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Galatians 3:1-14 Notes

Galatians 3:1-14 Lesson Notes

Study Guide for Galatians 3 - The Christian, Law, and Living by Faith

A. The principle of continuing in faith.

1. (Gal 3:1) Paul confronts their blurred vision of Jesus and His work for them.

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

a. The Galatians struggled with a basic question: How are we made right before God?  What is our standing before Him?  Because of some bad teaching, they answered those questions wrong.  They thought, "We are made right before God based on what Jesus did for us, plus what we do for Him under the Law of Moses."  In correcting this, Paul first wrote about his own experiences - first, when he came to Jesus by faith alone, not faith plus being under the law.  Then he wrote about his experience of confronting the apostle Peter when he slipped up under this same error.  Now, after dealing with his experience, the Apostle Paul deals with the experience of the Galatian Christians themselves.  Just as Paul's experience proved that we stand right before God based on what Jesus did, not based on what do under the law, so will the Galatians' experience prove the same thing.

b. O foolish Galatians!  The strong words are well deserved. Phillips even translates this, O you dear idiots of Galatia.  In calling the Galatians foolish, Paul is not saying they are morally or mentally deficient (the Greek word moros conveys that idea, and was used by Jesus in parables, such as in Matthew 7:26; 25:1-13). Instead, Paul uses the Greek word anoetos, which has the idea of someone who can think but fails to use their power of perception.   i. The principles Paul referred to are things the Galatians knew, things they had been taught.  The knowledge and understanding were there, but they were not using them.

c. Who has bewitched you: Bewitched has the idea that the Galatians are under some type of spell.  Paul doesn't mean this literally, but their thinking is so clouded - and so unbiblical - that it seems that some kind of spell has been cast over them.   i. Barclay translates bewitched as put the evil eye on.  The ancient Greeks were accustomed to and afraid of the idea that a spell could be cast upon them by an "evil eye."   ii. The "evil eye" was thought to work in the way a serpent could hypnotize its prey with its eyes.  Once the victim looked into the "evil eye," a spell could be cast.  Therefore, the way to overcome the evil eye was simply not to look at it.  In using this phrasing, and using the word picture of bewitched, Paul is encouraging the Galatians to keep their eyes always, steadfastly, upon Jesus.   iii. How easily the church can be bewitched today!  Through the centuries, error after error arises, and we are well able to see some of the errors of the past, but many are blind to the errors of today.  We are amazed right along with the apostle Paul: Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth?  Even great men of God battle with this. "Although I am a doctor of divinity, and have preached Christ and fought His battles for a long time, I know from personal experience how difficult it is to hold fast to the truth.  I cannot always shake off Satan.  I cannot always apprehend Christ as the Scriptures portray Him.  Sometimes the devil distorts Christ to my vision.  But thanks be to God, who keeps us in His Word, in faith, and in prayer." (Luther)  iv. It is wonderful to have a soft, tender heart before God.  But some people have softer heads than hearts.  Their minds are too accommodating to wrong, unbiblical ideas, and they don't think things through to see if they really are true or not according to the Bible.  This is a sign of spiritual immaturity, even as a baby will stick anything into its mouth.

d. Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified: The idea behind clearly portrayed is something like "billboarded," to publicly display as in setting on a billboard.  Paul wonders how the Galatians could have missed the message, because he certainly made it clear enough to them.   i. Their vision of Jesus Christ and Him crucified has become cloudy.  They no longer see Him and His work on the cross as the center of their Christian lives, now it is Jesus plus what they must do for Him.   ii. When they left the message of Jesus and Him crucified, they left the message Paul preached.  Paul's preaching was like setting up posters of Jesus all over town - if you saw anything, you saw Jesus.   iii. "Let those who want to discharge the ministry of the Gospel aright learn not only to speak and declaim but also to penetrate into consciences, so that men may see Christ crucified and that His blood may flow.  When the Church has such painters as these she no longer needs wood and stone, that is, dead images, she no longer requires any pictures." (Calvin)   iv. When we see Jesus clearly before us, we won't be deceived.  " If anything contrary to this comes before him, he does not timidly say, 'Everybody has a right to his opinion'; but he says, 'Yes, they may have a right to their opinion, and so have I to mine; and my opinion is that any opinion which takes away from the glory of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice is a detestable opinion.'  Get the real atonement of Christ thoroughly into your soul, and you will not be bewitched." (Spurgeon)

e. Before whose eyes: Paul doesn't mean that they literally saw the crucifixion of Jesus, or even that they had a spiritual vision of it.  He means that the truth of Jesus and Him crucified and the greatness of His work for them was clearly laid out for them, so clearly that they could see it. Actually watching the death of Jesus on the cross might mean nothing. Hundreds, if not thousands, saw Jesus dying on the cross, and most of them only mocked Him.

2. (Gal 3:2-3) Paul confronts their departure from the principle of faith.

2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

a. This only I want to learn from you: "Just tell me this," Paul says.  Did you receive the Holy Spirit through the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Obviously, the Galatians received the Holy Spirit through simple faith.  The Holy Spirit is not a "prize" earned through the works of the law.   i. Can you imagine?  A Gentile is told he must come under the Law of Moses, or God will not bless him.  This means he must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.  So he goes in for the operation, and as soon as the cut is made, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon him!  Is this how it works?  Of course not!  We receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not by coming under the works of the law.   ii. Some people think that we need to work for the gift of the Holy Spirit, or earn this gift from God.  But Jesus made it plain that all we have to do is ask: So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:9-13)

b. Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? The Galatians were deceived into thinking that spiritual growth or maturity could be achieved through the works of the flesh, instead of a continued simple faith and abiding in Jesus.  i. "You received the greatest gift - the Holy Spirit of God - by faith.  Are you going on from there, not by faith, but by trusting in your own obedience under the Law of Moses?"   ii. This lays out one of the fundamental differences between the principle of law and the principle of grace.  Under law, we are blessed and grow spiritually by earning and deserving.  Under grace, we are blessed and grow spiritually by believing and receiving.  God deals with you under the covenant of grace; are you trying to deal with Him on the principle of law?  Do you believe God wants to bless you?  Which is it: by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

c. Are you so foolish?  This is indeed foolishness.  This deception is cultivated by Satan to set our Christian life off-track.  If he cannot stop us from being saved by faith, then he will attempt to hinder our blessing and growth and maturity by faith.   i. And, when the works of the flesh are substituted for faith, self-confidence and pride are the inevitable result.  "The reason of this contention lies in the fact that man is not only poor, but proud; not only guilty, but conceited; so that he will not humble himself to he saved upon terms of divine charity.  He will not consent to believe God; he prefers to believe in the proud falsehoods of his own heart, which delude him into the flattering hope that he may merit eternal life." (Spurgeon)

3. (Gal 3:4) A question about the past: Was it all for nothing?

4 Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain?

a. Have you suffered so many things in vain: Apparently, the Galatians had (perhaps when Paul was among them) suffered for the principle of faith (probably at the hands of legalistic Christians).  Does their departure from the principle of faith mean that this past suffering was in vain?   i. We know that Paul did suffer persecution in this region.  Acts 14 makes it clear that Paul and his companions were persecuted vigorously (Paul even being stoned and left for dead) by the Jews when they were among the cities of Galatia.  Surely some of this persecution spilled over to the Christian congregations Paul left behind in Galatia.   

b. A better translation of the phrase have you suffered so many things in vain may be "Have you had such wonderful spiritual experiences, all to no purpose?" This may fit the context better.  Paul wonders if all the gifts of the Spirit they had received would amount to no lasting value because now they try to walk by law, not by faith.

4. (Gal 3:5) Paul asks them to examine the source of the Spirit's work.

5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-

a. He who supplies the Spirit to you: Who supplies the Holy Spirit? Obviously, the Spirit is given as a gift from God.

b. Does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  God supplies the Holy Spirit in response to faith. Miracles are wrought by faith.  Yet the Galatians have been deceived into thinking that real spiritual riches lie in pursuing God through a works relationship.

c. By the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Paul repeats the phrase from Galatians 3:2, because he wants to emphasize there is a choice to be made.  Which will it be?  Do you believe you will be blessed by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Will you earn and deserve your blessing from God, or will you believe and receive it?  i. This speaks to those who see lack of blessing.  Why?  Not from a lack of devotion, not because they haven't earned enough; but because they are not putting their faith, their joyful, confident expectation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.   ii. This speaks to those who a wonderfully blessed.  How?  For them to be proud is to be blind.  They have not earned their blessing, why should they take pride in it?  All the more they should look to Jesus, and put their expectation in Him.

B. Abraham: an example of those justified and walking by faith.

1. (Gal 3:6) How Abraham was made righteous before God.

6 just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?

a. Just as Abraham: Among the Galatian Christians, the push towards a works-based relationship with God came from certain Christians who were born as Jews, and who claimed Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.  Therefore, Paul uses Abraham as an example of being right before God by faith, not by faith plus works.  i. Galatians 3:5 ended with a question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit and see miracles among you by the work of the law, or by faith?  Paul assumes the answer, being "Of course we received the Holy Spirit and have seen miracles through faith."  Now Paul will show that it is more than a matter of personal experience; God's work revealed in His Word demonstrates the same truth.   ii. "It mattered a great deal to the apostle that God saves people by grace, not on the grounds of their human achievement, and he found Abraham an excellent example of that truth." (Morris)

b. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness: Paul quotes here from Genesis 15:6. It simply shows that righteousness was accounted to Abraham because he believed God.  It was not because he performed some work, and certainly not because he was circumcised, because the covenant of circumcision had not yet been given.   i. Genesis 15:1-6 shows that when Abraham put his trust in God, specifically in God's promise to give him children that would eventually bring forth the Messiah, God credited this belief to Abraham's account as righteousness.  "Abraham was not justified merely because he believed that God would multiply his seed, but because he embraced the grace of God, trusting to the promised Mediator." (Calvin)   ii. There are essentially two types of righteousness: righteousness we accomplish by our own efforts, and righteousness accounted to us by the work of God when we believe. Since none of us can be good enough to accomplish perfect righteousness, we must have God's righteousness accounted to us by doing just what Abram did: Abraham believed God.

c. This quotation from Genesis 15:6 is one of the clearest expressions in the Bible of the truth of salvation by grace, through faith alone. It is the gospel in the Old Testament, quoted four times in the New Testament (Romans 4:3, Romans 4:9-10, Romans 4:22 and here in Galatians 3:6).   i. Romans 4:9-10 makes much of the fact this righteousness was accounted to Abraham before he was circumcised (Genesis 17).  No one could say Abraham was made righteous because of his obedience or fulfillment of religious law or ritual.  It was faith and faith alone that caused God to account Abraham as righteous.   ii. We should be careful to say that Abraham's faith did not make him righteous.  Abraham's God made him righteous, by accounting his faith to him for righteousness. 

d. Accounted to him for righteousness: Abraham's experience shows that God accounts us as righteous, because of what Jesus did for us, as we receive what He did for us by faith.   i. Morris on accounted: "It has a meaning like 'reckon, calculate', and may be used of placing something to someone's account, here of placing righteousness to Abraham's account."   ii. If God accounts Abraham as righteous, then that is how Abraham should account himself.  That is his standing before God, and God's accounting is not pretending.  God does not account to us a pretended righteousness, but a real one in Jesus Christ.

e. Believed God: It wasn't that Abraham believed in God (as we usually speak of believing in God).  Instead, it was that Abraham believed God. Those who only believe in God, in the sense that they believe He exists, are only as spiritual as demons! (James 2:19)  i. "Believed, of course, means more than that he accepted what God said as true (though, of course, he did that); it means that he trusted God." (Morris)   ii. Generally speaking, ancient Rabbis did not really admire Abraham's faith.  The believed he was so loved by God because he was thought to have kept the law hundreds of year before it was given.  For these and other reasons, when Paul brought up Abraham, it would have been a complete surprise to his opponents, who believed that Abraham proved their point. "Paul's emphasis on Abraham's faith must have come as a complete surprise to the Galatians." (Morris)   iii. However, some Rabbis have seen the importance of Abraham's faith.  "It is remarkable that the Jews themselves maintained that Abraham was saved by faith.  Mehilta, in Yalcut Simeoni, page 1, fol. 69, makes this assertion: 'It is evident that Abraham could not obtain an inheritance either in this world or in the world to come, but by faith.'" (Clarke)  iv. "Faith in God constitutes the highest worship, the prime duty, the first obedience, and the foremost sacrifice.  Without faith God forfeits His glory, wisdom, truth, and mercy in us.  The first duty of man is to believe in God and to honor Him with his faith.  Faith is truly the height of wisdom, the right kind of righteousness, the only real religion ... Faith says to God: 'I believe what you say.'" (Luther)

2. (Gal 3:7) The true sons of Abraham.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

a. Therefore know: The emphasis is clear.  Paul is making an important point, and he wants everyone of his readers to understand it.   i. "Know is imperative; Paul commands the Galatians to acquire this piece of knowledge." (Morris)

b. Only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham: Since Abraham was made righteous by faith, and not by works, Abraham is therefore the father of everyone who believes God and is accounted righteous.  i. "It is always possible that we should translate huioi Abraam, not so much children (or 'sons') of Abraham as 'real Abrahams.'" (Cole)

c. What a rebuke this was to the Jewish Christians who tried to bring Gentile Christians under the law!  They believed they were superior, because they descended from Abraham, and observed the law.  Paul says that the most important link to Abraham is not the link of genetics, not the link of works, but the link of faith.  i. This would have been a shocking change of thinking for these particular opponents of Paul.  They deeply believed that they had a standing before God because they were genetically descended from Abraham.  At that time, some Jewish Rabbis taught that Abraham stood at the gates of Hell, just to make sure that none of his descendants accidentally slipped by.  John the Baptist dealt with this same thinking when he said do not think to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father." For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones (Matthew 3:9).  Paul is knocking down their blind reliance on genetic relation to Abraham, and showing that what really matters is faith in Jesus.   ii. It's the same today when people believe God accepts them because they come from a Christian family.  God is a Father, not a grandfather; everyone must have their own faith in God.

d. What a comfort this was to the Gentile Christians who were regarded as "second class Christians" by many!  Now they could know that they had a real, important link to Abraham, and could consider themselves sons of Abraham.

e. Sadly, Christians have taken this glorious truth and misapplied it through the centuries.  This has been a verse that many claim in support of replacement theology - the idea that God is finished with the people of Israel as a nation or a distinct ethnic group, and that the Church spiritually inherits all the promises made to Israel.   i. Replacement theology has done tremendous damage in the Church, providing the theological fuel for the fires of horrible persecution of the Jews.  If Galatians 3:7 were the only verse in the Bible speaking to the issue, there might be a place for saying that the Church has completely replaced Israel.  But we understand the Bible according to its entire message, and allow one passage to give light to others.  ii. For example, Romans 11:25 (hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in) states clearly that God is not finished with Israel as a nation or a distinct ethnic group.  Even though God has turned the focus of His saving mercies away from Israel on to the Gentiles, He will turn it back again.  This simple passage refutes those who insist that God is forever done with Israel as Israel, and that the Church is the New Israel and inherits every promise ever made to national and ethnic Israel of the Old Testament.   iii. We are reminded of the enduring character of the promises made to national and ethnic Israel (such as Genesis 13:15 and Genesis 17:7-8).  God is not "finished" with Israel, and Israel is not "spiritualized" as the church.  While we do see and rejoice in a continuity of God's work throughout all His people through all generations, we still see a distinction between Israel and the Church - a distinction that Paul understands well.

f. All who put their faith in Jesus Christ are sons of Abraham; but Abraham has his spiritual sons and his genetic sons, and God has a plan and a place for both.  But no one can deny that it is far more important to be a spiritual son of Abraham than a genetic son.

3. (Gal 3:8-9) This blessing of righteousness by faith is for all nations.

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

a. And the Scripture: Paul is speaking from the Scriptures.  He has already spoken from his personal experience, and from the experience of the Galatian Christians themselves.  But this passage is even more important, because it shows how Paul's teaching is correct according to the Bible itself.   i. It would have been just fine for Paul's opponents to say, "Experiences are just fine Paul, but show us from the Scriptures." Paul was more than ready to take up the challenge.  ii. The Scripture, foreseeing ... preached ... saying: Remarkably, Paul refers to the Scriptures virtually as a person, who foresees, preaches, and says.  This shows just how strongly Paul regarded the Bible as God's word.  Paul believed that when the Scriptures speak, God speaks.   iii. "Paul personifies Scripture." (Morris)  "Excellently spake he, who called the Scripture, Cor et animam Dei, The heart and soul of God." (Trapp)

b. Foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith: Paul observes that even back in Abraham's day it was clear that this blessing of righteousness by faith was intended for every nation, for Gentiles as well as Jews, because God pronounced that in you all the nations shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).  i. The intention is to destroy the idea that a Gentile must first become a Jew before they can become a Christian. If that were necessary, God would never have said this blessing would extend to every nation, because Gentiles would have had to become part of the Israelite nation to be saved.  ii. The idea is that the gospel goes out to the nations, not that the nations come and assimilate into Israel.

c. Those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham: The blessing we receive with believing Abraham is not the blessing of fantastic wealth and power, though Abraham was extremely wealthy and powerful.  The blessing is something far more precious: the blessing of a right standing with God through faith.   i. "The faith of the fathers was directed at the Christ who was to come, while ours rests in the Christ who has come." (Luther)   

d. The most important question to ask is, "Am I of faith?"  Do I believe God even as Abraham did?  When God says it, do I believe it?  Do I live as if I really believe God is true?  Can others see that I am trusting God?  i. "They who are of faith are those whose characteristic is faith; it is not that they sometimes have an impulse to believe, but rather that believing is their constant attitude; faith is characteristic of them." (Morris)

C. The Law in light of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

1. (Gal 3:10) The Old Testament tells us that the Law of Moses brings a curse.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."

a. For as many as are under the works of the law: Paul is addressing those who think that their law-performance can give them a standing before God.  i. The transition from believing Abraham (Galatians 3:9) to those who are of the works of the law has a purpose.  "If even the great patriarch was accepted by God only because of his faith, then it follows that lesser mortals will not succeed in producing the good deeds that would allow them to be accepted before God." (Morris)   ii. Morris on as many as are of the works of the law: "The preposition denotes origin and here will mean those whose essential position originates in the law, those who see law-keeping as the essence of our approach to God.  It is not simply that they see the law as important: they see it as all-important.  Their whole position depends on the keeping of the law."   iii. "The hypocritical doers of the Law are those who seek to obtain a righteousness by a mechanical performance of good works while their hearts are far removed from God.  They act like the foolish carpenter who starts with the roof when he builds a house." (Luther)

b. For as many as are under the works of the law are under the curse: The Christians from a Jewish background who believed we should still live under the Law of Moses thought that it was a path to blessing.  Paul boldly declares that instead of blessing, living under the works of the law puts them under the curse.   i. It isn't hard to see how these Christians believed that living under law brought blessing.  They could read in the Old Testament many passages that supported this thinking.  Psalm 119:1 says, Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!  Psalm 1:1-2 says, Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.  ii. How does the law bring blessing?  First, we must understand that the word law is used in two senses in the Bible.  Sometimes it means "the Law of Moses, with all its commands, which a man must obey to be approved by God."  Sometimes it means "God's Word" in a very general sense.  Many times when the Old Testament speaks of the law, it speaks of it in the general sense of God's Word to us.  When Psalm 119:97 says Oh, how I love Your law!  It is my meditation all the day, the Psalmist means more than just the Law of Moses.  He means all of God's Word.  Seeing this, we understand how the Bible is filled with praise for the law.  Secondly, we are blessed when we keep the law because we are living according to the "instruction manual" for life.  There is an inherent, built-in blessing in living the way God says we should live, in fulfilling the "manufacturer's recommendation."   iii. When Paul says that as are under the works of the law are under the curse, he doesn't mean that the law is bad or the Word of God is wrong.  He simply means that God never intended the law to be the way we find our approval before Him.  He knew we could never keep the law, and so God instituted the system of atoning sacrifice along with the law.  And the entire sacrificial system looked forward to what Jesus would accomplish on the cross for us.

c. To prove his point Scripturally, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26: Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.  The Old Testament itself shows us that if we do not keep all things in the law, and actually do them, then we are under a curse.

i. The important words are all and do. If God would approve you on the basis of the law, you first have to do it.  Not simply know it, not simply love it, not simply teach it, not simply want it, you must do it.  Secondly, you have to do it all. Not some.  Not just when you are over 18 or 40.  Not just more good than bad. Deuteronomy 27:26 specifically says that to be justified by the law, you must do it, and do it in all things.   ii. All means a lot.  It means that while some sins are worse than others are, there are no small sins before such a great God.  "Jewish keepers of the law would overlook small transgressions.  Paul would not." (Morris)  iii. "It is worthy of remark that no printed copy of the Hebrew Bible preserves the word col, ALL, in Deuteronomy 27:26, which answers to the apostle's word all, here.  St. Jerome says that the Jews suppressed it, lest it should appear that they were bound to perform all things that are written in the book of the law.  Of the genuineness of the reading there is no cause to doubt: it exists in six MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi, in the Samaritan text, in several copies of the Targum, in the Septuagint, and in the quotation made here by the apostle, in which there is no variation either in the MSS. or in the versions." (Clarke)

d. Paul's point is heavy; it weighs us down with a curse.  If you are under the works of the law, the only way you can stand approved and blessed before God by the law is to do it, and to do it all.  If you don't, you are cursed.   i. Cursed is a word that sounds strange in our ears.  We think of witches boiling a strange mixture in a dark cauldron.  We think of a Snidely Whiplash kind of guy saying "Curses, foiled again!"  But in the Bible, the idea of being cursed is important, and frightening - because we are talking about being cursed by God.  Not only cursed by our own bad choices, not only cursed by this wicked world, not only cursed by the Devil - but especially cursed by God.  He is the one Person you don't want to be cursed by!   ii. "The law holds all men under its curse.  From the law, therefore, it us useless to seek a blessing." (Calvin)

2. (Gal 3:11) The Old Testament tells us that a right standing before God comes by faith, not by the law.

11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."

a. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident: Paul has already proven this point in the Scriptures by examining the life of Abraham (Galatians 3:5-9). Now he brings in another passage from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4, which reminds us that the just live by faith, not by law.   i. The Jews themselves sensed that because none could keep it perfectly, salvation could not come through keeping the law.  This is why they placed such emphasis on their descent from Abraham, essentially trusting in Abraham's merits to save them because they sensed that their own merits could not.

b. The just shall live by faith: This brief statement from the prophet Habakkuk is one of the most important, and most quoted Old Testament statements in the New Testament.  Paul uses it here to show that the just live by faith, not by law.  Being under the law isn't the way to be found just before God, only living by faith is.   i. If you are found to be just - approved - before God, you have done it by a life of faith.  If your life is all about living under the law, then God does not find you approved.   ii. "For the present question is not whether believers ought to keep the law as far as they can (which is beyond all doubt), but whether they obtain righteousness by works; and this is impossible." (Calvin)

c. Every word in Habakkuk 2:4 is important, and the Lord quotes it three times in the New Testament just to bring out the fullness of the meaning!   i. In Romans 1:17, when Paul quotes this same passage from Habakkuk 2:4, the emphasis is on faith: "The just shall live by faith."  ii. In Hebrews 10:38, when the writer to the Hebrews quotes this same passage from Habakkuk 2:4, the emphasis is on live: "The just shall live by faith."   iii. Here in Galatians 3:11, when Paul quotes this passage from Habakkuk 2:4, the emphasis is on just: "The just shall live by faith."

3. (Gal 3:12) The Old Testament tells us that approval by God through the law must be earned by actually living in obedience to the law, not just trying.

12 But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them."

a. Yet the law is not of faith: Some might come back to Paul and say, "Look, I'll do the best I can under the law and let faith cover the rest.  God will look at my performance, my effort, and my good intentions and credit to me as righteousness.  The important thing is that I am really trying."  Paul proves from the Old Testament itself that this simply isn't good enough.  No; the paths of approval by the law and faith don't run together, because the law is not of faith.

b. The man who does them shall live by them: The quote from Leviticus 18:5 is clear.  If you want to live by the law, you must do it.  Not try to do it, not intend to do it, and not even want to do it.  No, it is only the man who does them who shall live by them.   i. It is very easy to comfort ourselves with our good intentions.  We all mean very well; but if we want to find our place before God by our works under the law, good intentions are never enough.  A good effort isn't enough.  Only actual performance will do.

c. This passage from Leviticus 18:5 is another often-quoted principle from the Old Testament.  Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:29) quoted it in his great prayer for Israel.  The LORD Himself quoted it through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:11, 13, and 21).  Paul also quotes it again in Romans 10:5).

d. The effect of Paul's use of Scripture in Galatians 3:10-12 is overwhelming.  We understand that we don't actually do the law.  We understand that we don't actually do all the law.  And we understand that this put us under a curse.  Galatians 3:10-12 is the bad news; now Paul begins to explain the good news.

4. (Gal 3:13-14) Jesus redeems us from the curse of the law.

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

a. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law: Because we didn't actually do it, and do it all, the law put us under a curse.  But now Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law.  Redeemed has the idea of "buying back" or "purchasing out of."  It isn't just rescuing; it is paying a price to rescue. Jesus bought us out from under the curse of the law.   i. In Jesus, we aren't cursed anymore!  Galatians 3:10-12 left us all under a curse, but we are not cursed any more because Jesus bought us out from under the curse.   ii. Redemption is an important idea.  "Redemption points to the payment of a price that sets sinners free." (Morris)  Redemption came from the practices of ancient warfare. After a battle the victors would often capture some of the defeated.  Among the defeated, the poorer ones would usually be sold as slaves, but the wealthy and important men, the men who mattered in their own country, would be held to ransom.  When the people in their homeland had raised the required price, they would pay it to the victors and the captives would be set free.  The process was called redemption, and the price was called the ransom.

iii. The image took root in other areas.  When a slave had his freedom purchased - perhaps by a relative, perhaps by his own diligent work and saving - this was called "redemption." Sometimes the transaction took place at a temple, and a record was carved in the wall so everyone would forever know that this former slave was now a redeemed, free man.  Or, a man condemned to death might be set free by the paying of a price, and this was considered "redemption."  Most importantly, Jesus bought us out of defeat, out of slavery, and out of a death sentence to reign as kings and priests with Him forever.

b. How did Jesus do it?  How did He pay a price to rescue us?  Having become a curse for us means that Jesus became cursed on our behalf; He stood in our place and took the curse we deserved.   i. It stops us in our tracks to understand that the price He paid to buy us out from under the curse of the law was the price of Himself.  It didn't just cost Jesus something, even something great - it cost Jesus Himself.  We know that men cursed Jesus as He hung on the cross; but that compares nothing to how He was cursed by God the Father.  He made Himself the target of the curse, and set those who believe outside the target.  ii. "Paul does not say that Christ was made a curse for Himself.  The accent is on the two words, 'for us.'  Christ is personally innocent.  Personally, He did not deserve to be hanged for any crime of His own doing.  But because Christ took the place of others who were sinners, He was hanged like any other transgressor." (Luther)   iii. "All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth.  When He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person.  He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord.  In short, Christ was charged with all the sins of all me, that He should pay with them with His own blood.  The curse struck Him." (Luther)   iv. "I am told that it is preposterous and wicked to call the Son of God a cursed sinner.  I answer: If you deny that He is a condemned sinner, you are forced to deny that Christ died.  It is not less preposterous to say, the Son of God died, than to say, the Son of God was a sinner." (Luther

c. For it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."  When did Jesus pay this price?  The principle of Deuteronomy 21:23 shows that Jesus received this curse upon Himself as He hung on the cross, fulfilling the Deuteronomy 21:23 promise of a curse to all who are not only executed but have their bodies publicly exposed to shame.   i. "This passage did not refer to crucifixion (which the Jews did not practise), but to the hanging on a tree or wooden post of the corpse of a criminal who had been executed.  But in the New Testament times a cross was often called a tree and there is no doubting that that is what Paul has in mind here." (Morris)   ii. Hangs on a tree: In the thinking of ancient Israel, there was something worse than being put to death.  Worse than that was to be put to death, and to have your corpse left in the open, exposed to shame, humiliation, and scavenging animals and birds.  When it says hangs on a tree, it does not have the idea of being executed by strangulation; but of having the corpse "mounted" on a tree or other prominent place, to expose the executed one to the elements and supreme disgrace.   iii. However, if anyone was executed, and deemed worthy of such disgrace, the humiliation to his memory and his family must not be excessive.  Deuteronomy 21:23 also says "his body shall not remain overnight on the tree."  This was a way of tempering even the most severe judgment with mercy.  Significantly, Jesus fulfilled this also, being taken down from the cross before night had fully come (John 19:31-33).

d. Cursed is everyone: The punishment of being hanged on a tree, and left to open exposure, was thought to be so severe that it was reserved only for those for which is was to be declared: "this one is cursed by God."  So Jesus not only died in our place; but He took the place as the cursed of God, being hung on a "tree" in open shame and degradation.   

e. That the blessing of Abraham might come: Jesus received this curse, which we deserved and He did not, so that we could receive the blessing of Abraham, which He deserved and we did not!  It would be enough if Jesus simply took away the curse we deserved.  But He did far more than that; He also gave a blessing that we didn't deserve!  i. What is the blessing of Abraham?  It is what Paul already described in Galatians 3:8-9, the blessing of being justified before God by faith, instead of works.

f. Who does the blessing of Abraham come to?  The Gentiles in Christ Jesus.  Paul doesn't mean that it only comes upon Gentiles, as if Jews were excluded, but that it - quite unexpectedly to some - comes upon the Gentiles also, to those Gentiles in Christ Jesus.  i. The phrase in Christ Jesus is important.  The blessing doesn't come because they are Gentiles, any more than the blessing of being right with God comes to Jewish people because they are Jews.  It comes to all, Jew and Gentile alike, who are identified in Christ Jesus, and not by their own attempts to justify themselves.

g. Because this blessing is ours in Jesus, we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith - not through coming back under the law as the principle for living.  The promise is received, not earned





By law, or by the Spirit?

In verses 1-5, he points out that the experience of the Galatians should have made it obvious - they received the Spirit by faith, not through the law.

Paul expresses his surprise: "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified" (v. 1, ESV). We might say, Who has pulled the wool over your eyes?

Here's the starting point for understanding the gospel, Paul says: Jesus Christ has been crucified. That is the foundation on which we build. Paul had made it abundantly clear that Jesus died on a cross; he would have also explained that this ignominious death had a purpose: Jesus died to save us. Salvation comes from him, not from anything we do. His crucifixion changes everything, as Paul will explain.

A few questions should make it clear. "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?" (v. 2). The answer was obvious: They received the Spirit by faith, by accepting what they heard. This is another foundational point.

Paul was astonished that the Galatians did not see the logical consequences of their experience with the Spirit. The Spirit was the promise of eternal life, and they already had the promise, so why would they think that more requirements might be necessary?

"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (v. 3). The Spirit was given by grace, not law, so what did they hope to achieve by observing laws, such as circumcision of the flesh? It just didn't make sense!

The Galatian Christians were apparently being taught that they needed to add the Law to their faith. False teachers were saying that they needed to progress further in the faith by observing the Torah. They were teaching circumcision and the entire Law of Moses (Galatians 5:2-3; Acts 15:5).

Paul says this is a ridiculous idea - if a person is given the Holy Spirit on the basis of faith, without deserving this gift, then Christianity is based on faith, and there is no place for works as far as salvation is concerned. (Paul will later comment on how Christians should behave in response to Christ's work, but here he makes it clear that salvation is on the foundation of faith in what Christ has done.) Our goal cannot be attained by human effort, and that is why Jesus died on the cross. Whatever work had to be done, he did on the cross.

The Galatians had been persecuted for their faith, so Paul asks, "Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain?" (v. 4)

Paul asks, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" (3:5). The Galatians had already seen enough evidence: miracles in their midst. And God had done this on the basis of faith, not of works of the Law. The Galatians had been doing great without the law, so why would they now entertain the idea that they needed to start keeping the law?

Evidence from Scripture

Paul's opponents were apparently saying that Scripture required people to observe the law in order to be counted as righteous (see, for example, Deuteronomy 6:25). They would have cited the example of Abraham, since Jews traced the promise of salvation back to him, and traced the requirement of circumcision back to him, as well.

Paul accepts the challenge and notes that the Torah actually supports salvation by faith. "Just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'?" (v. 6, quoting Genesis 15:16). His faith was counted as righteousness, without any mention of the law.

Paul agrees that people need to be part of Abraham's family, but he says that the law is not part of the deal: "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (v. 7). Even in the Old Testament, a right relationship with God came through faith. God counted Abraham as acceptable because he believed, not because of his obedience. God will accept everyone who believes, because they are like Abraham in this significant respect.

Can non-Jewish people really have a relationship with God on that kind of basis? Yes, says Paul, and he again quotes the Torah: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed'" (v. 8, quoting Genesis 12:3).

The Torah says that non-Jews will be blessed through Abraham - and that blessing is by faith, not by the Law. Abraham did not need to be given the Law of Moses in order to receive the promise, and his spiritual followers do not need it, either. They are given the blessing even while they are Gentiles, that is, while they are uncircumcised.

Paul concludes: "So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith" (v. 9). We are blessed in the same way Abraham was: by faith. God's blessing is by faith.

The curse of the law

Faith is one basis for being declared righteous. Is the law is another? "No," Paul says. The Law brings penalties, not blessing. "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them'" (v. 10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26).

The Law is not a way to earn favor with God. It functions in the reverse way, since we all fall short of its demands. If the law is our standard, we are under the threat of a curse. The law can point out where we failed, but it cannot pronounce us righteous; that was not its purpose. If we think we have to observe the Torah, if we want to be under the Law, we will be under its condemnation.

Paul concludes, "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith'" (v. 11, quoting Habakkuk 2:4). The Old Testament prophet connected righteousness with faith, not with law.

These two approaches are contradictory: "But the law is not of faith, rather 'The one who does them shall live by them'" (v. 12, quoting Leviticus 18:5). The problem, Paul implies, is that no one "does them" well enough.

Righteous people should live by faith, but the Law is based on performance. The law emphasizes human effort and external behavior, but salvation is given by grace through faith in what Jesus has done.

Law-keeping cannot earn us God's favor. If we look to it, it can bring only a curse, since we all fall short. But even in the curse, there is good news - God has provided a solution to our dilemma. It is in the crucifixion of Christ:

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'" (v. 13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23).

Christ, by becoming human, became our representative. On behalf of all humanity, he experienced the penalty prescribed by the law - its curse - death. He let the law do its worst on him, but it was on our behalf. We are rescued because our representative suffered the consequences of our failure. The law has no further claim on us.

Paul is using several lines of reasoning to show that Christians are not under the authority of the Law of Moses; we are not obligated to obey it. Not only is the law ineffective, bringing a curse rather than a blessing, Jesus has also paid its worst penalty, and that counts for all humanity. Jesus' crucifixion gives Paul the basis for saying that Christians are not under the Law.

Why did Christ do this? "So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (v. 14). The blessing is by faith as opposed to the Law. Christ removed humanity from the domain of law so that salvation would be given to Gentiles (as well as Jews) through Christ. By faith, we receive the Spirit, the guarantee of eternal life.




BIBLE.ORG. ANALYSIS:  The Galatians, like Peter, had become disoriented in their doctrine and in their conduct. At least some of the Gentile Galatian saints had adopted the view of the Judaizers. They were willing to submit to the rite of circumcision, thereby obligating themselves to keep the whole Old Testament law. In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul has defended his apostleship against the charges of the Judaizers. In chapters 3 and 4, Paul vindicates his gospel against the "different gospel" charges of the Judaizers. In verses 1-9 Paul turns to the experience of the Galatians (vv. 2-5) and that of Abraham (vv. 6-9) to show that salvation and sanctification both are the result of faith, apart from law-keeping. In verse 10 Paul addresses the subject of the law, explaining what it can and cannot do.

The Failure of Faith (3:1)

Just as Paul dealt with the error of Peter in chapter 2, so he sets forth in the first verse of chapter 3 why the faith of the Galatians faltered: "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?"

Here we find several issues emphasized which require a very direct approach by the Apostle Paul. To orient ourselves to the issues which underlie chapters 3 and 4 of this epistle, let us consider these.

First, Paul stresses the gullibility of the Galatians. In certain contexts the word "foolish" can imply a lack of "gray matter"-a low intelligence, but this is not Paul's point here. The Greek term is the antonym of the word for wisdom. The willfulness of the Galatians in wandering from the truth is evident to Paul. Their foolishness was deliberate and therefore deserving of a rebuke. The bluntness of the word "foolish" is intended, I believe, to jar these saints from their error, and to quicken their interest and attention in what Paul is about to say.

This term "foolish" is not only discomforting; it is humbling. I believe that this error, like most which creep into the church, was held with a fair measure of pride. Error of this kind appeals to one's pride. The Galatians likely claimed a new level of truth, a higher level of spirituality. This was certainly true of the teachers of this "different gospel." Paul strategically used the word "foolish" to challenge the pride of those who professed to be newly enlightened.

Second, Paul exposes the guile of the Judaizers who taught this "new gospel." The term "bewitched" was pregnant with meaning to the first readers of this epistle. A "hex" or "spell" was cast on another by giving him the "evil eye." In his commentary F. F. Bruce stresses this nuance when he renders the term "hypnotized."54 Barclay cites this closing, commonly found in ancient Greek letters: "Above all I pray that you may be in health unharmed by the evil eye and faring prosperously."55

While the Galatians were foolish to have fallen for such teaching, Paul acknowledges that those who taught such heresy were indeed cunning characters. They had, so to speak, cast an evil spell on the Galatians. Their teaching had the effect of mentally disarming the saints so as to convince them of doctrine which should have been seen as false.

Third, Paul seeks to contrast the method with which he preached the gospel to the Galatians with the method of the Judaizers. There is a word-play which was evident to the Galatians. It highlighted the contrast in Paul's method of proclaiming the gospel with that of the Judaizers. The Judaizers' gospel had "bewitched" the Galatians by giving them the "evil eye." Paul's preaching had converted them by portraying Christ before their very eyes.

The expression "publicly portrayed" is the rendering of one Greek term. Literally, it means, "to write before," and thus could refer to something previously written. Here the term means to portray before someone's eyes. There are numerous examples of this usage in the papyri, the ancient Greek documents which have been discovered and translated. There is, for example, in one, the public announcement by a father, stating that he is no longer liable for his son's debts, and in another, the announcement of an auction. I suspect that this Greek term might be used today for signs which we post along the street to advertise garage sales. Thus, we might view Paul's presentation of the gospel as deliberately visible.

I believe that by the use of these two expressions ("bewitched" and "publicly portrayed") Paul is contrasting his methodology with that of the Judaizers. Their method is underhanded, secretive, and subtle. Paul's method is direct, open, and public. I sense the same contrast that we find in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is portrayed as publicly calling forth, speaking forthrightly, inviting all to gain knowledge. Folly is more secretive and seductive; her appeal is to that which is either forbidden or unavailable to the masses. Error is sneaky while truth is straightforward. Error is offered to the elite-truth, to the all.

Fourth, Paul once again tells us the central truth of the gospel-Christ crucified. Paul proclaimed Christ. He was always the essence, the focal point of Paul's preaching. More than this, though, Paul preached Christ crucified (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:2; 15:3). Many then, as now, would gladly speak of Christ as an example, an inspiring teacher, a man committed to truth and justice. But Paul, however, spoke of Christ who was hung upon a Roman cross and put to death for the sins of men. It is the death of Christ followed by His resurrection and ascension which is central to Paul's teaching and doctrine. You will not find Christ apart from His cross in Paul's gospel. To the Jews, the cross was a stumbling block; to the Gentiles, an offense (1 Cor. 1:23). Paul was not a man-pleaser and so the crucified Christ was his message to all men.

The Continuity of Faith (3:2-5)

2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Last year I learned a little lesson about staying with "the program." Before leaving on a trip to India, all of my airline arrangements had been made here, in advance. Once I had established my travel plans and purchased my tickets, the airline made no provision for change, and I'm sure there are plenty of reasons for this policy. What this meant was that I had to keep within the schedule at every point. When my wife Jeannette joined me in Bombay, we decided it would be nice to leave a day early and spend one day in Bangkok. To us, it was a very simple matter; all we had to do was leave Bombay one day early, and then catch the same plane we were to meet the following day in Bangkok-really no problem at all-or so we thought. We learned quickly the realities of air travel!

In Paul's dispute with the Galatians he claimed that in adopting the teachings of the Judaizers the Galatians had departed from the principle of faith by which they had begun as believers. In verses 2-5 Paul asks a simple question, requiring a simple answer; yet the answer had profound implications. The question is a fundamental one, for by establishing one fact Paul can prove the genuineness of his gospel: "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" (v. 2)

When Paul speaks of "receiving the Holy Spirit," he is referring to the salvation of the Gentiles. In verse 3 Paul makes this very clear by the expression, "Having begun by the Spirit ..." There is a very good reason for Paul's selection of this expression. At the Jerusalem Council, Peter described the conversion of Cornelius and his household (all Gentiles), speaking of the fact that God had given these people the Holy Spirit, since He knew their hearts (Acts 15:8). Peter used a similar expression in Acts 11 when he was called on the carpet by the Jerusalem (Jewish) saints for preaching Christ to the Gentiles. Peter's response to them was a detailed account of God's leading, concluding with these words: "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:17).

The fact that God had saved the Gentiles and accepted them, evidenced by the same gift of the Holy Spirit, compelled the Jewish Christians to accept the conversion of the Gentiles. Some of these same Jewish Christians later conceded to the accusation of the Judaizers that the Gentiles, apart from circumcision and the keeping of the law, had an inferior status (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). By referring to their reception of the Holy Spirit, Paul sought to remind the Galatian saints of their equal status in Christ.

In addition to this, Paul sought to remind the Galatian Christians of the means by which they received the blessing of the Holy Spirit. There were two possibilities presented in this context: either they received the Holy Spirit as the result of faith or as the result of works. Faith is referred to by the expression, "hearing with faith,"56 while works are called "the works of the Law."

The "works of the Law" were those deeds which would be done in compliance with the Old Testament law as demanded by the Judaizers. To suggest that the Gentiles were saved by law-keeping was ridiculous. They formerly had not been under the law, and Paul never required law-keeping for salvation. No, the Galatians had been saved by the hearing of the gospel which was accompanied by faith. The Spirit of God quickened the Galatians and enabled them to understand and respond to the gospel (cf. Titus 3:5). There was no disputing this fact.

The implications of this fact are significant. How could the Galatians be so foolish to suppose that they were saved by faith and yet sanctified by works? If keeping the law cannot save, how can it possibly sanctify? Do you remember the account in chapter 2 of the gospel of Mark in which the paralytic was lowered through the roof? Our Lord's first words to this man were, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). This statement raised a very logical question in the minds of the scribes and Pharisees: How could any man have the authority to forgive sins, a power which belongs only to God? Jesus responded with a question: Which is easier, to tell a man that his sins are forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk? If one is able to do the greater, than surely he can do the lesser. On the other hand, to be unable to do the lesser surely suggests an inability to do the greater. Since faith was sufficient to save, it was also sufficient to sanctify. If, on the other hand, law-keeping cannot save (as we have already seen in Gal. 2:16), neither can it sanctify. The opposite sort of reasoning (or the lack of it) exhibited by the Galatians was rightly labeled "foolish" by the apostle.

Verse 3 presses home the point of verse 2. Having begun by faith, why did the Galatians fail to follow through faith to completion of what the Holy Spirit began. Why were they so foolish as to trust in the work of Christ by faith for salvation, and afterward hope to finish the process by a means which was inadequate to commence it? Paul's argument is based upon a principle which is both logical and biblical: the means for justification is the same means for sanctification.57

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Col. 2:6).58

Consider this simple illustration of the principle which Paul is addressing. Do you remember how you first learned to swim? At first, if you are like me, you fought the water, trying desperately to keep yourself above. Yet the harder you tried to keep yourself up, the more exhausted you became. Eventually you would drown. Then you learned a very interesting and encouraging fact: While you could not keep yourself above the water, the water itself could keep you up. The first lesson to teach a person to swim is to teach him to float. The more we relax, the more we sense the security of the water to keep us afloat. Once we have learned that we can always trust the water to keep us up, we can then advance to learning how to move about in the water. We can learn different strokes. We can swim on our stomachs or on our backs. We can even swim under the water.

How foolish it would be, once we have learned that the water will keep us afloat, to turn from this truth and once again strive to keep ourselves up by working with all our might to do so. How much wiser to work with the water, rather than against it. The fundamental principle which keeps us from drowning is the same principle which underlies everything we do in the water. Having learned to trust the water to keep us afloat, how foolish to later reject this truth.

Verse 4 raises the subject of suffering. Apparently the suffering of the Galatian Christians was a sore point, one on which the Judaizers must have dwelt. It would seem that the Judaizers had an appealing alternative to suffering and adversity. If the source of the suffering was the persecution of the Jewish unbelievers, as it sometimes was (cf. Acts 14:1-7), the Judaizers might have suggested that keeping the law would appease their anger and thus eliminate or at least alleviate suffering. Another possibility was that the Judaizers tended to oversimplify the Old Testament teaching, concluding that blessing was the result of law-keeping, while suffering was the consequence of neglecting the Law. If the Gentile Christians would only submit to the Law, the Judaizers may have taught, then they would not suffer God's wrath.

Contrary to the Judaizers' belief that suffering was an unnecessary evil, Paul and Barnabas taught that it was unavoidable and that the real evil would be to have suffered in vain. Both Paul and Barnabas had taught that suffering was an inescapable part of their Christian experience, something which they must endure (Acts 14:22). While Paul does not consider the Galatians a lost cause, nor their sufferings a vain experience, surely the Judaizers promoted this possibility. What a waste, Paul protested, to have invested so heavily in the gospel, only to cast it all away by a foolish decision to follow the teachings of the Judaizers. The Judaizers thought of suffering as a needless waste, whereas Paul thought of sufferings as wasted by the believer who forsakes grace to put himself under law.

Verse 5 turns from the past to the present. Paul asks a second question. Did the believer receive the Holy Spirit by faith or by works? Paul wants the Galatians to recognize the source of the Spirit's on-going, gracious, miraculous ministry. By what principle does God so graciously bestow His blessings through His Spirit? Is it the principle of faith or the principle of works? "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith" (v. 5)?

In verses 2 and 3 Paul focuses more on the beginnings of the Spirit's working in the life of the Galatian saints. In verse 5, Paul presses his readers to identify the basis for God's on-going blessings in their lives. If law-keeping is so important-as the Judaizers were insisting it was-then what does law-keeping produce? Is "works" the basis for God's blessings? Then surely works would be worth the effort (assuming, of course, that they could bring about blessing). It is not behaving that moves God to act graciously but believing. It is by the "hearing with faith" that God's blessings are realized.

Verse 5 teaches us several truths which I believe we dare not overlook. First, Paul reminds the Galatians of the generosity of God in their lives. The word "provides" in verse 5 fails to convey the abundance of the provision of God as suggested by the original term.59 Herein lies a clue to the error of legalism, so evident in the teaching of the Judaizers. They tended to look upon God as miserly and condemning. It was as though God hated to bless and that He must be bribed by the good works of men which moved Him (begrudgingly) into action. Grace and generosity are bed-fellows, just as are severity and legalism.

Second, note the emphasis on the greatness of God's power as He continually bestows grace in the lives of His people. The Spirit who is so generously given, also greatly works among the people of God. The Spirit, which was first made manifest by miraculous signs, is still spoken of as a miracle-working Person. While this should not be taken as a proof-text for those who expect miracles as a norm, neither should those who differ fail to observe that miracles need not cease. The exact nature of the miracles (cf. "works of power," v. 5, NASB, margin)60 is not defined, so we dare not speculate. The point Paul is seeking to drive home is that the same God who manifested His power in saving the Gentiles continues to work in them in a mighty, even miraculous, way.

It would seem that this point would strike at the weakness of the Judaizers. The more one is convinced of the greatness of God's power, the less he is inclined to depend upon himself or his own works. To stress the works of the law implies God's lack of ability (countered by an emphasis on God's power) or His lack of willingness (countered by an emphasis on His graciousness) to act. If God is both gracious and great in power, believing is all that is required. Belief (faith) relies on God to act; law-keeping suggests that man has to take matters into his own hands ("God helps those who help themselves").

Third, Paul views God's interest and activity in the lives of His people as on-going. Verses 2 and 3 focus upon the initial aspects of the Galatians' faith; verse 5 dwells on the continuity of God's working in the lives of these saints. Was it possible that the Judaizers, like some people today, supposed that God intervened in order to save men, but sanctification was something men had to do for themselves? If so, they were wrong, for Paul sees salvation as the beginning of God's life-long involvement in the lives of His own.

The Father of Faith (3:6-9)

6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations shall be blessed in you." 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

Paul seems to have won the debate already. Had he not demonstrated from the experience of the Galatian Christians that it was faith which was the basis for their salvation just as it was also the basis for their sanctification? The Judaizers, however, could protest on several counts. Was this not an argument based upon experience? The Judaizers might counter that the gospel which Paul preached, was something new and novel-a radical departure from the Old Testament Scriptures and from the "faith of their fathers." Lest this argument of the Judaizers go unanswered, Paul presses the principle of faith (as opposed to works) to its founder.

Abraham was the founding father of Judaism, so far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned. The Jews erroneously took pride in being Abraham's physical offspring, and they were confident of God's acceptance and blessing on this account (cf. Matt. 3:9; John 8:33). Abraham was the first to be identified in Scripture as saved by faith (Gen. 15:6), and Paul seizes upon this fact to show the Galatians that the principle of faith is not new at all, but as old as God's first dealings with men. Since the Judaizers appealed to Abraham, Paul did so also to prove that Abraham established the principle of faith, not works.

Verse 6 begins with the words "even so," integrating verses 6-9 with the argument of verses 2-5. Were the Galatian saints saved and sanctified by faith? So, too, was Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15:6 (years before Abraham or his son was circumcised, cf. 17:22-27). Moses, who wrote the Law, also wrote that Abraham was justified on the basis of his "hearing of faith," just like the Gentiles had been.61

While the Judaizers believed that their physical descent from Abraham was the key to their acceptance and blessing by God, Paul maintained that it is those who by faith are believers in God are really Abraham's sons (verse 7). It is faith, not physical descent that constitutes a person as Abraham's son.

The Judaizers saw their physical relationship to Abraham as the basis for their superiority over the Gentiles. Paul has already alluded to this "superiority complex" in chapter 2: "We are Jews by nature [that is, by birth], and not sinners from among the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:15).

In verse 8 Paul reminds his readers of the promise which God gave to Abraham and shows us from this promise that God had included the Gentiles as the recipients of His blessing. God had promised Abraham that in him all the nations would be blessed. Did the Abrahamic covenant give hope to the Jews? Of course it did. However, it also gave hope to the Gentiles--a fact which the Judaizers had chosen to overlook.

Paul went so far as to call this passage in Genesis the "preaching of the gospel" (Gal. 3:8). The gospel was not new, nor was the principle of faith. It could be seen as far back as the Abrahamic Covenant. Once again, the Judaizers were wrong. With Abraham, all those who are of faith, including the Gentiles, are blessed (v. 9).


Paul was certainly accurate in referring to the teaching of the Judaizers as a "different gospel." The gospel Paul preached was the public proclamation of salvation through faith in Christ crucified. His gospel was a matter of faith (vv. 2, 5, 6-9), not works (vv. 2, 5). His gospel relied on the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 2, 3, 5); theirs on the works of the flesh (v. 3). His gospel did not discriminate against the Gentiles, but theirs did (vv. 6-9). To capitulate to the Judaizers (as Peter had done) or to surrender to circumcision (as some of the Galatians were doing) was no small matter. To follow this "different gospel" was to turn from the way in which they had been saved and from the way in which they were being sanctified. "Wrong-way Corrigan" looks good in comparison.

Our text has much to say to Christians today as well as to the Galatians. As we seek to apply the truths of this passage to our lives, let us consider three principles which this text teaches.

First, we should learn the expediency of experience. While I have always considered the book of Galatians to be a heavy doctrinal book, let us not overlook that experience has played a strong role thus far in the argument of the epistle. When Paul's authority and integrity as an apostle was challenged (cf. 1:10), Paul's defense was an account of his experience. First, he described his salvation and early years as a Christian (1:11-24). Then, he told of his later experience in Jerusalem (2:1-10) and in Antioch where he found it necessary to confront and correct Peter (2:11-21). Furthermore, in the first nine verses of chapter 3, a doctrinal section, Paul's argument is based upon the experience of the Galatians (vv. 2-5) and that of Abraham (vv. 6-9).

I do not in any way wish to minimize the importance of sound doctrine, but only to underscore the fact that we must experience sound doctrine. Suppose for a moment that the Galatians had not experienced the grace of God in their lives through faith, either in salvation or subsequently. Paul would have little grounds for an appeal to them, at least on the basis of their experience. It is my opinion that many of those who "fall away" from orthodox Christianity, either in doctrine or practice (or both), have failed to experience the Spirit of God in their lives. Christians who opt for divorce have falsely concluded that Christianity doesn't work, when in reality they have not put Christianity to work in their lives. Their marriage has failed to experience the grace of God, not because God has failed them, but because they have failed to experience God's grace and power in the healing of their relationship. There is no despair any greater than that of the Christian who concludes that his faith doesn't work. Paul's appeal to the Galatians was on the basis of how their faith had worked.

My orientation in the past few years has been strongly cerebral and creedal. That is, I have greatly benefited from those who have placed a very strong emphasis on sound doctrine. Yet, sound doctrine is not sufficient. Sound doctrine must be accompanied by a lifestyle which manifests the grace and power of God through His Spirit. This is an area which needs improvement in my life, and I would suspect that this is true for you as well.

Second, continuity is the basis for consistency. The thrust of Paul's teaching in our passage is that we must continue as we have begun. As we were saved by faith, so we must walk by faith. As God's Spirit was given and as He continues to minister mightily within us by faith, so we must continue on by faith. If we began by faith, we must press on in the same way. Thus, there is no need to "change horses in mid-stream" by seeking to please and serve God by law-keeping, as the Judaizers have insisted.

My concern here is with the underlying principle which enables Paul to appeal to us to keep on as we first began. Why are we to continue as we began, rather than to change (from grace to law)? Simply, because the gospel never changes, just as God does not change! We keep on as we have begun because the gospel does not change. The same principles on which we were saved are those by which we are sanctified. This helps me to better understand some of the terminology in the Bible. When Paul says that we grow "from faith to faith" (Rom. 1:17), I understand that I do not leave faith behind in my growth as a Christian, but I grow in faith to even greater faith. God is both the "Author and the Finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2); its beginning and its culmination. All things, we are told, "are of Him, and through Him, and unto Him" (Rom. 11:36). He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Rev. 1:8; 2:8; 22:13).

This is not what the Judaizers were saying. They taught that while faith in Christ was sufficient to save, "real spirituality" required something more, something better: the addition of law-keeping. In other words, change was the key to spiritual growth and maturity, not continuation. We hear something very similar today when people tell us that we need to have a second blessing, a second work of grace, some greater experience of a different and higher order than what we have previously experienced.

Such teaching looks at the Christian experience similar to the launching of a space rocket. Our reaching the goal of godliness requires us to have several "stages." The gospel is the "first stage." By it, we are set in motion. Eventually, they believe that stage burns out, requiring the ignition of the "second stage," which may be a second work of grace, dedication, or some other dramatic crisis experience. According to this erroneous viewpoint, after several such "stagings," we can expect to arrive at maturity and godliness.

Paul knows of no such thing. In our passage he views the Christian's experience as a continual process of growth in grace, and according to the gospel by which he first was saved. Yes, the Christian will grow and will change, but the gospel does not change; we change as we understand and apply it more fully in our lives. The difficulty with us is that we think the gospel is what we need to be saved but then we set it aside. However, it is the gospel which provides us not only with the way of salvation, but with the way of sanctification. We fail desperately when we preach the gospel to the unsaved, and then fail to follow through with those who come to know the Lord by teaching the continuing process of the gospel in the life of the believer. In Galatians chapter 2, Peter's failure, even in his maturity, was to cease to live in accordance with the gospel. We, too, must live according to the gospel.

This principle of continuity is the reason why the New Testament instructs us to regularly observe the Lord's Table, as we do at Community Bible Chapel. The remembrance of communion not only reminds us of how our salvation commenced but also how it must continue. We can never hear the gospel enough. We can never fully grasp the gospel in this life. Until our Lord takes us home, we should not cease to reflect on the gospel, seeking to understand it more fully, and to apply it more consistently.

Third, we find the principle that discontentment is the basis for deception and disobedience. As I have been thinking through the book of Galatians, I have been puzzled by what possible reason, what conceivable basis, there would be for the Galatian saints to set aside the gospel for "a different gospel." By using the terms "foolish" and "bewitched," Paul indicates that this change is completely unreasonable. What then precipitated the basis for setting aside the gospel? I think I have been helped by attributing much of the reason to discontent. When we are discontent with our circumstances, we are overly eager to find a way out, a "better" way. That better way for the Galatians was the "different gospel" of the Judaizers, which promised a higher level of spirituality.