O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
Paul has strong words in this passage. He is writing to people who believed on Jesus for salvation, were drawn to the Father by the Spirit, and filled with that same Holy Spirit – all through faith. Yet now they are receiving teaching that says that they cannot be perfected before God apart from keeping religious rules. Notice that Paul says here that the works of the law are done in the flesh. The flesh and the Spirit seek opposite things. It is not possible to receive the Spirit by our works. It is equally impossible to be perfected before God by our works. It is the Spirit or nothing.
The Galatians were falling for the same lie that we contend with today. It’s the lie that says that our efforts make any difference at all in receiving and walking in salvation. Yet we fall for it all the time. We slide back into thinking that we must do something to earn our position with God or to earn His favor. Paul bluntly says that when we think and live that way, we are being foolish.
When we receive salvation by faith alone, and when we receive the Holy Spirit by faith alone, it is absolutely ridiculous to think that we must or even can add to those things with our fleshly efforts. It makes no logical sense. If we needed Jesus to save us, and we need the Holy Spirit to live through us, then what do we imagine that we could possibly add to that? It took the God who is so powerful that He created everything by a sheer act of His will to save us. Do we really believe that any effort of our own can make a difference? Paul is right. How foolish.
The next time you start to imagine that God is dissatisfied with you because of what you did or failed to do, remember the foolish Galatians. You were saved by faith. You received the Spirit by faith. Your works could do nothing to make either of those things happen, and they can do nothing to change your already perfect standing before God. Don’t be foolish by living to the flesh. Brave grace, and live to the Spirit.