There has been much said and written about obeying the truth. Some, who are bent on teaching that a person is saved by works, think that this obedience to the truth is a work such as those of the works of the law or of the works of the flesh, that man can physically work in order to attain salvation; but this section of scripture denies that, and so do many other passages in God's word.
The Galatians had been "bewitched," or fooled into thinking that they need not obey the truth but that they need rather to produce some good work on their own part in order to inherit eternal life. This was, no doubt, offered by some false teachers who had come in that through envy they might change the simple Gospel into that which is subversive to true faith and an alternative to the true grace of God. This Paul sets to the proper standard as he continues through this chapter. The truth of which Paul speaks is the doctrine of justification by faith, which Paul is vindicating throughout this book, placing it against the teaching of the shadows of the Gospel, the Law of carnal commandments.
A Clear Gospel
Paul first brings notice to them that Jesus Christ was crucified among them, being eye witnesses of that crucifixion, not in a literal sense, but through the eye of faith, since the true Gospel had been preached clearly to them so that they could see with their faith the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in their midst, a significant practice of Paul; that is, of making Christ vividly clear to the hearers of the Gospel, as he was determined to preach nothing else but the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ in presenting the doctrine of biblical justification.
To those who have the Spirit of God to hear the truth, Paul introduces the first concise question: "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?" The law was preaching incessantly in old times, and Israel would not hear, though God outstretched his hands to them, Romans 10:21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. But here the Spirit of God, which indwelt the believers at Galatia, was received, not by the preaching of the law, but by the hearing of faith: Romans 10:17 So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. So, the question is asked and answered. The Spirit did not and does not come by the works of the law but by the hearing of faith.
The second question is "having begun in the Spirit, are ye made perfect by the flesh?" The answer is NO. If we begin in the Spirit, we must continue and culminate our lives in the Spirit. Phil. 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ: This is the drawing, convicting, justifying, and keeping work of the Holy Spirit, not of the works of the law.
The third question is "have ye suffered so many things in vain?" The Galatians have suffered reproach and persecution for Christ and the Gospel. Was it all in vain? They suffered for the true Gospel, not so that they may deny obedience to the truth. They, of course, have not suffered, and neither do we suffer, in vain for the truth of the Gospel.
The fourth question deals with whether the "minister" of the Spirit of God (meaning Christ) ministers the Spirit or performs miracles by the works of the law or the hearing of faith. The Spirit is given to everyone who believes, and it was given through the hearing of faith, not by the works of the law. Jesus Christ used the law to manifest to us our depraved condition and our need of a Savior, but he gives the Spirit by the hearing of faith. When Christ works miracles among them, it is not by the works of the law but through the hearing of faith.
Thus neither the works of the law nor the works of the flesh can bring justification or preserve the saints of God. It must be by faith, as is stated many times in scripture. Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
For those who believe that there is a third work besides the works of the law and the works of the flesh, i.e. the works in obedience to faith, it must be said that there is no mention of such in the Bible, nor is there any intimation of it or even an implication of it. There is no work that can redeem a soul no matter what it is called. Gal. 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
So, how do we obey the truth? We obey the truth by believing it, submitting to it, and living by it. There need be no action on our part physically to obey the truth: no baptism, no church membership, no good works. Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.