Galatians Chapter 3

Paul scolded the Galatians for abandoning faith to follow legalism. He continues to try to convince them that justification can only be by faith, and that God’s promise to save believers was given hundreds of years before the law was delivered, and God’s promise cannot be broken under any circumstances. The law was given to make people realize their need of the Savior, but not for justification.

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What had Christ not accomplished?

1You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified!

Paul wasn't concerned that they didn't acknowledge the fact of Jesus' crucifixion; he was frustrated that they didn't see the full impact of this fact. They heard with their ears Jesus died for them on the cross, yet they carried on as if it had no effect on the forgiveness of their sins and the sanctification of their souls. So they pushed on using their efforts and human means as if they can somehow add to what Christ had already done for them.

Like Peter asked Jesus to wash his whole body, but Jesus said the cleaning of the feet was enough. Can we see the implication of this story? The washing of the feet was symbolic of a sanctification, a setting apart, for God’s kingdom, but Jesus never meant to totally wash him in the physical sense; sinner he will still be until Christ comes again when he will put on the incorruptible, the body that is finally free from sin; but this body, forget it, it will be shed like an old garment. The Galatians committed the same error as Peter did when he asked Jesus to wash his fleshly body. They continued to work on this flesh, circumcision in their case, as if it will one day be allowed into the presence of God. Modern Christians do exactly the same thing though in different form to address the issues of their flesh. Christ died on the cross, sure, but I will have to do my part.

How did you receive the Spirit?

2The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?

To receive the Spirit is the same thing as to be born again, to be made holy, to be sealed for the day of redemption, to be given life from death. In other words, to have everything you will ever need to be presented holy and blameless before God from this point going forward to that blessed day.

This is the only thing that Paul cares about, not their tithing, their yielding the left cheek, their hatred for evil, their giving to the poor, their sacrifices, their ministries, their prayer, their organizing EE training, conferences and retreats, etc. Once they’re properly situated at the throne of grace, He will send those He will send, as He sent Isaiah, Moses, Jonah, and Paul, and countless others. All Paul wants to know is: What is your salvation based on? He doesn’t want, or need, to hear about anything else, because if this issue is not settled, all their good works would no longer be good, but will burn up and all their efforts would be wasted.

He might as well ask us the same question.

Walk with God the same way you started

3Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4Have you suffered so many things for nothing?—if indeed it was for nothing.

I have heard from many well-meaning Christians that though we may be saved by grace at the moment of repentance, the rest of our lives is a balance between grace and works. Is this really what the Bible is saying? What about this very verse that clearly counters that argument. Perhaps we can paraphrase the verse like this: “Are you so foolish? Although you began with grace, are you now trying to finish with your own strength and determination?”

In the writing on chapter 1, I quoted Romans 1:17 which says this: “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life. (New Living Translation)’” In other words, there is no point in a Christian’s life when human effort is allowed to enter the equation.

And the suffering Paul talked about must be the same thing he said of the Colossians who attempted to make themselves more sanctified through means they were familiar with before they accepted Christ. All the “do not touch,” and “do not handle,” do nothing to restraint their sinful nature.

What were they “trying to finish?” What did the blood of the Son of God miss that they had to try to finish. In the eyes of the Judaizing Hebrews Chrisitians, Jewish laws and ordinances make them holy; this is why they don’t consider themselves sinners, only Gentiles are sinners. This is why they still fought to bring back circumcision so they can perfect their holiness. But how can they improve upon the ever cleansing blood of the Lamb of God? How can you? How can you be more clean than the moment Christ applied His blood on you?

Some very famous expositor of the Bible believes that God intends to use the remaining part of our lives to make us perfect for God’s kingdom. What? Isn’t this what the Galatians are doing and Paul is vehemently against it? Why are they trying to finish what Christ already finished?

The sons of Abraham

5Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard? 6Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, 7so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham.

The giving of the Spirit happens at the moment of repentance, when one comes to Christ, and the working of miracles, from transformed temperaments to amazing accomplishments in the life of the Christian, Paul is asking the Galatians, and likewise us, where they think both acts come from? Your obedience? Your diligence in carrying out God’s plan? No, the answer lies in you simply believe in the gospel you heard. Trust and obey is a song written by man, not God. The only one who obeyed and God was pleased was Jesus himself, and and when we put our trust in Him that He paid it all for our sins, we partake of this obedience that has nothing to do with the common obedience we have come to assume to mean.

Once again Paul emphasized the contrast between faith, or simply believing, versus the doing of the works required by the law. Many Christians do not seem to take this emphasis to heart, most would argue that just believing is not enough, there has to be work that proves your faith. And frequently James 2:24 is used to support this argument, that faith must be accompanied by works. As a matter of fact James 2:21-22 wrote this:

"21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. (James 2:21-22)"

This seems to be in stark contrast with Romans 4:2;9-12, which says Abraham was justified before he was even circumcised, way before he even had Isaac, let alone offering him,

"2If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (Romans 4:2) ... 9Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:2;9-12)"

Who is right? I’ll say Paul is right; the Judaizing tendency of the apostles including James is evident in this Galatians passage. And if the revelation Paul received is enough that he can claim they, including James, added nothing to his message, let it be true. This James’ passage might have been written during this time when the council of the apostles was still found wanting by Paul that he took them to task with the issue of circumcision as a case in point. And if Peter—or as a demoted Cephas for his hypocrisy when he took off from the Gentiles table upon the arrival of certain men from James, was found guilty of Judaizing, and it appears the rest of the apostles were implicated, too—was publically denounced by Paul on the the Judaizing issue, James is not far from being innocent, might it have been that the James’ epistle was influenced by the powerful legalists of the day?

Those who believe are blessed along with Abraham

8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer.

The gospel was proclaimed to Abraham "ahead of time" because the Gentiles’ salvation was foreseen, and of course God who is omniscient would also foresee mankind’s inability to do anything deserving His saving them, and still He made a promise that cannot be broken. And this promise made no mentioning of any condition other than faith, with nary a hint of works. Romans 4:2 says: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about,” and the often memorized favorite Ephesians 2:8,9 says: “8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).”

The curse of the law

10For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.”

The law must be a curse because not only its standard too high for anyone to fulfill, all of the law must be fulfill, every jot and every tittle.

The just shall live by faith

11Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.

It should be very clear in their minds, and ours, right now that we cannot use the law as a basis for our justification. And if the law fails at that very first step in establishing our relationship with God, how can it help us do anything good for God? or anything good that pleases Him? But the baffling thing is most do not see the law for what its principal function really is. It is designed to show us our failures, not our success. It’s like a clear mirror to show the one standing in front of it blemishes that are humanly impossible to remove: the sinful nature. A proper response for anyone is to start looking elsewhere for a way that works: Jesus, the way the truth and the life.

The law is not based on faith

12But the law is not based on faith, and the one who does the works of the law will live by them. 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.

The law requires works, not faith. It’s based on compliance, not willingness without threat or judgement. It does not grant freedom, but exacts payments and promises punishment upon failure. It’s a cold and uncompromising system. It’s described in Ezekiel 18:20: “The soul that sins, it shall die.” No exception, no reduced sentence.

And if Christ did not come to fulfill the law, to release us from its grip, the blessing of Abraham would not have come to us; the blessing of the promise of the Spirit, by faith.

A covenant cannot be set aside

15Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it.

Paul gave an example of a real world contract; even as lowly as a human contract, it cannot be altered. There is a statement like it at the end of the book of Revelation about not adding or subtracting anything to God given covenant; and once again, this covenant is encapsulated in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world …” Let there be no subtle minimization of the effectiveness of this covenant.

God’s promise cannot be invalidated

16Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ. 17What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise.

The law that came hundreds of years later cannot invalidate the promise. The law that shows our unworthiness, that condemns us, can no longer use our sins against us. If a human ratified covenant cannot be invalidated, how much firmer is the one ratified by God.

Inheritance is based on the promise, not the law

18For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise.

This inheritance is our citizenship of heaven, our sonship of God. But the practical implication is: no one can enter God’s kingdom, or become God’s sons and daughters, without perfect holiness, being perfectly sanctified at any moment, being completely pleasing to God. And since we know the only instrument through which God prepares us for His Kingdom is: God’s perfect Sacrifice. Anything that we do cannot make us more sanctified than the day we first believe. This is why it is amazing grace.

One more important point: the only way we please God, so ever completely is: to believe in His Son, no works attached. This is how we receive the inheritance. And if the inheritance is based on the law, which one among us can get it? Nicodemus asked Jesus the very honest question that few if any of legalists of our time are sincere enough to ask.

The role of the law

19Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary. 20Now an intermediary is not for one party alone, but God is one.

The law was given, or added, because of transgression? This is inconsistent with Paul’s previous statement which he said nothing can be added or taken away from God’s covenant hundreds of years before the law was given. To really add something to the covenant would amount to changing the condition through which man can be saved. So there must be a different meaning to this word “added,” which must mean to make men more conscious of their transgression, but not with the purpose of stoping men from further transgression, because this became evident through the Old Covenant. It was added so men cannot deny the reality of their sinful nature. This special “addition” does not change the condition for salvation; it is still and forever will be by grace and through faith alone.

21Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the scripture imprisoned everything under sin so that the promise could be given—because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those who believe.

According to the only possible interpretation of the law based on verses 19 and 20, the law is not the opposite of God’s grace as some might think. Many folks like to think of a balance between law and grace, but so far we’ve seen that the law does not invalidate God’s grace, it is used as an instrument to push people toward God’s grace, and when it has successfully done so, it’s work is done, the saved sinner doesn’t need it as a teacher anymore, but the Spirit of God will then take over and guide them into all the truth. The law pushes people into the hand of grace, and then leave.

The law was given to “imprison” mankind under sin, giving them the only way to salvation that is to believe in Christ.

But the interesting, or maybe more like … foolish—to use Paul’s expression—, thing is some actually think the law can give life. Really? There is a huge amount of Scriptures that say the complete opposite: the law brings death, and bear fruit for death, and is a curse to those that use it as a guide, and many more.

Sons of God Are Heirs of Promise

23Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. 24Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Our relationship with the law is described as a type of prisoner and custodian. Not one that reflects the words of Jesus: life, rest, freedom, living water, peace that passes understanding, etc. And few realized that they can be released from the guardianship of the law as a result of their now being in Christ. The transition must take place, from guardianship under the law to faith in Christ, from Old Covenant to New Covenant, from prisoner to liberated, so that this great thing can happen: declared righteous by faith. If you insist on the guardianship of the law, you can only be condemned, because that is what the law does.

26For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Sons of God through faith, not through the law. To be baptized into Christ is to become a grown man, this is a quote from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary:

Ye did, in that very act of being baptized into Christ, put on, or clothe yourselves with, Christ:so the Greek expresses. Christ is to you the toga virilis (the Roman garment of the full- grown man, assumed when ceasing to be a child)—Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown

Paul frequently refers to those that are still under the guardianship of the law as babes, little children, immature, but those that put on Christ through faith become grown up and can take solid food, the kind of scriptural understanding that is based on grace through faith in Christ. This is also rather obvious in daily life; a child needs lots of rules and detailed guidance, a mature individual is guided by principles. So to us mature Christians, the Holy Spirit of God is not only our principles, but the one who not only guide us into all the truth, He empowers us to do God’s work, too.

In Christ there are no differences

28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Outside of Christ, there are classes between the priviledged and the underpriviledged. Jews vs. the so-called Gentile sinners, slave and free, male and female where only the male has the priviledge of undergoing circumcision. In Christ, all are equally sinful, and all desperately need to be saved by grace.

29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

What an amazing chapter!

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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