Let's say you wanted to convince some people that Abraham's example (of simply trusting the Lord's promise) was not our example of how we are saved today. If you were a tricky thinker, how might you convince people that God intended us to earn eternal life by obeying commandments? Well, one way you might try to fool people into legalism is to say that Moses' covenant replaced Abraham's covenant. Abraham's covenant was a "prior dispensation", or something like that.
But Paul says no to that idea. His example is that of a normal earthly contract or treaty. Once a human contract has been duly signed and sealed, no one can come moseying along, days, months, or years later, and simply change it. In the same way, God made promises to Abraham and his seed, and no one but God could change it.
Paul makes a brilliant grammatical observation. He points out that God made his promises, through Abraham, to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ultimate seed of Abraham, Matthew 1:1. God in Genesis 12:7 didn't use a plural noun ("seeds"), which, if He had done, would make it impossible to fix the promise on just one inheritor. Instead, God used a singular noun ("seed"). That singular Seed is Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah is the inheritor of Abraham's covenant.
Christ will become king of the land. He will also have spiritual offspring (see the promises in Isaiah 53:10, and the quotation from Psalm 8 cited in Hebrews 2:13). He received the blessing of eternal life, when God raised Him from the dead. Through Abraham's covenant, God the Father made promises to.... God the Son! The members of the Trinity are not going to cancel their own agreement that they made between...themselves!
So Abraham's Covenant cannot be annulled or changed. God pledged the inheritance on the basis of promise. God did not require Abraham to do a good work, in order to receive the promise. In fact, God put Abraham to sleep, and walked down the trail of consecrating blood all by Himself (Genesis 15).
No one mediated God's promise to Abraham. God appeared to Abraham directly, as Abraham was in a trance. But Moses was the mediator between the Lord and the people. No angel communicated God's promise to Abraham. God Himself communicated it to Abraham. But angels communicated God's law to Moses. Abraham's covenant was a superior covenant to Moses.
Abraham's covenant is a timeless covenant, and was made by God the Father with God the Son, through Abraham. It isn't that the blessing of salvation was by faith alone for 430 years, and then, once Moses came down the mountain, God changed salvation into a law-keeping system. The blessing of salvation came by faith in God's promise back in Abraham's time, it still came by faith during Moses' time, and it comes by faith to this very day.
Redemption was a price you paid to a creditor, to liberate a person or a piece of property into your own hands. Boaz, as described in the book of Ruth, paid a price to creditors to free up Elimelek's property. Boaz also obtained Ruth as his bride in the price, which was his real goal in the transaction.
This is what Christ did for us on the cross. His death was a redemption-price. He didn't make redemption merely possible, in some hypothetical way. He paid a real price when He died.
Christ also redeemed real people, not potentialities. He redeemed us -- meaning, He had specific people in mind when He died. The infinite worth of Christ's righteousness, and the authority of His throne, makes everyone forgivable in principle, but His redemption price was paid only for "us."
Liberals limit Christ's death to only a symbol of love. Though it's true that some portions of the New Testament use the cross as a motivating example of love, it was an example of redeeming love. If Christ wasn't doing something saving for us, then His merely dying wasn't love, and didn't mean anything. A man who throws himself in front of a truck to save you has acted from love. A man who throws himself in front of a truck even though you were in no danger, is insane.
To whom or to what did Christ pay the price? This verse says that Christ's redemption freed us from the curse of the Law. Since God is the giver and Guarantor of the Law, that means Christ's price was paid to the God the Father.
C.S. Lewis was wrong when he depicted Aslan dying to pay Edmund's debt to the White Witch. Freedom from Satan is one of the wonderful consequences of Christ's death for the believer, but Satan did not hold the debt. God was the creditor.
How did Christ's death achieve this freedom? Death on a tree. The moment God dictated that anyone hung dead from a tree is cursed of God (in Deuteronomy 21:23), Christ had to die that way. Christ could not have died by hanging, or lethal injection. Our problem was the curse of God's Law, so Christ had to absorb the force of that curse in our place.
This is another reason why it is highly foolish to teach that we need to keep the Law in addition to faith, to be saved. The Law's power to curse us was destroyed by Christ's redeeming death. The reason there is now no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus is because Christ absorbed the full force of God's condemnation in our place.
Will you be humble enough to receive this gift? Or are you still committed to the foolish project of earning God's approval?
People like to curse a lot. I grew up in a house filled with profanity, and even after nearly 40 years of being a Christian it is still an effort to choke off those words as they pop up out of my memory-banks.
God curses, too, but He never uses profanity. God curses certain types of human beings. What curse-words does God use? God's curse-words are the Ten Commandments.
Who are the human beings whom God curses? Anyone trying to gain everlasting life by keeping the Ten Commandments. "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them" (Deuteronomy 27:26, quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:10).
If you are trying to attain everlasting life, or retain it, by keeping the Ten Commandments, God curses you. Why? Because God's standard is that you must continue in them -- not just do them occasionally, or even "a lot". You must do all of them -- not some of them; and that includes laws like circumcision and the food laws, too. If you fail to continually do all of them, God curses you.
Do you keep all the commandments, all the time, perfectly in motive and performance? No? Then you are cursed with eternal death. Even if you are a Christian. If you say that you must keep the commandments to be saved. This is what Paul in Galatians is saying to you.
But Paul goes on to say: "The fact that no one is justified by the law in God's sight is obvious" (Galatians 3:11). Notice Paul doesn't say that this fact is mysterious, or hard to understand. No, Paul says this doctrine is obvious ("evident" in the NKJV).
You have to be spiritually blind not to see it. Only an blind person would claim that God lowers the bar of His law down to where we can (sort of) jump over it, or that God gives us a 50% curve on our failure rate. If someone claims that God grades on a curve, they are ignorant of the Law, or in denial.
Paul quotes Habbakuk 2:4: The just shall live by faith. Habbakuk meant this in the original historical sense that the just Jew would survive the judgments God was about to pour out on Israel for her sins. But Paul applies that truth in a deeper, wider sense. God justifies the sinner by faith, and that is why the sinner inherits everlasting life.
"But maybe then we need to keep the law as an expression of our faith, and in that way we are partially justified by law!", someone might say. Paul says this: "The law is not of faith" (Galatians 3:12). In other words, there isn't any part of the Law that has a "faith character" to it.
You can begin reading law in Genesis 17, then start with law proper in Exodus 20 and read to the end; you can read the book of Leviticus from end to end; and you can read the entire book of Deuteronomy, and you know what you do not find? Faith.
The Law is 100% doing what God requires of you. It is No % trusting what Christ has done for you. Read Galatians 3:12.
But do you want to know what you will be accused of, if you preach this today? You will be accused of being a liberal. You will be accused of supporting "easy believism." You will be accused of encouraging sin, and you will be accused of fostering false, nominal conversions. A theological savvy person will accuse you of being "antinomian."
But if you have never been accused of promoting moral liberalism, of promoting "easy believer-ism", of encouraging sin, of fostering false conversions, or of antinomianism .... then, my friend, you haven't preached the Gospel yet.
Who has the right to call himself a member of the Chosen People?
"Why, the Jews, of course", most people would reply. But Paul gives a different reply. Paul says that believers in Jesus Christ are the sons of Abraham. Believers in God's redeeming promise have always been the Chosen People.
In Romans chapter 9, Paul acknowledged that there was a physical aspect to being an Israelite; though outsiders were allowed to join the nation also, like Ruth. But Paul went on to distinguish between physical Israelites and "real" Israel. Descent from Abraham did not make anyone a child of God. It didn't always entitle you to Israel's earthly blessings! Ishmael was excluded from privilege even though he was Abraham's son. Esau was also excluded from the womb, even though he was Isaac's son.
God has always had a spiritual family that was never tied to any one ethnicity. Jesus taught this doctrine of spiritual family above blood kin. In one instance, Christ cried out, "Who is my mother, or my brother, or my sister? The one who obeys the word of the Lord is my mother, my brother, my sister!" (Mark 3:35). Christ also, when someone in the crowd cried out, "Blessed are the breasts that nursed you!", replied, "Blessed rather is he who hears the word of God and does it" (Luke 11;27).
So only those who believe are the sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). The children of Jews are not the real sons of Abraham. Neither are the infant children of Christians, since they do not believe. This is one reason why we should not baptize babies -- Paul says that the child of a Christian is not Abraham's child. Paul could not be clearer: Only those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:9).
The ceremony of circumcision stood for the entire Mosaic Law. It was the first law God gave (in Genesis 17) before He gave the Law (in Exodus 20). In the absence of that law God still accounted Abraham righteous, on the condition of Abraham's faith alone (Genesis 15:6). Abraham was an uncircumcised Gentile from the pagan land of Ur. He had no priest, no church, no water of baptism, no knife of circumcision. Yet God counted him righteous. This is why it was fitting that God said to Abraham, "Through you all the Gentiles shall be blessed" (Galatians 3:8).
This is why anyone who says that we must keep the Law to be saved has either sincerely mangled the Scripture, or they are motivated by pride (since Eophesians 2:8-9 says the reason God saves us apart from works is so that we cannot boast). Abraham made a decision of faith, in responding to God's promise, at a single point in time. At that exact time -- not later at the end of his life, but right then -- God saved Abraham.
A man or woman who is counted righteous by God does not need to keep the moral law in addition. That's like mailing mortgage payments to the bank, after a generous rich man has already paid off your loan. We would agree that anyone who kept trying to pay a debt that no longer exists is foolish. But to teach that we must keep the commandments to be saved, above-and-beyond Christ's payment for my sins, is even more foolish! Be wise!
God has no grandchildren. You become a son of Abraham, and enter into God's blessing of being accounted righteous in His eyes, by faith alone. Be glad! Instead of being shut out because of your ethnicity, the Lord welcomes you in no matter what nation your ancestors hail from!
How do you obtain the power of the Holy Spirit for your life? Paul shifts focus to a second line of proof that the Christian life is lived by faith, and not by keeping laws. That line of proof is the Holy Spirit. How do you receive the Spirit of God, and all His miraculous blessings?
First: You receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not by keeping commandments (v. 2b). A good illustration of this is Cornelius, in Acts chapter 10. Cornelius was a Roman centurion. Although he apparently believed in the God revealed by the Old Testament, he was not yet a saved man. The Lord was drawing Cornelius, and as a result Cornelius was seeking God.
The Lord by means of a vision directed Peter to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his family. Before Peter could even finish his testimony about Jesus Christ, the whole family received the Spirit of God, and gave evidence of it by praising God in miraculous tongues! Peter then had them all baptized. In this way Christian missions to the Gentile world began.
Cornelius didn't receive the Spirit of God by keeping a commandment. The Spirit of God came into Cornelius' heart because of his faith in the Gospel promise. Cornelius' example is God's rebuke to all those who preach that we must be water-baptized to be saved.
Second, what comes after receiving the Holy Spirit at salvation? Paul says that we continue the Christian life in the Spirit, the same way we started the Christian life in the Spirit -- by faith (v. 3). He says that people who say we have to switch over to law-keeping after conversion are foolish! Paul calls the Galatians "foolish" two times in just a few sentences. To say that we are obtain salvation by keeping a moral law, or that we retain our salvation by keeping a moral law, is the depth of foolishness. There is no good excuse for any sensible Christian to think this.
Why does God work miracles among us? Why does God supply the Spirit's power to a church? Paul says that miracles also come by faith, not by keeping Biblical laws (v. 5). Paul points to the miracle of Isaac's birth, recorded in the book of Genesis. Abraham was an old, old man, when God promised him and Sarah a son. How would it happen? Because Abraham kept a commandment? No! Because Abraham believed God, and God counted it to Abraham as righteousness (v. 6). God gave the circumcision commandment later, after He had already pledged His covenant with Abraham.
Has someone told you that you keep yourself saved by obeying the moral laws of the Bible? Don't listen to them. Paul says they are foolish. They show by such an idea that they do not understand the cross. Has someone told you that the Christian life is started by faith in the Gospel, and then lived by faith in the Gospel from beginning to end? That person is wise. The cross is not only how you begin the Christian life, it is your Christian life from beginning to end, and it is all a free gift!
"O foolish Galatians...!" -- Paul, Galatians 3:1
Paul has stern words for any Christian who thinks we are receive eternal life by loving God or loving our neighbor (the twin pillars of the Law). He calls them "foolish." He also calls them "bewitched", and disobedient to the truth.
Why such strong language?
First, it's because the idea that we hang onto our salvation by law-keeping shows a terrible ignorance of Christ's death the cross (v. 1b). Christ's death on the cross paid the price for every time we fail to love God or neighbor. God's standard is perfection. If you say that we receive eternal life by loving God and neighbor, then you must also say that we must love God and neighbor perfectly. Anyone knows that this is impossible to do.
Did the Law offer everlasting life? Yes, indeed it did. It offered everlasting life on the condition of perfect performance. Christ made this clear in his talks with the rich young ruler, and with the scribes. "What must I do to inherit everlasting life?", the young ruler asked. "Keep the commandments," Jesus replied.
Did the young ruler go on to ask Jesus, "Teacher, do I have the ability to keep the commandments"? No, that question was never asked. But if the young ruler had asked Jesus that question, Jesus' answer would have been "No, you cannot."
The cross was necessary, because a lost sinner cannot love God or his neighbor perfectly, and a saved sinner cannot love God or his neighbor perfectly. So, when someone says that we must keep the law in order to inherit eternal life, we are hearing deep ignorance of sin's power and a deep, fundamental miscomprehension of the cross.
Paul says no one receives the Holy Spirit by law-keeping (3:2). God gives the Spirit only to those who have trusted in Christ. "Come to Me, all of you who thirst," Jesus said on the last day of the feast, "And I will give you living water, which will spring up inside you unto everlasting life!" Jesus never said, "Come to me, and keep the commandments, and I will give you the Spirit."
You must choose between believing in the cross, or believing that we keep the law in order to inherit everlasting life. Paul says, if we must keep the law in order to be justified of our sins, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21).
It is right to say that the holy fruit in our lives shows our faith in the cross. It is wrong to say that the holy fruit in our lives is something we must do above-and-beyond trusting in the cross. The first is the Gospel. The second is heresy.
Suppose you know a person who says he or she is trusting in Christ alone for justification. Then suppose you see that same person commit a sin. You have "found" them a sinner, meaning, they have been seen that they sin. They are not a former sinner at all. They still sin. Would discovering their sin mean that the Jesus of this justification Gospel message encourages people to sin? Definitely no!, Paul says.
Paul says that the opposite is true. It is the person who tries to re-build bondage to the Law who is the minister of sin! I destroyed my bondage to the law-system by trusting in Jesus Christ. So, if I try to go back to the law-system -- if I try to re-build the prison from which my faith unlocked my chains and swung open the cell door -- that's what makes me a transgressor! That's quite a shocking claim.
A justification gospel doesn't mean that I'm free to sin. It means that now I live to God (v. 19). I wasn't set free from the law so that I could sin. I was set free from the law so that I could not sin! As long as I was under the law, I could only sin. Why? Because the law condemned me, and as a result of my guilt I remained spiritually dead and without the Spirit of God. Until I receive the Spirit of God, I must sin.
So I need God's forgiveness, so that I can receive the Holy Spirit and, through the Holy Spirit, start living a righteous life free from sin. How can I receive God's forgiveness? By accepting, through faith, Christ's death for me. When I accept Christ's death for me, God credits my sins to Christ's cross. As far as God is concerned, it's as if I was crucified along with Christ. As if I was Christ on the cross.
Not only am I forgiven by faith. I also live every day in that same faith. The Son of God is the object of my faith. The justification gospel doesn't give you a blank check for sin. It replaces unbelief with faith, and faith produces good works.
If we get ourselves to heaven by good works of the heart or good works of the body, then Jesus' death on the cross was pointless. He didn't die to give us power to be good, so that we could earn our way into heaven. He gave Himself for us -- that is, He died in our place. Any message that says people can and do gain heaven by keeping the commandments is a message that rejects the grace of God. The justification Gospel -- and there is no other -- doesn't encourage sin. It is the only way we can stop sinning.
Three times in one sentence, apparently.
Any of you parents? Any of you need to verbally pound the exact. same. message. into the rock-like brain of your child? Then you can sympathize with Paul here. Paul says three times that a man is not justified by the works of the law. I can't give you multiple verse citations, because they all come from verse 16!
What are works of the law? The law was that system of commandments that God gave Israel, beginning with the Ten Commandments (though the very-very first law God gave Israel was to Abram about circumcision, in Genesis 17). You remember the Ten Commandments? 1. Have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:3). 2. Make no images of worship (20:4-6). 3. Do not take the Lord's name in vain (20:7). 4. Keep the Sabbath (20:8-11). 5. Honor your parents (20:12). 6. Do not murder (20:13). 7. Do not commit adultery (20:14). 8. Do not steal (20:15). 9. Do not bear false witness (20:16). 10. Do not covet (20:17).
These are the works of the law, plus all the other commandments found in Exodus and Leviticus, later repeated in Deuteronomy.
I have a book in my library, written by a Roman Catholic apologist, who claims that "the law" meant "bad motives." This is obviously false. All Jews knew what the law was. The Jews built their lives around the law, or at least their culture as a whole tried to. Paul was a rabbi and a trained theologian. He certainly knew what the law was.
What does it mean to be justified? It does not mean to be more "holy in your heart." If you read Paul in the book of Romans 4:5-8, you can see that justification is something God accounts to you (5b). You are credited with just-ness. David said it was something God imputes to you (6, 8), like a jury declaring you innocent of all charges. David equates justification with being forgiven, which is something God does for you, not in you (7). It is when God covers your sins, so that He no longer "sees" them (7).
Justification is the Gospel. New birth is not the main feature of the Gospel. Justification is the root of all blessing. And it is never by works.
It is not by works at the start of your Christian life. It is not by works in the middle of your Christian life. It is not by works at the end of your Christian life here on earth. Your works show other people that you have faith, but it is the faith that justified you.
This is Christianity -- that you are not justified by works, Seventh-Day Adventists reject this, which is why they are not a Christian group. People who say that you must lead a godly life in order to "keep yourself saved" show they are ignorant of the Gospel. Christians who say that the ordinances of the church, baptism and the Lord's supper, somehow help save you, show themselves destructively and dangerously confused about the Gospel (this latter error is called "legalism" or "Christian Phariseeism").
How many times does the Spirit of God need to repeat to you that you are not justified by works, until you surrender? Until you finally obey the Lord and give up trying to attain, or maintain, justification by works?
Do you want to know the devil's most common way, among Christian denominations, of undermining the Gospel, and preventing essential reforms? It is the exhortation not to be divisive. Maintain "unity" (so-called). Don't make people upset.
As Solomon might say, there's a time to make peace, and there's a time to be confrontational. Paul tells the tale of a time that the apostle Peter became intimidated by some Jewish-Christian visitors from Jerusalem. Until that time, Peter fellow-shipped and ate with Gentile-Christian brothers freely.
But when Peter saw these new arrivals, whoever they were, he started avoiding his Gentile friends. Peter's bad example in turn started influencing other Jewish believers to commit the same sin. You can imagine how hurt and angry they felt. Peter's attitude and example was putting them back into second-hand status, based on race.
Paul never says whether the Jerusalem visitors gave Peter the stink-eye. For all we know, they might have had completely innocent attitudes! Maybe Peter assumed certain things. This incident appears to have happened before the Jerusalem council (Acts 15).
Peter wasn't being a racist. Peter was attacking the Gospel itself, through his cowardice. Because if one needed to become a Jew to be acceptable to God, that meant one needed to be a law-keeper to be acceptable to God. Because, after Genesis 17, to be a Jew and to be a law-keeper were the same thing. So Peter wasn't just being rude to his friends. He was attacking the Gospel! Though I'm sure Peter didn't think that's was what he was doing.
What should Paul had done? Kept his mouth shut? That's what some evangelicals would counsel. Talk to Peter privately? No, Peter did this publicly. Paul dealt with this severe problem on the spot, because it needed that.
If we love the unity of the body of Christ, then we stop the perversion of the Gospel no matter who is doing it. It doesn't matter if it's your best friend, your mentor, the founder of your association, your father, or your son. Ihe minister who does not oppose heresy is divisive.
I once said to a dear friend of mine -- a friend I have known since 1975, whom I led to Christ, who is like a brother to me, whose best man I was, and who is a pastor in the same denomination as mine -- that if he ever deviates from the Gospel, I will lead the process to have him removed. And I expect him to take the same stance toward me. If I were to start denying the Trinity, or denying the deity of God the Son, or denying that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone, I expect my real friends to love God, love the Gospel, and love me by getting right up into my face about it. Otherwise, are they really my friends?