was to get on my knees and thank God for the new day. I got out my Bible and read several chapters and resolved to make my life different that day because of what I read. I made breakfast for my wife so she could sleep in a bit and got the children ready for school. I led a weekly Bible Study in my home and also a prayer meeting. I worked at a local food center and distributed food to the poor. I went to church every Sunday and led the church choir . I was a deacon in the church and taught Sunday School. Because of all I was doing, God spoke to me and said, Come into my Kingdom. You’ve earned it. Receive my Spirit. I only wish I had something better to offer you since you are so good. Come on down, skip pass those other poor wretched souls and step to the head of the line. You deserve nothing but the best.

This was not your experience nor has it ever been anyone’s experience. When we come to Christ and receive the gift of salvation, we do so in weakness and in need. That is how we receive God. The Holy Spirit comes to us as we humble ourselves and receive what we do not deserve and have not earned.

We need to remember that, says Paul.

3. Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Paul encourages the Galatians to use the common sense God gave them. If God is the creator of the universe, of you and me and everything we can see around us, and he reaches down to bring salvation to us, do you really think you can add to what he has done with your efforts?

Examine the world in which we live. Get out a microscope and look at the structure of a cell. Look at the incredibly complex mechanisms that cause blood to clot and cells to be created to fight infections. Look with your own eyes at the process by which a seed is planted, sprouts and grows up to be a flower or tree or whatever it was intended to be. Watch a flower grow from a bud to an open flower. Observe the way the world is designed so the eggs of bird are rotated in the nest and birds and butterflies and fish migrate great distances each year. Look with telescopes and observe how the universe is expanding at such a precise rate that it maintains itself and does not collapse back on itself.

Do you see how wonderfully God has ordered his creation? And now reflect on what God has done for us spiritually. God created a way for us to receive salvation and is it not common sense that when God who created the universe does something, we his creatures, can not add to what he has done?

Let’s say you take a plane to Paris. You get in the plane, take your seat, and as the plane takes off from Casablanca you begin waving your arms in the air to assist the plane in it’s efforts. This makes no sense and will earn nothing but the laughs from other passengers.

This is foolish behavior, but this makes no more sense than thinking you can add to what God has designed. We have been given the Spirit, do we really think we can now add to what God has done by our efforts? Can we now dispense with God and make it on our own?

4. Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?

Be practical. Think of all you have suffered to get to the point where you are now. Do you want to throw all that away just because you have not thought clearly enough?

In thinking of suffering to get to the point where I am now, my mind went immediately to French. I’ve been working on my French now for two years. Suppose someone comes along and tells me I’m not living in a French speaking country, but a country that speaks Italian. Immediately this makes some sense to me because now I understand why people don’t understand me when I speak French. But am I going to dispense with my French lessons and give up on that language and commence studying Italian without first being very sure that the information I received is true?

Paul tells the churches in Galatia to not give up what they were taught without thinking first to be sure they are not being misled.

5.  Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

This is the same question as the second one but with a couple differences. First this is asking the question from God’s perspective. But the important difference is that the second question was asked in the past tense – what did God do for you – and this question is asked in the present tense – what is God continuing to do for you.

We can fool ourselves into thinking that we do what we do because of our own brilliance and effort, but when we stop to think honestly about it, we realize that is false.

People who listen to my sermons do not always appreciate them the same way I do. But last week’s sermon was a breakthrough for me. I worked and worked at that text and was very pleased at the way it came out. I took a text that was very confusing to me and found a way to make it clear.

Now to whose credit does that go? Certainly it took my mind and effort. The sermon would not have produced itself. But as I reflect on my experience, I can remember being stuck many times and asking God to help me make it clear, to help me to understand the point.

It is very clear to me that God continues to help me and assist me and guide me, in this and many other ways. And this happens despite my disobedience. I do not lead a sinless life. I am a sinner and yet God continues to work through me.

I don’t deserve his good gifts in my life and yet I receive them.

Paul asks the Galatians to consider their ongoing experience and reflect on God’s hand in their lives.

Paul has reminded the Galatians to use their minds and think and now [remove bottom block of the tower built by adults] he removes the foundational block of the argument of the Judiazers.

The father of Israel was Abraham. It was with Abraham that God made a covenant. Jews followed the law of Moses but they were children of Abraham. They built their faith on the example of Abraham.

It is likely that the Judiazers taught the churches in Galatia that God gave to Abraham the covenant of circumcision and since God made his covenant with Abraham through whom came the nation of Israel, all those who want to live in a relationship with God should be circumcised.

It is true that God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision, but Paul makes the point here and more fully in his letter to the Romans, that Abraham was the father of those who believe, not those who obey the law. Abraham is considered the father of Israel because of his faith, not what he did.

God made his covenant with Abraham and promised that he would have descendants as numerous as the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky and that through him all nations would be blessed. And importantly, this is before the covenant of circumcision.

So Paul makes the argument that the Judiazers have missed the point. He takes their best weapon and turns it and uses it against them. Abraham is the best example of one who believed by faith. God promised that through him all nations of the world would be blessed, not because of what he did, but because he believed what God told him he would do.

This is Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:1-14. What does all this have to do with us?

When someone comes along with some new teaching, we are expected to use the mind God has given us to discern whether the new teaching is true or false.

In Acts 17, the Bereans are praised. Paul and Silas have just left Thessalonica and arrive to teach in Berea. Luke has this comment about them
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

We are expected to think and evaluate the validity of new teaching that comes our way. Just because TBN says it does not mean it is true. Because someone claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit and can speak eloquently and passionately and has a church or hall filled with thousands of people hanging on every word that is spoken does not mean the message that is delivered is true.

Check with Scripture to see if what is said is true. Reflect on your own experience with God. See if what is said makes sense to you. God has given us minds and he expects us to use them.

This week I read of a small cult in the US state of Massachusetts that have been brought to trail because of refusing to allow a child to be taken to the doctor. They were waiting for God to heal the child. Is this idea Biblical? Is it reasonable? Is this how God works in the world?

We are supposed to use our minds. We are free to think.

But this passage from Galatians impacts us in other ways as well. Let me give you an example. Friday morning Annie and I were jogging in the Hilton forêt. I was in a deep funk. I use this term in the American sense of deep discouragement rather than the British sense of fear.

The reason why I was feeling so discouraged was because of the situation of some people in the church who are in desperate circumstances and there is nothing I can do about it. I have wrapped my limited brain around their problems and don’t see a way out.

This led me to be deeply discouraged and in this state, I seemed to have nothing to offer to these people.

When I run it often clears my brain and when Annie and I met halfway, I stopped to articulate what I had been thinking. I said, “ My life consists of what I do, how I feel and what I think and say. Apart from that, I do not exist. I live my spiritual life vicariously off the community of RPF. When I can’t think of what to do to help someone, when I’m feeling sick or weak, when what I have to say is not helpful, I find that I do not exist.”

And Ann had a wonderful response. She said, “O you foolish Galatians!” and it became clear to me that my situation was one that needed to be addressed by the thought process Paul led the Galatians through.

What was my experience when I first became a Christian or became aware that I was a Christian? Did I receive Christ in my life because of what I did or because of God’s grace in my life?

Does who I am depend on what I do? Do I only exist to the extent that I am able to be of service to someone else?

Am I trying to add to God’s grace in my life with my own efforts?

What has been my experience over the years? Has God provided for me when I was in desperate circumstances? Won’t he also do the same for his other children?

And by using the mind God gave me, by being free to think, I am pulled back into the arms of God who loves me and who has used me in the past and who will use me in the future.

I don’t have answers for the problems people in the church are facing but that is not my task, to have answers for people. I cannot control and manipulate circumstances to make all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purposes. All I can do is listen and pray and love those in the church and help when I am able.

And I have to trust that God will work out the problems in their lives as he has done in mine and as he has done in their lives in earlier times.

We are not stuck in the muddle of gloom and despair. We are not dependent on a set of rules and regulations which we have to obey. We have been freed by grace and are free to think about our circumstances and remember the truth in which we live.

I know that I am not the only person who gets discouraged from time to time and I want to encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on how God has worked in your life. It might help for you to write down your thoughts.

But think. Reflect. Remember. And be encouraged.