We used to have a pet dog, a Golden Retriever named Abe. Our boys were young so it was a good time to shop for a family pet, and a co-worker had some 6 week old puppies for sale. When we visited them a storm was approaching with darkening clouds and ever louder thunder, and while all the puppies were running around and playing as they do, after a thunder clap one ran into the garage to take cover.
"What a smart dog" Barb said, "He knows the storm is coming so ran inside. We'll take that one." Little did we know at the time that wasn't smarts he was displaying, but fear. Abe was afraid of the storm and dumb as a box of rocks. He had a good heart, but mentally speaking, the lights were flashing and the crossing gates were down, but there was no train coming down his tracks. He would grow up to become a Retriever that wouldn't retrieve and the largest lap dog you've ever seen.
He would sit at my feet and give me a sideways glance, looking away when I looked him directly in the eye. But when I turned away he would put 1 paw on my lap. I'd look at him and he would look away. Then when I was distracted the 2nd paw would come up on my lap. I'd look at him and he would look away. Then he would shuffle around to place the top half of his body on my lap in a half sitting position ready to jump, tail wagging in excited anticipation.
If I allowed him, I found myself with a 100 pound (45 kilo) Golden Retriever on my lap, totally at peace sitting there like an oversize golden canary on a narrow perch.
We have a saying in the US; "Give him an inch and he'll take a mile." For the rest of the world it might be 'Give him a centimeter and he'll take a kilometer." That was Abe. If I allowed just 1 paw on my lap, he took that as approval to keep going.
And that is how religion is - if you have an empty space in your life, religion will move in to try to control it and take over. Like Abe, it waits until it thinks you aren't watching or are vulnerable, then a new rule is added or the rules change completely with a new set of standards to obey.
Edmund Burke, Irish statesman from the 1700's said: "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." We have Christ in us, and nothing is better than God in us - Satan can't touch that! All he can do is cause us to be distracted and forgetful of what we have in Christ so that we remove ourselves from the knowledge of Christ in us, in exchange for submitting ourselves to a form of godliness; accomplished by delusion, manipulation, and fear through high sounding but wrong teaching.
Witchcraft in the church
"Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you that you are not obeying the truth...did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or the hearing of faith? Having begun in the Spirit are you now made perfect (sanctified) by the flesh?"
So begins chapter 3 of Galatians, as Paul lays out the difference between having Christ in you versus obeying the Old Testament law. But the principle is the same whether we are talking the Old Testament law or a modern church that controls by fear and intimidation, tradition and man-made rules. The Galatians began in the freedom of Christ in them, but someone told them along the way they could be matured by and please God more by obeying the Jewish law.
I love the emphasis Paul places on where our priorities should be: Did you receive the Spirit by grace or by the law? Having the Holy Spirit IS the focus, the most valuable for Christ is in us, and the one thing we should always be aware of: Did you receive Him by doing external works, or grace?
What Paul said
The Greek word for 'bewitched' is 'baskaino' and means "To bring evil on a person by feigned (fake) praise or mislead and so charm" a person (Vine). It is used of leading someone into wrong teaching, and is seen when a person selectively believes some verses but not others, for instance.
The root of 'baskaino' is where we get the English root for 'fascinate'. "Fascinate" was first used to describe the process of bewitching a person, manipulating them for self centered gain, and the word 'enchant' is a synonym because of that. Paul is asking who enchanted them to leave the freedom of Christ for bondage? Like any deception, there is enough truth coupled with the lie that good hearted people who want to please God, don't realize until too late that in believing the kernel of truth, they also believed a huge lie.
The word 'perfect' is the word 'epiteleo' which means to bring something through to the end, so Paul was asking "Having begun in the Spirit 'are you now perfecting yourselves' by the flesh (law/legalism)?"
The essence of 'Christian' witchcraft
The future King Saul was the son of a wealthy man of the tribe of Benjamin.* When Samuel was led to anoint him King, we are told he was head and shoulders taller than all the people of Israel, and there was no one better looking than he. *I Samuel 9:1-3
But he had a major character flaw, and that was the fear of man sustained by a horrible self image. Samuel would later say of him, "When you were little in your own sight God made you king..."* Because of no confidence in himself, he was a man pleaser with no 'backbone' to withstand the opinions of others, so was always being moved by fear of man to do unwise things.
Though the Spirit of God came on him* at times to prophesy or lead battles, he never allowed the Holy Spirit to change his basic character and self image, like so many Christians today. They have great experiences with and are touched by God, but never allow Him to actually change them (because that takes the work of rejecting old thoughts and feelings in favor of the new and unfamiliar God's ways and thoughts). I Samuel 9:21; 10:6-10,16-27; 11:6-15; 15:17
The last incident was when he was told to destroy all the Amalekites including their animals, but King Saul kept alive King Agag* (and relatives as we'd later find out**) and the best of the animals. When confronted he told Samuel the best of the animals had been saved to sacrifice to the Lord by the people, not him. *I Samuel 15:32; **Esther 3:1
Saul selectively obeyed the Lord and lied to cover it up, choosing to obey part of His command and not obey the rest. Then he blamed the people for that part while saying "I have obeyed the command of the Lord!"
This manipulation founded upon selective obedience to the Lord while hiding the truth is the core of witchcraft, and the principle Paul was talking about to the Galatians.
Samuel replied to King Saul:
"To obey is better than sacrifice, for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry..." I Samuel 15:22-23
The word 'rebellion' in Hebrew is 'meri', from 'marah', or bitterness, used in Exodus 15:23 of the bitter and poisonous waters Israel found after leaving Egypt. When Saul's heart became bitter, poisoned, thus rebellious towards obeying the Lord with a whole heart, he 'dug in his heels' wanting to do things his way.
This was because as I said above, he never let the Lord actually change him though the Holy Spirit came upon him often. 'Stubbornness' in Hebrew means 'hard, dry, dense, severe' and is as idolatry because it is the purposeful exalting of self and one's will over God and His will.
THAT is why rebellion is as witchcraft, and why Paul asked who had bewitched them.
Who had twisted God's Word to bring them under the law and/or select what parts to obey while outwardly stating they are obeying all of God's Word?. Who had hardened their hearts against the Spirit and Christ in them in order to turn them to legalism? Why had they exalted their will against the revealed truth of Christ in them?
Paul asked "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now made complete by the (law) flesh?" The answer is 'no', having begun in the Spirit we are therefore logically, also made complete by the Spirit. And that's where we'll start next week. Christ is in you, don't let the 100 pound dog of religion gradually take over your lap.