Not the old television program- the Galatians! They were bewitched by a doctrine of the devil and entangled in “another gospel” (1:6-9) after having been set free by the grace of God. The culprit was legalism and it was taking them dangerously close to edge of this grace. (5:4)
The bewitching was occurring because of a group of Christian Jewish legalists we now call the “Judizers”. They were the apostle Paul nemesis in his evangelistic work with non-Jews including the Galatians. They attempted to impose this other gospel of Jewish law keeping and traditionalism upon Gentile Christians which denied the Spirit’s power to work and God’s grace to sufficiently save. They were working to intimidate, manipulate and dominate the Galatians to cripple their spirituality and quench the Spirit, but Paul would have none of that!
They were born of a “free woman” not a “slave woman” He proclaimed. (4:31) Christ had set them free so why would they want to “be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”? (5:1) This slavery would only lead to a life outside of God’s Spirit instead of one bearing his fruit. (5: 19-25) The opportunity to live this triumphant Spirit-filled life was the very reason that “before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” (3:1)
Legalism in that Judizing form sought to take away the freedoms the Galatians enjoyed in Christ. It still does in whatever form it morphs into now. It seeks to steal the joy and victory of salvation. It is bewitching because of the way it masquerades and presents itself. But in the wonderful book of Galatians Paul reveals it for the ugliness that it is.
From chapter three he teaches that legalism:
• Relies on Human Effort. Paul asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law?” He then continued, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (vs. 2-3) Legalism values merit over grace. It emphasizes human goodness (which apart from Christ doesn’t exist anyway) over God’s righteousness. In so doing it creates an impossible standard for anyone to live by- which, in turn, produces failure, guilt and judgmental spirits. Christ died to set us free from such a doomed system. Grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) based on the righteousness of God, not on our own merit, saves us.
• Is a Curse. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse.” (vs. 10) This curse is the reality that no one under a law system will ever keep that law system perfectly. If we seek salvation by merit we will fail every time and the curse will fall upon us. Instead, like Abraham, we should live by the freedom of faith. “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law because ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (vs. 11) Why stay under the spell of a curse when in Christ we are redeemed from this curse to be “free indeed.” (John 8:36)
• Is a Prison. Legalism enslaves. It is a spiritual imprisonment- putting in locks and chains the empty tomb of Christ. Paul said it. “Before this faith came we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” (vs. 23) In this prison reside anger, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and other fleshly works. It creates an atmosphere of “biting and devouring each other” that can lead to self-destruction. (5:15)
This was not the Galatians calling nor is it ours. “You my brothers were called to be free.” (5:13) Free to overcome sin; free to love one another; free to live faithfully by God’s Spirit; and free to enjoy the blessings of God’s amazing grace.
Be careful not to be enslaved by the bewitching power of legalism in whatever form it takes. Recognize the tantalizing dangers behind this other gospel and avoid it. Know the truth and be free!