In this session Paul reminds the Galatians that a believer’s experience with the Lord Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with God the Father is incontrovertible evidence of having been graciously made acceptable to God through personal faith in the perfect and complete work of Christ, apart from any works of the Law. Paul uses Abraham as proof that salvation has never come any other way than by grace through faith. Even the Old Testament teaches justification by faith.
To hear an audio recording of the session click the YouTube link at the end of the notes.
Paul went to great lengths to help the early Christians stay faithful and not lose sight of all that Christ had done for them.
In the passage, we are going to look at today Paul reminds the Galatians that a believer’s experience with the Lord Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and with God the Father is incontrovertible evidence of having been graciously made acceptable to God through personal faith inthe perfect and complete work of Christ, apart from any human supplement. Paul uses Abraham as proof that salvation has never come any other way than by grace through faith. Even the Old Testament teaches justification by faith.
The Galatians although they had received the gospel as taught by Paul, that salvation was by faith, Now these believers were drifting and had accepted an inferior and impotent substitute based on the old Mosaic rituals and ceremonial standards that the new covenant in Christ had made invalid.
The defecting believers had not lost their salvation, but they had lost the joy and freedom of it and had returned, deceived, to the uncertainty and bondage of a self-imposed legalism. They were still in Christ and right with God positionally, but they were not practically living in conformity to the truth by which they had been made righteous. Having substituted a form of religion, they had no power or joy for the fullness of life in Christ that they once enjoyed.
Galatians 3:1-9 NKJV O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 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?— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
KEYS TO THE TEXT
To be declared righteous includes pardon from the guilt and penalty of sin, as well as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer’s account, which provides for righteousness man needs to be accepted by God. God declares a sinner righteous solely on the basis of the merits of Christ’s righteousness. God imputes a believer’s sin to Christ’s account in His sacrificial death. The sinner receives this gift of God’s grace by faith alone. It is a gracious gift God extends to the repentant, believing sinner—wholly apart from human merit or work.
Paul uses the model of Abraham to prove justification by faith alone because the Jews held him up as the supreme example of a righteous man
John 8:37-39 NKJV “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.
and because it clearly showed that Judaism with its works-based righteousness had deviated from the faith of the Jews’ patriarchal ancestors.
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
Paul called them foolish not for lack of intelligence. Paul expressed his shock, surprise, and outrage at the Galatians’
defection by pointing out that “Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified.” The Greek word for portrayed describes the posting of official notices in public places.
Paul’s preaching had publicly displayed the true gospel of Jesus Christ before theGalatians. The crucifixion of Christ was a one-time historical fact with continuing results into eternity. Christ’s sacrificial death provides eternal payment for believers’ sins and does not need to be supplemented by any human works.
Hebrews 7:23-25 NKJV Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
So he asked them;
2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—
The answer to Paul’s rhetorical question is obvious; the Galatians had received the Spirit when they were saved, not through keeping the law,
Romans 8:9 NKJV But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
I John 3:24 NKJV Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
but through saving faith granted when hearing the gospel.
Romans 10:17 NKJV So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Paul appealed to the Galatians’ own salvation to refute the Judaizers’ false teaching that keeping the law is necessary for salvation.
Incredulous at how easily the Galatians had been duped, Paul asked a second rhetorical question, again rebuking them for their foolishness.
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
The notion that sinful, weak, fallen human nature could improve on the saving work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous to Paul.
Then another question;
4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
The Greek word for suffered has the basic meaning of “experienced” and does not necessarily imply pain or hardship. Paul used it to describe the Galatians’ personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ. They had received all the blessings of salvation from God, Christ, and the HolySpirit as it say in
Ephesians 1:3 NKJV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
Based on the answers to his previous questions Paul asks another;
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?
Since he’s refuting the teaching of the Judizers Paul then uses there hero Abraham to prove his point that salvation is by faith and not the Law or works.
6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.
Paul is quoting from
Genesis 15:6 NKJV And he believed in the Lord , and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
So Paul is saying that believing Jews and Gentiles are the true spiritual children of Abraham because they follow his example of faith.
Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Romans 4:9-22 NKJV Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”
Because Scripture is God’s Word, when it speaks, God speaks, Paul says that the “good news” to Abraham was the news of salvation to all the nations and Abraham believed God and was declared righteous.
I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:3 NKJV
Genesis 18:18 NKJV since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
Paul is saying that salvation has always been by faith.
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.
Whether Jew or Gentile; the Old Testament predicted that Gentiles would receive the blessings of justification by faith, as did Abraham; those blessings are poured out on all because of Christ, not obedience to the Law.
John 1:14-17 NKJV And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
II Peter 1:2-4 NKJV Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Paul expounds more on Abraham’s saving faith. Read Romans 4:1–25.
TRUTH FOR TODAY
The validity of good works in God’s sight depends on whose power they are done in and for whose glory. When they are done in the power of His Spirit and for His glory, they are beautiful and acceptable to Him. When they are done in the power of the flesh and for the sake of personal recognition or merit, they are rejected by Him. Legalism is separated from true obedience by attitude. The one is a rotten smell in God’s nostrils, whereas the other is a sweet savor.
SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Some believers fall prey to formalism, substituting external ceremonies and rites for the internal reality of personal growth in the Lord. Others fall into legalistic systems of dos and don’ts, proudly hoping to improve their standing before God by doing or not doing certain things. Still others look for a “second blessing”—a spiritual secret to unlock some higher plane of spiritual reality, hoping to receive more of God than they imagine was granted to them at conversion.
To which of these errors are you most prone, and why?
What commonly accepted rules have many Christians tried to make part of the gospel?
How is this similar to what the Judaizers were doing among the Galatian believers?
Do you know someone who—like the Galatians—is being told that faith alone won’t justify them? How can you help them today break free from the bondage of trying to earn God’s approval through human effort?
We’ve seen how Paul has refuted the Jewish legalists who infiltrated the churches. Paul saw this as nothing less than a devilish assault on the pure and simple gospel of justification by faith. After establishing his apostolic credentials, Paul made his case for justification by faith alone using a revered Old Testament person (Abraham) and assorted Old Testament passages.
Paul anticipated and refuted a possible objection to his use of Abraham to prove the doctrine of justification by faith: that the giving of the law at Sinai occurred afterAbraham and brought about a change and a better method of salvation.
Paul argues that the Abrahamic covenant is superior to the law.
Paul emphasizes that there is no middle ground between law (works) and promise (grace); the two principles are mutually exclusive.
Romans 4:13-15 NKJV For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
If you are an heir it means you have an inheritance and an inheritance is not worked for it is a gift. Abraham’s righteousness was a gift because he believed God he didn’t work for it and and as we have seen in our study we are heirs of Abraham which we have received in inheritance, in this case righteousness through the promise to Abraham that his seed would be blessed.
Galatians 3:10-18 NKJV For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
KEYS TO THE TEXT
In the scripture that we read it says that we have been redeemed. The Greek word translated “redeemed” was often used to speak of buying a slave’s or debtor’s freedom. Christ’s death, because it was a death of substitution for sin, satisfied God’s, justice, so that Christ actually purchased believers from slavery to sin and from the sentence of eternal death.
Romans 3:21-26 NKJV But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The only adequate payment to redeem sinners from sin’sslavery and its deserved punishment was “in Christ Jesus”
I Timothy 2:5-6 NKJV For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,
I Peter 1:17-19 NKJV And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
That ransome price or redemption was paid to God to satisfy His justice.
Another key to this text is the promises to Abraham: These are the promises found in the Abrahamic covenant;
(Gen. 12:3, 7; 13:15–16; 15:5, 18; 17:8; 22:16–18; 26:3–4; 28:13–14).
Because these promises were made both to Abraham and to his descendants, they did not become void when Abraham died or when the law came. The covenant with Abraham was an unconditional covenant of promise relying solely on God’s faithfulness, whereas the covenant with Moses was a conditional covenant of law relying on man’s faithfulness. To Abraham, God said, “I will.” Through MosesHe said, “Thou shalt.”
The promise (Abrahamic covenant) set forth a religion dependent on God.
The law set forth a religion dependent on man.
The promise centers on God’s plan, God’s grace, God’s initiative, God’s sovereignty, God’s blessings.
The law centers on man’s duty, man’s work, man’s responsibility, man’s behavior, man’s obedience.
The promise, being grounded in grace, requires only sincere faith.
The law, being grounded in works, demands perfect obedience.
In contrasting the covenants of promise and of law, Paul first shows the superiority of the one and then the inferiority of the other.