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GOD’S BLESSING THROUGH FAITH IN THE PROMISE

Galatians 3:1-3:29
Key Verse: 3:14

Galatians Lesson 3

• What is the relationship of the law to God’s promise in his redemptive history?
• How does becoming children of God affect relationships with other believers?

 In chapters 1 and 2 Paul defended the authenticity of his apostleship and the gospel he preached among the Gentiles. In chapters 3 and 4, Paul declares that we become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. To help us understand this, Paul develops his theme through several contrasts: faith versus observing the law (3:1-14), the promise versus the law (3:15-22), and children versus slaves (3:23-4:31).

 God started salvation work through Abraham when he promised that all nations on earth would be blessed through his offspring. God fulfilled this promise through Jesus Christ. In the course of God's salvation history, God gave the law through Moses. The purpose of the law is to expose sin as sin, and lead us to salvation in Christ. Both the promise and the law point to Jesus Christ. However, God's salvation history is based on his promise to Abraham, not on the law.

 Paul explained God's history to the Galatians so that they might know God's intention to make people of all nations his children through faith in Christ. Whoever believes the promise of God in Jesus Christ becomes a child of God. In Christ, we are all children of God through faith in Christ. There is no distinction based on nationality, race, gender, color, or social status. When we have this clear identity, we are blessed and can embrace all kinds of people in Christ.


1. Why did Paul use strong language (1)? How did Paul clearly portray Christ (1b; Ac 13:38–39)? How had the Galatians received the Spirit and experienced miracles (2-5)? Why is the gospel the power of God now and always?

 In verse 1 Paul rebuked the Galatians: "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?" The Message Bible says, "You crazy Galatians!" The Amplified Bible reads, "O you poor and silly and thoughtless and unreflecting and senseless Galatians!" Paul rebukes the Galatians for betraying gospel faith under the bad influence of false teachers. He rebuked them sharply to help them discern the truth and muster the courage to stand on gospel faith. The word "bewitched" indicates that the devil had gripped them. The devil intended to destroy the souls of the Galatians.

 To set them free from the devil, Paul reminded them of the gospel. Verse 1b. "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." Paul's message to the Galatians focused on Christ crucified. When Paul preached this, the Galatians felt they were watching Christ being crucified before their very eyes. Historically, Jesus' crucifixion had taken place some 15 years earlier. But they felt that it was happening right then, before their very eyes. Here we see that Jesus' crucifixion is not just a historical event, but it is like a fountain that flows continually. The NIV translates the Greek as “clearly”; it also means “graphically”, “vividly”. Our gospel came to us not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (I Thes 1:5) On the cross Jesus said, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). The original text uses the perfect tense, expressing that action completed in the past has accomplished something for all time. After his death on the cross, Christ rose again to life, proving that his death was acceptable to God as the perfect sacrifice (Ro 4:25). Christ is living. Christ obtained eternal redemption through his death and resurrection (Heb 9:12). This is why his atoning sacrifice is effective to all who believe in all times.

 In verses 2-5 Paul asked several questions, progressively, to remind them of how God had worked in their lives.
 In verse 2 he asked, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?" As the apostles preached the gospel, people believed the message and received the Holy Spirit; they were changed into new persons (Ac 2:38; 8:15-17; 10:15; 13:48,52). This does not happen by observing the law, but by believing the gospel.
 In verse 3 Paul asked, "After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?" The Galatians had received the Spirit by believing. However, when they heard they should be circumcised and obey the law, they agreed. They thought they could progress in sanctification by keeping the law. Paul called them foolish. As they had begun by faith, so they needed to continue by faith. It is God who sanctifies us by faith alone (1 Th 5:23; 2 Th 2:13; 1 Pe 1:2).
 In verse 4 Paul asked, "Have you experienced so much in vain--if it really was in vain?" [Note: most versions translate “experienced” as “suffered.”] This refers to the persecution the Galatians received (Ac 14:22). It came from legalistic Jews who opposed gospel ministry. It also came from fellow Gentiles who felt condemned by the Christians' holy lives. The Galatians suffered a lot from persecution. But they knew it was meaningful and valuable. It purified their faith and helped them take root in Christ. It was not in vain; they grew spiritually.
 In verse 5 Paul asked, "...does God work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?" When Paul was in Galatia, the Lord confirmed his message by enabling him to do miraculous signs and wonders (Ac 14:3). God's power is experienced by faith, not by observing the law.

 Through several rhetorical questions, Paul helped the Galatians remember that God worked mightily in their lives through their faith, not by their observing the law. Paul helped them realize that God is pleased by faith, not by works of the flesh. Christians live by faith alone, from the first to the last.


2. How was Abraham credited as righteous by God (6)? How is Abraham a spiritual father to all believers, including Gentiles (7–9)?
 Abraham was the father of the nation Israel. No one could refute Abraham's example. In Abraham's time, God had not yet given his law. Abraham was justified by faith. Verse 6. "So also Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6). At that time, Abraham had hit rock-bottom. Even though he had lived by faith for ten years he had no visible fruit. God promised to make him into a great nation. But in reality, he had no heir. After fighting a war to rescue Lot, he had many enemies. So he was fearful. At the same time, he had a sense of loss. God comforted him in a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." But Abraham responded by complaining, "What can you give me since I remain childless." God did not give him a son right away. Instead, God planted faith in him. God took him outside and said, "Look at the stars...so shall your offspring be." God's promise was so great that it seemed irrational and ridiculous. Mysteriously, Abraham believed the Lord. Then the Lord credited it to him as righteousness. Abraham did not achieve something great. He hadn't raised any disciples. And he had made many mistakes. But he believed the Lord. He regarded God as God. He fully trusted that with man it was impossible, but with God it was possible. Then God was pleased and gave Abraham an A+. Here we learn that God is pleased by faith, not by works of the law.

 In verse 7, Paul related Abraham's faith to the Galatians. Those who have faith in God like Abraham did are the children of Abraham. Abraham's descendants are not primarily his physical descendants, but those who have the same faith. In verse 8, Paul quoted Genesis 12:3 and 22:18: "All nations on earth will be blessed through you." And he said, "Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham." Paul revealed God's plan to the Galatians. From the beginning it was to bless the Gentiles with the gospel of forgiveness through faith. God was not exclusively the God of the Jews, but the God of the Gentiles, also. Those who rely on faith like Abraham did are blessed along with Abraham (9). Paul wanted the Galatians to know that God accepted them as his children by their faith. They were just as much a part of God's family as Jewish believers. Here we learn that God sees and blesses faith, not works of the law.


3. How do verses 10-12 explain that no one can be justified by relying on the law? How did Christ redeem us from the curse of the law (13; 1Pe 1:18–19)? What does the blessing given to Abraham mean to us, and how can we receive it (14)?

 In verses 10-12 Paul quoted Old Testament references to explain that there are two ways to seek righteousness. He quoted Habbakuk 2:4, which says, "the righteous will live by faith," and Leviticus 18:5, which says, "the person who does these things will live by them." Both are the words of God and promise us eternal life. But the roadways are different. The first way to eternal life is to have a right relationship with God by faith. The second way to eternal life is to keep the law. What is the problem? The problem is we cannot keep the law in order to have eternal life. Verse 10 says, "For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law'" (Dt 27:26). The law demands perfect obedience. We have to obey all the laws of God without fail. Paul continued to talk about the nature of the law in verse 12. This means the law is not based on God's grace but on human effort alone. Yet we do not have the power to keep the law. And when we fail to keep even one of God's laws, it brings curse upon us. We are condemned without mercy and receive a death penalty. God is holy. There is no exception. All are under a curse because of disobedience to the law of God. Attempting to be saved by works will lead to profound anxiety and insecurity, because we can never be sure that we are living up to the standards sufficiently. We live with a sense of curse and condemnation.

 Verse 13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" Simply speaking, to redeem is to pay the price to free a slave. Because of disobedience all men became slaves of sin. There was no way out without paying the full price for our sins. Jesus paid it all for us. Jesus, who is in very nature God, kept all the law perfectly from beginning to end. Jesus was sinless. But he was condemned and crucified as a criminal. It was for our sins. He became a curse in our places. (Isa 53:4-5; 2 Cor 5:21) Because of his death on the cross, we are redeemed from the curse of the law. Those who rely on what Jesus has done are freed from the curse of the law to live a new life (Ro 8:1).

 Verse 14 tells us the result of Christ's redemption. The Galatian believers received the Spirit through faith. This fulfilled the promise of blessing given to Abraham. This blessing of the Spirit comes only through faith in Christ, not by works of the law. The Spirit dwells in us and guides us. We can bear inner fruit, such as love, joy and peace. Christ redeems us from the curse of the law, and brings us under the blessing of God. Under the curse of the law everything seemed to work against us and end in failure. We always felt condemnation and guilt. There was no hope or peace. However, when we live under the blessing of God, everything goes well. We enjoy real peace and bright hope for the future because God works for our good (Ro 8:28). [It is recommended to have a 5 minute break after finishing question 3.]


4. What is the nature of a human covenant (15)? How was God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled (16)? For what purpose did God add the law (17-20)? How do the law and promise work together (21-22)? What is the relationship of the law to God’s promise in his redemptive history?

 In order to illustrate his point, Paul shared the example of a human covenant, and related it to God's promise. The word "covenant" in verse 15 comes from a rather technical Greek word (diatheke) which can be translated "last will and testament." We are familiar with a will. It is a legal document that governs the distribution of a deceased person's estate to his heirs. While the estate owner is alive, he can revise his will as he pleases. He may want to reduce or increase the inheritance of heirs based on their behavior. However, after he dies, his will cannot be changed. Nothing can be added or taken away. It must be executed as written by the deceased.

 Paul related this truth to God's promise to Abraham. God gave many promises to Abraham, such as, "I will make you into a great nation...I will make your name great," and, "...to your offspring I will give this land..." (Gen 12:2-3; 7). Paul explains that these promises all culminate into one: "...though your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed..." (Gen 12:3; 22:18). Paul says that "offspring" refers to Christ (16). In giving his promise to Abraham, God looked forward to Christ. It was the promise of the gospel of grace to all nations. God wanted Abraham and his descendants to realize that he would keep this promise without fail. So he swore an oath. Usually, we swear by someone greater than ourselves. But God had no one greater to swear by. So he swore by himself. Hebrews 6:17 says, "Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath." God seriously and absolutely committed himself to keep his promise. God had Himself guaranteed that He would keep His promise—how and why then could the law “do away with promise.”

 The law came 430 years later. It does not set aside the promise (17). So the inheritance God gives does not depend on the law, but on a promise; it comes by God's grace alone (18). Since Paul took great pains to distinguish the promise and the law, it is worthwhile for us to consider the nature of both. In the promise God said, "I will...I will...I will...." But in the law of Moses, God said, "You shall...You shall not...You shall...." Upon this basis, John Stott commented: "The promise sets forth a religion of God--'God's plan,' 'God's grace,' 'God's initiative.' But the law sets forth a religion of man--'man's duty,' 'man's works,' 'man's responsibility.' The promise had only to be believed. But the law had to be obeyed. God's dealings with Abraham were in the category of 'promise,' 'grace' and 'faith.' But God's dealings with Moses were in the category of 'law,' 'commandments,' and 'works.' The conclusion to which Paul is leading is that the Christian religion is the religion of Abraham and not Moses, of promise and not law; and that Christians are enjoying today the promise which God made to Abraham centuries ago." Martin Luther said, "For unless the gospel be plainly discerned from the law, the true Christian doctrine cannot be kept sound and uncorrupt. But if this difference be well known, then is the true manner of justification also known, and then it is an easy matter to discern faith from works, Christ from Moses...." So, it is important for us to distinguish between law and promise. A Christian's relationship with God is founded upon the grace of his salvation through Christ. This gives us hope, like an anchor for our souls, that is steadfast and certain no matter how stormy our lives may be (Heb 6:19).

 In verses 19-25 there are two questions. These questions were probably raised by the Judaizers. In order to answer them, Paul taught the Galatians the role of the law in God's work and history.

 The first question is, "Why, then, was the law given at all?" Verse 19b says, "It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." In order to understand this verse it helps to know when the law was given to Israel, and what their situation was. The Israelites had suffered as slaves under Pharaoh. God redeemed them and led them to Mount Sinai and gave them the law in order to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:5-6). For this purpose, they needed the law. They needed to have a consciousness of sin. They were free, but they needed to overcome the mentality of slaves. They were ungrateful and ready to complain. They were impatient, easily angered, and often fought each other. They were greedy and sexually immoral in many ways. They quickly forgot God, fell into idolatry, and engaged in wild orgy parties. They can be compared to people with a terminal disease who are totally unaware of it. So God gave them the law to help them recognize sin as sin. When they properly diagnosed the problem they could realize that only God could help them. They could come to God as sinners for forgiveness and cleansing, which was offered through the sacrificial system--a shadow of Jesus' atonement. The role of the law was not to save them from their sins, but to provoke, expose, and condemn sin so that they might come to God for help. In this way they could learn to live by God’s word as a holy people. In verses 19c-20 Paul draws out a contrast between the law and the promise. This sharpens his argument that the promise is weightier than the law. In the NLT, these verses read, "God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham." We can find two points of contrast. First of all, the law was given indirectly through angels and a mediator. God is holy. If sinful men meet the holy God directly, they will perish. So they needed a mediator. However, God spoke the promise to Abraham directly. God was close to Abraham. As a second contrast, the law was conditional. God and the people both had something to fulfill. If either party failed, the covenant would be nullified. On the other hand, God's promise to Abraham was unconditional. God did not require anything more of Abraham than that he believe the promise. God took full and one-sided responsibility to fulfill the promise. God kept his promise by sending Jesus Christ. So the promise is superior to the law in substance and effectiveness.

 The second question is, "Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?" The implication of this question is that if we are saved by faith alone, the law is in opposition to the promise and we can disregard it totally. What does Paul say? "Absolutely not!" The law and the promise are not opposed to each other. In fact, they work together according to God's intended purpose. Yet the role of each is different. The law does not produce righteousness, but conviction of sin and condemnation. The law exposes sin, provokes sin and condemns sin. The law brings a guilty verdict to all people on earth, so that mankind may realize there is no way out apart from grace in Christ Jesus.


5. What was our situation before having faith in Christ, and how could we be freed from that bondage (23-25)? What is the function of the law regarding having faith in Christ?

 Verse 23 says, “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.” We were in the prison of sin and the law. Faith in Christ is like a key. Faith opened the door and set us free. In verse 24, Paul uses another analogy in order to explain our situation. We were under the law as our guardian. But when we have faith in Christ, we are no longer under the law (25).

 So we see that the law and the promise are not contradictory, they are complimentary; we need both. But the promise is foundational. Law and grace work together in Christian salvation. Unless we know how big our debt is, we cannot have any idea of how great Christ’s payment was. If we think that we are not all that bad, the idea of grace will never change us. The law shows us as we really are. And so the law points us to see Christ as He really is: our Savior, the One who obeyed the law on our behalf and then died in our place so that we might receive the promised blessing. The law allows us to love Jesus, and enables us to show our love in grateful obedience to Him.


6. What is our new identity in Christ, and how did this happen (26-27)? What is our new relationship with other believers, regardless of human distinctions (28-29)? How does becoming children of God affect our relationships with other believers?

 In Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith (26). According to the law, it was impossible for anyone to become a child of God. Man is born as a slave to sin. His position as a slave cannot be changed. Though his living situation may improve, his slave status cannot be changed. We were always under the condemnation of the law. We were guilty and fearful without remedy. This is still the present condition of those who don't believe in Jesus. They try to be saved by works: daily prayer, almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage, and so on. However, they are greatly burdened, without peace or joy. This is the condition of all who rely on keeping the law to be righteous. When we simply believe in Christ Jesus, God gives us amazing grace to become his children (Jn 1:12). God not only forgives all our sins, but makes us his children. This is not just the improvement of our situation. But it is a fundamental change within us which brings us out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of light. Verse 27 further explains the meaning of faith in Christ through the metaphors of baptism and changing our clothing. Baptism into Christ means we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Ro 6:3-5). It means the death of our old sinful nature and the birth of a new life through the power of the Risen Christ. We take off our old dirty garments and put on new clean garments (Ro 13:14). Just as we change our clothes every day, we can put on Christ every day and live a new life in him (Eph 4:22-24).

 Now we are God's children through faith in Christ. We must also see others as children of God also (28-29). Our new identity as God's children supersedes any other human consideration. Distinctions based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, social status, wealth, education, appearance and so on are put into a new perspective. They make life interesting, but they are secondary. In essence, all who have faith in Christ are God's children and dear family members.
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