Galatians 3:1 - 14
The Impotence of Works
July 15, 2003 © 2003, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Any casual observation of the history of mankind reveals one commonality among all cultures: each has used a variety of measures in order to attempt to attain approval by God. The recognition of God by even the most remote cultures is pervasive. As people created rituals, rites, icons, and various rules of behavior, it was necessary that God would reveal himself to mankind in order to communicate who He is and to direct people into a relationship with Him that is consistent with His nature and purpose. God gradually revealed himself through the patriarchs as recorded in the Old Testament. God's purpose was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who fulfilled all of the Old Testament law and prophesies concerning Himself. The plan revealed by God is quite different than the plans that were formed by human cultures. It is natural to think that God is like a big man who relates to us as we relate to one another. We expect reward for good behavior and punishment for bad. We love only the lovely and despise those who are different than we are. Our cultures each prescribe a set of behaviors that are considered morally correct, and expect God to ascribe to that same set. As people work for acceptance by their peers and their cultures, they also naturally work to attain acceptance by God.
When God revealed His plan for the salvation of mankind, His was quite a bit different than any that man had ever devised. As man developed ways to reach God, or to become righteous before God, His plan was to reach down to us and to accept us as we are, with all of our limitations and imperfections, requiring only faith in Him for our salvation.
Such a plan of salvation is in conflict with every human paradigm. A parent can easily unconditionally love a newborn, innocent, child, but as soon as an individual is no longer innocent, such love is not lavishly given. God still loves us as that parent would a newborn child, and Jesus came to teach us about His love, and correct our works-based religious practices, replacing works of the flesh with faith in God through His atoning death and resurrection, a faith that results in works of the Spirit, a spontaneous result of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart and life of the believer.
The churches of Galatia were founded on such an understanding of faith. However, as the churches grew, Jews entered the congregation with a purpose of subjecting Christians to the Mosaic laws and Jewish traditions, requiring them to become Jews before they would be considered Christians. They would produce Christian Jews instead of Jewish Christians, placing them under the same bondage to the law that they themselves experienced. Paul introduced his letter with an emphatic rebuke of the church for allowing such a false gospel to be accepted. He continues by developing several arguments that defend God's purpose of salvation by faith alone.
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
Verse 1 opens with Paul's rebuke of the Galatians themselves for acting so foolishly. He states that they have been "bewitched." Such a word gives us visions of spells cast by a witch. That has not changed over the years. The presence of occult witches casting evil spells goes back in history as far as the record, and was certainly evident in the first century. Even King Saul visited a witch for advice. This is the context that Paul uses when describing what the Jews were doing to the Christians in Galatia. Though they knew the gospel of peace and faith, they were tricked into error by listening to an occult message, one that on the surface might sound reasonable and prudent, but hidden underneath is the real evidence of the insidious consequences of placing one's self under the law.
Paul initially taught them how Jesus' crucifixion on the cross provided forgiveness from sins, negating the power of the law to separate man from God when no person could completely keep it. Did they forget the purpose of Jesus' atonement?
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Paul asks those in the church a very simple question. How were YOU saved? Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or did you receive the Spirit through belief in Christ when you understood the Gospel?
Did you have to get your life right before God would accept you? (No)
Did you have to complete any specific labors or works before God would accept you? (No)
On what basis did God accept you? (By your accepting Him as Lord and Savior)
Once people are part of the Family of God, why would they put additional restrictions on new members? Some churches have added works to the gospel in an occult effort to exclude others, though they may not realize it. What causes such an attitude? Certainly an attitude that is self-centered and prideful, or one that is not concerned with the true needs of those who do not know God will be open to an exclusionary Gospel. Several Christian denominations are so exclusionary as to teach their members that only those who are members of their denomination will "go to heaven." Some ascribe to a teaching that encourages a faith of works wherein, though salvation came from grace, one would "fall from grace" if they did not perform specific works, and without those works they would not become more spiritually mature. This is not unlike the Judaizers' demand that the Galatian Christians be subject to circumcision and the works and traditions of the Jewish law.
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
What does Paul say about using human effort to obtain the goal? He describes the effort to achieve spiritual maturity, completeness or perfection by works is foolishness. How does one become more mature in the Spirit? Spiritual growth comes from listening and responding to the Holy Spirit as He illumines the purposes behind our experiences and the true meaning of His Word. For example, what is the effect of suffering on a Christian? Paul and James agree that suffering It is used to develop patience, endurance and wisdom. Paul states here, that if we are to mature in the Spirit by works, then all of the suffering we endure towards that end is in vain. God's plan is to give us His Spirit and then cause us to grow through our experiences and the part that the Spirit has in them. God is not impressed by the performance of rituals.
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
The Jews considered Abraham as the most important of the patriarchs, the most righteous man in history. If anyone should be able to see that faith saves, it should be the Jew because of the example of Abraham. There are five references in the New Testament which state that Abraham's faith in God "was credited to him as righteousness."
The Jews saw themselves as the children of Abraham. According to the covenant God made with him, ALL nations would be blessed through him. The Jews considered only their own nation to be blessed in God's promise. How was this prophesy of ALL nations ultimately fulfilled? Paul states that all who place their faith in Christ are sons of Abraham. This is a radical statement to first-century (or any century for that matter) Judaism, and it is made by one who is as knowledgeable of Jewish doctrine and history as any man.
So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
There is a popular children's song, "Father Abraham had many sons... and I am one of them, and so are you, so let's just praise the Lord." As a child I did not understand that song, because I knew I was not a Jew, and could not be a child of Abraham. I never learned until I studied the Bible on my own that I had been adopted as a son of Abraham. Orphaned at infancy, and adopted at the age of four years, my experience with the world of adoption allowed me to fully understand how, just as I am a son in the family who adopted me, I am a son of Abraham in the family of God. (For the author's personal testimony and theological position on adoption, see: http://www.biblicaltheology.com/Research/CarterJ06.html).
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
What happens to those people who live a life under the law? Paul describes their state as "under a curse." This was not simply an opinion, it was a quote from scripture found in Deuteronomy 27:26. The curse is describe by Habakkuk 2:4, wherein the prophet states (in agreement with other scriptures, laws, and prophesies) that anyone who fails to keep any part of the law has broken the entire law. Considering that one who breaks the law is guilty of sin (Romans 3:23) and is separated from God by his sin, one simply finds that no person can be saved under the law. However, God's purpose was that He would provide a way that cannot be found in the law that convicts and condemns, that He would provide the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and through Him alone.
Abraham did not receive the promise, nor was he considered righteous based upon his keeping of the law. The law that the Jews so vehemently defend was written 400 years after the life of Abraham. So, just as Abraham was justified by his faith in God, that same blessing has been passed down to Christians today. Salvation is not found in baptism, nor is it found in speaking in tongues. Salvation is not found by tithing, visitation, or any other act of work or ritual. Salvation is found through faith in God brought through the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ who paid the price for the forgiveness of sin.
As we look at our own faith and practice let us not be as the foolish Galatians and allow the simplicity of the truth of the gospel be expanded to include other requirements for salvation, requirements that steal the peace and joy that salvation gives, and separates us from each other by the social stratification that such requirements bring. All who profess faith in God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ are brothers and sisters of the faith. Any other requirement for salvation is a false and foolish gospel.