In part 1 we established that the primary purpose of this letter was to contend against a group called the Judaizers, early Jewish Christians who taught that Gentile converts to Christianity also had to observe certain Old Testament rites, specifically circumcision. Some even argued that the only way for a Gentile to become a Christian was to first convert to Judaism and go under the Law.
In response, Paul presented a powerful defense of the essential New Testament truth that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone. We do not sanctify ourselves by religious works or Jewish legalism, but are sanctified by faith in the grace and power of God, made manifest in the work of Jesus Christ, and energized in our life by the Holy Spirit.
There are many in the Church who need to be reminded of this today, since modern day Judaizers are again teaching their followers the same things Paul fought against in his time. Theses teachers claim that Christ’s death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, and stress the need for every believer to live a Torah-observant life. Among other things, this includes keeping the Saturday Sabbath, celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals, and observing the Jewish dietary laws. They advocate learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset, and some have rejected the traditional Greek based New Testament, claiming that Aramaic texts are older and more accurate.
On one hand, they deny that doing this constitutes a return to Jewish legalism, but is a demonstration of love and obedience instead. But on the other hand, they teach that to live a life that pleases God, this Torah-observant walk must be part of every Christian’s life.
With that, let’s continue our study of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians with chapter 3.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5)
Paul knew who had bewitched the Galatians. It was a group of Judaizers who had visited the Galatian churches. They showed up after Paul left, teaching these new Gentile Christians that Paul had not given them the whole story. If they wanted to be accepted as followers of Jesus they had to put themselves under the Law.
Paul asked the Galatians a question that many believers need to be asked today. After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)
Variations on the “saved by grace, kept by works” theme have been around throughout the Church Age. They all imply that Jesus only began the work of our salvation, and it’s up to us to complete or maintain it through human effort. But in Hebrews 7:25 we’re told that because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Paul reminded the Galatians how they came to receive the Holy Spirit and witness God’s miraculous work. It didn’t happen because they were obedient to the Law. At the time they hadn’t been told they had to obey the Law. It happened because they believed the Gospel.
So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:6-9).
The statement that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness is a quote from Genesis 15:6. Abraham was and is known primarily as the father of the Jewish people. But Paul said that all who rely on faith, Jew or Gentile, are Abraham’s children, And in another remarkable insight into Scripture, Paul said God was announcing the gospel with its justification by faith to Abraham when He said, “All nations will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). The blessing that would come to all nations would be the same justification by faith that Abraham enjoyed.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Deut. 27:26). Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them (Lev. 18:5).” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Deut. 21:23). He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:10-14).
The Law cannot be fully obeyed. In order to be strict enough for God’s requirements it has to be too strict for man’s abilities. Therefore, all who rely on the law are automatically cursed and cannot be justified before God. James said, “Whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles on just one part of it is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). By taking all of our violations of the Law upon Himself Jesus became a curse for us and redeemed us from the curse of the Law. This made God’s promise to Abraham available to all who believe. Therefore, like Abraham our belief is credited to us as righteousness.
Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise (Galatians 3:15-18).
Once a contract has been agreed to it becomes binding and can’t be changed without the mutual consent of the parties. Therefore God’s promise to Abraham could not be set aside by the Law, which came later. God’s covenant with Abraham included a promise that called for a descendant of Abraham’s to be the one through whom all nations would be blessed. God didn’t say “descendants”, which would have included all Jewish people, but “ descendant” which pointed to one Jewish man, Jesus.
Let’s summarize what we’ve read so far. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. When God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him, He meant that one of Abraham’s descendants (Jesus) would make it possible for God to justify the Gentiles by faith. Therefore, He was announcing the Gospel in advance. The Law, which was given later, could not change or cancel this promise.
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one (Galatians 3:18-20).
In Romans 3: 20 Paul put it this way. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by obeying the Law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. If we’re driving on a highway at 70 miles per hour and there is no posted speed limit, we can’t tell if we’re speeding or not. But if we see a sign that tells us the speed limit is 65 then we become aware of the fact that we are speeding. In like manner, the Law is a sign that tells us whether we’re sinning.
The Law was a contract between God and Israel (Exodus 19:5-6), and established the conditions under which they would be able to enjoy the benefits of the land He was giving them. The land was theirs forever (Genesis 13:15), but to live there in peace and plenty they had to obey the Law. This was how God would deal with their sins until Jesus came. The mediator was Moses and God was one party. The other party was Israel.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe (Galatians 3:21-22).
The Law is only a shadow of the things that were to come (Hebr. 10:1). The reality, however, is Christ (Col. 2:17) The Law is not opposed to the promise, it’s purpose was to help God’s people maintain their relationship with Him until the promise was fulfilled. The Law can’t give us life because we’re prisoners of sin. Sin is our natural state and it prevents us from obeying the Law. Therefore, life can only come to us by faith in the promise, fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Children of God
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Galatians 3:23-25).
The Law put very tight constraints on behavior such as a guardian might place on a child. But now that we are justified by faith, we don’t need a guardian. Our position before the Lord is based on what we believe not on how we behave. Our behavior is a sign of our gratitude.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Our belief in Jesus gives us the right to be born again as children of God (John 1:12-13). No matter who we were before, if we’re in Christ we are God’s children and that makes us heirs to the promise God made to Abraham. Like him we are justified by faith because our belief has been credited to us as righteousness.
We now see that the promise of justification by faith alone predated the giving of the Law by over 400 years. Once the Lord came to fulfill the promise, the Law was no longer necessary. It was a shadow of the good things that were coming, but the reality is Christ.
The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Through Him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39).