As we continue in our series through the Book of Galatians we come to Chapter 3. Paul is defending the Gospel of God’s Grace against Jews who have infiltrated the Church and are teaching the Gentiles in Galatia that one must not only believe in Jesus Christ to be saved but must also become circumcised and obey the Law of Moses.
I wonder, these days, if many have become so unconcerned about the Gospel that they don’t really understand why Paul is so upset about this. He’s beside himself wondering why someone would ever be attracted to the teaching of these false brothers when they started out being taught the true Gospel. He asks, in verse 1, “…who bewitched you…?” He doesn’t literally think that there is magic that is compelling the Galatians to believe this but it’s meant to shock them to realize that their turning away from the true Gospel is completely out of character for a Christian.
It struck me yesterday at men’s Bible Study that many of us take for granted that sin and hard-heartedness is always happening to the other guy. We let our guard down to false teaching because we never really think that we’re in danger. It’s really important that we hear what Paul tells the Galatians here: “2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? How could they possibly do this? What would attract them into thinking that their salvation would depend upon and be perfected by works of the Law? Paul points out, clearly, that their salvation (and our salvation) began with the Spirit of God announcing the Good News to our hearts. We heard in the Gospel a message that said to us that we deserve nothing out of the hand of God but condemnation but that the benefits of Christ are held out to us if we simply believe upon what Christ has done for sinners. So, very simply, with nothing to offer God, we fell at the feet of Christ and called out for Him to save us.
But we began this way. The Galatians did too. But then they started hearing these Jewish Christians who were really serious about their Christian walk (or so it seemed to them). These Jewish Christians had it together. They were blessed. They had a purpose. They not only believed in Jesus but they were committed to the Law of Moses to show God that they were really serious about honoring Christ.
It’s not as if the Galatians woke up one day and forgot where they began but, over time they lost sight of where they began. We’re just like them. Our hearts are prone to forget the Gospel. We are prone to forget that God offered salvation freely on the basis of our clinging to Christ and His righteousness. How often, after you’ve sinned, do you return to the Cross of Christ and remind yourself that, in the beginning, God justified you because you trusted in the Cross of Christ? Or, instead, do you tell yourself that God is angry with you right now and that you’ll do better next time and show God that you are really serious about obeying Him? Stop it! God didn’t save you because you’re serious about obeying Him. You are not capable of being serious enough. Only Christ is. Remember where you started. Stay there. Don’t leave the hope you had in Christ then. Yes, Christ matures you. Yes, He is conforming you to His image. But this is all because, just like at the beginning, you are clinging to the Cross. You will never be perfected by any deeds and, when we forget that, we are forgetting the Gospel we heard in the first place. We are forgetting our first love.
We might be tempted to tell ourselves this though: “Well, I guess that must be true for me because I’m so weak. But there were people like Abraham who were strong enough to obey God. I’ll have to just be happy that God saved poor old sinful me but I wish I could have been more like Abraham.” In fact, the Galatians not only wanted to be just like Abraham but they were envious of the Judaizers because they were physical descendants and heirs of Abraham. “Poor old me, I’m just a Gentile Christian. Boo hoo!”
Are you ready for a shock. I’m going to read something that some of you might notice for the first time in your Christian lives. Make sure you have your Bibles ready so you don’t think that I’m making this stuff up. Verse 6 completes a thought that began before about the fact that we are perfected by the Spirit just as at the first. Guess what verse 6 says? Abraham was saved the exact same way as we are! “– 6just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Why was Abraham accounted as righteous? Because of his faith and not his works. Who are the real sons of Abraham? Those who have faith just like Abraham did. Hold on to your seats for this next bit. What did Abraham believe in? The Gospel! That’s right the Scripture foresaw that God would justify us by faith and preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham. Abraham believed the Gospel! Christ stated that Abraham saw His day and rejoiced and the Pharisees wanted to stone Him. I wonder, though, if some of you are still doubting that Abraham was saved by Christ. How can that be? Christ hadn’t even been born yet. True, but God had promised Christ and God’s promises are yes and amen. Abraham believed the Gospel because God had promised the work of Christ to Him. Abraham believed afar off but we have the blessing of living on the other side of the Cross and the revelation of the Christ. And, to make it even sweeter, Paul proclaims to the Galatians: “YOU are Abraham’s heir because you believe just like he did. Take THAT you Judaizers! You’re not even an heir. Real heirs believe in Jesus and it doesn’t matter whose father is on their birth certificate!”
Furthermore, Paul adds: “10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Do you remember this? Why do the Galatians and why do we keep going to the Law and telling God that we’re going to perform for Him so that He’ll accept us? The Law tells us that a person is cursed if a man does not keep it completely and perfectly. There is no hope there. There is no good news. This is the good news found in Christ: “13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” He who knew know sin actually became Sin for us. He took the curse for all of our lawbreaking and sacrificed Himself to take away the curse that separated us from God. The curse was taken away in verse 14: “14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
This idea of promise is very important here. It keeps being said over and over that we receive the promise or that we inherit the promise or to believe the promise. This is so important because the promise that was made to Abraham was made by God to Him and it was not made by God with any conditions of obedience on Abraham’s part. In other words, God told Abraham He would bless Him and Abraham believed it but no additional conditions were added to that promise. It was a gracious promise of blessing. Paul points out an important truth. Please try to listen very carefully because Paul is going to basically say that God cannot break His word to Abraham: “15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
What Paul is saying is that if you and I make an agreement together and sign a piece of paper, we’re bound to that agreement. I can’t take that paper later on and add something to it and hold you to that promise. You didn’t sign for that promise. I also can’t take away something I don’t like. You didn’t sign that promise. Paul is saying that God promised to bless Abraham and his seed and the seed was Christ. He was giving Abraham a promise of salvation by Christ and His righteousness. The Law came hundreds of years after this promise was made to Abraham’s descendants. The Law could not be added to the promise or God would be breaking His word. In other words, the Law could not possibly be for salvation the way the Judaizers are teaching the Galatians because that would mean that God broke His word and, beloved, you might break your word and I might break my word but God never, ever, ever breaks His word. He sword to Abraham that He would be torn asunder before He ever broke the promise to bless Abraham and the world with salvation by faith in Christ.
It’s sort of an obvious question then: why would God add all these rules and regulations if they are not meant to save us? It seems to me like God is saying to keep them in order to be saved. If He never intended to save men and women by them then why did He punish them for not obeying them? It almost seems like the Law is against the Gospel itself. Paul anticipates this: “21Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”
The Law was actually added for a gracious purpose. It was given to hold forth and demonstrate the perfect righteousness of God. By doing this it was meant to show how Holy God is and how sinful we are. We were supposed to come to the Law and see in it our very real need for Christ. It was a guardian to conduct us to Christ, a sign to point us to Christ, a schoolmaster to teach us of our need for Christ. We were meant to feel imprisoned by it, caught up by it, bogged down by it so that we would cry out: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?!” Paul even notes that if a law could be given that would lead to righteousness then righteousness would be by the Law but the Law itself proves that righteousness by the Law is impossible – except through Christ.
Right before you believed the Gospel, did you not feel the prison of the Law? Did you not sense its judgment? Did you not feel the need to escape the wrath that you knew you needed to escape? Praise God! Do you remember as the Gospel burst forth and said to you that Christ took that curse away, that Christ had fulfilled its righteous demand? Were not our hearts burning within us as we said: “Thank you Jesus! I believe. What Good News! I believe because I have no other hope. You alone have words of eternal life.”
Verse 25: “25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The time of immaturity is over. The time for our guardian is past. The time of the judgment of the Law is over for those of us in Christ. Why would anyone ever want to go back into the prison of the Law? Why would anyone go back into the curse of the Law? Do you understand why Paul is asking if they’ve been bewitched? What utter foolishness to turn away from Christ and back into the deeds of the Law.
What could ever possess someone to think this is a good idea? So he can be a Jew? So he can be a better Christian because he’s a Jew? There’s no distinction. Jews are saved by Christ just like Gentiles. So are all men. So are all women. So are all slaves and so are all free men. All are saved by the same Lord. All are saved by the same perfect work. All are united to Christ in the same way: by faith, by laying hold of His feet and trusting in His righteousness and not our own.
As Paul stated, so he reminds them again: “29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Christian, you have everything you could possibly ever ask for from God’s hand and it has been given to you freely. You’ve been given an inheritance you didn’t deserve. You lay hold of it simply by trusting in Christ and what He has done. You begin that way and you will finish to the end that way. You don’t begin by trusting in Christ and then change to a new stage where you begin to trust in the works and actions that you’re doing to please God so that He’ll bless you.
Stop believing the illusion that your dedication to God is what saves you. You are not saved by the purity of your works or even the perfection of your faith but your salvation rests on your trust in Christ’s work alone. Whoever bewitched you into looking within and convincing yourself that God is saving you on the basis of your behavior lied to you. The Gospel tells you to stop looking within for your salvation and to look to the Cross. That’s where your righteousness is, that’s where the curse of the Law was nailed. That is what will transform your thoughts and renew your minds. That is what will provide the fruit of love toward your neighbor. That, beloved, is the only hope you must have now and forevermore.