Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
Humans like to live life in the concrete. What I mean is that we live life in the flesh, among things we can feel, touch, smell, taste, see or hear. That is our element. Paul’s task was difficult. He needs to speak about an abstract concept, faith alone, in a way that can be understood by people who don’t normally think that way. He chooses an effective tool which is called the “case study method.” This method has been used in medicine and law from their earliest roots. Paul presents the Judaizers and the Gentile churches of Galatia with case studies in faith.
His scope is almost mind-boggling. In our study today Paul will bring together over 2,000 years of history. He will present his readers with a survey that covers almost the complete landscape of the Old Testament. He will speak of God’s covenant with Abraham at the founding of Israel, how the law given to Moses relates to that covenant, and finally how both are fulfilled in Christ.
I love passages like this because they remind me that Scripture presents God’s coherent master plan for the ages. The whole Bible from Genesis through Revelation tells the story of how a Holy God whose eye cannot even look upon evil, reconciled people whose hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked to Himself. It is indeed the greatest story ever told and so often we miss its scope in our daily lives.
We take out our microscopes and examine a verse or two of Scripture, wringing all we can from it. Yet, like a cellular biologist gone wrong, if we are not careful, we will focus on the cell under the scope and fail to make the connection as to how it relates to the animal itself. Its not often that we step back and try to take in the whole counsel of God in during one session. What I mean is simply this, The God of the Universe is working according to a Divine plan which He has revealed in His word. His plan is to redeem a people to Himself through the Lord Jesus. If I study in Genesis, I need to look for the master plan and realize that it lays the foundation on which the New Testament stands. If I am on another day studying in the Revelation, I need to understand how it relates back to events in the lives of the patriarchs and Israel as a nation. The Bible is miraculous in its coherency and yet so often we miss it.
When we closed the book last week, Paul had just made the case that Abraham was justified by faith. His first case study is chosen deliberately to address the Judaizers who had first tried to require Gentile believers to be circumcised to complete their faith and now were bewitching the Gentile believers into adding conformance to the law back into their faith in Christ as a way to become right with God.
In Galatians 3:6 Paul made the point that Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”. We looked at the circumstance surrounding Abraham’s being declared righteous in Genesis 15:1-6.
Paul then expands the example of Abraham to speak to succeeding generations. He says first in Galatians 3:7:
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
He makes the point to the Galatian church that true sons of Abraham are those whose faith is counted for righteousness as Abraham’s was. This was a radical concept. Paul was making the claim that Gentiles and Jews who believe in Jesus are the true sons of Abraham whereas Jews by birth who have no faith in Jesus are not true sons of Abraham. Jews for centuries had reckoned themselves not only as Abraham’s physical heirs but his spiritual heirs as well. Paul points out the fallacy of their thinking. The thought may have been radical in the ears of the Judaizers but it was true nonetheless. Paul was not breaking new ground here. Jesus had already stated it clearly.
Read John 8:31-59
Key verses in the passages:
John 8:38 – I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.
John 8:39-41 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father — even God.”
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Physically descended from Abraham they certainly were, but spiritually they were Satan’s descendants because they rejected Jesus.
Paul advances his argument in Galatians 3:8-9:
And 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.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Again sweeping back to the very beginning of Jewish history, Paul states that God always viewed Abraham’s spiritual descendents this way.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“All the families” are those who are not physical descendents of Abraham.
The blessing God is speaking about is salvation. Abraham was the physical father of the Jews but this is secondary to the fact that he is the spiritual father of all those who come by faith to Christ.
Abraham himself understood this. To what extent, we are not sure but we have the words of Jesus in John 8:56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Paul takes up his original question in Galatians 3:2:
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”
Now in verses 10 through 14 (read) Paul answers the question himself.
He sets up a dichotomy.
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Hab. 2:4)
But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
The choice is clear. Live by faith or live by works. Depend on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross or justify yourself by keeping the law. Paul makes the point that there really is no choice at all.
“Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.”
If you choose to live by the law then you must keep it perfectly. This is for us impossible.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
there is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We are all, therefore under the curse stated in Deuteronomy. This then is the significance of Galatians 3:13-14:
Christ 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” — so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
The curse was ours but Jesus took the curse upon Himself on the cross. We are set free through faith. This was in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.
Read Galatians 3:15-18.
What purpose does the law serve? Paul continues:
It points us to Christ. It is our taskmaster and guide which drives us to Christ.
It also tells instructs us in the process of sanctification.
The law drives us to the cross and aids in our growth.
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA