The Bewitched Galatians
September 17th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEWITCHED GALATIANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-17-72 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. There are more than a quarter million of you who are watching this service in five states. It is channeled into five different states. And I meet people everywhere who listen to this service. Many, many of them go to an early service in their own church, in order to come back home and to share this one with us. And it is a joy and a gladness to know that you are thus interested in the Word of God. As Dr. Eddleman said a moment ago, “It is not that we stand here groping and seeking after the knowledge of whether the Bible is the Word of God or not: it is because we are already convinced of it that we stand here to proclaim it.” I am a voice, an echo. I do not originate the message. The message was inspired by God and written large on the sacred page. I just repeat it—a voice, not an originator. The title of the sermon is The Bewitched Galatians. Preaching through the Book of Galatians, we have come to the third chapter:
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
Had the writer been Latin, he would have addressed the letter to the Gauls. Had he been a modern author, he would have addressed the letter to the French people. Being a member of the Hellenistic diaspora of the Jewish people and speaking Greek, he addressed the letter to the Galatians. Whether they are Gauls in France or whether they are Gauls in central Asia Minor, they all belong to the same family—and the Greeks call them Galatians. And the Romans made a province in the center of Asia Minor and called it the Roman province of Galatia. And to those churches in Galatia, the apostle addresses this letter. He marveled at the hospitable, gracious reception of his own person and the message that he delivered. Here in the fourth chapter of the letter he says:
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at first.
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
Where then is the blessedness you spake of? for I bear ye record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
He was astonished at the open-hearted, warm-hearted reception of the gospel message and of the messenger himself when he preached the gospel to the Galatians. But now he is no less full of astonishment at how soon they are removed from the message that they at first so gladly received. In the first chapter, after the salutation, he writes, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another” [Galatians 1:6-7]. And then in the text—in the third chapter—”O foolish Galatians”—O senseless Galatians—”who hath bewitched you?” [Galatians 3:1]. They had turned from Calvary to Sinai, from sonship to serfdom, from liberty and freedom to bondage, from faith to works, from Christ to ceremonies: “O senseless, foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” [Galatians 3:1].
He refers to their wonderful conversion: “Before your eyes, Jesus Christ was set forth openly, crucified among you. . . .” [Galatians 3:1]. Paul uses a word there that is so graphic—and our word “graphic” comes from it—”before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been prographō—translated here “evidently set forth”—crucified among you. Prographō; that is the word that refers to the placards that were publicly displayed in a forum, in an agora, in a marketplace for all of the citizens to see. Having no newspapers, public announcements were prographō. They were displayed in those public areas where everybody mingled and where everybody could read them. Paul uses that word with regard to the gospel message that was delivered to the Galatians. Jesus Christ prographō—publicly, openly, vividly—translated here “evidently set forth” [Galatians 3:1].
Those Galatians when Paul preached the message of Christ, they just saw the Lord crucified [Matthew 27:32-50]. They in imagination followed the movements of the Roman soldiers, heard the ringing of the hammers as the Lord was nailed to the tree [Matthew 27:26-35], and they heard His sobs and His tears and His cries [Matthew 27:46], and they felt His sufferings, and they watched the blood drops fall down to—in crimson—the ground [John 19:34]. And seeing Him crucified, they were convicted in their hearts, and they forsook their paganism, and heathenism, and idolatry and were born again into the kingdom of Christ [Galatians 1:6-7, 3:1]. They became new creatures. The old life and the old world and the old things were passed away, and all things in God became new [2 Corinthians 5:17]. They were regenerated in listening to the power of the gospel of Christ! [Romans 1:16]. They forsook their old gods and embraced the true and living God in Christ Jesus. It was a new and a wonderful day for the Galatians!
Could I pause here to parenthesize? You have a marvelous testimony here to the gospel that Paul preached. What? “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried, and that the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. When Paul preached the gospel, that’s what he preached—Christ, and Him crucified [1 Corinthians 2:2]. That is the faith. The faith is Christ. That is Christianity. It is Christ. The beginning of the Christian faith, the middle, and the end of it is the Lord Jesus. It is that and nothing else!
When Paul preaches the gospel that atones for our sins and saves us from death [Romans 6:23], he is preaching Christ. When the apostle John writes of the revelation of the Father and the eternal life through Him, he is writing about Christ [John 17:1-3]. When James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, speaks of the great Lawgiver and Judge [James 4:12], he is talking about Christ. And when the author to the Hebrews, who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews, speaks of the great High Priest in heaven [Hebrews 4:14-16] and the Mediator between God and man [1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15], he is talking about Christ. The Christian faith is Christ. That’s what it is. Take it away—take the Lord out of it, and it is nothing! The gospel that Paul preached was Christ, and Him crucified [1 Corinthians 2:2]. And the power of it, the effect of it upon the Galatians was glorious indeed. It was miraculous! It took the whole believing multitude of them and set them out of idolatry and paganism into the glorious liberty of the Son of God [Galatians 4:8-9]. The light of heaven was on their brow. Their lips cried, “Abba, Father” [Galatians 4:6], and the presence and power of Christ was in their hearts [Colossians 1:27]. They were a new people. They arose in Christ to liberty and life, inspired to the glorious life in Jesus [Galatians 4:19].
Then, they changed [Galatians 4:9]. Then, they turned; to what? There came pseudo-apostles. There came false teachers and took their minds away from Christ and set before them rituals, and rites, and seasons, and dates, and programs, and ceremonies, and laws to keep. And they turned aside from the liberty that they knew in the Lord Jesus [Galatians 4:7], in order to yoke themselves down in bondage to rites, and ceremonies, and dates, and calendars, and laws! And they thought that they were making progress in doing it. They were advancing in the state of religion. “O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” Tell me, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the observances and the works of the flesh?” [Galatians 3:1-3].
Could I turn that in this language? Having been gloriously saved in a revival meeting, having found the Lord and found liberty and freedom in Him, just rejoicing in Christ Jesus—now we are advancing to the studied, observance of rituals, and ceremonies, and laws, and commandments. Paul says, “Is this progress? Is this advancement, to turn aside from the glorious liberty that we have in Christ in order to shackle ourselves and to bind ourselves down with calendars and almanacs of ritualistic observance, and services, and litanies, and all kinds of laws to keep? Is that advancement in the faith and religion?” [Galatians 3:1-3].
The Galatians had backslidden. They had turned aside from the gospel! They had taken their minds off of Christ and focused them upon something else [Galatians 4:10]. And whenever you do that, there is a let down in the power of the gospel of God. There is no such thing as finding power—regenerating, converting power in rites and rituals, no matter what they are. Power comes only from the personal presence of Jesus Christ, from the moving, regenerating Spirit of the Lord [Titus 3:5]. And these things that pertain to laws, and observances and keeping of them, and rituals, and all the ceremonies that somehow accrue, accumulate in the faith, they are drags. They are yokes. They are bondages. They are fetters. They are chains. They are manacles. “For where the Spirit of Christ is, there is liberty” [2 Corinthians 3:17]. And when we take our hearts and our minds away from Jesus, we immediately fall into a backslidden state.
I read this week a little Hindu evangelist that loved the name of Sammy; he went around with a big Bible under one arm, carrying a big umbrella above his head with his other hand. Well, the little Hindu evangelist was trotting down the road in India, and he passed by a British barrack where English soldiers were stationed. They were familiar with the little Hindu preacher, so as he trotted by with his big Bible and his big umbrella, why, one of the British soldiers hollered out and said, “Say, Sammy, how is Jesus Christ this morning?” And the little fellow stopped, drew himself up to his greatest height, looked reproach at the soldiers and answered and said, “I will answer you out of the Holy Book which came to us from your country.” And he turned to Hebrews 13:8 and read: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Then he trotted on up the road. That night, two of those British soldiers found the modest home of little Sammy, the Hindu evangelist, knocked at the door, and when the little fellow came to the door, the British soldier said, “Sammy, we are ashamed of ourselves. This morning we asked you about how Jesus Christ was. And you read to us out of the Holy Book: “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” [Hebrews 13:8]. They said, “Sammy, when we were back home we were Christians. And we served the Lord. We have fallen away. And, little Sammy, we have come to apologize and ask forgiveness for what we said this morning and want you to know that we are coming back. We are coming back into the love and service and ministry of our dear Lord.”
Always, it is revival. Always, it is true godly service when we keep our eyes upon Him, when we rejoice in Christ our Savior, when we are free from the fetters of a thousand observations, the following of prayer books and calendars and almanacs, the genuflections and the litanies of the ritual and the rites and the ceremonies that somehow attach themselves to the faith like barnacles. Ah, but we are free when we keep our hearts on Christ and our minds staid on Him. You would be amazed at some of the things that I think in my mind. You would be astonished at some of them.
Here is a good illustration of it. We have a tendency in the Baptist church to poke our finger at these ritualistic, liturgical services of other denominations. They follow a prayer book. They go through those same things year after year. And we have a tendency to poke our fingers at them. They are just rituals. They are just ceremonies, and they go over them again, and again, and again, and again.
Do you know what I think? I don’t ever say it; going to say it now for the first time in my life. We are exactly like them! If you do not believe it, you take the format of our public worship service. Year after year, I’m not talking about two Sundays, I’m talking about fifty-two Sundays in this current year, fifty-two in the year before, you go back, and at such and such spot, we do such and such thing, and in such and spot, we do the next thing, next thing, and next thing and right on down. I can close my eyes if I were in Afghanistan, and I would know exactly what the First Baptist Church is doing at such and such spot and at such and such time—over and over and over again. Well, how do you get away from it?
To show you how I don’t know how to get away from it, I have been doing the same thing in here in this pulpit for twenty-eight years. I don’t know how to get away from it. But I wish I did know! Oh, I wish that there was far greater freedom and liberty and the moving of the Spirit in our services than there is, but I don’t know how to achieve it. I just have never been able to arrive at it. But I hate to think forever that our worship of God is staid, that it is strait-jacketed, that it is held in some kind of a rigorous form and nobody would dare break it.
You know, sometimes I wish somebody would get up in the middle of the congregation and say, “Pastor, I don’t understand a word you are saying. What was that?” Well, you would think I would forget my sermon. No sir, because I don’t have them memorized. I just get up here and ask God to help me. You won’t bother me any time anybody for God’s sake—now, I am not asking you do that out of idiocy and inanity, don’t do it like that—but out of God’s sake, if the Holy Spirit were to move in the services and were to change the format, I would rejoice. I would thank God. I just would.
Well, I got off my sermon. Now, let me get back on it. O foolish Galatians, O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you? [Galatians 3:1] Ebaskanen: that means a sorcerer has somehow got them under a spell—ebaskanen, “bewitched” you, an evil eye has possessed you and pulled you away from the truth. Then he speaks of the truth. “Was it by the works of the law that you received the Spirit of God, or was it by the hearing of faith? [Galatians 3:2]. Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” [Galatians 3:6]. And as it is written in Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by faith” [Galatians 3:11]. “The just shall live by faith”—not by law, not by ritual, not by ceremony, not by calendar, not by almanac, not by genuflection, not by litany, not by feelings, not by speculation, not by philosophy, not by metaphysics [Galatians 3:12]. “The just shall live by faith!” Isn’t that a powerful, monosyllabic sentence? “The just shall live by faith!” [Galatians 3:11].
Monosyllables, every one of them—it is a creative and liberating sentence, like that fiat from God: “Let there be light” [Genesis 1:3]. Here is another monosyllabic like that: “The just shall live by faith.” Oh, what a resounding text that is from Habakkuk 2:4. When Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church, he uses it as a text in Romans 1:17. In the tenth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews [Hebrews 10:38], there the text is again, and here it is in the Book of Galatians [Galatians 3:11]. And as you know, it was the great text of the Reformation: “The just shall live by faith.”
The best way is for me to illustrate it in our lives. How many of us—how many of us could be said, we would make it read: “The just shall live by feelings, by our feelings”? When everything is calm, and smooth, and salubrious, and felicitous, and happy for me, then I know I am in the will and favor of God. I am really blessed. I belong to the family and the household of faith. Everything is going my way. I know I am saved. But when the way gets dark, and the winds are boisterous, and the waves are rolling high, and the night is black, and I cannot see the light and have hope, and the heavens are brass, and the clouds are lowering and everything is in despair, then God doesn’t love me anymore, and I’m not saved. I’m not really regenerated. I’m just lost. I’m just forgotten. The Lord doesn’t—He doesn’t even know I am here.
And we attach ourselves to God by our feelings. And we attach our salvation to our feelings. I’m saved if I feel that I’m saved. I’m in God’s good pleasure if everything is happy, but if it is not that way, then God has forsaken me and I’m not a child of His at all, and I have been forsaken, and forgotten. Let me tell you something. If you ever attach your salvation and if you ever attach your religion to your feelings, they will drag you to death! And it is a miserable kind of a way to live. It’s a dying life. It’s a hand-to-mouth sort of thing. It has no foundation in it. It has no substance in it. It has no assurance in it. Dear me, the basis of my salvation is not in me, it’s in God! [John 10:29]. And the foundation of my hope is not in me, it’s in Christ! [John 10:28]. Dear me, if my salvation is in me, and if it depends upon me, what shall I do? Faulty, and frail, and filled with mistake, and error, and sin, and finally in senility, or age, or weakness, or disease to die, what shall I do? Incapable, unable without strength, how can I save myself? And as long as I look for the basis of my salvation in myself and how I feel, I have no other destiny but one of abject, abysmal loss and despair. “God help me, and be merciful to me!” But that’s the way I am saved. “Lord, Lord, I cannot save myself. I am undone, I am weak. I face death! O God, be merciful to me!” That’s what saves me. It’s casting myself upon God, it’s looking to Christ. The salvation and the hope is in Him. It’s not in us. And when I do that, why, He says: “I will in no wise cast out those who come to Me, who cast themselves upon Me” [John 6:37]. “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:27-28]. Oh, I can wake up at two o’clock in the morning, at four o’clock in the morning, at twilight, or at dawn, or at the meridian strength of the sun, and the promise of Christ never changes. It is just the same. John 1:11: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name.” That doesn’t change. “Lord, I have trusted Thee. I do believe in Thee. My hope is in Thee.” And that’s what saves [Romans 10:13].
“O senseless, foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you,” that you should turn aside from the faith and hope in Christ and begin looking at yourself, how you feel. The just shall live by feelings? No. No. No, never, ever! Some of us would say the just shall live by speculation—speculation. Oh, what a frail, bruised reed to lean on! And what sand for foundation to build the house on [Matthew 7:24-27]. The just shall live by speculation, by philosophical metaphysics. By that I mean this: the Bible says thus and so very clearly—how I am to be saved. “The Bible speaks of repentance and it speaks of faith [Hebrews 6:1], and Christ, and the acceptance of the Lord [Acts 16:31]. I know that. But, this is the way I think about it. And this is the way I look at it.” And we live by speculation, human reasoning and philosophy. And to my great sorrow of sorrows, no small part, segment, of the churches of Christ in the earth have done just that. They have turned aside from the evangelization of the world and the presentation of the gospel, and they have given themselves to theological hairsplitting and all kinds of speculative, metaphysical delineation, and discussions, and declensions.
Ah, in the first Christian centuries when it looked as if the Christians were going to win the whole world to the faith, they turned aside and began infighting. One of them you remember, the Arian controversy between Arias and Athanasius; and Edward Gibbon facetiously, sarcastically said—and he was an infidel—”Arias said, Christ is homoiousios, and Athanasius said, Christ is homoousios.” And Edward Gibbon said, “They divided the entire civilized world over a Greek iota. Somebody came to me one time and said, “Well, well, do you think it is immaterial whether He was homoiousios—”of like substance”—or homoousios—”of the same substance?” I said, “Yes, it makes a difference. But the biggest difference is that when we get to looking at those things and start fighting one another, what happens to us is we forget the evangelization of the world, and that is exactly what happened to the Christian faith.”
After for three centuries they had literally won the civilized world; then they stopped there in the Greco-Roman Empire, and the great masses of the east, and of the west, and of the north, and the south, and Africa, and northern Europe, in India, in China, in Japan—all of them were forgot, and pretty well still are. The just shall live by speculation, by metaphysics, by philosophy? No! No!
I must conclude. The just shall live by prudence—prudence, by shrewdness, by smartness? The world says that is the way to get along. “You don’t need to pray. You don’t need God. You don’t need religion. You don’t need the church. You don’t need worship. All you need is shrewdness, and astuteness, and smartness, and you’ll get places in this world. The just shall live by prudence.” When I think of that, I think of Lot, whose herdsmen began to war with the herdsmen of Abraham, because the land was not able to contain their vast increasing herds and flocks. Abraham said to his nephew Lot; he said, “Lot, let there be no strive between thy people and my people, thy herdsmen and my herdsmen. The land is before for you. You choose what you think is best for you. And what is remaining to me, I shall accept as under God. You make the choice.” And Lot stood on the edge of the height of the mountain and looked at the well-watered plain that lay like an emerald carpet before him, and he looked upon the thriving, merchandizing, flourishing cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And he turned to his uncle, the old patriarch Abraham, and said: “If I have my choice, I will choose the well-watered plain and the teaming city life of Sodom and Gomorrah” [Genesis 13:10-11]. Shrewd? Yes. Smart? Yes. Wise in this world? Yes. Look at those plains with the flowing streams. Look at those fields so emerald. Look at those cities teaming with market possibilities—prudence. The just shall live by prudence, smartness. And Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom [Genesis 13:12]. They elected him mayor. He sat in the gate [Genesis 19:1]. He was prosperous—Lot, in Sodom!
Abraham, up there in those barren, rocky mountains; Abraham, walking with God [Hebrews 11:8-10], close to the heart of the Almighty; Abraham, believing, trusting, worshipping, loving, serving God [Galatians 3:6; Genesis 15:6], for the just shall live by trust, by faith [Galatians 3:11], by commitment, by prayer, by loving Jehovah Lord [Deuteronomy 6:5]. O, teach us, Master, Thy will and way—to love Thee, to trust Thee, to commit our way unto Thee [Psalm 37:5], asking God to bless us and to save us. If there are any rites, they are secondary; if there are any rituals, they are thirdary; if there are any ceremonies, they are fourthary; if there are any other laws to keep, they are sixthary. If there is anything else in religion it is seventhary, eighthary, or ninth, or no “-ary” at all. But the primary, the fundamental, the great commitment is our personal confrontation with God: keeping Him central, loving the Lord, worshipping Him, trusting Him [Jeremiah 9:23-24]. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” [Galatians 3:1]. Come back to the faith. Come back to Jesus, for the just shall live by their trust in God [Habakkuk 2:4; Galatians 3:11].
I so wanted us on television to see the people who respond in this service. Let us sing our hymn immediately. In the balcony, you; on the lower floor, you; going down a stairway, coming into this aisle, here to the front, “Pastor, today, I’m taking the Lord as my Savior. I’m giving my life to Him.” Or, “I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this church.” As the Christ from heaven shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. Do it now. On the first note of this first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.