Galatians 3:1-5: Let the Spirit Work!
By Sarah Snyder
Do you ever find yourself snippy with someone? Do you ever get fed up with someone and respond sarcastically? If you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes with me, you know that I am a very sarcastic person, probably to a fault. Most of my sarcastic responses are humorous in nature as opposed to being annoyed with someone. So it should be no surprise that as I was reading for this week I found myself pausing at a moment of, what I call, Sarcastic Paul. Of all the New Testament writers, Paul is by far the most sarcastic. If you’ve spent any time in Romans you know this to be true.
Our reading this week brings us to one of these sarcastic moments. We begin reading this week in Galatians, a letter Paul wrote to the church of Galatia to address some issues between the Jew and Gentile Christians. In Chapter 2, Paul writes that some church leaders had led the Jewish Christians astray by falsely saying that Gentile Christians ought to be circumcised as a requirement for their salvation. In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul states that though they may have been Jews by birth, since Jesus has been crucified, they are no longer justified by the law. If we say we are justified by Christ, yet still seek justification through the law, then Christ died in vain.
This leads us to Galatians 3:1-5, where we get a taste of Sarcastic Paul. He starts by calling them foolish since they saw Christ being crucified vividly portrayed (v.1). He then asks them these questions, “The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort” (vv.2-3)? It should be obvious to us that these are rhetorical questions. Paul is instructing the Jewish Christians that their attempt to bring the law back into the salvation story only inhibits the work of the Spirit. It was clear that we could never perfectly keep the law. That is why Christ came. The law was a bandaid for our sin problem and Christ was the solution.
So why did Paul react so sarcastically? Is sarcasm justifiable? It is hard for me to imagine that Paul would react so strongly to this correction if they did not know any better. But reading the context from chapter 1 onward, it is clear that Paul had already addressed this issue, not only with them, but other church leaders. But what’s the big deal? The big deal is that this is a gospel issue, a deep one. Christ came once and for all. There are no works needed to partake in salvation. The moment we add any works to being saved we void what Christ has done. We could never obtain salvation on our own, that’s why the law was a bandaid. Christ was the final authority and salvation was a gift to humanity. And now “[we] have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer [us] who live, but Christ lives in [us]. So the life [we] now live in the body, [we] live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (2:20). So I want to thank Paul for being sarcastic. He left no room to question where our salvation comes from and for that I am thankful.