By Sam E. Stone
Paul continues his warning to the Galatian Christians in today’s text. In last week’s lesson he asserted that “a man is not justified by observing the law” (Galatians 2:16). This by itself should have silenced the Judaizers who insisted that a Gentile must first become a Jew before he could become a Christian. It is self-defeating for a person to return to the Old Testament regulations while saying he trusts in Jesus and follows him.
You foolish Galatians! They overlooked the obvious. This false teaching was nonsense. Jesus Christ has been crucified. His death for sins is what we proclaim. Abraham was justified by faith; and it is only those who live by the principle of faith who are his children.
J. W. McGarvey paraphrases Paul like this: “I need ask you but one test question to utterly condemn your conduct. I will refer you to your own experience. When I came . . . God approved . . . my labor by imparting to you miraculous powers (Galatians 3:5; Mark 16:17; Hebrews 2:4) and spiritual graces (Galatians 3:14; 4:5-7). Did you receive the Spirit by these works of the law . . . or did you receive him by hearing and believing the gospel which I preach?”
When a repentant believer is baptized into Christ, he receives the Holy Spirit who then lives within (Acts 2:38). Through this the Christian shares in Christ’s death and resurrection (Galatians 2:20, 21; Romans 6:1-7). This does not happen by keeping the Old Testament law. Spiritual graces are imparted by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). You started out as Christians in the proper, normal way—through faith in Christ and obedience to Christ. Why change now? Righteousness does not come by our works.
Have you suffered so much for nothing? Paul asked. The Galatians had undoubtedly been persecuted for their faith, like other early Christians (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14). Why should they now abandon the faith for which they had suffered? Paul hopes they will return to the truth. God works miracles both among you and in you (Galatians 2:8; 4:6) because of your faith, he tells them. Then to answer his question, he uses Abraham to prove the point that salvation is by faith.
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” . . . Those who believe are children of Abraham. John the Baptist made clear that the Pharisees and Sadducees were “vipers,” even though physically they were descendants of Abraham (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7). Jesus called the Pharisees “children of the devil,” not spiritual children of Abraham (children of God) in John 8:37-44. Faith is the determining factor in deciding who is a true descendant of Abraham. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 here and again in Romans 4:3 (see also James 2:23). Abraham’s numberless descendants include all the faithful, whether Jews or Gentiles. The word for “Gentiles” and “nations” is the same. Genesis 12:3 could be translated, “In (Abraham) shall all the Gentiles be blessed.”
The fact is that it is hopeless for a person to claim he can keep the law perfectly. Even Abraham was not saved by all the good things he did. Instead, he demonstrated what God declared as his eternal policy: “The righteous will live by faith” (see also Habakkuk 2:4). It is impossible for anyone to fulfill all the requirements of the law, and because of this everyone is placed under a curse.
God’s blessing has never been earned; instead, it has been freely given by the Lord himself. James declared, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:10; compare Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10). In Christ, however, both Gentile and Jew inherit the blessing promised to Abraham, through faith. Paul showed the Galatians that “the condemnation to which they were returning, was the very thing from which the death of Christ released them” (McGarvey).
The law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:17, 18). The law itself was so good, righteous, and holy that only Jesus ever kept it perfectly (Romans 7:12, 13). When he came, the law was fulfilled. It was completed. Now through faith in Christ we have become children of Abraham. Through Abraham and with Abraham, we too are blessed.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.