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!


18 Responses to Bewitched!

  1. Stoned-Campbell Disciple says:

    This is a post I can say, without reservation, AMEN!

    Bobby Valentine

  2. preacherman says:

    Excellent post.
    Amen brother.
    It is amazing how many Christians and churches are still enslaved by legelism.
    When one is enslaved by legalism it robs them of their joy and who they are to be in Christ.
    I am at church now that in the past have had preachers who have preached legalism sermons focusing on the legalism the you see in alot of churches of christ. Since I have been here I preached: grace, love, freedom in Christ, the church as a family, and now the church has been set free. It is wonderful to see what God can do and see Christians really enjoying for the first time their Christianity is amazing.

    Great post.

  3. Ben Overby says:


    I’ll probably regret opening this can of worms on your blog, and since Bobby has “amened it,” he’ll probably come back and kick my shins, but I’ll do it anyway.

    I agree legalism is a disaster. We might even see it around us today, especially in the case of Hindus, Buddhists, etc. However, I’m convinced that it’s an anachronistic mistake for us to read legalism into Galatians, or Romans, et. al. (convinced by James Dunn’s work traced back to Ed Sanders’ research, traced back to at least and opened up by some of Krister Stendahl’s insights ).

    I’ve noted on several occasions that when we read legalism into Galatians almost no one finds a personal critique. I.e., no one claims to be a legalistic Christian (in the merit/earning sense of the word). Paul’s problem was with those who wanted to promote an ethnic identity as superior to all others, an identity marked out by what Paul describes as “works,” namely circumcision, Sabbaths, and purity regulations. The problem was sectarianism, which explains why he hammers away at oneness, and uses Peter’s sectarian sin to open up the discussion.

    If that’s true, then I can think of at least one present day group that’s often sectarian and whom marks itself off as the “faithful” with a handful of markers while insisting that all others are hell bound. Galatians unleashed offers a devastating rebuke of our religious arrogance.

    Being under law isn’t the same thing as legalism. All Israel was under law, but almost no Israelite thought he earned salvation. Salvation was by God’s grace in choosing Abraham, Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, all the way down to His deliverance from bondage. The commandments begin with the reminder that God called Israel out of slavery. Keeping commandments, therefore, never earned anything, nor was it thought to earn anything. Keeping commandments meant being faithful to God’s covenant. “Works” always had to do with vindication, or who would be judged “in the right” in the end. Salvation and justification aren’t the same thing and nuancing both will go a long way toward allowing us to accept the fact that we are saved by grace on the one hand and that our works, our life enabled by the Spirit, will be our justification (as per no small number of statements by Jesus and Paul; giving drink of water, keeping lamps filled, reaping what we sow, all giving an account of our lives, those who do the law will live, etc., etc., etc.).

  4. Orange Grover says:

    Great stuff Danny.
    I will have to consider Ben’s comments some more. Interesting and intriguing.
    Les, Jr.

  5. Danny says:


    Well I agree that no one will paint themselves with a legalist brush and most definitly the tensions in Galatians and Romans ran along ethnic lines. I also agree that being under law is not legalism.

    What I see in both Romans and Galatians though is what was being done with the law in regards to the non-Jewish Christians and to me- that was legalism. Not the law itself but the appoach to it being forced upon Gentiles who had limited understanding of the law and no background from which to appreciate it.

    And keeping commandments are still a part of God’s will- as long as our approach to them is not burdensome and I think legalism makes them so.

    My approach is grace through faith. That is, recognizing the all-sufficency of God saving power which in turn frees me from the grip of sin to joyfully serve and follow Christ which is demonstrated in a life of transformation and obediance.

    Thanks for you insight Ben. Always appreciated.

    I’ll let Bobby do the kicking! ROFL

  6. Royce Ogle says:


    This is one of the very best posts I have seen in many months. AMEN and AMEN.

    Ben, with admiration and respect, I still disagree with your position. (I have been around the horn with Ben and he beat up on me pretty badly. It was brains (Ben) against beauty (me)! LOL

    Ben said, “Being under law isn’t the same thing as legalism”. In the context of the Jews before Christ I might agree. But in the context of the believer, it is precisely the definition of legalism. A person who beliieves he or she will merit favor with God, or additional favor with God by “doing”, is mistaken. He already loves us as much as He can.

    Ben also said, “we are saved by grace on the one hand and that our works, our life enabled by the Spirit, will be our justification (as per no small number of statements by Jesus and Paul; giving drink of water, keeping lamps filled, reaping what we sow, all giving an account of our lives, those who do the law will live, etc., etc., etc.).”

    Again, I disagree with that premise. When we are saved by grace there is “no other hand”. We are created “for good works”. Think of those things Bro’ Ben enumerated ( giving drink of water, keeping lamps filled, reaping what we sow) not as acts we do to be justified, but rather markers that show we are already justified.

    Two opposites can not both be true. Any view that comes against “Not of works lest any man should boast. (Eph 2) and “Not by works of righteousness which we have done…” (Titus 3:5) is suspect. If we are justified by good works, as we are enabled by the Holy Sirit,(Ben’s position I think..), then we are not justified by faith as the Bible consistantly teaches.

    In Romans 5 verse one, in regard to justification, the tense of the verb is “past tense”, in regard to peace with God it is “present tense”. If a believer is waiting to be justified he is mistaken. He already has been justified.

    Danny, forgive my lengthy comment. Again, great post.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  7. Danny says:

    Preacherman, I think people gravitate toward a legalistic approach to Christianity because on a surface level it is easier. Just complete a list of duties and then all is cool- but that is just deceptive. It is hollow and very unfulfilling approach to follow God that results in guilt and misery- and misery loves company.

    Royce, thanks for your post. Your thoughts to me are on the mark and I know that Ben will appreciate them to- even if he does not agree on some level.

    Thanks guys for stopping by and posting.

  8. Ben Overby says:

    Royce, I appreciate, admire, and respect you as well. I do gently disagree as to this issue. As quickly as I can, let me simply note . . .

    At some point we are all going to have do business with passages such as, Ro. 2.6-7. Paul pulls no punches with reference to a judgment which considers the life lived, and it doesn’t threaten his notion of salvation by grace in the least. What “we” tend to do is assume that if salvation is by grace, then what we do will not matter in the judgment. Paul isn’t the least bit bothered by affirming both salvation by grace and judgment according to works. The two aren’t antithetical in his mind.

    And we’ll have to do business with Ro. 2.13. It’s not the hearers of the law, but the doers of the law who will justified, a theme he’ll return to in Ro. 10 as he affirms the promise of Dt. 30. He says, as you pointed out, that we are justified by faith AND, however, that those who do the law will be justified. What we need to do is bring a synthesis to our understanding of Paul. We’ll need it when we get to 2 Co. 4-5. We’ll need it when we get to Gal. 6.9-10. If we can only affirm half of what Paul says, we need to rethink the whole thing.

    You wrote, “Think of those things Bro’ Ben enumerated ( giving drink of water, keeping lamps filled, reaping what we sow) not as acts we do to be justified, but rather markers that show we are already justified.”

    I absolutely agree. Justification, however, has both a present tense and future tense (see Ro. 3.30). It might not be a bad thing to just read out loud Paul’s remarks about the judgment in 2 Co. 5. He’s (God) looking for evidence, just as Solomon sought evidence in the matter between the two women and the one child. The woman received her child back to her not by earning it; she was vindicated before the judge because of her love for the child evidenced by her works (words and actions).

    And, I agree, two opposites cannot be true. So, we have to figure out what Paul actually meant in the passages referenced above, because he obviously didn’t mean to include works of self-righteousness in his statement that the doers of the law who will be justified. Doing what the law intended, and being judged accordingly is obviously not the same thing as the “works” in which an ethno-centric Jew might boast. Whatever we do we do by Christ and His Spirit, through faith in Jesus, expressed in a life that is gradually being sanctified by the Spirit. Our works will be our vindication, not because we climbed some fictional legalistic ladder, but because Jesus died, has risen, we believe, and He sends His Spirit to shape us into His image. A good tree will produce good fruit by the grace of rain and rich soil, and God will be looking for good fruit on that last Day. Our spiritual fruit is a marker now indicating that we are justified, and will be the marker in the future upon which we’ll hear Him say, Well done, my good and faithful servant. Grace, faith, and works. They go together quite comfortably if we can get out from under Luther’s categories.

  9. Ben Overby says:

    Danny, I appreciate your remarks to Preacherman. I will say that there’s a real danger on the other side of the cliff, too. That is, when we can’t make sense out of Jesus’, Paul’s, James’, teaching regarding works, the danger is hollowness and an unfulfilling approach to following God. Some of the most outrageously confused and unembarrased sin-filled congregations I know, claim to be grace centered. If we make too much of works we tend to legalism. If we make to little of it, we tend to antinomianism. If either is the case, we fail in our God-given vocation. The tragedy that occurs when Christians are held in bondage to law rather than realizing they are under grace, isn’t that they’re legalistic, but that they’ve embraced a system of grace whose helper is too weak to deal with the power sin–that’s why they doubt and despair. In Christ, our helper isn’t the law, but the Spirit of God in us, and if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body we will live (Ro. 8).

    Thanks, as always, Ben

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple says:

    I have no kicking to do. 🙂 Ben is basically sharing the perspective of N.T. Wright. Wright, together with scholars like James Dunn and E.P. Sanders, have proposed what is called “the New Perspective on Paul.” Many things that Wright and these others argue seem to me to be correct and have provided a needed correction to some theology. The NPP has not persuaded all scholars by any means … though many will have to deal with Wright.

    Regardless justification by faith is still a Pauline doctrine.

    Bobby Valentine

  11. JD says:

    It was a great post, Danny. Freedom sounds strange to our ears, but it resonates with our hearts.

  12. Ben Overby says:

    Danny, you inspired me to sharpen my thinking further (some will see this as a further dulling of an already edgeless blade), resulting in a blog I just uploaded (for better or worse). I hope it makes some sense and invite your feedback, as well as everyone else. The blog’s entitled, Slaves, Christmas Trees, and Authentic Humanity at


  13. Danny says:

    I will check out your post Ben- and I understand the dangers of overemphasizing grace. Extremes of any kind are neve productive and always lead to abuse.

    However – and I have long felt this way- why when grace is dicussed we always feel the need to qualify it with the “yes, but do not forget the importance of works” deal? (and I know that is not exactly where you are coming from)

    Can’t we just accept grace for what it is- rejoice in it- and allow it to teach us to “say no to ungodliness and worldy passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives”? (titus 2:11-12)

  14. Ben Overby says:

    Danny, I guess my point is that I think we aren’t accepting grace for what it is (generally speaking). We’re accepting grace as Luther gave it to us. Here’s the simple test, in my opinion.

    Do our works add to our justification? If we answer no, then we’ve been duped by Luther, which explains why we see a legalist behind every bush.

    The response is not to return to “under the law”, but to wrestle with the fact that our lives are going to count for something when we stand before the Lord one day. Our words and works is really going to be judged. It really is true, as Paul says, that it’s the doers of the law who will be justified, NOT THE HEARERS ONLY. I hear clarion calls for freedom from legalism, but constantly find people who have no clue what to do in or with that freedom. We offer freedom without a form, freedom without the biblical truth regarding the required discipline to enjoy the grace that Paul proclaims, a form that he was happy to embrace when he claimed that he disciplined his body so that, ironically in grace, he wouldn’t be lost while teaching others. Bonhoffer critiqued the grace of his day and called it cheap. When I look around at our grace-centered churches and find subtle racism still a norm, sexism, elitism, antinomianism, dualism, materialism, and on it goes, I conclude that when the message is still a freedom over and against Luther’s boggy man (Catholic merit theology), then it probably doesn’t hurt to qualify our notions of grace. I want to pry the bible out of a 16th century context, so that we can see it in a 1st century context, and so that we make the necessary adjustments to our theology, anthropology, and soteriology. One thing that I think most agree on is that we’re not effectively shining our light, reaching the world the way Jesus reached the world. And we will not until we regain the image of God in Christ, making our solidarity with Him rather than Adam, becoming the new and radical sort of humanity that He intended when He rose up from the grave. Our freedom in form will not be content to fit into the malformed and maginalized forms of Christianity as it exists on either side of divide, whether progressive wretched sinner or confident self-righteous.

  15. Royce Ogle says:

    Ben and brothers,

    Chew on this verse for a while.

    “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)How many did God justify? Every last one He called. In God’s mind the job is complete right up to “glorified”.

    Someone might want to explain to me why justification is spoken of so often in the past tense? For example Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” I will answer for you, it is because justification is a past event. I am now presently justified and have been justified since I put my trust in Jesus.

    Ben raises a legitimate question about works. The Bible is clear, we will be judged in regard to works. What is not clear, at least to some, is that judgment is not related to salvation but to rewards.

    Christ either took the full measure of the wrath of God against sin on the cross, and in so doing took upon himself the full penalty for my sins (past, present, and future), or he did not completely atone for me.

    Those passages that seem to compete with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith only “seem” to. If you view those verses, not as rules to follow, but rather evidences of salvation, it will all make sense.

    As Bobby V hinted, Wright’s influence might be evidneced here but I suppose one reason Bro Overby and I are at polar opposites on this matter is that I believe in the perseverance of the Holy Spirit (eternal security) and He does not.

    Any person who does not believe God will justify and glorify every person He calls must cling in some way to merit based on works, or the lack of them, to support loosing one’s salvation.

    My final thought is this. If any man thinks he can come to the place where he no longer sins, even with the help of the Spirit, he is mistaken. And I dare say, an honest appraisal of one’s self will show that like Paul “sin is present with me”. If we are justified as we obey with the Spirit’s help as suggested, we will all go to hell. Just one sin can topple the whole theory. Precisely the reason Jesus went to the cross is that we can not ever, before we are saved or after, live good enough to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness.

    Wright is wrong in this case will all due respect.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  16. Danny says:


    When I speak of grace- I am not speaking of Luther’s idea. To think that grace somehow nulifies our need to be God’s workmanship is foolish indeed.

    I realize the historical and present tension between grace and works, but that tension- nor misunderstandings about grace should prevent us from celebrating it for what is wonderfully is.

  17. Ben Overby says:


    In my understanding of scripture, there are no passages that compete with the doctrine of salvation by grace. I think you are completely confusing salvation and justification as the same thing. They aren’t.

    Are you fully glorified at present? I encourage you to pay close attention the context from which you quote. Prior to Paul’s thoughts in Ro. 8.30, he writes, “and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:17-18 ESV)

    Am I to believe based on vs. 30 that there is only a present sense of glorification by completely ignoring all other texts? We will be glorified with Christ, a glory that has yet to be revealed to us. How is that Paul can say at one point that we are glorified and then at another point that we will be glorified unless he understands glory as having both present and a future tense? And the same is true with justification. The doers of the law, Paul writes, will be justified–clearly something in the future, as well as the present. He clearly positions justification/vindication in the future as well as the present. I’m confident (faith) in my future vindication and glorification, not because I’ve got it all figured out in the present, not because I’m perfected at present, but because the work of the Spirit is to bring me (us all) to glory on the last day, the day of our vindication/justification; He’s slowly changing us into the likeness of Christ, and will continue so long as we cooperate. But, Paul qualifies his statement with a heavy, dark “if,” namely “if” we suffer with Him. What if we don’t suffer with Him, Royce? What about those who are called, but quit because they just don’t like to suffer? Paul has a clear answer.

    You’re right, I don’t believe in eternal security without qualification, and that you do serves to validate at least some of my comments in this thread. What Danny means by grace may not be at all what you mean. Therefore, we can’t assume others agree with the definitions of terms that have been so hotly debated since their inception.

    Paul, who knew more about all of this than you or I, was capable of declaring that he disciplined his own body so that after preaching to others he would not become “disqualified.” Do you know something about eternal security, something you picked up from Augustine or Luther, that Paul was unaware of? Those in Heb. 10 were called, had tasted grace, yet fell away. The Galatians were Christians, they were called by the gospel Paul preached, yet Paul declared that they were in jeopardy of falling from grace. When the view of many has them explaining away or marginalizing certain passages, then it’s time that we start qualifying almost everything we say on the subject so that we aren’t amened by folks whose concept of grace seems to agree more with Augustine than the apostle Paul. It does very little to edify if we are celebrating grace (see Danny’s last note) without qualification, when the term has come to mean so many different things to different people.

    Apparently, by your quotation, “Sin is present with me,” you suppose Paul is wallowing in the pain of his personal sin nature, even as a Christian, i.e., Ro. 7. If the text of Ro. 7 when coupled with 8 isn’t enough, I’d encourage you to read Krister Stendahl’s essay on Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West in his book entitled Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles. Here again, your view fits Augustine’s view, Luther’s, etc., but those exegeting scripture prior to Augustine saw Paul as using a common rhetorical device, using the “I” to speak, for instance, of Adam, indicating the personal power of sin in all people outside of Christ since Adam, including Jews. That’s a view scholars like Kaseman, Cranfield, Witherington III, Wright, just to name a view, all acknowledge as more or less correct (they all agree that Paul was not speaking of himself, much less himself as Christian). It just doesn’t make any sense that Paul would claim all at once to be a slave to the flesh and at the same time (ch. 8) to claim to be walking according to the spirit rather than the flesh. Augustine had twist and turn in order to make some of his arguments work against Pelagius and apparently no small number of folks are still paying for that tragic misstep.

    To sum up, we are saved by grace and grace alone; God calls us by the gospel of Jesus into His covenant family. The calling is His work. By our faith in Christ (assuming we believe the story), we are declared right, as anticipated in our own baptismal resurrection. We have been raised from the dead in Christ and we will be raised (see how easy it is to see both the present and future tense in the same concept?). Resurrection for Jesus meant vindication; that is, justification. He was declared right over and against those who nailed Him to the cross. And resurrection means the same thing for us. We’ve been vindicated in a sense, and we will be vindicated in another sense. We are justified, then, by faith, just like Abraham. As long as we trust God we have access into the grace in which we stand. Faith is what the law always wanted to create in people, but couldn’t because of the way sin manipulated humanity. So, Christ died, sent His Spirit, so that with His help we can keep the faith and anticipate all that God has promised.

    Or, after our calling we can spit on the cross, insult the Spirit, and recapituate the sin of Adam and Israel, like those warned in 1 Co. 10, like those of He. 10, etc.

  18. Royce Ogle says:

    < sigh >

    You have to love Bro Ben. I trust his move to New York will be safe and uneventful. Perhaps the crisp air farther up north will shock him to clearer thinking. (tsk tsk)

    We will have to agree to disagree. This is a free country, you can be wrong if you want to. Who am I to deny anyone that right?

    You guys have blogged some great truths into my noggin head and I appreciate you all; Perhaps especially Ben Overby.

    God even loves knuckle heads and for that I am especially grateful.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

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