Passage: Galatians 3:1-9
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
In Galatians 3:1-9, Paul rebukes the Galatians sharply, because they had turned from a posture of faith (trusting dependence upon Christ), to trusting in their own record. Though they had “begun by the Spirit”, he says, they were now seeking to be “perfected by the flesh” (3:3), through their insistence on circumcision and the practice of Jewish rituals. All of this was a nullification of the gospel, and so Paul spends this passage describing the problem and reminding the Galatians of the way forward.
The problem was that the Galatians had fallen under a dangerous “bewitching” (3:1). Through their foolishness in seeking to establish their own record of religious performance, it was as if someone had put a spell on them, blinding them from seeing the sufficiency of Jesus, who was “publicly portrayed as crucified” for them (3:1). Paul pleads with the Galatians, then, questioning them persistently about their previous experiences in a desperate attempt to help them see that none of their Christian life—neither their conversion (“receiving the Spirit”), nor the subsequent work of God in their midst—was owing to their own performance, but was all due entirely to their trusting dependence on Christ (“faith”). “Why would it be any different now?”, so the argument goes—“Why would the Christian life now be about trusting in your own efforts?”
Though the details may look different, the temptation to trust in our own record, to look to something we’ve done to justify ourselves, is alive and well in us today. We live in a “prove yourself” culture, and we’ll look to just about anything—our family, our career, our parenting, our church involvement—to justify ourselves…before God, before others, even before our own selves. Any sphere of life, really, can become a performance arena. This mindset is ultimately enslaving, a turning away from the freedom we have in Christ. We would do well, therefore, to discern where we have fallen under the “bewitching” of self-reliance, and turn back to trusting Christ in this area.
But how do we do this? How do we get past this self-justifying mindset that so easily enslaves us and experience the life of freedom we were made for? Paul is very clear, here, that we are to continue in the Christian life in the same posture we had when we first “got in”—that is, we are to depend wholly upon Christ and his sufficiency daily. The way “in” to the Christian life—trusting reliance on Jesus—is also the way “onward” in the Christian life. The life of faith is a gift to be received every day.
Paul uses Abraham, “the man of faith”, as an example of this posture. If we, like Abraham, “believe God” (i.e. trust in him), we will be blessed as he was (3:7-9). God invites us into a life of reliance upon Jesus, each and every day. This is the life of freedom, and this is what Christianity is all about. Will you venture all upon him?
· A Dangerous Bewitching: The Life of Performance (3:1-6)
· A Beautiful Gift: The Life of Faith (3:7-9)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide:
Re-read the passage(s): Galatians 3:1-9
A Dangerous Bewitching: The Life of Performance (3:1-6)
1) Re-read Galatians 3:1-6 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:
· How would you describe Paul’s “tone” in this passage? Why?
· Why are the Galatians described as “foolish”?
· Why does Paul describe the Galatians as “bewitched” in verse 1? Why is this an apt metaphor for what had happened to them, and their current mindset?
· Paul asks the Galatians three questions in this passage:
o Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
o Did you suffer so many things in vain?
o Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
How is each of these questions uniquely meant to help the Galatians understand their own foolishness?
2) What does Paul mean when he tells the Galatians they are seeking to be “perfected by the flesh” (3:3)? How do we do this today?
3) The New Testament contains many moral exhortations. How can we tell when we’re obeying these exhortations out of an overflow of our trusting reliance on Christ (“faith”) and when we’re seeking to obey them in order to establish a record of our own performance (“works”)? What are some specific symptoms, or clues, that we’re operating out of one mindset or another?
4) In the sermon, Richard said that “almost any sphere of life can be a sphere for our performance…where we look to establish our own record”. What are some of the common areas of life where people today seek to establish and project their own record? What about for your personally?
5) In the sermon, Richard listed some helpful diagnostic signs that we might use to discern if and where we’re living out of a performance mindset. Which of the below do you notice in your own life, and why are these signs indicators of a performance mindset?
· When people point out a mistake or flaw in ourselves, we get defensive or prickly
· We are not close with many people, because we fear them finding out our weaknesses
· Our feelings about ourselves vary significantly based on the day’s successes or failures
· We struggle to forgive ourselves, even after others have forgiven us
· We avoid God devotionally, when we’re feeling ashamed about our spiritual life
· We avoid church involvement and relationships with other people, when we’re feeling ashamed about our spiritual life
A Beautiful Gift: The Life of Faith (3:7-9)
6) Re-read Galatians 3:7-9 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:
· Why does Paul say that the Scripture “preached the gospel beforehand” to Abraham? How is the promise that “in you shall all the nations be blessed” called a preaching of the gospel? And what point is he trying to make from the life of Abraham about relying on faith vs. works? (vs. 8)
· Why is Abraham called “the man of faith”? (vs. 9). Why is his life a particular example of trusting reliance upon God?
7) In the sermon, Richard said that “the way in is the way on”—that is, the way we get into the Christian life (through faith in Christ) is the same way we are to continue on in the Christian life. What is an area of your life where you need to trust in the sufficiency of Christ right now? What would this trust look like practically? What would change about this area of life if you did so?
8) CASE STUDY: You have a friend in your small group who consistently has an extremely critical spirit. When he talks about other Christians in your church, he is unsparing in pointing out their flaws. He is very self-critical as well. Finally, you decide to bring this up to him, gently describing what you’ve noticed, and asking if he sees it too. When you bring it up, however, your friend becomes defensive, and implies that you’re trying to “water down” the faith. “I know that it’s not about earning your salvation and all of that,” he says, “But God also calls us to certain standards. If I were God, I’d be embarrassed of (so-and-so)…and I’m not being judgmental, because if I were God, I’d be embarrassed of myself, too.” Based on this week’s passage and sermon in particular, how might you continue the conversation with your friend? What would you want to ask him? What would you want to tell him?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.