Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
“Are you so foolish?” On the one hand, this seems like a slightly softer admonition than Galatians 3:1. Rather than accusing the Galatians of actually being fools, after laying out his initial argument regarding their own experiences, he offers them the sense that “Come on, this can’t be true, can it?” On the other hand, in the context of Paul as the master of the rhetorical question, its as if he’s saying, “You can’t be THAT stupid, can you?”
“After beginning with the Spirit” Paul never denies that the Galatians had an authentic relationship with Christ, or had not laid a proper foundation. I don’t think this was part of the Judaizing heresy either. Its all part of the subtle lie, both in terms of the issue of salvation-by-works and of the need for “ethnic purity.” You can be a Christian, but you’re not a true Christian, a “total” Christian, unless you achieve this objective moral perfection, or adapt to the proper ethnic culture. Both are lies, but very similar lies. They both involve a focus on people, rather than God, and an obsession with ourselves, rather than focusing on the RELATIONSHIP with God. But the subtle effectiveness is in the half-truth. The Judiazers accepted that the Galatians were indeed Christians, and on the right track. They just needed “more.”
“trying to attain your goal” This is more of the same sort of thing. The word for “goal” can also be translated as “perfection” – indeed, many other translations render it as “perfection.” Many cults, especially religions that are “Christianity Clones,” i.e. cults based on Christian concepts – have this as their central message. By obeying the rules, or gaining some sort of “secret knowledge,” one can reach perfection. The heretics here insisted that we are not complete Christians unless we followed the Jewish law. Traditional Jewish theology recognized that salvation was through grace (noting the great difficulty for anyone to achieve complete compliance with the law), -- but to reject the law? Discard it? Promote the concept that one need not follow it? To do so meant one was certainly lost. The ethnic implications are even more insidious. Under a works-based theology one rejects Christ on the cross. At the same time, to insist on embracing one form of ethnicity over another is to reject the work of Christ as Creator, for it is a rejection of who God made us to be. In either circumstance, there is a spirit of anti-Christ. For all you “Left Behind” fans, I’d be willing to bet that two of the things the Anti-Christ of the book of Revelation (the real one, not the fictional one in the novels) will do is establish a religion based on both obedience to a set of rules, AND conforming to a cultural norm.
“human effort” literally, in the Greek, it is the “flesh.” This is a common term in the New Testament that refers to our human nature in its unregenerate state. It would have been a “dirty word” to both the Jews and the Greeks in the Galatian cultural mix, for it implied weakness – moral weakness. It cannot be emphasized enough – trying to achieve oneness with God or entry into God’s kingdom via works or human effort (e.g. circumcision) or identifying with a particular cultural group is part of life in the “flesh.” This is, pure and simple, an indication of unregenerate weakness!