Galatians Chapter 3

So here we are at chapter 3. Paul has spent the first two chapters defending his apostleship, his message, and the fact that the law is not what saves believers. Paul continues with the thought here, going on the offensive to point out what he has touched on, that the law is powerless to save us. Let’s dive right in!

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified? 2 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing? 5 So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?

It is interesting how Paul phrases this. They had a vivid portrayal of the crucifixion, which likely means they had a good and vivid teaching from Paul himself on the subject. Having this knowledge just makes their mistake worse. To make them think on this he asks if they received the Holy Spirit through their faith in Jesus, or by the works of the Mosaic law. The answer is by faith. Paul then points out that what has been started in the Spirit cannot be finished by our flesh. If it is by the law, then they would have been suffering persecution from the Jews for no reason. So how does God supply the Holy Spirit? Through hearing with faith, and not through the works of the law.

6 Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, 7 then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. 8 Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. 9 So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.

Here Paul uses Abraham as an example. You may remember that Abraham lived over 400 years before Moses and the Mosaic law found in Leviticus. Paul points out that the law did not save Abraham, but instead his faith did. James also uses Abraham, pointing out that Abraham proved his faith by obeying all that God asked him to. Again, not the works of the law, but the works that result from desiring to follow God and out of love for Him. (For a more detailed account of works and faith please refer to the previous chapter). Paul also points out that God promised to bless all nations through Abraham. Jesus came through Abraham’s line and died to save all. Those who have faith like Abraham, proven through their deeds, are blessed with Abraham.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed. 11 Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith. 12 But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them. 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. 14 The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Here Paul explains what he means about the law being useless for salvation. He says those who rely on it are under a curse. The reason being the law is not based on faith and its purpose is to show our sin. Therefore, our sin is shown with no real way to fix it. The only thing waiting under the law is punishment for our failures, but Jesus came to earth and bore that punishment on Himself. That is why faith brings salvation, because only Jesus can pay the price. If you try to rely on your own goodness and actions without believing in Jesus and the price He paid, then you are doomed to fail. No amount of goodness can save a person, only the grace of God. Jesus died to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and to bring salvation to all of us.

15 Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ. 17 And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

Paul tries to put this in terms they will be able to understand. He points out that people do not just ignore or stop an agreement put in place through legal means. Think about our government, we do not cancel the constitution when we add things to it, it still stands as it is. The promise to Abraham came before the Mosaic law, so the law itself cannot cancel the promise that God made to Abraham. Paul points out that the promise to Abraham was made in a singular sense, restricting it to Jesus. This blessing only comes through the promise made to Abraham, and not through the Mosaic law. It is the belief and faith in that promise that brings salvation.

19 Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not for just one person, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly be by the law. 22 But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. 24 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. 25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Now comes the question that likely hit you as it did the original audience. If the law cannot save and came later, then why was it given at all? Paul explains there was sin in the world as they waited for the seed, so they needed a temporary guardian. The guardian in this case shows our need for salvation by showing we are fallen sinners. The verses about a mediator can be confusing. What Paul points out is that a mediator is usually reconciling two parties, the offended party and the party that did the offending. However, when dealing with God there is only one party that needs full reconciliation and that is man. God id God and therefore we have to accept Him as who He is because He is perfect goodness and holiness and we are not. Therefore, we are the only party that needs to change, and that is all Paul means. Paul then moves back to the subject he had said before about the law and the promise. He asks the next question that comes to mind, is the law working against God’s promise. Paul says no, because if righteousness came through the law then there would be no need for the promise. Paul then says the Scriptures but everything under the power of sin. Many will likely be asking ‘what does that mean?’ (honestly I asked that myself and had to read The Message of Galatians by John Stott[1]) For Paul, particularly at the time he wrote, Scripture meant the Old Testament. After all, Galatians is one of the earliest letters and the New Testament had not been collected. Paul points out that the Old Testament tells us of the failing of man and no one is righteous. It also spells out what sin leads to. Therefore, the Scripture tells us of how everything in this world is held under the power of sin (or wrong doing). Therefore, we too were trapped by sin and in that time, before we come to God’s grace, the law serves as a guardian. Like a guardian today, the law looked out over us until we came to maturity. In the world, today that is 18, but spiritual maturity is not limited to a specific age. So finally, Jesus came and saved the whole world, thus the law had fulfilled its responsibility as guardian and was no longer in authority over God’s people. Instead we have received what we were promised and through Jesus’ death we are now sons of God. The law was there to watch over God’s people and remind them of Jesus who would come to save them. Since Jesus has already come the law has reached it purpose and is no longer needed.

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

The law is no longer needed because as we have come to Christ and identified ourselves with Him we have received the Spirit and in that sense Jesus is like a coat that is put over us. He guards our hearts and draws us to Him. He reveals sin in our lives and pushes us to obey God. As such when God looks at us He does not see male or female. He does not see skin color or cultural background. He does not see servant or slave or master. For that matter He does not even see our old selves. Because Jesus is in us when God looks at us all He sees is Jesus. We are all one body united in Christ. As such, we are untied with Jesus, the one seed and therefore we are all heirs of the promise given to Abraham.

So What Do I Do With This Now?

All the information is great, but what do I do with it now?

1 If you have not yet, accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and believe in Him, no longer trying to justify yourself by being ‘good enough.’ We can never be good enough and must accept and submit to Jesus

2 Study the Old Testament. The law may be unnecessary because of Jesus, but what the Old Testament teaches goes beyond the law. The Old Testament is just as valuable as the New Testament and will help us to know God and appreciate the fulfillment that Jesus is.

3 Forget about status, culture, skin color, or anything else. We are the body of Christ, children of God, and when He looks at us He sees Jesus. We must learn to do likewise.

4 Follow Abraham’s example. He had faith in God and showed that faith by obedience. We must seek to obey God remembering that it is faith and not the action that saves, but that the action shows our faith.

Well everyone I know that was long and hard. Believe me when I tell you I had to struggle through it as well, but it is rich in teaching and it is full of things we need to learn. Please keep striving to learn God’s word and apply it. I will see you back here next week as we look at Chapter 4. God bless and have a great week.

[1] John R.W. Stott. The Message of Galatians. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986) 91.

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