Galatians 3 opens with a very serious accusation – “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…” It is important to establish why such strong words before understanding the rest of chapter 3. Towards the end of chapter 2, Paul is recounting his experience rebuking Peter at Antioch for he feared the “party of the circumcision” (v. 12) and was not “straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). It seems that Peter had originally been eating meals with the Gentiles at Antioch which resulted in the violation of Jewish dietary laws. This act of Peters’ was a significant picture of the unity of the church. However, there was a gradual reduction of this occurrence due to the presence (and likely scrutiny) of the party of the circumcision. Paul says Peter even went so far as to “withdraw and hold himself aloof”. So Paul rebukes Peter, for his actions do not line up with right understanding – there there is no favoritism with God for Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians. All Christians were justified by faith in Christ – no need for other distinctions like racial heritage. Paul retells the rebuke in verses 14b-20. Some highlights of the rebuke:
1) Man is not justified by the works of the law (v. 16)
2) Man is justified through faith in Christ Jesus (v. 16)
3) Justification by faith does not promote the believer to sin, lest Christ, the spotless lamb, be made a promoter of sin (v. 17)
4) If a Christian returns to the law, i.e. tries to justify himself by the works of the law, all he does is prove himself to be a transgressor (v. 18)! For there are none that are righteous (Cf Romans 3), and the function of the law is to identify the need of justification, not to actually do the justifying.
5) The Christian has died and has been resurrected with Christ – died to the law for it demanded such a punishment for those who broke it, and resurrected to live for God freely by faith (v. 19-20).
6) Paul lastly points out that if the law is the source of justification then Christ’s death was unnecessary (v. 21)
Back in Chapter 3, it seems, then, that Paul so shockingly confronts the Galatians is because they too have returned to the law. And so Paul continues to defend the doctrine of Justification by faith in Chapter 3.
First, by a series of piercing questions, Paul reminds the Galatians about why they ought to act in faith and not by trying to please God by conforming to the Mosaic Law.
- 3:1 – Did the gospel message you first hear preach the works of the law or faith in the work of Christ? This reckons back to the prior verse in chapter 2 where Paul says that Christ’s death was needless if we are to be justified by the law. Paul is trying to remind them of the gospel they first heard.
- 3:2 – Did the Spirit come upon you by the law or by faith? Paul then asks whether at the point of conversion, after hearing the gospel, did the Galatians receive the gift of the Spirit from the work of the law or by faith in Christ?
- 3:3 – Does sanctification come by works of the law? If the answer to the second question is by faith (hint: it is) then how can one be perfected (made complete, sanctified) by the works of the law? If the law can’t justify you then it certainly can’t sanctify you.
- 3:4 – Did you suffer in vain? This question was aimed at juxtaposing their current understanding with their former. If they were to believe now that they are justified (and sanctified) by the law, then their previous position was an error (i.e. justification by faith). What more helpless a situation is there than to recognize one has been persecuted for a belief they no longer hold? Such would have been the case if the first century church was to walk away from faith and to the law.
- 3:5 Did the miracles performed in your presence come about via works of the law or by faith? Paul recalls the Galatians to the miracles they saw performed by divine power also did not come about through adherence to the Mosaic Law, but rather through faith.
Five rhetorical questions that all point to the correct understanding of the Christian life – we hear the gospel of justification by faith, we are converted through faith, and we live our Christian lives through faith.
Personally, I felt so encouraged by Chapter 3 verse 3 when reading today – “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Recently, I have been struggling to reconcile my sin with my faith in Christ. I think this passage enlightens me to what my erroneous thinking has been. It seems that I, like the Judaizers that misled the Galatian church, am trying to add works to my faith to find favor with God. But by doing that I am not only discrediting the finished work of Christ, but I am also reaping what I sow by returning to the law, as it were. Like 2:18 says, when I abandon faith and try to please God by doing good things, I merely find myself to be a sinner, for all the law can do is show me that I am not good enough to please God. The only response then is to return to my former state of thinking – that I can only be right with God because one Man was right with God. Jesus of Nazarene, the only begotten of God, though no sin was in Him found, was unjustly murdered for crimes He did not commit. His righteousness is applied to my account, and my sins are blotted out only because of the faith that God has given me, and nothing else. Only when that thought gets ingrained in my thick head will I truly grow in Christ.My prayer is that I would grow in this area – ceasing to try to please God with my actions and instead praising Christ who pleased God on my behalf with His actions!
Let me know what you think!