You're probably wondering, What is a religious magician? A religious magician is a so-called Bible teacher or preacher who, with slight of tongue and misuse of Scripture, cleverly makes the finished work of Jesus on the cross disappear and makes the religious works of man appear, causing people to lose the joy of grace and return to the misery of guilt. Beware of these religious magicians disguising themselves as "Bible teachers"!
These types of religious magicians, these "Bible teachers" are nothing new. They existed in the Bible in the early days of Christianity, and they still exist today. Paul talks about these religious magicians in his letter to the Galatians:
Who has bewitched you?
Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
The word bewitched in this verse means to perform a magic trick so that someone is left awed by the magician's slight of hand. Those witnessing the magic trick are awed because the magician made something disappear right before their very eyes and made something else appear in its place. Moments before the disappearing act, those witnessing the magic trick clearly saw before their very eyes what had now disappeared, and were now looking in amazement at what had appeared in its place. They are left spellbound, asking themselves, "What happened to what has now disappeared? Where did it go? How did something appear in its place?"
This is what was happening in Paul's letter to the Galatians. The religious magicians, through slight of tongue in "teaching" the word of God, made the good news of God's grace disappear before the very eyes of the Galatian people, and made the law appear before them in its place. Yet, to Paul's astonishment, the Galatian people weren't asking, "What happened to grace?" This is because they were in awe of the law the religious magicians had made appear in the place of grace. Paul was the one asking, "What happened to grace?"
Asking the question, "What happened to grace?" was the very reason Paul wrote his letter to the Galatian people. This is the question the Galatian people should have been asking the religious magicians. Paul in his letter asks and answers the question for them.
A little background...
In Acts 14:1-20, Paul had gone into the cities of the province of Galatia to share the good news about God's grace and to establish grace-based churches built on the foundation of grace. These cites were Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. The message he shared in these cities was the same message he shared in all the cities he went into...the good news of God's grace:
I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if I only may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
When Paul went into cities to share grace and start churches based upon grace, he carried with him the message the resurrected and ascended Jesus gave him to share, the good news of the message of grace. What is this good news? The good news of grace is that God loves people and, through Jesus, made it possible for the people of the world to be in a love-relationship with himself by having Jesus die for all our sins. Because our sins were counted against Jesus, God is not counting our sins against us. Not only is God not counting our sins against us, but he has made it possible for us to stand before him as righteous people, even though our lives have been filled with unrighteous acts. Jesus took all our sins, all our unrighteousness upon himself when he was crucified, and by faith we receive God's forgiveness of all our sins and are declared by God to be righteous. All of this is by grace. Take a look at the follow verses:
All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself in Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God...we urge you not to receive [hear about]God's grace in vain [to hear about and not place your faith in Jesus and experience God's forgiveness and begin a love relationship with God].
2 Corinthians 5:18-6:1
But now a righteousness from God apart from the law, has been made known. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ...This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.
But God demonstrates his own love toward in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The message Jesus gave Paul was a simple message of grace: We have all sinned. The penalty for sins is death. Jesus, through love, died for all our sins when he was crucified. In dying for all our sins, they were all counted against Jesus. He took the complete punishment for all of our sins. Through faith in Jesus for the payment of our sins, we experience his forgiveness, we are declared to be righteous or not guilty by God, and begin a love-relationship with God through the resurrection of Jesus.
Simply put, we are accepted and forgiven by God through faith in Jesus and are in a love relationship with him.
This is the message of grace Paul brought into the Galatian province:
So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there speaking boldly for the Lord who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do
miraculous signs and wonders.
After sharing the good news of God's grace, Paul established grace-based churches in these cities (Galatians 1:2). Eventually, Paul left these cities and carried the message of grace as an ambassador of Jesus into other cities. Whenever Paul left cities he had established a grace-based churches in, it wouldn't be long before those who opposed his message of grace, the religious magicians, would infiltrate those churches, set up their religious magic show, and perform their religious magic tricks...making grace disappear and making a religious system appear in its place.
That is what happened in the Galatian churches.
The spell-bounding magic trick these religious magicians were performing before the people of Galatia was this: Grace is not enough. Jesus did not do enough through his crucifixion to bring you complete forgiveness of sins and make you righteous before God. Along with faith in Jesus, you must faithfully and obediently follow our religious system...the Law of Moses.
While these religious magicians trick fascinated the people of Galatia, they infuriated Paul. The people captivated by these religious magicians were the very ones with whom Paul shared the good news of grace prior to these religious magicians arrival in Galatia to set up their religious magic show. Paul taught them Jesus' death was enough...grace was enough to bring them complete forgiveness and make them totally righteous in the eyes of God. Now, these very same people, once captivated by grace, had become fascinated with trying to gain God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance through the religious system of these religious magicians.
So Paul writes his letter.
In Galatians chapter one, Paul tells the churches he is astonished that they have so quickly abandoned him and the message of grace by turning to the religious system of these religious magicians to gain God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance. He accused these religious magicians of perverting the good news of grace by adding the requirements of their religious system to it. By doing this, Paul said they were creating a entirely different gospel, which was no gospel at all.
Paul goes on to say twice in chapter one that if anyone comes into the Galatian churches, even if it is an angel from heaven, and preaches a gospel other than the gospel of grace Paul preached to them, then those "preachers of the gospel" are to be eternally condemned.
Paul shared that the gospel of grace he communicated was not a message he invented or was instructed in by any one else. No, his message of grace was given to him by revelation from the ascended Jesus Christ. Paul said this message of grace given to him by Jesus was the only message that should be preached and they should not accept any other message. The only message they should accept is the truth of grace...Jesus' crucifixion is enough...grace is enough! (Galatians 1:11-12)
Before these religious magicians came to Galatia, the people had a great love for Paul. They treated him with the same respect they would have treated Jesus. They took care of him in an illness (Galatians 4:12-15). There was a real bond of grace between Paul and the people of Galatia.
Paul remembered back in the early days of sharing the good news of grace with them. They had such joy produced by knowing they were unconditionally loved, fully forgiven, and totally accepted in the sight of God through faith in Jesus. But now their joy (happiness) had disappeared (Galatians 4:15). The reason their joy disappeared was because grace had disappeared at the magic show of the religious magicians. And when grace disappears...joy disappears.
The goal of these religious magicians was to win the people of Galatia over to their religious system and remove the good news of grace from them. This pained Paul greatly and perplexed him enormously (Galatians 4:17-20).
Paul told them in Galatians 2:21 that he did not set aside the grace of God. By this he meant the crucifixion of Christ is the only way to be forgiven and accepted by God, or to be righteous before him. He said if righteousness, or forgiveness and acceptance with God, could be gained through their obedience to the Law of Moses, then the death of Jesus was meaningless!
He told them that if they tried to gain acceptance with God through the religious system of the religious magicians then they would fall from grace, completely alienating themselves from Jesus (Galatians 5:4).
So we come back to Galatians 3. Paul opens up this chapter by saying, "You foolish Galatians!" He is bewildered of how the Galatian people, once so full of grace and joy because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, had set aside the good news of God's grace as the only way to experience God's forgiveness and acceptance. They were now depending on the religious system of the religious magicians.
Paul asked them, "Who bewitched you?" Good question! So who were these religious magicians who made the grace of God disappear right before their very eyes? It was the same group of religious magicians who had set up their religious magic show at the church in Antioch after Paul and Barnabas started this church with the good news of God's grace (Acts 11:19-26; 15:1). These men were sent from James, who was Pastor of the church in Jerusalem, to spy on the freedom grace produced in the lives of the believers in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-12) and to perform their magic show. These infiltrators coming down from Jerusalem would disguise themselves so they could spy on the freedom grace brings and to put people back under the bondage of their religious system...obedience to the Law of Moses (Galatians 2:4). Yet, when Paul encountered them, he stood strongly for the message of grace (Galatians 2:5).
The religious magic show of these religious leaders from Jerusalem was so convincing that even Peter and Barnabas were fooled. The cross had disappeared before the very eyes of Peter and Barnabas (Galatians 2:11-13). Fooled by the religious magic show, both Peter and Barnabas set aside grace in favor of the religious system of these religious magicians from Jerusalem....obedience to the Law of Moses was required if one was to be forgiven and accepted by God.
Paul confronted Peter to his face for falling prey to these religious magicians. He told him that a person does not experience God's forgiveness and acceptance (righteousness) through obedience to the law, but by faith in the crucifixion of Jesus alone (Galatians 2:14-16). Paul went as far as to tell him that he, Paul, had died to the religious system of seeking to experience God's forgiveness and acceptance through the law. He now saw himself having been crucified with Christ brought about by the law, and that he no longer lived in obedience to the law but he lived by faith in Jesus who loved him and gave himself for him. It was to Peter that Paul said in Galatians 2:21, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing!"
It was these same religious magicians from Jerusalem who fooled Peter and Barnabas in Antioch that had now set up their magic show in Galatia. Just as Peter and Barnabas were fooled, now the Galatian people were fooled, too! And to them Paul said, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified."
From this point in Galatians, Paul clearly and passionately shares the good news of God's grace with the Galatian people again, hoping there eyes would be opened again to see the truths of grace. He tells them that it is by believing that Jesus died for all your sins that you experience God's righteousness, meaning God's forgiveness and acceptance. He told them it is not by following the religious system of the leaders from Jerusalem that a person becomes righteous before God (Galatians 3).
In Galatians 4, Paul explains that Jesus redeemed them, or set them free from the law so that God could call them "sons". Once setting them free from the law, God sent the Spirit of Jesus to live in their hearts. They would now call God "Abba Father", meaning my daddy who loves, accepts, and has forgiven me! In being set free from the law and calling God "Abba Father", they no longer had to relate to God as slaves in fear of failure to fulfill the requirements of the religious system the religious leaders were peddling (Galatians 4:1-8).
Paul went on to explain to them that these religious leaders from Jerusalem represented slavery and bondage to a religious system. At this time in history, Jerusalem had become full of religious systems, traditions, and expectations of the religious leaders. Jerusalem had become the training center for those desiring to be "religious magicians". Paul explained that Jerusalem was symbolic with slavery to the law. But then Paul spoke of a heavenly Jerusalem. A Jerusalem who is the mother of grace who brings freedom to all her children she births. This mother of grace is represented in Sarah who gave birth to Isaac who brought forth the promise of grace to the human race through Jesus. Grace is our mother's name...not Law! (Galatians 4:21-31).
Paul begins bringing his letter to a close by encouraging the Galatian people not to let anyone set up their religious magic show in Galatia anymore (Galatians 4:30). As soon as they begin unloading their magic show equipment in their city, kick them out! (Galatians 4:30). He tells them not to let anyone put them back under the slavery and bondage of a religious system. Rather, they are to stand firm in the freedom of grace, confidently assured they are loved, forgiven, and accepted by God through faith in Jesus (Galatains 5:1), and to express this love to one another as they walk in the Spirit, which is walking in a love-relationship with God as their loving Father (Galatians 5:6-25).
The religious magicians around in Paul's time are still around today. They set up their religious magic shows, and with slight of tongue and misuse of Scripture convince people that God's love, acceptance, and forgiveness must be earned through participating in their religious system. They tell people that even though Jesus died for all their sins they must still ask God to forgive them everyday. They teach people the Spirit of God is a heavenly enforcer sent to convict believers when they sin, rather than convince them they are loved, accepted, and forgiven (Note: the Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin to lead them to Jesus. He convinces the believer of the truths of grace). They teach people that if they sin they are out of fellowship with God and to regain fellowship they must confess each individual sin. They teach people when they sin they have become stained before God, and to get the stain out they must confess that sin. They teach people that if they miss a sin then God will take it up with them one day in heaven. This religious magic show causes people to live in the bondage and slavery of fear, intimidation, guilt, and condemnation, ultimately driving them away from Jesus.
Their magic show, this religious system operating on fear and intimidation, causes people to lose sight of the cross. The crucifixion disappears right before their very eyes. They forget through Jesus all their sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:13-14) and that God remembers their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17-18). The forget they are righteous, holy, and blameless before God through the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:4). Soon they lose the joy (blessedness, happiness) grace once produced (Galatians 4:15) and are now living in fear of the judgment of God upon them for their sins. The perfect love of God revealed in the death of Jesus for their sins, that at one time cast out the fear of judgment and condemnation, has now disappeared, and in its place fear has reappeared (1 John 4:9-19).
Other religious magicians tell you there are certain things you must do every day, every week, every month, and every year. They tell you that if you do not do these things then you will not experience God's forgiveness and acceptance. Some even go as far in their magic show to tell you that you cannot be saved if you do not have certain experiences or perform certain religious acts.
There are many other religious magic shows, too many to confront. But the one common trick all the religious magicians seek to mesmerize people with is the disappearance of the cross of Jesus...the finished work of Christ on the cross where we are freely given grace, the complete forgiveness of sins and total acceptance with God through faith in Jesus. With slight of tongue and misuse of Scripture, they make the cross disappear before the very eyes of many people. And appearing in the place of the cross is their religious system cleverly propped up by misinterpreted and misused Scripture.
Maybe you have fallen prey to a religious magician's magic show. This religious magician has made the cross disappear right before your very eyes. You are now seeking to find God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance through obedience to a religious system or organization, rather than through faith in Jesus. Through this blog, God is opening your eyes to see that you have been tricked by religious magicians. He is now drawing you back into a loving relationship with himself though his grace poured out freely for you through Jesus. You are seeing now that through faith in Jesus you are completely forgiven and totally accepted by God apart from any religious system.
Jesus warned his disciples to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:12; 15:1-9). The Pharisees were the religious magicians during Jesus' time on earth. They hated his grace and performed every magic trick they could out of their religious book of magic tricks hoping to keep people who were hungry and thirsty for God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance from hearing about his grace, with their ultimate magic trick being getting rid of Jesus by having him crucified. Little did they know, their ultimate magic trick was God's plan to give grace to the people of the world.
Religious magicians are out there. Beware! Do not let any religious magician cause the good news of God's grace to disappear before your very eyes and remove the joy of God's love, forgiveness, and acceptance from your heart that is freely yours by faith in Jesus.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:14
It is my prayer this blog has been helpful to you. If it has been helpful, please join with me in sharing the good news of God's grace with others by clicking the Share button at the bottom of this blog. Also, if you would like to be updated when I post a new blog, simply complete the form on the Contact page and you will be sent an email when each new blog is posted.