Breaking the Spell of Self-Confidence (Galatians 3:1-5)

Breaking the Spell of Self-Confidence

Stopping the drift toward error and stopping confidence in your own efforts,

by depending on the Holy Spirit–Galatians 3:1-5

You all remember your kids or grandkids boldly claiming, “I can do it!”, when in fact you know they can’t. “I can tie my shoe” . . . “I can jump from there” . . . “I can turn it on” . . . “I can help.” Later it’s, “I can drive the car” . . . “I can use the chain saw” . . . “I can cut the wire” . . . “I can do it!” Parents aware of their kids’ abilities will guide them–we want them to grow. We are okay that they learn from failure, as long as no harm or damage is at stake. We want them to become able and to gain confidence.

Sadly, it’s that very confidence that works against us in the Christian life. The same human pride that pushes us as kids to shout, “I can do it,” can keeps us from Christ and can hinder our growth in Christ. You see, we can’t justify ourselves and we can’t sanctify ourselves as believers. We come to Christ dependently and we grow in Christ dependently. As Christians, self-confidence must die and Christ-confidence must live.

This is the struggle the believers in the Galatian churches battled with. Right after Paul’s first missionary journey, these new churches, filled with new believers, were being tempted to embrace a salvation of self-confident works while rejecting the true salvation of Christ-confident grace. Almost immediately after Paul returned to his home church in Antioch, false teachers called Judiazers began to infiltrate these churches and teach these new converts that it was more spiritual and more accurate for them to follow the Jewish rules, eat Jewish food and follow Jewish practices, instead of having confident faith in Christ alone by grace alone.

They were teaching these new churches filled with baby believers, almost believers and some make believers they needed to become Jews in order to be real Christians. They did this by exalting the Jewish practices and undermining Paul’s authority as an apostle. Paul is shocked by their quick desertion from the truth, so in a very personal biographical way, in chapters 1 to 2, Paul proves he is a genuine apostle of the one true Gospel–given directly from God, the good news that salvation is provided through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. Paul teaches all your confidence is in Christ and what He has done–and none of it is dependent on you.

This is a serious issue–you can make a lot of mistakes in life and still be a Christian, but you can’t turn away from the grace of the Gospel, because that spiritual treason will result in your eternal damnation. This is a mistake you cannot make. You cannot move from Christ-confidence to self-confidence in regard to your salvation. If you can be justified by works in any way, then Christ died for nothing.

So today, as we open chapters 3 to 4, Paul gives a powerful defense of the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Today in Galatians 3:1 to 5, Paul will defend justification by grace from personal experience. Then in coming weeks, from biblical doctrine. In chapter 3:1 to 5, the apostle reminds his readers that your experience of the Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit, and of God the Father is a certain evidence of having been graciously made acceptable to God through personal faith in the perfect, complete work of Christ, apart from any human effort, any rule-keeping, or any religious action.

Although experience is not an entirely reliable evidence of spiritual reality, it is nevertheless a powerful apologetic when understood through the lens of biblical truth. Because genuine Christian experience verifies the Gospel of grace, the inspired apostle in verses 1 to 5 was led by the Holy Spirit to use experience as an effective evidence for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. This is an important passage for you today.

We all tend to drift, and the biggest drift is to trust in our efforts–to move from Christ-confidence to self-confidence. There are some who deceptively trust in their own efforts to become Christians. But born again believers also drift into a life of trying to earn a salvation they already have. Many of us start relying on our performance to be right with God instead of Christ’s work. And true saints definitely drift into depending on themselves in ministry and not the Holy Spirit. You and I need to break the drift toward self-confidence to Spirit-confidence. How does Paul say it? Read aloud with me Galatians 3:1 to 5.

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:1 to 5). How do we do it? How do we break our reliance upon self and trust Christ? You will stop trusting in yourself when you . . .

#1  Grow CONFIDENT in the Crucifixion of Christ for you

Verse 1, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” “You foolish Galatians”–this refers not to lack of intelligence, but to lack of obedience. The Galatians are not mentally deficient–they are mentally lazy and emotionally careless. They have the wrong attitude of heart and are manifesting a shameful lack of faith. All of us have been foolish. To stop this trend in your life, each day make certain your heart is obedient to Christ’s Word, dependent upon His Holy Spirit and humble before your Father. Don’t be like the Galatians.

Paul expresses his outrage at the Galatians’ defection. Calvin said, “For when we hear that the Son of God, with all His blessings, is rejected and that His death is esteemed as nothing, what godly mind will not break out into indignation? As far as Paul was able to tell, the Galatians were guilty of sheer spiritual stupidity.” So Paul asks, ‘Who has bewitched you?” The Galatians were behaving so foolishly that the apostle suspected some kind of witchcraft. “Bewitched you” means to charm, to fascinate, to mislead, to flatter, to make false promises. The Greek term literally means  to cast a spell over, to hold someone spellbound–it’s as if a sorcerer had cast an evil spell on them, or as if a magician had them under his hypnotic influence.

Who has bewitched you?” The “who . . . ?” Is not the rock band, but the Judaizers–those Jewish false teachers from Jerusalem who were plaguing the Galatian churches. So, bewitched describes how the Galatians were being charmed by the Judaizers. They were buying into doctrinal error–into salvation by Judaism instead of salvation by Jesus. They are embracing self-righteousness, instead of righteousness by faith.

Doctrinal error has two primary sources—1) human ignorance, and 2) demonic malice. The church in Galatia faced both problems. The Galatians themselves were foolish to abandon the Gospel. But they were doing so because they were under spiritual attack. Even to this day, theological nonsense always comes from the same two sources. One of my God-ordained missions is to get you ready for future attack. I am laboring to teach you how to recognize error–for the next attack I have been giving you filters for discerning error. Are you paying attention?

Any teaching that adds anything to grace, Jesus or the Gospel is heresy. Anytime one attribute of God is elevated above all His other attributes leads to heresy. Any time God is not totally sovereign and you are not totally responsible leads to heresy. Any time preference is made into a principle–that’s either compromise or leads to heresy. Determining theology by reading books and blogs instead of years of verse by verse study is scary and can lead to heresy.

The Galatians were being wooed by the spiritual-feel of a works religion, over a faith in the work of Christ crucified, received by grace, in relationship. Read verse 1b, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Portrayed comes from the world of advertising. The Greeks, used this word to refer to a public notice posted to show that a property was up for sale.

Paul didn’t use a flannelgraph or sketchpad or an ad agency. A picture is worth a thousand words–and here, a thousand words in proclamation painted a clear picture of Christ. Christ and His work were painted before their eyes in unforgettable words, in the open market and in people’s homes. From Paul, they saw Christ and saw His work in providing a salvation by God’s loving grace. Before their eyes, through the proclaimed Word, the crucified Christ was graphically and publicly displayed like a giant placard, as if on a giant billboard or a large canvas.

This is what Paul did–he talked about Christ, Paul preached. First Corinthians 1:18, “the word of the cross.” First Corinthians 1:23, “we preach Christ crucified.” First Corinthians 2:2, Paul “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” It is significant that in verse 1, Paul speaks of the crucifixion in the perfect tense—”portrayed as crucified?” is literally, as having been crucified. The perfect tense means past completed action, with present abiding results in the present, telling you Christ was historically crucified in the past as a fact, but the effects/results of that crucifixion long ago are ongoing to this day.

Jesus was crucified on a particular day, by particular men, outside a specific city, on a particular tree. The crucifixion was a factual event in human history. On the cross, Jesus gave his life as the once-and-for-all atonement for sin. According to God’s strict standard of justice, sin demanded the death penalty, which Jesus paid. By God’s mercy, the sacrifice Jesus made was accepted as the full price for sin. This is what it means to portray Jesus Christ as crucified.

But there is more–God proved He accepted the sacrifice Jesus made by raising Him from the dead. Therefore, to preach Christ, verse 1, “having been crucified”, is not simply to preach the cross–it is also to preach Christ risen, since He is alive today. Jesus is no longer on the cross. At this very moment, He is a risen and living Savior who is able to grant forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. This forgiveness goes all the way back to the cross–a past event, with a present abiding impact on you.

So here in verse 1, Paul was upset with the Galatians because they were forgetting all of this. Paul had taught them Jesus Christ crucified. But then some other teachers had come along to write some graffiti on his billboard. Unwilling to accept salvation in Christ alone, they wanted to add their own finishing touches to the work of Christ. Spray paint over Jesus Christ crucified, salvation by grace, God accepts you. Spray keep the law, get circumcised, only eat kosher. What the Galatians needed was a reminder that on the cross Jesus did everything necessary for their salvation. His cross is the all-sufficient atonement for sin. Thus our faith in Christ is the only and all-sufficient way to be justified before God.

Don’t be relying on what you can do, but what Christ has done. Don’t add anything to the work of Christ–otherwise it makes the crucifixion unnecessary. And it is utter folly to try to get God to accept us by keeping His law. The only way to be justified, forgiven, made right is by grace through faith alone. Put no confidence in yourself–the cross reminds you, you cannot save yourself. Jesus’ death was necessary because your sin had to be paid for by the only perfect One. You will stop trusting in yourself when you . . .

#2  Trust in DEPENDENCE upon the Holy Spirit  Verses 2 to 4

Deep down, the Galatians knew they were justified by faith alone, for this is how they came to Christ in the first place. In order to stop them from going back to the Law, Paul reminds them of their personal spiritual experience. Read verses 2 through 4. “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  4Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain?

I love the person of the Holy Spirit–the third person of the Trinity. He is not a force, He is a person. He doesn’t come in doses, or portions or partially–He is a person. And as verse 2 implies, the moment you are truly saved, you are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. God lives in and through you by the Holy Spirit, and all Christians are indwelt. Romans 8:9b, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”

There is one God, who exists in three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is involved in the salvation of the sinner. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the sinner, and now the Father and the Son send the Spirit to convert the sinner. The Galatians knew of the regenerating power of the Spirit. They had received His spiritual gifts and displayed His love, peace, patience, kind fruit. The Holy Spirit even worked miracles among them through His chosen apostles.

Having had all these memorable experiences, the Galatians could never forget what the Holy Spirit had done in their churches. They had irrefutable evidence of His work and His presence. And each one of you at FBC know this as well. All things become new as a Christian, but even though you’ve been given a new nature, you’re still incapable of living the Christian life or even glorifying God. Only God can glorify God, and only Christ can live the Christian life–and they do that through you by the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit of God who regenerates you in salvation. And it is the Spirit of God who matures you in sanctification–which is what Paul affirms starting in verse 2.

First  Depend on the Spirit in JUSTIFICATION

Verse 2, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Did you receive the Spirit by your efforts? or God’s gift? The answer is a no-brainer. It wasn’t the works of the Law, but it was by hearing with faith. The Galatians had received the Spirit when they were saved. It was not through keeping the Law, but through saving faith granted when hearing the Gospel, just like Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

Paul here is appealing to the experience of the Galatians’ own salvation to refute the Judaizers’ false teaching that keeping the law is necessary for salvation. Think about what the false teachers were offering–what were they actually saying? If the Spirit comes by working the Law, then there’s something I must do to get the Spirit. If I follow the regulations of the Old Testament Law, then God will give me His Spirit. Thus Judaizers teach, the blessing of the Holy Spirit is God’s reward for my spiritual achievements.

Will you admit that each of us love to take credit for our spiritual lives? To do it ourselves left to ourselves, we want some method that will guarantee a sweet spiritual experience. Show us where the button of obedience is so we can press it and get the religious cheese. But our God is not a mechanism. The only way to know Him is by entering into a trusting relationship with Him. So the indwelling presence of his Spirit comes by faith alone.

And to the shock of some, it is the Spirit who indwells us first at salvation, giving us the ability to respond in faith in Christ. He regenerates us, makes us alive, so we can see Christ, our need of the cross for our sin–then turn in repentance and depend on Him by faith. You were able to respond to Christ because of the Holy Spirit. Dead people don’t choose to be resurrected, you need to be made alive to turn to Christ. The Galatians received the Spirit by hearing with faith. Or as the NIV makes clear, they received the Spirit “by believing what [they] heard”–namely, the Law-free Gospel of the crucified Christ. Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.

The Spirit’s work is not a reward based on a person’s own spiritual achievement–the Spirit is the gift granted to those who believe in Christ’s achievement. Paul reminds the Galatians in verse 5–the Father gives the Spirit, you don’t determine it. There is no second blessing for Christians, since without the Spirit you’re not a Christian. The Spirit is a person and doesn’t come in parts or doses–He has you, or you don’t have Him. But the gift of the Spirit is received by the same faith that lays hold of Christ.

The works, gifts, and fruit of the Holy Spirit belong to the very beginning of the Christian life, making your entire Christian life to be lived in the Spirit. And remember, if your Gospel is wrong, you can’t be saved and you don’t get the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of truth only responds to truth. The Spirit empowers sound doctrine, not error. A church that does not have sound doctrine does not experience the true blessing of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit must justify you, leading to . . .

Second  Depend on the Spirit in SANCTIFICATION

Verse 3, Are you so foolish? Their father in the faith again is stunned at how easily the Galatians had been duped. So he asks them another pointed rhetorical question—”Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Verse 2, you were saved by the Spirit of God. So now verse 3, you think you will be sanctified by your own efforts? It was the Spirit who saved you, so now you think you will be sanctified by yourself? Wake up!

The Christian life finishes exactly the way it starts–by the Holy Spirit! The way into the Christian life is also the way on in the Christian life. “Are you so foolish?” In the NIV, Paul asks in verse 3, “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Or more literally, by the flesh. So Paul’s question is this—”Are you trying to be perfected by your own sinful efforts? The Judaizers were teaching that your weak fallen human nature–your flesh, meaning your strength here, can improve on the perfect saving and sanctifying work of the Spirit.

John Stott summarizes their theology as follows: “They did not deny that you must believe in Jesus for salvation, but they stressed that you must be circumcised and keep the law as well. In other words, you must let Moses finish what Christ has begun. Or rather, you yourself must finish, by your obedience to the law, what Christ has begun. You must add your works to the work of Christ. You must finish Christ’s unfinished work.”

Heresy! There is never any need to re-finish the finished work of Christ. In fact, trying to do so will ruin Christ’s priceless work altogether. Adding to grace ruins grace. It’s like retracing Babe Ruth’s signature, on a baseball. Rather than adding to its value, tracing over his signature completely destroys its value. Adding to grace ruins grace.

Paul understood that only God can complete what God has begun, so that the completion must come by faith rather than by works. God has to do it. Paul said as much to the Philippians, using exactly the same word to say it. In verse 3, “perfected” means completion. Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect [complete] it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Since God alone will complete His work in us by faith, it is sheer folly to try to earn it in any way, even living good by the Law. Even Jesus warned in Matthew 26:41b, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The death of self-confidence comes as you realize you’re completely dependent upon God for salvation and sanctification.

Third  Recall the Spirit’s PROVISION as a believer

The English translation of verse 4 is not the best. Verse 4 says, “Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” “Suffered” has the basic meaning of experienced, and does not necessarily imply pain or hardship. Paul used it to describe the Galatians’ personal experience of salvation in Christ.

In verse 4, “so many things” refers to all the blessings of salvation from God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. So Paul is reminding the Galatians here about all the incredible blessings they’ve experienced now that they are born again in Christ. Paul asks, did all those blessings happen to you in vain–meaning to no end, or for no reason? The second you were saved, you realized over sixty separate blessings. Here are a few . . .

• Election: God chose you as His children

• Predestination: God decided your eternity

• Foreknowledge: God predetermined a love relationship with you

• Calling: God awakened you to receive His mercy

• Propitiation: God moves you out from under His wrath to under His mercy

• Reconciliation: God changes you from His enemy to now make you His friend

• Redemption: you are purchased out of slavery to sin to freedom in Christ

• Regeneration: you are rescued from death to be given eternal life forever

• Justification: you are declared forgiven of your sin now innocent before a holy God

• Adoption: you are given a new family–from a murderous liar to a loving Abba

• Sanctification: you are no longer owned by Satan but now owned by God

• Security: you are protected from eternal danger now being eternally safe

• Glorification: instead of eternal punishment you now have eternal perfection

I hope you know these two 1:3 verses. Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” And 2 Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

With all the spiritual blessings the Galatians had enjoyed and all they had experienced, they had seen the Holy Spirit do gracious, life transforming, providential work. They even saw miraculous works among them through the apostles. So Paul asks them pointedly, “Has it all been in vain? So many things in vain (for no reason)?” Paul sincerely hopes not. In fact, his words at the end of verse 4—“if indeed it was in vain” are hopeful. Perhaps all is not yet lost. You can return to simple faith in Christ and simple reliance upon the Spirit–without the Law, without traditions or circumcision. In fact . . .

#3  Believe in the POWERFUL provision of the Father for you  Verse 5

Look carefully at verse 5, at the One who provides you with the Spirit. Verse 5, “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Just before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus commanded the disciples in Acts 1:4 not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised–through the Son, the Father had promised to give. Luke 11:13, “And when He, the Spirit of truth, comes.” Jesus explained on another occasion in John 16:13, “He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.”

So God provides the Holy Spirit. in Galatians 3:5, “He who provides you with the Spirit.” Provides means to supply abundantly and with great generosity. The Greek provides was used of patrons of the arts who underwrote productions of Greek plays and of patriotic citizens who gave of their wealth to help support their country’s army or government or to build city streets. Erasmus–it was also used of a groom’s vow to love and care for his bride. All Godly husbands provide for their brides.

In His superabundant generosity to His children, God provides you with the Spirit. Then Paul adds, “God works miracles among them.” What is that? “Miracles” describes inherent power or ability. Paul may be describing miraculous events God accomplished through the apostle, or Paul may have been describing the spiritual power over Satan, sin, the world, the flesh, and human weakness that the Father bestows on His children through His Spirit.

I believe the best view is not miracles, but power–why? Paul’s preaching in Corinth was 1 Corinthians 2:4, “In demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (same word as miracle here). In Ephesian 3:20, God “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” In each of those passages, the same word “works miracles” from verse 5 here, is used as power to describe the Father’s divine gift, His divine power given to His children. God has given you all the power you need to live for Him.

Put this entire passage together, and you have a powerful argument against self-sufficiency and for God dependency. If a person has received eternal salvation through trust in the crucified Christ, receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit the same moment he believed. And now, as a born again believer, has the Father’s Spirit-endowed power working within him. How could he hope to enhance, add to, or improve God’s sufficient and complete power from his own insignificant human resources–by some effort, some behavior or action?

Turn from all actions of self-dependency and self-confidence and trust only in your loving Father, His gracious Son and all-powerful Spirit for all you need in the Christian life.


A  Living in Christ is a life of FAITH

New life in Christ begins with faith, continues by faith, and will be completed through faith. The Gospel is for Christians, just as much as it is for non-Christians. We never advance beyond the good news of the cross and the empty tomb. There is nothing else to add to faith as the ground of our salvation, because faith unites us to Jesus Christ.

Works have no part in establishing the basis for our salvation, but are added to faith in much the same way that a building rests and rises upon its foundation. But the foundation is always faith by grace in Christ. There is no such thing as performance-based Christianity. Having begun by faith, we must continue by faith.

Justification is a doctrine for the whole Christian life, from start to finish. It is not simply a doctrine for coming to Christ in the first place, although we are justified the moment we trust in Christ. We come to Christ by faith for salvation. And we live by faith in sanctification. And we die by faith in our future with Christ in glorification.

B  Living in Christ, is a life of DEPENDENCE upon the Holy Spirit

Make a habit, before you minister, before your CG, before worshipping the Lord,  before discipleship with a student, before you set up, take down, greet folks, usher, before you preach in the jail, before you teach your Bible study–say, “Lord, I can’t do this, but you can through me.”

Ephesians 5:18, seek to be filled with the Spirit and not in the flesh. Filled means controlled, led, directed, and empowered by being saturated in the Word–obedient to the Word, dependently reliant on the Spirit, confessing all known sin, with a desire to please Christ, serve Him and share Him with others.

C  Living in Christ, is a life of COMFORT by the Holy Spirit

There are days in the life of every Christian when the whole thing seems implausible. Is it true that God loves me? Does He really care about me? When the doubts come, you go back to the cross where Christ died to justify sinners and hold on to it by faith alone.

Sometimes life gets so gloomy and hopeless, we wonder how we’ll make it through another day. But this is exactly why we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. As we get out of bed we say, “I know what my real problem is–I am a sinner living in a sinful world.” Then as we step into the shower we say, “Although I am a great sinner, I have an even greater Savior, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” By breakfast time, you’ll be able to make it through another day, trusting in God’s grace alone. As you lose your self-confidence and grow in Christ-confidence, you’ll know His comfort.

D  Living in Christ only comes as you DIE to self, and live to Christ

Jesus said it plainly in Mark 8:34b, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” No matter who you are this morning, stop trying to perform for Christ. If you are His child, Christ has forgiven you of all your sins, past, present and future. And God loves you as much as His own Son.

“But,” you say, “I still battle with sin; I hate my sin”—and you should. But that sin has been paid for by the precious blood of Christ. The only time you should be concerned is when your sin is defiant or ongoing, unrepentant. Seek to remain relationally close to Christ through confession, repentance and the help of believers.

If you are a visitor, Christ is the only way you will ever be made right with God. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Stop relying on yourself, religion, good works, being nice. Cry out to Christ to open your heart so you can turn from your sin in repentance and put your faith in Christ. Then you can be forgiven, cleansed and made new today.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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