Bible Passage: Galatians 3:1-14
In this passage, Paul hammers home the argument he has been making to the Galatians. He is trying to address the threat that false teaching in Galatia poses to the gospel, and in particular the insistence that Gentile believers need to follow the Jewish law in addition to putting their faith in Christ. Having brought up the issue and shared some of his own story around the issue, particularly his interactions with the Jerusalem apostles, he now uses the strongest of language to express his disbelief at what is going on. He calls the Galatians ‘foolish’ and claims that they have been ‘bewitched’.
Continue As You Started (v1-5): In these verses, Paul reminds the Galatians about how they first came to faith in Jesus. Right at the start their focus was on Christ crucified. They were not taught to obey the law but rather to look to the cross for their justification. Paul then asks a series of rhetorical questions to tease out the idea that they started out in the faith by believing, not by keeping the law.
The first of these questions was about how they received the Holy Spirit. If the very indwelling presence of God in their hearts came as a result of faith, then why would they abandon that in favour of works of the flesh? To move from a Christian life empowered by the Holy Spirit to one based on human effort is a serious downgrade! And if they were willing to make such a downgrade, then what was the value in the experiences that they have had? Paul reminds them that they have seen God work miracles among them, and again this was in response to their belief, not to their law-keeping.
The same trap that the Galatians fell into is one that Christians today need to be aware of. We talk a lot about salvation being by grace alone, but it is easy to let legalism creep in when it comes to how we live out our Christian lives. But the way in is the way on, and the way to maturity as Christians is not to pile up legalistic obligations but to continue in faith and in the Holy Spirit.
The Example of Abraham (6-9): Abraham is one of the most important figures in Scripture, and is often brought up in the New Testament as a model of how salvation works. In his argument here, Paul refers to Genesis 15:6 and uses Abraham as an example of somebody who was counted as righteous by believing. It is those who believe like Abraham did that are his children, not those who are joined to the Jewish people through keeping the law.
This point is reinforced by the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, that in him the Gentiles would be blessed. The purpose was always for a multi-ethnic people to be formed of those who believe like Abraham did as the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham. Paul describes this as ‘the gospel’ that was declared to Abraham beforehand. If our idea of the gospel does not include this idea as a central feature, then it falls short of what Paul saw the gospel to be.
Whilst the primary thrust here is about Jews and Gentiles together being the people of God by faith, there are obvious implications for racial reconciliation more broadly. Because all the nations are brought into the promise of Abraham, so our churches should strive to reflect the glorious multi-cultural people of God.
The Curse of the Law (10-13): The law is very different to the promise that was given to Abraham. The law states that anybody who does not observe it completely is under a curse. It would take perfect obedience to the law for a person to be justified by it, and this is something that nobody can accomplish. So by trying to make people rely on the law, the false teachers are bringing in something that cannot lead anybody to be justified and will instead place people back under the curse.
In the law, there is blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. By his own perfect obedience, Jesus brings the blessing and shares it with the Gentiles, just as the promise to Abraham declared. In his death, Jesus also fully dealt with this curse. He did this by becoming a curse himself, bearing all of our transgression, and dying the cursed death of ‘hanging on a tree’. There is no need for the believer to fear the curse of the law because Christ become that curse for us. Now, through faith, we can receive the blessed promise of the Holy Spirit.
- Invite people to reflect on how they are continuing in their Christian life? Is at unambiguously by faith, or has legalism crept in?
- To what extent do we understand the gospel as bringing together a people from all nations as a fulfilment of the promise to Abraham? In what ways can we greater reflect the multi-cultural nature of the gospel in our lives and churches?
- This is a great moment to invite people to put their faith in Jesus, who has redeemed us from the curse of the law.