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STUDIES IN GALATIANS

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY FOUR: FAITH VERSUS LAW: GALATIANS 3:1-14

A. PAUL REBUKES THE GALATIANS

A. 1 He calls them foolish [3:1,3]

The Greek word is anoetoi, and refers to a lack of understanding, a mindlessness, a being driven by the emotions rather than by the mind, a moral defect that caused them to allow themselves to be blindly and thoughtlessly carried away.

In what way are they foolish? He is about to explain.

A.2 He infers that they have been 'bewitched' [3:1]

So foolish does he consider their behaviour in accepting the false teaching, that he likens their stupidity to the effects of witchcraft. Their inane action is such that one would expect from someone whose mind has been manipulated and controlled by the powers of evil. They have been drawn away from the pure gospel by the fascination and allurement of the false teaching, and by the devious and deceitful words of its teachers. Had they acted by their reason they would not have fallen prey to it, but they have let rationality go to the winds.

A.3 He reminds them of what they knew [3:1]

Through the preaching of Paul and his companions the Galatians had had the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the significance of that crucifixion placarded before them. They had been taught what the cross was all about. They had been taught its meaning - the substitutionary atonement, the justification, the reconciliation, redemption and forgiveness that is obtained there by the sheer grace of God. They had learnt how this cross had brought to an end all the strivings of man for acceptance with God. They knew its message. They knew its power.

A.4 He asks them a several questions [3:2-5]

  1. Did they receive the Spirit by keeping the law, or by believing what they heard? In other words, did God give them his Spirit (which is his seal, his guarantee, his affirmation that a person is his child), because they kept and observed the law - or through believing the message about Jesus Christ? Obviously, the answer they must give is, by believing the message. Their performance of law had nothing to do with their salvation.
  2. Are they so foolish, having begun their Christian life through the Spirit to think that they now try to finish it by the flesh - that is by their own human effort? Paul here again uses the pneuma/sarka contrast that he emphasises in Romans. They began by the Spirit revealing Christ to them, by the Spirit regenerating them. Surely they know that having started through the operation of the Spirit that they cannot continue in their own strength.
  3. Have they suffered so much for nothing? Here Paul seems to have some knowledge of what the Galatian Christians suffered on account of their faith in Christ at the hands of those who opposed the name of Jesus. It is obvious from Paul's experience in the Galatian towns that there was violent opposition. Given that this opposition was instigated by Jews there is a direct connection between believing in the pure gospel and getting persecuted by those who depended on observing the law. Paul is astounded that these people who have suffered so much for their faith in Christ and his grace-based salvation, should now forsake him for a law-based salvation - if they have indeed really done so.
  4. Did God give them his Spirit and work miracles among them because they kept the law or because they believed the message they had heard? Obviously it was because they believed the message. The inference is the stupidity of changing the basis of their relationship to God now.

B. A LESSON FROM ABRAHAM [3:6-14]

B.1 Faith credited as righteousness (6)

Here Paul repeats the classic statement of justification by faith:

'He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'

This refers back to Genesis 15:6. It speaks of 'righteousness' - which is a legal term referring to being in the right with, that is, being acquitted by, God, the judge of all the earth. [Note that the Greek word for 'righteousness' is identical to the Greek word for 'justification.'] It is clear from this statement that this pronouncement of legal acquittal is not related to the person's personal rightness or innocence, but to the deliberate action of God who pronounces the acquittal. For Abraham God did this when Abraham believed him.

B.2 Not for Abraham only but for all who have faith (7-9)

In these verses Paul affirms:

Discussion Point #7: In what ways are these verses relevant to today's Christians? What do they tell us about the historic distinction between Jew and Gentile? What do they tell us about the importance of faith? What do they tell us about our tendency to give significance to our good works?

B.3 The curse of the law (10-12)

This is a heavy and significant passage. Paul here spells out the horrendous results of trying to be right with God by keeping the law:

B.4 Redeemed by Christ (13-14)

This is one of the key passages teaching Christ's death as substitutionary atonement. Paul has just explained 'the curse of the law' and the impossibility of anyone ever achieving acquittal in the presence of God on the basis of his/her own personal legal rightness. Every human being is damned by their own inability to perfectly observe the law. All who seek to do so are inevitably and inescapably under this curse, not only of God's condemnation and punishment but also of their own hopelessness ever to get out from the reality of their own imperfection and inability.

Paul here teaches:

Discussion Point #8: What are the implications of these verses for the false teaching that required observation of Jewish ritual law? In what circumstances are these verses relevant to today's Christians?