Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 6: Galatians 3:1-5 (video)
Living By Faith
Living as a godly person here on earth during this time before eternal glory isn’t easy. In the first place, we’re not yet perfect or complete. Our fallen souls are tempted to do what we shouldn’t do, and to neglect what we should do. Second, we live in a world saturated by distortions and bad examples to follow. It’s filled with theories based on bad information, and generations of excuse-making. We’re urged to run like lemmings after what everybody else values and does.
There’s a battle we need to fight not only against what’s around us, but also against what’s in us. So how do we get the victory? or know we’re doing the right thing?
God didn’t redeem us, then leave us to figure it out by ourselves, or to win the battles on our own. God gave us his written word. It was recorded long ago to guide us and to comfort us. It was preserved providentially by the blood of martyrs so that it’s here for us today. It was translated into our language by scholars gifted by God, and made available for us to read, study, and learn.
God also gave us a living Savior and the Holy Spirit. They help and empower us to live by the promises and principles in that book we call the Bible. He also regenerates his children, and gives them faith to trust that word.
But there are enemies of God’s plan. Satan struck us first in Eden where we were all made defective by the fall into sin. But once we’re redeemed it doesn’t mean the enemy’s going to leave us alone.
Way back in the first century AD there were some who came to Galatia to derail the gospel if they could. But God raised up the Apostle Paul to write a letter to expose their attack. God preserved that letter for us to read because the basic principles still apply today.
In chapter 3 of that letter Paul gets right to the issue:
1. O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,
Someone was deceiving them, luring them down the wrong path. The word translated “bewitched” is “bas-kaino” (βασκαίνω). It means to draw someone to follow them by deceit or by impressing them in some way. These deceivers were not atheists or pagans. They were religious leaders, the Judaizers. They claimed to be Christians, but were diluting the Gospel by combining it with a confused view of God’s law.
The Judaizers misunderstood the purpose of the laws God gave Israel. They failed to see how God’s law always pointed toward Christ. They wanted to ignore the changes brought about by the Savior’s life and death.
From the time of Abraham to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Circumcision was the sign of belonging to God’s covenant people. Only the males were circumcised to illustrate the representative nature of God’s covenants. The males represented the families they would one day lead. But after our Savior finished the work God promised in Eden, Baptism became the new sign of belonging to the Covenant People of God. Both genders receive the sign, because Jesus is now our representative fulfilling the promise.
From the time of Moses to the resurrection of Jesus, Passover was the ultimate sacrifice. It represented what the coming Messiah would do. A lamb was slain in place of the death of the first-born son of each family back in Egypt. After the work of our Savior, the Lord’s Supper represented his final sacrifice for sin. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain in place of the eternal death we each deserve. To continue to require the Passover is a denial that it’s purpose was fulfilled in Christ.
All the ritual cleansings in the Levitical laws were set aside when real cleansing took place. Israel wasn’t the exclusive Covenant Community any more. Instead of marking out just the descendants of Jacob, non-Jews, the Gentiles, are included.
But the Judaizers were pressuring the Christians in Galatia to force Gentile converts to submit to the now fulfilled Jewish Ceremonial Laws.
Paul asked the believers in Galatia to explain why they were being taken in by the Judaizers.
2. This only I want to learn from you: before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3. Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
4. Have you suffered so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain?
5. Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? —
The Galatians had seen the power of Christ in the lives of the Apostles and in their own lives. So Paul pointed out the absolute foolishness of being deceived by these other teachings.
The life they found in Christ didn’t come by the rituals. It came by the message they received by faith in what God had been illustrating in the rituals. They learned that Jesus was the sacrifice all the other sacrifices pointed toward. They received the Holy Spirit sent from Jesus Christ and God the Father. This new life wasn’t found in the work of the priests who served before the Gospel came to them.
This passage confuses a lot of people. Confusion is one of the primary tactics of the enemy of God’s plan. The most common targets of confusion are these two key ideas of law and faith.
B>First, there’s a lot of confusion about the law of God. The word “law” is a very general word the way we use it in day-to-day conversations. We pass civil laws to punish crime and preserve public safety. These laws apply general principles to specific situations. To keep our roads and pedestrians safe, we have traffic laws. To protect our lives and possessions we have various criminal and contract laws. Nations agree on certain international laws to protect their borders and security.
Sometimes we talk about the law of gravity, or Newton’s laws of motion. These are mathematical descriptions of how physical things behave. They follow rules built into creation. As we confirm them we call them laws.
We also talk about general principles as if they were laws. There’s the law of supply and demand in economics, and various laws of sociology.
The Bible sometimes uses the word law in these same basic ways. You have to look at the context in each case to see how the word’s being used. When it mentions God’s Laws, it may be about God’s commandment’s or principles at work in his creation. There are general principles. In Romans 7:23 Paul mentions conflicting laws he found to be at work in him. He’s referring to the lust of his body, and the principles at work in his mind. There he calls them both laws, or principles at odds with one another. Earlier in the same chapter Paul tells how the moral laws of God exposed his sin. As an example, he mentioned God’s commandment against coveting. These laws are the moral behaviors God says are good. The violation of them is sin.
Paul is not saying all these laws or principles have stopped applying to all humans. These revealed general principles were built into the universe or into human nature from the beginning.
Sinful things in the Old Testament were not now becoming good, and good things becoming bad. He can’t mean that before the ten commandments it was OK to covet things God didn’t give us. It doesn’t mean that before Sinai the other 9 Commandments weren’t in effect either. It’s always been wrong to worship other God’s, to make images of God, to use his name carelessly, to labor on the Creation Sabbath day, to defy God appointed authority, to murder, commit adultery, steal, or lie.
Here in Galatians 3 he’s talking about the regulations of the Levitical Codes given to Israel at Sinai. This is clear from verse 17. There he says that the law he’s talking about didn’t come until 430 years after Abraham. That was when God gave the Levitical Regulations to Israel after the Exodus.
The “works of the law” Paul’s talking about is the performing of the rituals given to Israel by Moses. The ritual laws of the Priesthood were teaching about how God redeems us. They were not moral principles. Their purpose was to help Israel anticipate the coming sacrifice of Jesus. They pointed to the solution of the sin problem the moral laws revealed in them. They made God’s people stand out as a holy nation prefiguring the special nature of Christ’s church. They were never intended to apply to all people all the time. But the Judaizers wanted to force Gentiles to keep the Levitical Codes and rules of the Rabbis.
Secondly, Paul makes a contrast between these works of law and the “hearing of faith.” The word “faith” here is the normal word often simply translated by the word trust. It’s the Greek word “pistis” (πιστις). When you have faith it’s always faith in something. It has an object you trust in. In this case the object of our trust should be God’s promises and revealed truth.
Before Christ’s birth, God redeemed believers by their trust in the promise of the coming Savior. After his death, believers trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross.
So in every era of history, saving faith is trust in God’s promise that the Messiah removes sin. We are redeemed by his work, never by our own acts or accomplishments. We don’t need a priesthood to do things beyond what Christ has already done. We don’t have to worry that we haven’t done enough to get to heaven. Jesus did it all for us — that’s the gospel.
So now we live by faith in that finished work. We live as if we really trust God for everything he says in his word. We tell the truth and act kindly because God tells us that it’s always best. By his grace we believe it and strive to obey his loving counsel.
Saving faith is a trust in the things God made known, his law in that general sense. His moral law exposes that we’re lost in sin without hope except in the Savior. It shows us how to then live thankfully after God redeems us. A study of the ritual law shows how God’s substitute would come to pay the price of our sins. But we don’t keep those ritual now as if the Messiah hadn’t yet come. There’s no act of the church, or ritual we can take part in, that takes away our sins. It was all accomplished in Jesus Christ just as God had always promised.
There’s a wonderful blessing in this implanted faith. If our confidence that what God said and did is true, it gives us a sure hope. As God’s children, we confidently trust what God says, and therefore we want to live by his promises. Trusting and obeying are the results of Grace. They aren’t the cause of it.
When we trust in God’s word about the substitute death of Jesus Christ for our sins, we are given all the comforts and assurances God promises in his gracious Covenant.
Today the Judaizers are long gone, but the confusion is still with us. The fallen heart still wants to believe that a person can earn God’s favor by his own efforts. That’s the heart of Satan’s strategy. He wants to confuse God’s truth and promise, just as the Judaizers did in old Galatia.
When you worry about doing enough to earn salvation, you deny the fact of your fall into sin. The Bible says that when you fell in Adam, you lost all desire and ability to truly glorify God. It makes it clear that the debt is so great, no one is able to pay it off. You also deny the reason Jesus had to come to die in your place. If you could earn salvation, then the suffering and death of the Savior was just a frivolous object lesson and example of humility — nothing more. These poisonous teachings contradict everything the Bible says.
People have always tried to make up a religion that earns God’s forgiveness. That’s what Paul calls false religion — a replacement for the true gospel.
– The fallen heart thinks that by doing charitable things it removes guilt.
– Some believe that by partaking of the Sacraments magically take sins away.
– Others think that their decision is what convinces God to save them.
In reality all these good things are evidences of God’s grace at work. They don’t make it happen.
Like the Judaizers of ancient times, these false ways claim to be Christian. But they are it’s exact opposite. They trust in human works to make them righteous in God’s eyes. It’s not by the works of law that we become Christians. It’s when the promises of God revealed in the law are heard and trusted, that the heart is transformed. That’s a wonderful work of Grace all by itself.
While some add obedience to the law to faith in the Gospel, others go to the opposite extreme and think you can have faith while rejecting all of God’s law. That’s not what’s taught here either. Paul isn’t telling the Galatians that all of God’s law is outdated and has expired. He doesn’t promote faith as some general optimism that replaces God’s moral commandments. He’s not saying that the entire Old Testament only has value to the Jews.
He’s reminding them that the Bible never taught salvation by the law. He points out that the law shows what’s right, and that you can’t walk that path because you’re lost. The law exposes sin and the rituals point the way to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That’s what it always did, and that’s what God’s law still does.
Without God’s word exposing sin and promising the Savior your faith isn’t in the right thing. The faith God’s grace stirs in your heart is a trust in all that God revealed.
That means you need to really trust in what God says in his word. You trust that his way to manage your home and family is the best way for them. You trust that his moral principles are the only right guide for your thoughts and entertainment. You trust his economic principles for how you do your work, and manage your money. You trust his organization of the church as the right way to worship and grow as a spiritual family. And you trust his directions for your personal life. You make time to seriously pray and study the Scriptures. You take worship seriously at every level: you worship him alone in your thoughts all through every day you worship him as a family, and when you’re called to worship in the congregation.
Real faith means you have faith in God’s promises as the only way your guilt can be forgiven. Satan wants you to think you need to fix your guilt by your own good deeds and efforts, or by the efforts of priests and rituals. Instead, you need to trust completely in the work of Jesus Christ alone to make you right with God.
Perhaps your friends are deceived and think they have to earn forgiveness. You have the liberating gospel that can set them free and change their lives. You know enough to point them to God’s truth and to rescue them from false religion. Don’t let them put their eternal hope in lies that advance Satan’s agenda.
Be humbly persistent with them as you live for Christ and explain what he accomplished. Sincerely invite them to worship with you, where they can grow as part of your church family. Pray for them, and let them know you care about them.
It’s not by cathedrals, rituals, rallies, or personal efforts that anyone enters the Kingdom of Christ. It’s by a humble but sincere trust in the finished work of the Savior.
This is the foundation of real biblical Christianity. It’s your job and calling to be an agent of God on earth, an agent of change in the lives of others. Trust in the promises of Scripture, and live as if you really trust what God says there.
There are a lot of religious people trying real hard to get right with God. But they don’t really know God, or what he’s promised them. They go to church, read the Bible now and then, try to do good, and they pray. But the good news, the gospel, is that though God requires perfection, Jesus Christ came to be perfect in our place.
Yet when the Holy Spirit moves us to trust in this payment for sin it changes us inside. It enables believers to do what they couldn’t before and to really enjoy life. Even through the hard times they can rest in the assurances of their Living Savior. Our church-going, Bible-reading, praying, and serving take on a new and truly rewarding dimension.
It’s not your effort that brings the victory over sin and it’s depressive consequences. It’s the finished work of the Savior that does all that.
Living God’s way is the only method that works for living here in God’s world. It begins by resting in the Savior’s work of Grace, rather than in any rituals or rules you keep.
The Gospel is truly liberating. Don’t neglect this vital fact in your life. Don’t keep it a secret from people around you. Don’t be like the foolish Galatians who were so easily deceived by convincing popular teachings. Put your trust in God’s promises through Christ, and bravely and consistently live as he tells you to.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)