Made Complete by the Spirit

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul addressed a growing danger. Certain “men from Jerusalem” were claiming that Gentiles must keep the deeds of the Mosaic Law to “complete” their faith, or at least, some of them. They were “compelling Gentiles to Judaize” by adopting circumcision, calendrical observances, and perhaps the Levitical dietary restrictions. Paul would have none of it.

Unlike his other letters, his opening salutation to the Assembly in Galatia was curt, and he immediately chastised the Galatians and launched into a diatribe against the Judaizing faction from Jerusalem.

Wind - Photo by Thiébaud Faix on Unsplash
[Wind - Photo by Thiébaud Faix on Unsplash]

Moreover, he admonished the congregation
NOT to accept any alleged gospel if it deviated from the one Paul previously had delivered to them. Already, the Galatian believers were “moving away from him that called them in the grace of Christ” by adopting circumcision as a requirement for membership in the covenant community.

As for the Judaizers “from Jerusalem,” twice Paul pronounced a “curse” or anathema on anyone who proclaimed a “different gospel,” even if this was done by “an angel from heaven.” - (Galatians 1:6-8).

The Apostle Paul received his gospel by direct revelation from Jesus, NOT from any human authority or angelic visitation. The leading apostles in Jerusalem accepted his Torah-free gospel for the Gentiles, requiring only that his congregations contribute to the relief of poor believers in Jerusalem - (Galatians 1:5-2:10).

Paul described an incident that occurred in Antioch when a group of Jewish believers from Jerusalem pressured Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish believers to withdraw from table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile believers - (Galatians 2:11-14).

In the second chapter of Galatians, he presents the key proposition of the Letter; namely, that a man is “not set right (before God) based on the deeds of Torah, but through the faith of Christ Jesus.” Having come to faith in Jesus, Paul “died to the Law” and was “crucified with Christ” so that he now “lives unto God.”

To rebuild a Torah-observant lifestyle after encountering Jesus was tantamount to declaring that he “died in vain,” and to regress to life under the regulations of the Torah was to “set aside the grace of God” - (Galatians 2:15-21).

GIFT OF THE SPIRIT


Next, Paul presented his first argument in support of his Torah-free gospel, the experience of having received the Gift of the Spirit:

  • (Galatians 3:1-5) - “O thoughtless Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth as a crucified one? This only do I wish to learn from you: from the works of the law did you receive the Spirit, or from a report of faith? Are you so thoughtless? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now to be completed in the flesh?... He, then, who was supplying the Spirit to you and energizing mighty works among you, did he do it from the works of the law or from a report of Faith?

They received the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state, and therefore, without the deeds and rituals required by the Law. That experience resulted from their response in faith to the gospel preached by the Apostle.

The activity of the Spirit among the Galatians demonstrated that God had accepted Gentile believers as true members of His covenant people without circumcision even though circumcision was a basic requirement of the Mosaic Law.

Earlier, Peter made a similar argument in response to Jewish critics of his table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles. Upon seeing the Spirit fall on his Gentile audience in Caesarea, he 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 irrefutable evidence that God had accepted them even in their uncircumcised state. Having received the Spirit from faith, to add Torah-keeping to “complete” it meant resorting 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” meant returning to bondage under the “weak and beggarly elemental spirits,” and to an immature and far less enlightened state - (Galatians 4:7-11)!


WITHOUT CIRCUMCISION


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

Believers who abandon the gospel by embracing a Torah-observant lifestyle could find themselves “severed from Christ… fallen from grace.” Since Jesus inaugurated the age of the Spirit, the Levitical rites including circumcision were no longer “of any avail.” Their time and function came to an end with the arrival of the “heir,” Jesus.

What matters is “faith working through love.” The believers in Galatia began “to run well but were hindered from obeying the truth.” They were “bewitched” by the false gospel proclaimed by the “men from Jerusalem” - (Galatians 5:1-7).

To adopt a Torah-observant lifestyle is to come “under the Law” - its jurisdiction and obligations. Anyone under it is obligated to keep the WHOLE law, and failure to do so places one under its “curse.” If the Galatians get circumcised, they will be obliged to keep ALL its regulations, commandments, and rituals.

Thus, having received the fullness of the Spirit, the saints in Galatia were contemplating abandoning the gospel of grace proclaimed by Paul, whether they understood this or not.



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