O Foolish Galatians!

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Galatians 3:1–6, NIV)

Why was the Apostle Paul so upset with the Galatians? They were shaming Jesus Christ by making his sacrifice on the cross of no effect — and many of us do this today. The Bible is very clear about salvation. To be saved, you have to believe... and the thing you cannot do is add works of the law to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5). Salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone and through faith alone.

The big problem in Galatia was that some Christians insisted on adding the Jewish rite of circumcision to the faith… and Paul about blew a gasket! So, he invoked no less a patriarch than Abraham as an example of faith. Now, it is important to remember that Abraham was called centuries before the Law, so he was not under it, and God said that his seed would bless all nations, not just the Jews. In this, the Gospel was preached unto Abraham. So, when Abraham believed God, God counted it to him as righteous — and that’s true for us today (Acts 16:31).

But the Galatian church started to do what churches do very well: they began adding extra-biblical traditions to their worship. Now, this is not a problem in itself. We must accommodate cultural variances. But demanding that believers be circumcised was a step too far in the Age of Grace. Circumcision was a sign for the Jews, not for the Christians, and the time of signs ended when the object of those signs completed his atoning work on the cross (Hebrews 1). To better understand how big of a problem this could be, let’s look at a parallel scenario.

There are many signs that point to Des Moines, Iowa… and for those of us who are trying to get there, those signs are very useful. But if someone posted a sign that said that said “this way to Des Moines” within the city limits, reading that sign would destroy any confidence we had that we were already in Des Moines… and perhaps we’d even despair of its promises.

In like manner, the Old Testament had many signs that said, “This way to salvation” — and circumcision was one of them. So after the cross, such signs should have been confusing to the Galatians…. because they didn’t make sense within the city limits of Grace. But there was a deeper problem: they also insulted Jesus Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6). They made it seem as if we had not yet arrived in Atonement City because Jesus’ work was not yet finished (John 19:30).

Today, circumcision is not so much the problem. Baptism is… or it can be. If done wrongly, baptism can assault the doctrine of grace by adding a work to Jesus’ salvific opus. But if done correctly, baptism is a sweet savor to both God and men. It shows our obedience to God while telling the world that we too have cast our lot with Jesus.

So, if you think a person needs to be baptized to be saved, then you too are a foolish Galatian. To God, this is insulting. But to the rest of us, you are bewitched… because we wonder if you know how salvation really works… which makes us wonder if you have appropriated saving grace for yourself. A person must believe in the Christ whose saving work is complete… not a Christ whose saving work is held hostage by a person’s baptism.

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