Confronting Spiritual Stupidity
Have you ever been doing something stupid with a lot of confidence, but then, when somebody finally questioned you about it, your level of stupidity became abundantly clear to you. You thought what you were doing made total sense until a person said something and suddenly you realized what you were doing was utterly ridiculous! Have you ever noticed that sometimes it takes a person asking you a question with a noticeable level of bluntness and sarcasm to get you to see your stupidity?
Now believe it or not, that is exactly what we are going to read from Paul today, that is, Paul is going to ask the readers of this letter some questions that are 100% intended to get them to see just how stupid they are acting and thinking and he’s going to do it with serious bluntness and obvious sarcasm! But, before we go through the questions, I want to take you back to the book of Acts so you can understand why Paul is being so harsh in his questioning.
Let’s begin in Acts 13 at verse 13.
Read Acts 13:13-16
Note: Paul is speaking to Jews and proselytes which are Gentiles who adopted Judaism. And here’s what he said to them,
Read Acts 13:17-27
Note: The Old Testament prophesied not just of a Messiah but of a suffering savior who would die for our sins!
Read Acts 13:28-31
Note: Paul made sure to establish the innocence of Christ, as well as the fact that Christ died, was buried and rose all in the exact way that it was prophesied in what we call the Old Testament and that it is all abundantly attested.
Read Acts 13:32-39
Note: We are going to come back to this, but He just made it clear that Jesus replaced the law of Moses with something better!
40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 "'Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.' (Acts 13:40-41)
Note: Paul warned them right then and there to not be the ones who miss the fact that theJesus is the only one who can give them a relationship with God and watch how they responded.
Read Acts 13:42-49
Note: In a week the word had spread all over the city and pagans were gathering at the synagogue to hear Paul preach! But, it also only took one week for the Jews to start saying no to what the Gospel of Christ teaches, that His death, burial and resurrection have established a New Covenant with God that has nothing to do with the Mosaic Law, Judaism or being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Therefore with their conscious clear that they had first preached the Gospel to the Jews, they turned their attention to the ones the Jews wanted to alienate (the Gentiles), and when they did the a movement got started!
50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:50-52)
Note: You will see in our passage from Galatians that this persecution was not simply targeted at Paul and Barnabas. However, in spite of the persecution and the need for Paul and Barnabas to get out of town, those who trusted in Christ were pumped about their relationship with God! They were blown away by all the Holy Spirit was doing in and through them; thing that made it abundantly clear GOD was with them and working through them! Also note, these are almost all former pagan gentiles that have not been circumcised. They are not following the sabbath laws, dietary laws, or any other Jewish custom, but rather, they are just responding to God with love and adoration for all He is and has done for them through His eternal Son Jesus!
1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
Note: Jews who didn’t repent and believe began to recruit Gentiles who didn’t repent and believe to be against those who did.
3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel. (Acts 14:3-7)
Note: Once again the city where they are preaching ends up in an uproar and people are seeking to execute Paul and Barnabas, so they leave town BUT they keep preaching, just doing so in other towns!
Read Acts 14:8-18
Note: Now here’s where it gets crazy, they are literally trying to offer sacrifices to them because a they are so blown away by them, but then that all changes in a moment! Acts records,
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20)
Note: Paul was a beast! God protected him from dying, but nonetheless he was physically trashed! They stoned him to the point they thought he was dead but now he’s already on his way to preach somewhere else!!
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23)
Paul and Barnabas went back to the town where people had previously tried to kill them so that they could teach, disciple and help organize the local church with elders. They got these churches established in the teachings of the Gospel (the faith – vs. 22) and even encouraged them about the tribulations/trials that were certainly already happening for living their lives trusting and obeying Jesus! When they concluded their missionary journey and headed back to Antioch of Syria, these churches were rooted and grounded in the Gospel and bearing all kinds of spiritual fruit!
So imagine, after all that effort, and even getting yourself pelted with stones and left for dead to make sure these people were flourishing in Christ, you then hear they have left the Gospel for something some of your own Jewish brothers are claiming to be better, something that had never been able to set them free from the curse of sin and give them life in Christ; and furthermore, something that by intention never let them be one with one another; imagine finding out that the people you left in such good shape are being led into something that has no power to save, much less help a person live in and experience eternal life; and that they going down this path with total willingness and confidence!
After all that work and all that progress, it is no surprise that Paul is upset and extremely burdened for them because what they are doing is stupid! There’s really no better way to say it and its why Paul starts his teaching on this with some very poignant and sarcastic questions intended to make them realize just how stupid they were being!
In Galatians 3:1-6 Paul confronts the believers in Galatia with 5 questions intended to help rescue them from their spiritual stupidity!
1 . Do you understand how stupid it is to water down the work of Christ on the cross? (3:1)
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
“It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”
Before we go to the question of “who has bewitched you?” let’s first look at the basis of the question.The believers in Galatia were not literal witnesses of the public crucifixion of Christ, that’s not what this text is telling us. Rather, as you saw in Acts 13 and 14, when Paul and Barnabas went through Galatia, they plainly preached the story of what Christ did and to what effect.
It was so clearly presented both the verbal proclamation and the miracles that affirmed it, that Paul uses a word that refers to the announcements that get publicly posted for all to read.
S.Wuest noted one ancient document that used the word to refer to a time a father posted a public announcement that he would no longer be responsible for his sons debts, and as such, if you were stupid enough to loan his son money then you need to know if his son doesn’t pay you back, he’s not going to help you!
And listen, it wasn’t just the person of Christ that Paul taught them about, but here Paul is emphasizing the finished WORK of Christ on the cross.The perfect tense of “was publicly portrayed as crucified” points us to something that is finished, not something that is in process! What Christ has done is done! Remember what Paul proclaimed to them,
“38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. “(Acts 13:38-39)
In other words, Paul had well educated them on the effects of the death and resurrection of Christ and how it provided what the Law could not.The Law of Moses could not free us from the curse of sin, but only leave us helplessly enslaved to it, and as such, totally incapable of knowing and experiencing God! But Christ’s death is different! His death, burial and resurrection paid the debt and overcame the curse, and as such, gave us the right (more on that later) to be adopted and know God as His favored sons and daughters who have the secured promise of being heirs to His Kingdom, not based on our works, but Christ’s.
So, EVERYONE who heard Paul and Barnabas heard this truth, and therefore, those who repented and believed in Jesus did so based off not just the preaching of this Gospel, but also on the public affirmations of it (more on that in a minute).This is why Paul writes,
“O foolish Galatians!”
“Paul is referring not to mental incompetence, but to a lack of wisdom.”
“It refers not to bluntness but to a sinful neglect to use one’s mental power to the best advantage. The Galatians, in lending a listening ear to the arguments of the legalists, must be considered not necessarily dull but thoughtless, not ignorant but senseless, ... foolish.”3
He is essentially saying you guys are acting like crazy people and thus he follows that accusatory and derogatory statement, with an accusatory and derogatory question!
“Who has bewitched you?”
To fully appreciate just how insulting Paul was being here you need to know a little about the historical context. He uses a phrase that references some of the superstitious beliefs people had about the ability to give somebody the “evil eye” and as such, cast a spell on them that would make their life a mess. These kinds of superstitious beliefs had long sense been shunned by the Gaul’s, the majority ethnic group in Galatia.
K.S. Wuest notes,
The situation in Galatia will help us understand this outcry. There was on the one hand, the native and national spirit joined to the power of the priesthood and the temples, the spirit of Orientalism, that of stagnation, ignorance and superstition. On the other hand, there was the desire for education, the recognition that Greece and Rome stood on a higher intellectual level than was afforded by the native religions and customs, and in addition to that, a revolt against the ignorant and enslaving native superstitions. The people of the province of Galatia are those who have shaken off the benumbing and degrading influence of the native magic and superstition. They are those who judge for themselves as to the real values in life, and lay claim to insight and wisdom. Paul accuses them with failing to use that insight and wisdom, that appreciation of the better things, when he uses the Greek word translated foolish.
So, the added insult to calling them fools is the suggestion that they, who pride themselves on not being the kind of people who are duped into believing a bunch of superstition, have in effect been duped into something equally as ridiculous! Everything about leaving “by grace through faith” for the practices of Jewish religion and laws, or any other religion, was as foolish as the native superstitions that the Gaul’s had prided themselves in having the knowledge and wisdom to have nothing to do with it.
The 2nd question Paul asks them to try and rescue them from their spiritual stupidity is
(2) Did you forget that you didn’t do any religious act to get saved? (3:2)
2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
We don’t have time to go down this path to far in this sermon but just know Paul is referencing the fact that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that regenerates us and saves us. In addition, the Holy Spirit doesn’t then leave us. The promise of the New Covenant in Christ is that the Holy Spirit lives in all who are saved, therefore, as the Holy Spirit testifies of His life within us, we get to see and experience proof that we are fully favored children of God! The believers Paul is writing to have all seen the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their life in some way or another and did so before they ever knew anything about the Mosaic Law! They had clearly been saved apart from it. They had not been circumcised, they weren’t following the sabbath laws, dietary laws, participating in any of the Jewish holidays or festivals, nor even knew anything about Jewish worship practices!
D. K. Campbell noted " As an essentially Gentile church they did not possess the Mosaic Law anyway."
So, with no actionable knowledge of the Mosaic Law and Judaism they repented and surrendered their lives to Jesus. With no allegiance to anything in the Mosaic Law God testified that they belonged to Him! Therefore, Paul is seriously wondering if they forget that fact! The question has an obvious answer, but the believers in Galatia have left the obvious truth for what, in light of the truth, is utter stupidity!
The 3rd question Paul asks them to try and rescue them from their spiritual stupidity is
(3) If religion of any kind wasn’t good enough to save you, why do you think it’s good enough to perfect what did? (3:3)
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Just in case they missed Paul calling them fools in verse one, he now asks a rhetorical question that necessitates them calling themselves foolish. Paul is saying you guys are acting like a bunch of idiots who are knowingly rejecting common sense, and he’s ironically saying it to a culture of people that prided themselves on how much wiser they were than all those cultures that still believed in ridiculous superstitions and fables! He continues to insult people who pride themselves in being very rational, and does so by stating very clearly, that they are acting like people who are completely irrational!
However, in this third question he comes at them from a different angle. In verse two Paul confronted the foolishness of thinking the Mosaic Law had anything whatsoever to do with their salvation, but now he transitions to the foolishness of them thinking it has anything to do with their sanctification, that is, their ability to mature in their faith and experience a greater more powerful relationship with God. He is saying, if you know your salvation was something that was totally accomplished by God (“begun by the Spirit”), then why do you now think you can improve on it by something you can do?
Let me illustrate it for you. Imagine your biggest dream in life is to fly. Every day you go outside you see birds zooming in and out of trees with speed and precision; you see them soaring thousands of feet from the ground with the same ease of you laying on the sand at the beach, and as result you can’t help but dream of doing the same! Tired of not being able to achieve your dream, you develop a suit that mimics the wings of a bird. Every day you test it, it fails, but you keep making changes and try again. You try different types of designs that mimic different types of birds, you use different types of feathers, you even try crazy things like changing the color of the feathers. You know full well that the color of the feathers can’t make a difference, but you’re so desperate to fly you try it anyway. However, like every other time, there isn’t a single change that makes any worthwhile difference.
After years of different suits, you finally decide it must be the fact you aren’t strong enough and that you weigh too much. So, you start going to the gym to get lighter and stronger; you even get so desperate you start taking steroids so you can attain strength far beyond what your body could ever produce on its own. But nothing works. No matter how strong you are, and no matter what suit you try, you can’t flap your arms with enough force to fly.
Finally, you decide to take the risk of jumping off higher and higher things, and you even add in a running start, thinking if you can just get enough airspeed on the way down, your arm flapping will finally overcome the laws of gravity and you’ll be able to fly! But, no matter what, it never works. Even the design that let you glide a bit still brought you right back to earth, just with less of a thud when you hit, but nonetheless a thud!
So, imagine, after you’ve spent years of trying to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing, and even breaking a bunch of bones in the process, a pilot comes along and invites you to get on his plane. You ask the pilot what to do and he says nothing, just get on board. Not understanding how this could possibly work, you ask him if you need to flap your arms or run really fast and then jump into the plane? You ask if you need to blow really hard out the window to push the air across the wings? The pilot answers no to everything and then says, “You just need to get in the plane.” After thinking it through a minute, you decide it's worth trusting him, so you get in the plane and sit in the only other seat on the plane - the copilot seat.
The engines rev up and the plane starts down the runway. You feel the power of the engine push you back into your seat as the pilot accelerates the plane faster than you could ever even think to achieve running in your bird suite, and then, something you’ve waited for your entire life happens, you leave the ground flying! Not long afterwards you’re soaring through the clouds, doing loop de loops and all kinds of tricks. It’s better than any roller coaster ride you’ve ever been on. You are having the time of your life!!
When the day ends the pilot says, “Hey brother, I really enjoyed hanging out with you, why don’t you come back tomorrow and let’s do this again.” You go again and again, and each day your friendship with the pilot gets better and better, and he even starts teaching you how to the fly the plane yourself. There’s no real effort at all, the plane does all the work, you just use the controls to tell it where and how fast you want it to go, and the plane does the rest! You learn to takeoff and land, do loop de loops, and all kinds of other in air tricks. It’s an absolute blast!
One morning, on the way to the airport, you pass a guy on the corner with a sign that says, “flight suits for sale.” You pull off and run over to see what it’s all about. The man then tells you all about his proven bird suit that makes you fly. Now, you already know bird suits don’t work, and that no matter what kind of suit you put on, you can’t of yourself fly; you know that’s a fact. But the man was so convincing, and the suit looked so cool, that you started wondering if the bird suit could maybe help you fly the plane better! So, you buy the suit.
Things got really awkward when you tried to get in the plane with that suit on. Its big and bulky and took up all kinds of space, so much so that neither you nor your pilot friend could see the controls or steer the plane. Finally, the pilot asked you why you are wearing that foolish looking suit. He said not only do you look totally ridiculous, but what part of you thought that suit was going to have any impact on the planes ability to fly you, or even your ability to fly the plane? What part of you thought you could even fit in here with that on? The bird suit clearly has nothing to do with anything involved with flying an airplane and what’s even worse, it gets in the way, so much so, that it actually makes flying the plane dangerous!
This is exactly what Paul is saying to the churches in Galatia! The burdensome awkward Law of Moses that we are going to explain more about in the coming weeks, could never make them fly; as a matter of fact the end was always the same. All the Jewish people ever did was crash and burn! So why in the world would you want to take something that only ever resulted in people crashing and burning and now insist that a person do that in order to be better at what never crashes and burns? It’s totally irrational and in Paul’s mind as foolish as a pilot putting on a big, huge awkward bird suit thinking it will help him fly the plane better!
The 4th question Paul asks them to try and rescue them from their spiritual stupidity is
(4) Why would you suffer for trusting Jesus to save you, but now not trust Him to mature you? (3:4)
4 Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain?
If you remember back in Acts, everywhere Paul and Barnabas preached, persecution and tribulation would break out. Acts focuses in on how people were targeting Paul and Barnabas, but Paul shows us here that it wasn’t just about them. The persecution and trouble was brought to everybody else who repented and believed in Jesus as well.
So, Paul then asks a very logical question to people who are acting very illogical! If you were willing to suffer to lay hold of that which works, why in the world are you now working so hard at that which doesn’t!
Imagine spending your entire life building a business from scratch; all the long hard hours and sacrifice it took to do it. I have a friend who started a successful business and he told me he remembers when he finally got to the place where he only had to work half days to keep his business healthy and growing, that is half a day, as in twelve hours a day! So, imagine if a guy like that sold his business and took all the money and put it into bird suites that claim to make you fly! After he sold it to all the people with “I’m Stupid” signs around their neck, the company would go bankrupt and he would lose everything!
This is exactly what Paul is saying, you guys endured so much, and seemingly it must have gotten a lot better, but now you want to abandon what you suffered for, that actually works, to instead believe in something that doesn’t; and ironically in this case, was the reason for their suffering in the first place!
The 5th question Paul asks them to try and rescue them from their spiritual stupidity is
(5) Have you ever seen God do anything because you earned it? (3:5-6)
5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-- 6 just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?
The rest of Galatians chapter 3 and 4 is going to have stuff about Abraham all over it, so I’m going to hold off explaining much of this here. We are taking a break from Galatians for Easter, which is next week, but we will be back into Galatians the very next week and I’ll do a lot more work explaining his story then.
For now, I just want to make sure you see the main point Paul is making. To be righteous is to be worthy. It’s to be so right that you deserve to belong and be praised. God is the only on
Righteousness in the biblical sense is a condition of rightness the standard of which is God, which is estimated according to the divine standard, which shows itself in behavior conformable to God, and has to do above all things with its relation to God, and with the walk before Him.”
To be righteous then is to be worthy of God, but as we have stated many times now, there is literally NOTHING a person can do that accomplishes that feat because we are incapable of it – we can’t fly!
Therefore, God did not respond to some religious work by Abraham, as a matter of fact, Abraham had obeyed all kinds of things God had told him to do. Obedience to God’s instructions doesn’t mean you have faith in God! It could be argued that Abraham even feared God prior to that, but that’s still not faith.
But, in Genesis 15:6 Abraham finally came to the point of faith in God, and just like in the New Covenant, we find out it is the only means of receiving and growing in the grace of God, that is, for Him to declare us and make us righteous. The imagery is of a bank writing a credit on our balance sheet even though we didn’t make a deposit! The bank did it, not you; in the case of Abraham God did it, not Abraham! It’s God’s righteousness, not Abraham’s; and God decided to give it to Abraham, because he certainly didn’t earn it.
The first act of Abraham after being credited with God’s righteousness, was doubting God! As I said, we will flesh out Abraham’s story a lot more in the coming weeks, the key here is that Paul is pointing to the Old Testament to prove God has always saved by grace through faith, and it matches exactly what they have seen in their own lives.
God not only did miracles through Paul and Barnabas but verse 5 is in the present tense, meaning God is presently doing miracles through the believers in Galatia as well, miracles they know for a fact have nothing to do with any religious act they have ever done! He wrote, “he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you.” So why then, if God is doing miracles through them that clearly have nothing to do with any religious thing they’ve done, do they now believe they need Judaism, or any other religious practice to receive His grace or be used of God to proclaim His glory?
Challenge: How stupid does your spirituality look to you?
Seriously, how stupid does your testimony of a relationship with God look to you?
Knowing how sinful you really are, knowing how utterly ridiculous it is to believe that some kind of religious act has the ability to get God to love you more, or cause some kind of supernatural power to suddenly stir in your life, ask yourself why you keep trusting in such actions. Our relationship is with GOD, not some sort of religious practice, law or tradition. Does your spirituality look and sound like that movie clip we showed you before I preached, or does it look like one who is consumed with the person and work of Christ!
Do you love being loved by Jesus more than anything or do you love stuff that’s about Jesus?
Is your relationship with God one of hearing God’s Word either from reading it yourself, or hearing it read, preached or sung, and then by faith, from your heart responding with love and obedience to Him?
We don’t gather in worship services because we think it earns God favor or gives us grace to do so. We don’t listen to a Biblical sermon because it’s some sort of magic spell that makes me change. We don’t listen to Gospel centered worship music because it has the power to change me. No, we listen to sermons and worship music because they speak the truth to my mind and heart, and as such give me the opportunity to grow in my love, adoration, and FAITH in God!! “hearing with faith” (3:5)
So, listen, our band is going to come out here and lead you in a song about the trustworthiness and praiseworthiness of God. They are going to lead you in it with every ounce of musical ability they can muster so that your mind and heart understand just how glorious this truth is, and as such, how worthy He is of your love, adoration and faith; of your obedience; of your doubts and fears; of your burdens; of everything that you are and everything that you are going through! But understand, hearing this song doesn’t change you any more than singing it does; that’s ridiculous. However, letting the emotion in their song open your eyes and heart to the truth of what they are singing is your opportunity to turn your eyes to the one who does change us, who saves us, who grows us, sustains us, empowers us, and overcomes for us!
It is never stupid to live your life with the eyes of your heart fixated on HIM! It is never stupid to live your life determined to love and obey Him. It’s never stupid to live your life TRUSTING HIM to be GOD, and as such, DO ALL HE HAS SAID HE WILL DO! It’s never stupid to raise your hands in celebration, to lift your voice in praise and proclamation, to sit in silence and awe, or even to just stand there and soak it all in, because it’s never stupid to live with your eyes fixated on HIM! That’s faith, and that’s the only way anybody ever experiences HIM!
Discussion Guide for this sermon