Galatians 3 - Faith Came Before The Law

INTRODUCTION: Paul now begins to detail the proof in scripture that faith was declared for righteousness before the law was given by God through Moses. Paul draws attention to Abraham as the father of all who come to Christ by faith, and uses some aspects of covenants between men to clarify his point. Though he is writing primarily to Gentile believers to remind them of faith in God verses attempting to achieve righteousness through the law, he has no hesitation to direct them to the scriptures to verify the grace provided through Christ.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the Revised Webster Bible.


A - DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT BY LAW OR BY FAITH?

Galatians 3 "1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been clearly set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if [it is] yet in vain. 5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, [doeth he this] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"

COMMENTS: Paul closed the previous chapter with the statement that if righteousness is gained by the law, then Christ has died in vain, and he expands on that truth in this chapter. When he refers to the Galatians as being foolish, it does not need to be considered as an insult since it could be translated in perhaps a softer sense as being unwise. The Greek word used here appears in only four other places in the New Testament, and two of those passages may help us better understand that Paul is being firm with the Galatians, but not harsh or unfeeling. After his resurrection, Jesus used a similar approach when he spoke to two who were on the road to Emaus to help them gain a better understanding of the events they were discussing. Luke "24:25 Then he said to them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26 Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory? 27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Paul wrote to Titus, who was a Gentile Christian, commenting that even the Jews had at one time been foolish (or we could substitute the phrase Jesus used "slow of heart to believe"). Titus "3:3 For we ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, [and] hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; 6 Whom he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Paul also in that passage clearly stated that it was "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us," So, being justified by grace those who believe in Christ were made heirs according to the promise.

Paul asked the Galatians who has captivated their thoughts that they now rejected the truth that Jesus Christ was crucified, as it had been clearly set before them. He wanted them to think through the question of whether they had received the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith. The answer he expected to be obvious to them was that they had received the Spirit of God by faith. Therefore, they should not be foolish since they began in the Spirit, to act as though they needed to perform something in the flesh to be saved. Paul did not detail what they had suffered for their faith, but he prompted them to consider if their suffering had been in vain. He wanted them to realize that the ministry of the Spirit and the working of miracles had been done because they heard by faith, not because they performed works of the law.


B - FAITH CAME EVEN BEFORE THE LAW

Galatians 3 "6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel to Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham."

COMMENTS: Paul continued to draw from the Old Testament scriptures even though his message was mainly to Gentile, so those scriptures must have been significant to the Galatians. the following passage is related to Paul's presentation explaining that Abraham believed in the LORD; and the LORD counted that faith to him for righteousness. Genesis "15:3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is my heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD [came] to him, saying, This shall not be thy heir; but he that shall come forth out of thy own loins shall be thy heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou art able to number them: and he said to him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." This righteousness by faith was before Abraham had any children and before the LORD established the covenant of circumcision, as seen in the next passage. Genesis "17:10 This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, who [is] not of thy seed. 13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."

Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah even though Sarah was considered to be past the age of childbirth. Some years later the LORD told Abraham to take Isaac to a designated place and sacrifice him to the LORD, but the LORD provided a substitute just before Abraham would have slain Isaac. Genesis "22:15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thy only [son]: 17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which [is] on the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." The LORD promised that all the nations, or people groups, of the earth would be blessed through the seed of Abraham. This promise was made over four hundred years before the law was given through Moses.


c - those who remain under the law are under a curse

Galatians 3 "10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, [is] evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live by them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

COMMENTS: Those who seek to be made righteous before God by keeping the law will need to keep every point perfectly or they will be under a curse for their failure. Deuteronomy "27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen." Paul said it is evident that no person is justified by the law in the sight of God for the just shall live by faith. Two Old Testament passages can combine to support Paul's statement. Psalm 143:2 And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Habakkuk "2:4 Behold, his soul who is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith." The LORD had laid down a requirement that would bring life if any could fulfill it, but the only one able to do that completely is Christ Jesus, so the law was actually defining our need for faith. Leviticus "18:4 Ye shall perform my judgments, and keep my ordinances, to walk in them: I [am] the LORD your God. 5 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man doeth, he shall live in them: I [am] the LORD."

Those who cannot fulfill the whole law are under a curse, and the only one who can fulfill the whole law is Christ Jesus. But he took the curse for us so his righteousness could be applied to any who will believe in him. Paul uses scripture again to prove that Christ was crucified to redeem us from the law by being made a curse for us. Deuteronomy "21:22 And if a man shall have committed a sin worthy of death, and he must be put to death, and thou shalt hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him that day; (for he that is hanged [is] accursed of God;) that thy land may not be defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance." thus the LORD God has provided a way that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that the promise of the Spirit may be received through faith.


D - PAUL USES A COVENANT AMONG MEN AS AN EXAMPLE

Galatians 3 "15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though [it is] but a man's covenant, yet [if it is] confirmed, no man setteth it aside, or addeth to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, [that] the covenant, that was confirmed before by God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot set it aside, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance [is] by the law, [it is] no more by promise: but God gave [it] to Abraham by promise."

COMMENTS: Paul begins by stating that once a covenant is confirmed as a binding agreement between two people, the agreed conditions cannot be set aside or modified. It is implied that a covenant from God would have even greater guarantee of fulfillment. Paul said the promise of God was made to Abraham and to his seed, in the singular sense of that term as it applied to Christ. That covenant that was confirmed by God in Christ, could in no way be made of no effect, nullified or modified by the law that was given four hundred and thirty years later through Moses. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no more by promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. As Paul continued his letter, he strengthened his point about the importance of faith in God's promise, and the purpose of the law that does not nullify that promise, as both the promise and the law are uniquely fulfilled in Christ Jesus.


E - THE LAW SERVED A PREPARATORY PURPOSE

Galatians 3 "19 What purpose then [serveth] the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; [and it was] ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not [a mediator] of one, but God is one. 21 [Is] the law then against the promises of God? By no means: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up to the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye [are] Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

COMMENTS: Paul now begins to explain the purpose of the law, and his first statement is that it was added because of the disobedience until that seed who is Christ, to whom the promise was made, would come into the world. Paul said it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. The expression of "ordained by angels" is not self explanatory, but the Greek word translated here as ordained is used in other passages as well, and carries the general meaning of an authoritative and unalterable command, and Paul said it was delivered by angels. This was to be administered by a mediator, and Paul points out that normally a third party mediator functions between two parties, but God is one. God is fully able to bring his promise and the demands of the law together in Christ, to the benefit of those who will believe, so the law is not against the promises of God. If righteousness could have been achieved through keeping the law, then scripture would not have concluded all to be under sin. That very conclusion in scripture takes us back to the promise: righteousness comes by faith of Jesus Christ given to those who believe. Paul explained Christ as our mediator as he wrote to Timothy. 1 Timothy "2:5 For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."

Therefore, the law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Paul then explains that once faith has come, the schoolmaster is no longer needed to guide us to Christ. All who have come to God by faith in Christ Jesus are children of God. Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There are no longer distinctions of Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female: for believers are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. The promises of the LORD do not change, and he is a merciful God. Even before Israel came out of Egypt, the LORD set forth the way back to him after they would sin and fall into the hands of their enemies. Deuteronomy "4:29 But if from there thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find [him], if thou shalt seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. 30 When thou art in tribulation, and all these things have come upon thee, [even] in the latter days, if thou shalt turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient to his voice; 31 (For the LORD thy God [is] a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he swore to them." After both the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom fell, The LORD still was willing to receive any true worshippers. Jeremiah "29:10 For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years shall be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. 12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray to me, and I will hearken to you. 13 And ye shall seek me, and find [me], when ye shall search for me with all your heart."


--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, this chapter of Paul's letter has been a reminder to me that your Holy Spirit came to me by faith and not by personal righteousness through my own efforts. Help me now to continue to be led by your Spirit to bear the fruit of your righteousness, and not to have any pride about keeping your holy and just law. Thank you for the record of Abraham who believed your promise of providing for him an offspring long before you brought it to pass in his life. It is very likely that he needed your strength day by day, just as I do, to await the fulfillment of your promises to those who have placed their trust in you. What a marvelous reality to know that the law which came after the promise to bless all people in the seed of Abraham, did not in any way nullify that promise. Trying to keep the law without a heart of faith will leave a person under the curse of death since the law can never be completely kept by mere man. You have provided a mediator between God and man, and this is a marvelous distinction that you are that mediator in Christ, who can justly mediate between both parties even though God is one. Help me Lord to remember as I earnestly seek to keep your righteous law that Christ has both kept that law in my behalf, and at the same time died in my place for my failure to keep the whole law. My Lord and Savior, I offer you all praise because since I belong to Christ I am Abraham's seed, and an heir according to the promise. Hallelujah, Amen!

Galatians, Chapter 1 - No Other Gospel
Galatians, Chapter 2 - Gentile Circumcision
Galatians, Chapter 4 - Heirs of God
Galatians, Chapter 5 - Liberty in Christ
Galatians, Chapter 6 - New Creation in Christ

Published 16 November 2012