If Paul were alive today, he would certainly ask this question to the modern church. This question points directly at the heart of our beliefs. Will we place our faith in institutional religion or the inner experience of the gospel?
There are two operating systems: externals and internals.
Throughout this series I’ve shown that the gospel is the message that God has put things right (justified) between all humanity and all creation to God. Secondly, this message is hard to believe if you are a not a religions person and even harder to believe if you are.
If true, the gospel sets into motion a new framework (an open floor plan) for understanding our spirituality and practice.Faith is not a product of religion, nor is it a theological construct, nor an attestation to a set of creeds, nor perfect compliance to religious laws or rules. Faith is inner awareness, its waking up to realize that the Devine resides within us all. Twice Paul calls this “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2,4). Faith is a higher consciousness that something beyond ourselves, a presence (Spirit), is always with us, always available, and always inviting us deeper into discovery.
Religions have faith at their center, but too often obscure it by pomp, ritual, performance art, activity, politics, rule keeping, and comparing. In Galatia, the church the was free from the religious requirements of Judaism to experience God in new ways. Paul reframed Judaism by showing that Abraham was actually the father of this inclusive gospel message, not the father of a religion. This was an absolute scandal in the eyes of religion both then and today, especially given that three main religions now descend from Abraham.
The Galatian church had Jewish people who just couldn’t accept the width and inclusion of the gospel on its own terms. These people were insisting on adding the requirements of circumcision, or abstaining from foods. They couldn’t escape the religious mindset of being set apart or separated from all others by external displays. Religious law made them feel superior to others. They saw themselves as more “holy” (set apart).
We still see this in all world religions today.
The modern evangelical gospel now has countless addendum over which the church continually argues. Thousands of denominations later, and Christianity has become its own religion with untold rules, purity codes, theologies, and conversion strategies. It’s become not only a competitive world religion but its own sub-culture that plays Red-Rover with the city. It’s reverted back to transaction rather than transformation. It’s subtext is still “holier than thou.”
Paul would ask: “Who Bewitched You?” Who asked us to create an elaborate prison when the founding message was to open the prison doors and liberate the captive (Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18)? Who convinced us that we needed to create a system to separate innies from outies when the founding message was that there was no more dividing wall of hostility (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:14)? Who convinced us that the blessings of God are only for a small new religion, when the message predates religion (Galatians 3:17)? Who has bewitched us today?
Two-thousand years later and anyone who desires to return to the simplicity and authenticity of the globally inclusive gospel message is now a heretic, a enemy of the church, or a dissenter. No religion will ever offer the freedom of the gospel. Religion has become a propaganda machine with fewer and fewer adherents that are conscious of its core liberating message. Religion fears that if too many people believe the gospel and shed off the man-made constraints and measuring system, then it will lose institutional power and its control-they’re right.
Paul’s message was and is this: “The righteous shall live by faith.” The gospel framework is based on inner experience, not external compliance. Those whose consciousness allows them to see that something beyond themselves (Spirit) has taken up residence within themselves shall live by simply believing it. No person is justified by God through works of the law (v.11). A Christ follower is not better than others, but is marked by freedom, not labels or claims. As such it is the person of faith who should have the “enviable” life. Faith turns “have to’s” into “get to’s.”
Paul explains that we can’t just ignore the law, it must be satisfied/fulfilled or we all must suffer under it. He points out how Jesus suffered the condemnation of the law to free us from its obligations. Scripture says he became the curse that was due to all law breakers (v.13) for our unbelief. This abolished the law (Ephesians 2:15), ritual, and religion for all of humanity, allowing all people (even non Abrahamic descendants) to receive the promised blessing of Abraham. Every law has been subverted by the law of love. This changes our practice.
Paul has to explain this so that his Jewish audience can accept his Gentile (non-Jewish) audience as equal beneficiaries without sharing their religion. Paul’s teaching is that each person should be convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5) and their faith should be kept between themselves and God (v.22). Now that is liberation. This is equality. We don’t need institutional control, governance, or regulation. We don’t need the guardian (Galatians 3:24), nor a king to rule over us (1 Samuel 8:6). Instead we are free to gather and celebrate the diversity of experience and the extent of liberation made possible by the gospel. Life is the new practice.
All experiences of faith are equally valid though varied. No two people could possibly have the same experience. We each refract a unique prism of God’s light. Through faith, every person is an “heir”, not a stranger, but a child of God. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that in Christ we aren’t even male or female, slave or free, we are all one and the same (Ephesians 3:28). Modern Christianity claims this is only for those who convert to the Christian religion, but in light of Pauls Gospel, this is untenable. Excluding some from this blessing, is exactly what Paul is warning against. “Who has bewitched you? Who hindered you?”
Is freedom what you see at your temple, mosque or church? Is faith free or is it a strictly defined commodity of institutional power? Is it a closed system of innies and outies? If so, then who is bewitching you?