Galatians Chapter 3
Justification by Law or by Faith?
3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 3:2 The 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? 3:3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 3:4 Have you suffered so many things for nothing? — if indeed it was for nothing. 3:5 Does 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?
The Apostle has a number of direct questions for the churches here. He was dismayed at the direction the church had gone in. He’s basically saying… the absurdity of your thinking!
So just how are we saved, by works or by faith?
Do you see how he puts the Spirit and faith in one hand and compares that to the flesh and works in the other? Good word pictures there. Can mankind possible improve on or have a better way than the Spirit of God has for us to be found righteous with God? That would be foolish thinking to think so wouldn’t it? Paul calls it foolish thinking. What makes people prone to lean on works anyhow, after having been accepted by God through faith?
Compared to the Spirit of God, would you say it’s fair to say mankind’s thoughts and behaviors are too often ugly, selfish, greedy, unjust, negative, immoral, lustful, undisciplined, impure, unrighteous, imperfect and unholy? We can’t be good enough can we?
Philippians 4:8 is a very challenging verse where Paul tells us what we should strive to occupy our minds with… Whatever is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, anything Excellent or Praiseworthy. Honestly we’re not real good at it are we? That’s why Jesus had to pay for our sins. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift.”
Does that mean, once saved, we shouldn’t try to live holy lives? We certainly should try, it’s a fresh new effort every day isn’t it? But it requires God’s help, and we just can’t earn salvation doing so. So the focus for us, once saved, is not what we can do with our own strength, but what God can do through us. Our Christian maturity is not simply a result of our hard work, but by our dependence on and help from God. Do you agree?
The bold text in the following verses signifies quotations from various books in the O.T.
3:6 Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, 3:7 so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham. 3:8 And 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.” 3:9 So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer. 3:10 For 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.” 3:11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith. 3:12 But the law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the law will live by them. 3:13 Christ 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”) 3:14 in 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.
Genesis 12:3 and 18:18 say that all nations will be blessed through Abraham. God promised Abraham a great nation. We see here that the nation ultimately being referred to are those who have the faith of Abraham, faith in God. Hebrews chapter 11 is the “Faith” chapter, and lists people who were commended for their faith. It begins by telling us what faith is. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see”. Our hope is in Jesus, whom we’ve not yet seen. Jesus says in John 20:29… “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.
So what about the law? The law shows us our sin, it doesn’t justify us. The law condemns us, putting us under a curse. Romans 3:23 says “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
That “gift” is grace, freely given through faith in Jesus. Even when we try our hardest we cannot keep the law. We fail in behavior, motive, service, emotions, and worship. We are nowhere close to being perfect. Verse 11 says the righteous will live by faith. There’s no other way.
Jesus says in John 14:16 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. Through him in faith and him only that is.
3:15 Brothers 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. 3:16 Now 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. 3:17 What 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. 3:18 For 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.
Ever think about justification by faith (through the covenant with Abraham) being around before the law? It was God’s plan all along. As we know, the news of Jesus didn’t just come to light at the beginning of the New Testament. Genesis 3:15 refers to Eve’s seed or offspring striking or crushing the head of the serpent. This is widely believed to refer to Jesus crushing Satan. The law is a mirror to show us our sin, forgiveness comes through faith in Jesus. The law makes us aware of our absolute need for a Savior.
3:19 Why 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. 3:20 Now an intermediary is not for one party alone, but God is one. 3:21 Is 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. 3:22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given — because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ — to those who believe.
The law reveals sin. The law is inferior, it wasn’t intended to be the end-all. It was given through an intermediary, Moses. Salvation was given through God’s perfect son, Jesus. So God chose a man to deliver the law, but He chose His Son to deliver righteousness. The law cannot deliver eternal life. The law makes us sinners just like a government law against theft makes ones who steals a thief. The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:12 that being separate from Christ we were…without hope and without God in the world. Prisoners to sin. No way to break ourselves free by our own efforts.
3:23 Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. 3:24 Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 3:28 There 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. 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
But the law not only held people prisoners, it was also a guardian (disciplinarian, teacher, guide). The law showed us our need of a Savior, Jesus Christ. We are under a new covenant now, not of law, but of grace through Christ. Eph 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not of yourselves, it is a gift of God”. Because of grace, we are all the same. As Billy Graham said “The ground is level at the foot of the cross”.
You may own earth’s silver, have riches untold,
But all the earth’s wealth, won’t save your soul.
You may live in a mansion, all the world knows your name,
But at the foot of the cross, everyone stands the same.
The ground is level at the foot of the cross,
Anyone can come there for there is no cost.
Rich man or poor man, bonded or free,
The ground was leveled that day, at Calvary.
Written by Beverly Lowry, mother of singer Mark Lowry.