Paul has been writing to the Galatians to contend for the truth of the gospel which he had preached to the Galatians. And as we saw last week, he received that gospel message directly from the Lord, who appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and who appointed him to be an apostle. And when Paul met the other apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem, they agreed with him and with the gospel he preached and they did not add to it or correct him in anyway. And on the basis of this gospel — which he received directly from the Lord — Paul rebuked the apostle Peter when Peter had stopped acting in line with the truth of the gospel.
What is the gospel message which Paul received from the Lord and which he preached among the Galatians? It’s the message that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith in Christ alone. Through faith in Christ — who laid down his life as the ransom for sinners; and who shed his blood for our forgiveness — sinners are pardoned by God and accepted as righteous in his sight. That’s the gospel: we’re saved from condemnation and we receive eternal life through faith in Christ the Saviour.
Paul was contending for this gospel, because false teachers had come to the churches in Galatia and were preaching a different gospel, which was no gospel at all. They were saying that sinners are justified by works of the law, or by keeping the law, and not by faith alone. And so, Paul was writing to the Galatians to persuade them that the message the false teachers were preaching was not the gospel. There’s only one true gospel and it’s the message which Christ revealed to Paul and it’s the message that sinners are justified through faith in Christ alone.
Today we’re turning to verses 1 to 14 of chapter 3 where Paul continues to contend for the gospel which he received from the Lord and which he preached among the Galatians. And in these verses he presents two kinds of argument.
The first kind of argument is based on their own personal history or their own personal experience. That’s in verses 1 to 5.
And the second kind of argument is based on the Scriptures. And that’s in verses 6 to 14 where Paul refers to different verses from the Old Testament.
So, let’s study these two arguments, because they teach us once again why we all need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 1 to 5
In verses 1 to 5 Paul contends for the truth of the gospel by appealing to their own personal history or their own personal experience.
He begins with a rebuke, doesn’t he? ‘You foolish Galatians’, he says. ‘Who has bewitched you?’ Back in verse 6 of chapter 1 he said he was astonished that they had so quickly turned from the gospel. And now he says that it’s as if someone has cast a spell over them, because he can’t believe how foolish they’ve been. It’s madness. It’s unbelievable. What’s happened to you? How could you have been taken in by this false gospel?
It’s as if someone has cast a spell over them and sprinkled them with some kind of magic dust, because they’ve forgotten the significance of the cross of Christ. Before your very eyes, says Paul in verse 1, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. When Paul says that Christ was clearly portrayed before their very eyes, he means that, when he was with them, and when he preached to them, he made clear to them the meaning and the significance of the death of Christ for salvation. He made crystal clear to them the meaning of the cross. But now, for some reason, they seem to have forgotten what he taught them, so that they’re no longer relying on Christ and his cross, but they’re relying on themselves and their own observance of the law. It’s madness!
Some of the commentators point out that the Greek word for ‘who’ in the question ‘Who has bewitched you?’ is singular and not plural. And they suggest that Paul believes that the one who has bewitched them is the Devil. Yes, they’re been taken in by the false teachers; but behind the false teachers, there’s the Devil, who is the father of lies and who is always at work in the world to deceive people. He likes to get into the church and to confuse Christ’s people to keep them from progressing in the faith. And so, of course, we must always be alert to his wicked schemes; and take care lest we are deceived or led astray by him. It can happen so easily.
And Paul is not only astonished how they’ve forgotten the significance of the cross, but he’s also astonished because they’re forgotten their own experience. Look at verse 2:
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard?
By referring to the time when they received the Holy Spirit, Paul is referring to the time of their conversion. He’s talking about the time when they became Christians and became members of God’s people. How did they become members of God’s people? Was it by observing the law? Did they become Christians by being circumcised and by adopting all the Old Testament laws about what to eat and drink and by doing all the other things required by God’s law? Is that how they became members of God’s people? Or did they become members of God’s people by believing in Christ when Paul came and preached to them?
The answer is obvious: they became Christians by believing in Christ. Paul came to their city and preached about Christ who died for sinners and who was raised to give us life. He appealed on them to believe in Christ the Saviour. And some who heard Paul preach believed and became Christians. And as Christians, as members of God’s people, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee that we will indeed inherit eternal life in the presence of God one day.
The false teachers were saying that in order to become a member of God’s people you need to observe the law and be circumcised. Paul was reminding his readers of what they actually experienced and how they became members of God’s people by believing.
He asks another question in verse 3:
Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal [or be perfected] by the human effort?
He’s referring now, not to their conversion, but to their sanctification or to their progress in holiness. How do we become holy? How do we become more and more obedient? The false teachers were saying they needed to observe the law. But while the law shows us what we have to do, the law by itself cannot help us to obey. The law is a master who teaches us what to do, but who will not lift a finger to help us. So, how do we become more and more obedient? It’s by relying on the help of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gives to all who trust in him.
And Paul asks another question in verse 4:
Have you suffered so much for nothing?
We know from the book of Acts that many unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble for Paul when he was in the province of Galatia and forced him to leave one city after another. Presumably, then, the believers in Galatia were also persecuted for their faith. And Paul’s point here is this: once they were so persuaded by the truth of the gospel that they were willing to suffer for the faith, rather than deny it. But all that they once suffered was for nothing, because now they’re in danger of giving up their faith in Christ and his gospel because of these false teachers.
And Paul asks one more question in verse 5:
Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law or because you believe what you heard?
This is really a repetition of the first question: How did they become Christians? How did they become members of God’s people? It wasn’t by doing what the law commands; it was by believing in Christ the Saviour. Paul preached the good news about Christ crucified; and they believed in Christ crucified; and they were therefore filled with the Holy Spirit. And you’ll see too that God also worked miracles among them in those days; but those miracles were the result of their faith, and not their observance of the law.
So, Paul contends for the gospel in these verses by appealing to their own personal history or to their own experience. They became Christians, members of God’s people, by believing in Christ the Saviour.
The law, of course, is good. It’s good because it shows us how to live as God’s people and it shows us the things he wants us to do as his people. But we become members of God’s people, not by observing the law, but by believing in Christ. And Christ gives the Holy Spirit to all who trust in him, so that we can rely on the Spirit’s help to become more and more obedient to God.
Verses 6 to 9
In verses 6 to 14, Paul contends for the truth of the gospel by appealing to the Scriptures. And, of course, he appeals here to the Old Testament Scriptures, which is a reminder to all of us that the Old Testament contains the gospel. Sometimes people think the Old Testament was all about the law; and the gospel is only found in the New Testament. However, we find the gospel in the Old Testament. The Old Testament, as much as the New Testament, teaches us about God’s grace, his kindness to sinners, and how we’re to trust in Christ for salvation. And so, Paul appeals to the Old Testament to prove his point that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith. He appeals to the Old Testament.
And in particular, he appeals to what the Old Testament says about Abraham, who was regarded as the father of God’s people. And here’s the thing and this is really Paul’s point in a nutshell: if the false teachers were right that sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — by observing the law, then we’d expect to find God telling that message to Abraham. If the false teachers were right, God would say to Abraham that the way to be justified is by keeping the law.
But God didn’t say that to Abraham. You won’t find that message in the Old Testament, because the Old Testament is clear that Abraham was justified by faith and not by observing the law.
In verse 6 Paul quotes from Genesis 15. If you were to look up Genesis 15, you’d find the story of how God showed Abraham the stars in the sky. And God promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars: too many to count. At the time, Abraham and his wife Sarah hadn’t had a single child of their own. Nevertheless, Abraham believed what God said. He believed God’s promise.
And in Genesis 15:6 it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. In other words, because Abraham believed what God said, God counted him, or God regarded him, as righteous in his sight.
Another way of putting it is to say that Abraham was justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith.
And then Paul draws a conclusion in verse 7 where he says:
Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.
The phrase ‘children of Abraham’ is a way of referring to God’s people. In that case, who are God’s people? They are those who believe.
That’s verses 6 and 7. Let’s move on now to verses 8 and 9 where Paul explains that God revealed to Abraham that the nations will be justified by believing in the coming Saviour.
So, instead of saying that all nations will be blessed by keeping the law, God said to Abraham in Genesis 12 that:
All nations will be blessed through you.
That is to say, all nations will be justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through one of your descendants. God was referring to Jesus Christ, who, according to his human nature, was descended from Abraham. And God was saying to Abraham in Genesis 12 that people in every nation will be blessed by God by believing in Christ who was coming into the world.
Verses 10 to 14
All who rely on the Lord Jesus and who trust in him will be blessed by God. By contrast, all who rely on observing the law will be cursed by God. That’s in verse 10; and Paul once again quotes from the Old Testament. This time it’s Deuteronomy 27:26 where it says:
Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.
If you rely on your ability to observe the law, then you’re in trouble, because no one — no one — is able to keep the law perfectly. No one is able to do everything written in the law. Some of us break it a lot. Some of us break it a little. But all of us have broken God’s law. And therefore no one will be justified by keeping the law.
However, the good news is — and Paul now quotes from Habakuk 2:4 — the righteous will live by faith. The unrighteous — those who do not do what is right — will die. They are under God’s wrath and curse and will suffer eternally for all that they have done wrong. But by faith in Christ the Saviour, who loved us and who laid down his life for us, sinners are declared right with God. Even though we may have done everything wrong, God treats us as if we’ve done everything right. And all who are righteous by faith will live forever and forever in God’s glorious presence.
Those who refuse to believe, and who rely on keeping the law, and on trying their best to live a good life, will be condemned and punished forever, away from the presence of the Lord. But those who believe in Christ, and rely on him and his death for sinners, will be justified and will live forever in God’s presence.
And they will be justified and will live forever, because Christ took the blame for his people. That’s what verses 13 and 14 are about where Paul uses the word ‘redeem’. I’ve explained the background to this word before. In Exodus 21 we read about what should happen if a man has a bull which attacks and kills another man. The bull must be killed, stoned to death; and under certain circumstances, the owner of the bull must be killed as well. He must be condemned and executed if he were in some way responsible for what happened. However, and this is the important bit, it was possible for the owner of the bull to redeem his life by paying a price. In the eyes of the law, he was guilty and deserving of death. However, it was possible for him to pay a price, a ransom, and so be spared.
And all of us are sinners. We’ve all broken God’s law. We deserve to be condemned by God as lawbreakers. However, the Lord Jesus Christ gave up his life on the cross as the ransom price to redeem us. In the eyes of the law, we’re guilty and deserving of death. But Christ paid the price for us. He took the blame for us. And so, if you trust in him, then instead of perishing under God’s wrath and curse — which is what you deserve — you’re spared and given the hope of eternal life.
And having redeemed us, having set us free from the condemnation we deserve, the Lord Jesus gives us the promised Holy Spirit. Do you see that at the end of verse 14? And the Spirit is the one who works in us to renew us and to transform us and he enables us to keep God’s law and to do his will.
And so, here’s Paul, turning to the Old Testament Scriptures, to prove to his readers and to us that there has only ever been one way to be saved. And the one way to be saved is by trusting in Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world.
In the Old Testament, God announced that Christ was coming into the world. In the New Testament, God announced that Christ has come and that he laid down his life as the ransom to set sinners free from condemnation. And God has promised that whoever believes in his Son is justified, pardoned and accepted by God. And whoever believes in his Son receives the Holy Spirit who enables God’s believing people to keep God’s law and to walk in his ways.
When you turn on the radio, when you switch on the TV, when you read the newspapers and the internet, you’ll find all these experts with all kinds of ideas about what’s wrong with the world and how we can live a better life. And, of course, all their advice is a kind of law. Do this. Follow these instructions. Live like this. Some of their advice may be helpful. A lot of it may be rubbish. But it’s all a kind of law, because it’s all about what people must do.
But in the gospel, we hear what Christ has done for us, so that all who trust in him may have eternal life. And in the gospel, we hear that whoever believes receives the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not like the law. The law is a master which teaches us what to do, but cannot help us; whereas the Spirit not only teaches us what to do, but he also helps us to do it. And so, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation; and trust in him for the help of the Holy Spirit to triumph over sin more and more and to do God’s will more and more each day.