(1) Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? You are the ones before whom Jesus Christ was openly displayed crucified! (2) I want to learn one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law, or by hearing the message that brings forth faith? (3) Can you be so foolish? You began in the Spirit will you try to get the flesh to make you perfect? (4) Is everything you experienced in vain? As though it could be in vain! (5) Does God who gives you the Spirit and works miracles among you because you are law observant, or because of the message that brings forth faith? — Galatians 3:1-5
In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells of his determination to know nothing amongst the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-3). Because of Paul’s discussion here of the â€œfoolishness of the crossâ€ some people get the idea that Paul liked foolish things and that the more foolish an idea might appear, the greater its spiritual value.
But the point of the foolishness of the cross is that it is a major turning point. When we come to the cross as sinners headed our own way and slaves to our own desires, the cross looks foolish. But in fact, the cross is the wisdom of God. Once you have surrendered yourself to God the cross takes on a whole new meaning. That’s how Paul can say that â€œ. . . the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it’s God’s powerâ€ (1 Corinthians 1:18).
In Galatians, Paul talks more about foolishness, and points out the one and only cureâ€”the cross of Jesus Christ. In fact, he expresses shock and amazement that one can even consider the possibility of turning away from the message of the cross once one has seen it (v. 4). He is astonished at the very thought!
Now the particular foolishness of the Galatians was that they had heard the gospel message, had come to faith, and yet when some folks came preaching that they must be circumcised, they seem to have forgotten about that message and decided instead to come to God via circumcision. The false teachers in Galatia wanted to make gentiles become Jews according to the law before they could be reconciled to God as Christians.
Now we don’t meet precisely the same temptation today. Few of us are seeking circumcision and trying to become Jews in order to be saved. (Note that there is a big difference between enjoying Jewish practices, feasts, and so forth, and keeping them as laws so in order to be saved.) But does Paul’s message strike home in our modern world?
I think it does. Most Christians I have met recognize that their initial salvation came through the grace of God. We realize that we can’t do anything to earn salvation. There’s no claim that we can hold against God so as to force him to pay.
But once we have been saved, we often turn from grace to striving. We think we are given the gift of salvation by grace, but then we have to sanctify ourselves. But your sanctification, your perfection, the completion of your mission and call on this earth are all to be accomplished by the gracious gift of God’s Spirit.
You started in the Spirit, don’t finish in the flesh. Let me paraphrase that. â€œYou started by accepting God’s grace, let God finish the job in the same way that he started it.â€ God is a lot better at this than you are! It’s foolish to assume you can fix it all, and God has the cureâ€”the cross of Jesus.