One of the best methods of learning is through question and answer (socratic dialogue). It places the onus on the student to critically think through possible answers and content. In one sense it helps guarantee a thoughtful response and keeps the attention of the students. I do think this is a biblical method of learning since the Lord Jesus Christ Himself used the method (Matt 21:24ff.; Mk 11:29). Even throughout church history the church has passed down doctrine through question and answer by various catechisms.
Paul also employs this biblical method when writing to the churches in Galatia. Immediately after calling the Galatians “foolish” for being tempted to leave the faith Paul employs this question and answer format to get their minds moving out of their state of foolishness.
Paul asked these five questions that were intended to wake the Galatian churches out from their spiritual slumber. These questions are intended to give the readers a fresh understanding of their salvation and hope in Christ and the joys of being justified by faith. Perhaps you too need to ask yourselves the following five questions:
- ” . . . before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” In other words, “was not the gospel message a public spectacle?” He guards the Galatians from thinking that the life and work of Jesus was some sort of conspiracy theory. Christ’s death upon the cross was not a secret and is intended to be proclaimed. When in a state of spiritual slumber the believer should be reminded of the historical/factual and theological truths accomplished by Jesus on the cross.
- “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Is your salvation the result of your works or God’s work? Remember, your faith is the result of God bringing the gospel to your life. When in a state of spiritual slumber believers should remember that God gracious granted the saint new life by His choosing and not by our works.
- “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Believers often reminisce about their conversion experience. In this question Paul asks whether or not the Galatian saints expect to grow in sanctification apart from the same work of the Spirit. When in a state of spiritual slumber believers should remember that the new life they have in Christ continues to be empowered by God.
- “Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” Paul reminds them that their perseverance in the faith thus far would be in vain if they walked away from the faith. He does not accuse the Galatians of apostasy but hints that they are flirting with doctrines that lead to apostasy. If they had defected from the Gospel then Paul is saying that all of their previous Christian experience would be null and void. The reason for their suffering was specifically because of their belief in justification by faith. When in a state of spiritual slumber believers should dwell upon God’s past work and faithfulness to progressively sanctify the individual as motivation to persevere.
- ” . . . 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?” The Galatians should have known that the only explanation of the Holy Spirit’s presence among them as a believing community was the result of the Gospel and not of the Law. The Gospel of grace causes believers to live as Spirit filled saints. They are able to live out the Christian faith and mutually benefit from the Spirit’s work in each individual’s life. When in a state of spiritual slumber believers should recognize how the presence of the Spirit brings encouragement to self and to others in the believing community; to remain in spiritual slumber robs believers of being edified by the work of the Spirit.
Lastly, the overwhelming push in these five verses is to remind the believers of the results of justification by faith in Christ. He is calling them to remember the implications that the Gospel has in their everyday lives. The message that one is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not merely theoretical, but was true in doctrine and experience.
Beloved, I pray that you too are not in a state of spiritual slumber like that of the Galatian churches. If so, please take some time to meditate and think upon Paul’s questions and apply them to your own life!