September 24, 2017

O Foolish Galatians!

Galatians 3:1-14

Being an apostle is not for the faint-hearted.  If you’ve read the Book of Acts you know some of the hardships Paul had to face from the near constant threat of death and imprisonment to sleepless nights to facing hunger and thirst.  In this letter to the Galatians we see another category of concern to Paul — confronting those within the church over the error of their ways.  We’ve heard of Paul’s confrontation with the false brothers in Jerusalem (Gal 2:4-5), his confrontation of his fellow apostle Peter in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14), and now we hear his confrontation of the Galatians themselves.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Galatians 3:1

Paul is beside himself as he now, in chapter 3, moves from recounting confrontations he has had with others to confronting the Galatians themselves.  He is perplexed.  He calls them fools yet it would seem that he wants to believe the best about the Galatians.  It is like he is saying: Certainly this can’t be, dear Galatians.  This can’t be coming from you!  Has someone bewitched you?  Has someone cast an evil spell on you!?    You’ve seen Christ.  You’ve experienced his grace in your life. I know this isn’t you!

2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—  Galatians 3:2-5

So what is it exactly that has Paul so worked up?  The issue comes out in the questions he puts to the Galatians in verses 2-5.   He says remember when you first heard the gospel and received the Holy Spirit.  Did you receive the Holy Spirit as a result of your obedience to the law or was it “hearing with faith?” The Galatians certainly would have responded that yes it was through faith.  Paul goes on and asks another question.  If you received the Spirit by faith, why do you now believe you will now grow (be “perfected”) by the flesh (through obeying the law)?

In other words the Galatians were relying on faith in the gospel for their justification but they were relying on the law for their sanctification.  Yes, faith in the gospel is necessary to enter the kingdom of God but once in, faith is discarded for self-effort.  Can you relate to this?  I hear this kind of thing all the time (and am tempted to believe it myself half the time!).  We tend to see the gospel as the basics of the Christian faith and then mature Christians move on “beyond” the gospel.

Paul wants the Galatians to see the proper place of the law in their life.  He wants them to see that we both live and grow by faith in Christ and that the law is powerless to save us or sanctify us.  He proceeds to make his appeal with 4 arguments.  Let’s consider each argument.

#1 An Argument from Experience

We’ve already unpacked most of this argument in verses 2 to 5.  Paul says think back and remember your conversion.  If you received the Holy Spirit  through faith, why wouldn’t  you grow in the Spirit in the same manner?   He is saying You’ve seen in your own experience that hearing with faith resulted in the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t give up on faith now!  Abraham Lincoln told voters in his 1864 re-election bid “Don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream.”  The same applies here.  You’ve been riding the faith horse.  Why change to the law horse when you are in the middle of the stream?

#2 An Argument from Abraham

6just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?   7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And 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.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.    Galatians 3:6-9

Paul asks the Galatians to consider Abraham.  (That’s “Father Abraham” – the Abraham of the Bible who God called out to become the father of many nations.)

I’ve heard people say that since we are living in the days after Christ has come, the way of salvation for us is to place our faith in Christ, but for those who lived before Christ they had a different way of salvation which was by obeying the law.  Have you heard this?  From the New Testament forward, our sins are covered by faith.  But the Old Testament people had to obey the law and perform sacrifices to have their sins forgiven.

Paul says this isn’t true.  He says the gospel was preached to Abraham.  The same gospel he is preaching to the Galatians was preached to Abraham! And Abraham was saved not by the law but through faith in that gospel.  Paul is citing here Genesis 15 when he says Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Here is the context of that verse:

5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.   Genesis 15:5-6

Let’s consider the order of events in these verses.  (1) God makes a promise to Abraham.  (2) Abraham heard and believed the LORD.  (3) The LORD counted it to him as righteousness.  Abraham, just like the Galatians, heard with faith and received righteousness.

So Paul is saying even in the Old Testament salvation came through hearing with faith.  If this is the way it was way back then, why would you think that it is any different now?

#3 An Argument from the Book of the Law

10For 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.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”    Galatians 3:10-12

Paul’s argument here is simply this:  If you put yourself under the law and seek righteousness under the law, you will succeed only if you obey the entire law.  And as we know, no one can “abide by all things written in the Book of the Law”:

James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Paul’s conclusion then, in verse 11, is that it is impossible for anyone to be justified (be declared righteous) by the law.  The standard that God sets in the law is too high.  The law is powerless, then, to make us righteous or to grow us in righteousness.

#4 An Argument From Christ on the Cross

13Christ 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”— 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.  Galatians 3:13-14

So Paul says if you are under the law, and you fail to obey every part of the law, you are under a curse.  But the good news is that Jesus has taken that curse for us on the cross.  By hanging on a tree (the cross), it was clearly seen that Jesus was cursed by God.  Why?  Because he failed to obey the law?  No, to offer himself up for us who have failed to obey the law.  In other words, brothers and sisters to Galatia stop pursuing righteousness under the law.  You will never measure up to the standard of the law and Jesus has already taken the curse of the law for you in your place.

Discussion Questions

(Thank you Pastor Dave for writing the discussion questions this week!)

Read Galatians 3:1-2.  Why do you think Paul uses such strong language here with the Galatian church?  When is it appropriate to confront someone?  What can we learn from the way Paul confronted the Galatians?
Read verse 3. What do you think Paul means by the phrase, “perfected by the flesh” (ESV)?  If you have some other translations, compare them.  The Galatians were trying to perfect themselves through good works. Tim Keller often quotes John Gerstner who said, “The main thing standing between you and God is not so much your sins; it’s your damnable good works.” What works of righteousness do I use to justify myself before God?
Read verses 4-5. By what did God give the Galatians the Holy Spirit and work miracles among them?  What might you say to someone who thinks that they have moved beyond the gospel and are now living a victorious, sinless life?
Read verses 6-7.  How was Abraham justified before God?  What might you say to someone who believes that the Old Testament people had to obey the law and perform sacrifices to have their sins forgiven?
Read verses 8-9.  Remember that the church in Galatia was divided between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) and that Paul is confronting Jewish believers who believed that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament such as circumcision were still binding on the New Testament church.  How do these verses provide hope to the Gentiles in the church?
Read verses 10-11.  Compare verse 10 with Deuteronomy 27:26.  A popular Anglican (N.T. Wright) has argued that when Paul spoke of the works of the law (e.g. in Galatians 3:10), he did not have in mind the moral requirements of the law of God. Rather, he was speaking only of the badges of Jewish nationalism—circumcision, the dietary laws, the priesthood, the holy days, and whatnot. Does that fit the context of Deuteronomy 27?
Read verses 12-14.  How did Christ redeem us from the curse of the law?  Wright further argues that divine righteousness is not an asset that can be imputed or credited from God to the believer. He says it has nothing to do with virtue or excellence or moral rectitude that can be imputed or credited. Instead, God’s righteousness is simply His covenant faithfulness. And Wright says that when Paul speaks of the believer’s righteousness as a righteousness that comes from God, he is talking about covenant membership, which ultimately must be maintained by our own faithfulness.  By contrast, the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that justification is the act of God’s free grace by which He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight. He does so only because He counts the righteousness of Christ as ours. Justification is received by faith alone.  Do you think Galatians is teaching justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or do you think with Wright that the Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin got it wrong?  Why or why not?




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