|Galatians Chapter 3|
MY PERSONAL COMMENTARY
THE BOOK OF GALATIANS
By David L. Hannah
SUMMARY OF THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS:
Gal 1:1-5) Paul, an apostle by the will of God to the brethren of the churches of Galatia, wishing you grace and peace from God the Father, and His Son Jesus, Who died for our sins. May He receive the glory forever!
Gal 1:6-9) I’m amazed that you’re so quickly being removed from the One Who called you into His grace unto another (of a different kind) gospel, which is not another (of the same kind). The reason it’s happening is because some are perverting the true Gospel. Listen; if we, or even an angel from Heaven would change the Gospel that you received from me, then we, or that angel, should forever live accursed by God. We are not going to do that, nor will any angels from Heaven, but the Gospel is being perverted, and the ones doing it should be forever under the curse of God.
Gal 1:10-24) I’m not trying to please man, but God. This Gospel I preach I received from God, by direct revelation, not from any man. I used to be zealous for the Jewish Law and excelled in the study of it, until God, Who separated me for His purpose, from my mother’s womb, revealed His Son in me. From that time on I didn’t confer with any man to see what I should teach, but rather I went into Arabia (by implication, to learn directly from God). Then later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter. I spent fifteen days with him, but the only other apostle I saw on that trip was James, the Lord’s brother. I then left them, not having received any doctrinal instruction from them, and was unknown, by face, to the Judean Christians. They only knew that their former persecutor was now preaching the faith I had once tried to destroy, and they glorified God for that.
Gal 2:1-5) Then fourteen years later, in obedience to the revelation God had given me, I went again to Jerusalem. This time I took Barnabas and Titus with me. The Jerusalem Apostles didn’t even compel me to have Titus, a Greek believer, circumcised. This only came up because false brothers, those who couldn’t stand the liberty we enjoy in Christ, wanted to bring us into legal bondage to the Law. We never gave into them for a single moment! The integrity of the true Gospel was at stake.
Gal 2:6-10) These Apostles added nothing to the message of the Gospel that God had given to me. Instead, they recognized that God had entrusted to me the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles in the very same way that He had entrusted the preaching of the Gospel to the Jews to Peter. They recognized the very same anointing on me that was on Peter. It was on me to enable me to preach to the Gentiles, and it was on Peter to enable him to preach to the Jews. It wasn’t an inferior anointing, but the very same anointing, of equal proportions. When James, Peter, and John came to understand this, by the revelation of God, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, recognizing the same working of the Holy Spirit in our ministries that was in theirs. They
didn’t try to critique my Gospel message because they came to understand that the anointing to receive Truth, the very Word of God, was at work in me, just as it was at work in them. They only desired that we would remember the poor, the very same thing that God had placed in our hearts to do.
Gal 2:11-14) The fact that I am an Apostle of equal standing with them is evident to Peter, so he was willing to listen when I felt it necessary to confront him before the believers in Antioch. He, understanding the Truth of the Gospel, was eating and fellowshipping openly with the Gentile believers, that is, until certain men came to Antioch from Jerusalem, men claiming to have been sent by James. Then, out of fear of what they might report to James, he withdrew from fellowshipping with his Gentile brothers. This was wrong, and it was doing harm to the Truth of this Gospel. Not only that, but it was causing other Jewish brothers in Antioch to act the same way, including Barnabas. That’s why I confronted him to his face, before all the believers. This affront on the Gospel had to be dealt with openly. I reminded Peter that though he was a Jew he had been living like a Gentile when he had been eating with them. How could he now expect them to live like the Jews by requiring them to keep the Law of Moses?
Gal 2:15-21) We who were not born Gentile sinners, but rather Jews, have come to know that no one is justified by keeping the Law of Moses. Consequently, we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus so that we could truly be justified. In our believing the Gospel message we came to understand that we Jews were sinners also. Does that make Christ a minister of sin? Of course not! He simply cut through our Jewish arrogance and caused us to see that all have sinned, and therefore all need the justifying work that comes only through faith in Christ. However, if I run back to the Law, rebuilding it as my source of justification, then I make myself a sinner, because the Law itself will condemn me as such, because I can never keep it fully. I died to the Law, by its own verdict, through my faith in Jesus, and it’s that death to the Law that enables me to live for God. I died with Him, but I’m alive! Actually it’s Christ living in me. This life you now see me live I live by my faith in the Lord Jesus. I will not annul the grace of God by returning to the Law! It’s that grace that enables me to live victoriously! If I could be righteous in my own strength by keeping the Law then the death of Christ is meaningless.
NOTE: Allow me the grace to attempt to read between the lines of these last several verses. I’m convinced that Paul is saying this: I reminded Peter of these important Truths, and he received this rebuke. By telling you Galatian believers about that confrontation I am now reminding you of these same important Truths, Truths that I taught you when I was there. May God give you the same wisdom He gave Peter, and cause you to accept this rebuke as well.
NOW, LET’S GO ON TO CHAPTER THREE.
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
* O foolish Galatians, *
Of “foolish,” the Young’s Literal Translation renders it “thoughtless,” and the 1889 Darby Translation renders it, “senseless.” The Zondervan NIV Bible Library states, “The word used here is not moros, so often used in Christ’s parables (Matt 5:22; 7:26; 25:2 ff.). Moros refers to one who is mentally deficient or who plays the fool, particularly in the moral or spiritual realm. In Galatians the word is anoetos which, quite differently, suggests the actions of one who can think but fails to use his powers of perception.”
The idea is that these Galatian believers had the mental where-with-all to know better, but they set common sense aside for their emotional leaning towards feeling religious. Why is it so easy to gravitate to Law? It makes us feel religious? It enables us to compare ourselves to other believers? It’s like a security blanket that lets us know what we can get away with? Let me explain that last one: remember when that lawyer questioned the Lord Jesus about what one would have to do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-37)? That lawyer was an expert in the Law of Moses, but when he was reminded of the O.T. teaching about loving your neighbor (Lev 19:18) he wanted to know whom his neighbor was. That way he could know exactly whom he didn’t have to love! What was the answer Jesus gave to him? In essence it was, “Don’t worry about who your neighbor is, but go and be a neighbor! We don’t only use the Law to tell us what to do, but to figure out what we can get away with. That’s why Jesus pointed to the spirit of the Law in His sermon on the mount (Matt 5:21-48). We don’t need another rule, we need a new nature!
*who hath bewitched you, *
The Bible In Basic English renders this, “by what strange powers have you been tricked,” and The Living Bible, “What magician has hypnotized you and cast an evil spell upon you?” Concerning the word “bewitched,” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, “To hypnotize, charm, or cast an evil spell. The ‘foolish Galatians’ (Gal 3:1) had been bewitched, or led into theological and moral error, by the false teachings of the JUDAIZERS.”
Put simply, Paul was asking a rhetorical question, “Who has messed with your thinking and confused you in this way?” It was rhetorical because he knew well who it was! It was the Judaizers, those who he had referred to as “false brethren” (Gal 2:4). The Jerusalem Apostles said of them that they “disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls” (Acts 15:24) [NAS].
Sometimes the Gospel message sounds too easy because it depends on God, and not us (Rom 4:16). It doesn’t sound religious enough. It’s as if we’re not doing enough to prove our worth. Consequently, legalistic zealots will entice some with religious sounding urgings to deny ourselves and follow Christ (Matt 16:24). The problem is that they don’t teach self-denial. Legalism is all about trusting one’s self, not denying ourselves. The Gospel of Grace teaches us that we must put our faith fully in the Lord Jesus, and not trust ourselves even a little. It’s either works (human effort) or grace (dependent on God’s faithfulness (Rom 11:6), but it’s definitely not a combination of both. Take your pick! As for me, I choose grace!
* that ye should not obey the truth, *
These Galatians were “foolish,” not using their powers of reasoning; “bewitched,” allowing others to mess with their thinking; and consequently, they didn’t “obey the truth.” What was the Truth they weren’t obeying? See my earlier notes (Gal 2:5). They were in danger of forsaking the Covenant of Promise to return to the Mosaic Covenant of Law. To flee grace to return to law is an act of disobedience!
* before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library says of the word “portrayed,” which is the NIV translation of the words “evidently set forth,” found in the KJV, “The word ‘portrayed’ (prographö), prographo) has three senses: (1) ‘to write out beforehand,’ (2) ‘to write for
public reading,’ and (3) ‘to write at the head of the list.’ The first sense is often used in reference to prophecy, but is inappropriate here. The third does not occur in the NT.”
He appears to be reminding his readers of how clearly he had preached to them his primary doctrine of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23; 2:3). When Paul taught about the crucifixion of Christ it wasn’t just to convince us of the historical fact. Also, he wasn’t simply teaching us that His death was “for our sins,” and His resurrection was “for our justification” (Rom 4:25), although that is a definite fact. He was teaching us far more! He wanted us to see that when Christ died we died with Him (Rom 6:5), and that when He resurrected we rose with Him. When He ascended to the Father we ascended with Him, and when He was seated next to His Father, we were seated in Him, far above principalities and powers (Eph 2:6; 1:20-21), the very principalities and powers that we wrestle against (Eph 6:12). In other words, to Paul the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus are more than historical facts for the Christian to cherish; they are a way of life.
He is saying to his Galatian reader that he had painted a word picture for them, when he was there with them, clearly portraying to them the impact that the crucifixion of Christ, with its subsequent resurrection and ascension, had on them. Yet now, as they gravitated back to Law, they were forgetting that impact, that way of life, and returning to the old way of life; i.e., human effort to please God by doing what we consider religious.
As we will see in the next two verses, God has given to us in the person of His Son, Jesus, a new and far greater way to live for Him.
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
* This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, *
Verses two and three are totally intertwined. Regardless of your personal understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it’s plain to see that salvation is the subject at hand in this verse, because the next verse tells us that Paul has in mind the spiritual beginning of his readers (Gal 3:3). He is asking the Galatians believers to think back to their start in the Lord. He wants to take them back to the basics.
After reminding them, in the last several verses of chapter two, that salvation, and the subsequent living of one’s life for God, doesn’t come as a result of keeping the commandments of the Law of Moses (Gal 2:15-21), or any other set of rules, he then calls them foolish in the first verse of this chapter (Gal 3:1) for being swayed by the deceptive, religious teaching of the Judaizers, who were claiming that it did. “So,” he asks, “how did this whole thing start? Did you become a Christian as a result of your keeping the Law?”
* or by the hearing of faith? *
He continues with his questioning of them. “Did you become a Christian as a result of your keeping the Law, or was your salvation a direct result of your simply believing what you heard regarding the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”
This was a rhetorical question with an understood answer; the answer being that they were saved by believing the Gospel message that he had preached to them.
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
* Are ye so foolish? *
Again, he asks them if they are going to live outside the bounds of reasoning. He called them “foolish Galatians” in the first verse of this chapter, and now he is about to show them where there reasoning is faulty.
* having begun in the Spirit, *
He’s reminding his readers that salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t saved as a result of their obedience to the Law of Moses, but as a result of the working of the Spirit of God. But, what does the phrase “in the Spirit” mean? I’ll cover that in just a moment.
* are ye now made perfect by the flesh? *
If that were the way we began our spiritual walk, through the work of the Holy Spirit, why would we conclude that we’re to grow to maturity in Christ by returning to trusting in our flesh [the NIV renders “the flesh” as “human effort”]? What does the phrase “by the flesh” mean? Let’s look at these phrases together.
* having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? *
We see that the new birth is a result of our being “in the Spirit,” and that the wrong way to attempt to grow in Christ would be for us to attempt it “by the flesh.” But what do these phrases mean exactly?
Paul uses these, and similar phrases, throughout his writings. He said that we’re not “in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Rom 8:9), he said, “through the Spirit” (Gal 5:5), he said, “in the flesh” (Gal 6:12), and he said, “through the flesh” (Rom 8:3). Our current passage (Gal 3:2-3) will help us to understand exactly what Paul is talking about.
Are you ready to take a trip with me? Let’s travel all the way back to our days in school. Do you remember when you used to have those worksheets where you had some words on the left side of the page, and you had some definitions on the right side? Your assignment was to draw a line connecting a word on the left side to the corresponding definition on the right side. Do you remember that? Some of us might have to think back a long, long time. Let’s look at verses two and three in this way. We’ll put the phrases “in the Spirit,” and “by the flesh,” from verse three on the left side of our imaginary paper, and then we’ll put the definitions “the works of the law,” and “the hearing of faith,” from verse two on the right side. Our assignment is to draw a line from the phrases on the left side to the correct definitions on the right side. Are you ready? Which definition from verse two belongs with the phrase “by the flesh” from verse three? Of course the answer is “the works of the law.” Then what definition from verse two belongs with the phrase “in the Spirit” from verse three? The correct answer is “the hearing of faith.”
What did we learn from this exercise? When Paul teaches about walking in the Spirit he is referring to the journey of faith, and when he speaks about walking in the flesh he’s referring to the journey of human effort, i.e., trusting our own ability to keep the Law, or some other set of rules, sufficiently enough to gain approval with a Holy God.
Let’s examine the first part of that conclusion. Are the phrases “walking in the Spirit” and “living by faith” synonymous? I can only find two teachings in the New Testament that tell me how I can live an overcoming life. Here’s one: The just shall live by faith (Rom 1:17), which is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5). We should follow the example of those who through faith and patience inherited the promises (Heb 6:12), because those promises were given to us so that we could partake of divine nature, having escaped the corruption that’s in the world as a result of evil desires (2 Peter 1:4). Would you allow me the liberty to restate that verse in my own words, “The promises of God were given to us so that we could start living right and stop living wrong!” In other words, we are to believe the promises that God has given us by faith, mix some patience with that faith, and we’ll see the results that we desire, those results being the victorious overcoming of our sins. So, the “living by faith” process is certainly the road to an overcoming life. How about the “walking in the Spirit” process? I mentioned above the two teachings of New Testament Scripture that teach us how to overcome. Here’s the second: When we walk in the Spirit we do not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16), but rather the very righteousness that the Law intends is fulfilled in us (Rom 8:4) because we mind (Rom 8:5) the things of the Spirit. Of the word “mind” Vine says, “phroneo NT:5426 signifies (a) ‘to think, to be minded in a certain way’; (b) ‘to think of, be mindful of.’ It implies moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion.” When we walk in the Spirit we have a moral interest in what the Holy Spirit wants in our lives. That interest impacts our decision-making, causing us to bring our lives in line with His will and purpose. The two ways that the New Testament teaches us that we can live right are 1.) Living by faith; and 2.) Walking in the Spirit. In our current passage (Gal 3:2-3) we discover that they are really one and the same way. Walking in the Spirit IS living by faith!
What is faith? Most people would answer that faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1), but that’s more the result of faith. When you live by faith you see the reality of the thing you hoped for, and you have the evidence of what you can’t see. But what’s a good working definition of faith? Paul tells us that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness (Rom 4:9), but he had said earlier that Abraham believed God, and that’s what was counted unto him as righteousness (Rom 4:3). Why!?! Because “faith” and “believing God” are the same thing! There’s your working definition. Faith is believing what God said about something. We’re told that we’re saved through faith (Eph 2:8). You didn’t get saved as a result of joining a church, reading a Bible, giving an offering, being a good friend to a preacher, or by anything else that you can point to in a court of law as proof of your salvation. As a matter of fact, the evidence you have that you are saved will only stand up in the court of Heaven. Your evidence is that God said if you would believe in Jesus you would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16), and you believed what He said. That’s why you’re saved! Now James teaches us that when we truly believe something it will always affect our conduct (James 2:14-26). If you truly believe that there’s no other way to be saved (Acts 4:12; John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12) then that belief will cause you to come to Jesus for salvation, just as the belief that God was going to give the city of Jericho into the hands of Israel caused Rahab to put her life on the line and help the two spies (James 2:25). Everyone walks by faith! We all walk out what we believe! If we grew up hearing that we’d never amount to anything, that we’re no good, we’re worthless, and we bought into that lie, then what we have come to believe will be reflected through our choices. If we believe that we can do anything we set our mind to, then that belief will be reflected in our actions. Walking by faith (i.e., walking out what we believe) isn’t difficult. WE ALL DO IT! The trick is to walk by faith in God, to believe what He said.
What about “by the flesh” and “the works of the law”? Are they the same thing? The New Testament tells us that we cannot be justified by the Law (Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20; Gal 3:11) that we cannot please God by the flesh (Rom 8:8), and that walking in the flesh is not the way that the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us (Rom 8:4). As our current passage (Gal 3:2-3) shows us, they are indeed the same thing.
What about the “after the flesh” (Rom 8:1,4-5,12-13), “through the flesh” (Rom 8:3), and “in the flesh” (Rom 8:8-9) that Paul talks about to the Romans, and the “after the Spirit” (Rom 8:1,4-5), “in the Spirit” (Rom 8:9), “through the Spirit” (Rom 8:13), and “by the Spirit” (Rom 8:14)? What’s he talking about there? He’s not contrasting the saved and the unsaved as some commentators would tell us, but rather, he’s contrasting the two ways that we, as Christians, must choose from concerning how we’ll live our lives before God. Will we choose to grow spiritually the same way we chose to come to God, by believing His promises? Or, will we choose a different path for spiritual growth, the path of human effort (keeping the Law, trying harder to do better, etc.)? Paul said it’s foolish to trust one path, faith in God, to lead us to Jesus, and then trust another path, faith in our own efforts, to lead us to spiritual growth. I think we should trust his analysis, after all, he was writing Scripture when he said it.
QUESTION: Where does the rightly divided Word of God in the New Testament teach us that the way to successfully live our lives, to overcome sin, and to please a Holy God is to kneel at the altar of our church and make a new promise to God? Where are we taught, as pastors, that the way to lead the people that God has entrusted to our care to a deeper, closer walk with Him, a victorious walk of their overcoming their sins, is by badgering them from our pulpits into feeling ashamed of their failures, so that they will fill the altars of our churches, and make new promises to God? The huge problem with this approach is that there’s no power in our promises! As we saw in an above verse (2 Peter 1:4), the power to live right is in His promises, not ours! We must share the Good News, the Gospel, proclaiming that God has fought, and won, the battle for us! We are new creatures now (2 Cor 5:17), we are not becoming new! Old things have already passed away! May God help us to proclaim this Truth loud and clear, so that the believers that God has sent to us will hear it clearly, because faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). If they believe it, that faith will affect their conduct!
NOTE: There are two choices, as I’ve explained above, before us. Will we choose to live for God by believing what we hear in His Word, or will we choose to live for God by trying harder to earn His favor, which is the path of human effort. Which way we choose will affect how we read the Bible. Let me show you what I mean. John tells us that if we hate our brother we’re still in the darkness (1 John 2:9), and if we say that we love God and hate our brother we are liars (1 John 4:20). If you choose to live for God by trying harder you’ll see those verses this way: I hate my brother, so I must not really be saved after all. If you choose to live for God by believing what you hear in His Word you’ll see those verses this way: I am saved because I’ve put my faith in Jesus, so I don’t hate my brother. Faith will cause you to bring your emotions in line with the Holy Scriptures.
When I read a verse in the New Testament I turn it into a promise. If I read that I’m supposed to forgive others as God forgives me for Christ’s sake (Eph 4:32), then my response is that I am a Christian; therefore I forgive that person. The just live by faith (Rom 1:17), by believing what God says about a matter. See it as done in Christ! Here’s how the Apostle Paul spoke concerning his personal conduct when responding to the question of continuing in sin so that grace could abound: “How can I? I’ve died to sin” (Rom 6:1-2)! He said, regarding you, that you used to (past tense) be dead in sin (Eph 2:1), that you used to walk according to the course of this world (Eph 2:2). He said that those old way are gone, and that new things have come (2 Cor 5:17). You are not changing! You have changed! Completely changed! Why don’t you always act like it? It’s because we walk by faith, by what we believe. If we don’t believe that we’re new creatures, then we won’t walk like we’re new creatures. First comes faith, then comes the results. The Truth is in the Scriptures, but we see through the glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12). Is it any wonder that Paul prayed for a spirit of wisdom and revelation to come to the Ephesian believers, and that the eyes of their understanding would be enlightened (Eph 1:15-20)? It’s in knowing the Truth that freedom is realized (John 8:32). Holy God, we stand on the promise that as we continue in Your Word, we will know the Truth, and we will walk in the freedom that Your Son died to give us.
Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
* Have ye suffered so many things *
There are different opinions among the commentators rather the Greek word for “suffered,” means actual suffering, or rather, as it’s sometimes used in classical Greek, simply “experienced,” being neutral of good or evil. The context would determine if these were good or bad experiences. The Zondervan NIV Bible Library says, “Neither view makes a great deal of difference for interpreting the letter as a whole, but the latter seems to fit the immediate context better. In this case, the experiences of the Galatians are further amplified by the reminder in v. 5 that God was working miracles in their midst through the power of his Holy Spirit.”
Wycliffe states his view as such, “Suffered probably does not refer to persecution or the burden of law-keeping, but is used in a good sense – experienced. This interpretation is favored by the continuing mention of the Spirit in the next verse. 5.”
However, Vincent tells us “Have ye suffered epathete (NT:3958). Or, ‘did ye suffer.’ The exact sense is doubtful. By some it is held that the reference is to sufferings endured by the Galatian Christians either through heathen persecutions or Judaizing emissaries. There is, however, no record in this Epistle or elsewhere of the Galatians having suffered special persecutions on account of their Christian profession. Others take the verb in a neutral sense, ‘have ye experienced,’ or with a definite reference to the experience of benefits. In this neutral sense it is used in Greek and Roman Classical authors. from Homer down, and is accordingly joined with both kakoos (NT:2560) ‘evilly,’ and eu (NT:2095) ‘well.’ Paul habitually uses it in the sense of suffering evil, and there is no decisive instance, either in the New Testament or the Septuagint, of the neutral sense. In Greek and Roman Classical authors, where it is used of the experience of benefits, it is always accompanied by some qualifying word. When it stands alone it signifies ‘to suffer evil.’ The evidence on the whole makes very strongly for the meaning ‘suffer;’ in which case the reference is, probably, to the annoyances suffered from Judaising Christians. It must be said, on the other hand, that a reference to such annoyances seems far-fetched. If we could translate ‘did ye experience’ (so Weizsacker, Lipsius, Sieffert), the reference would be to the impartation of the gifts of the Spirit.”
A few translations have rendered it in the neutral sense, implying that Paul was referring to the positive experiences of salvation and the workings of the Holy Spirit among them. The Revised Standard Version, the Bible In Basic English, and the New English Bible, to name a few, have translated it in this way. However, the overwhelming majority of reputable translations have rendered it “suffered.”
What had they suffered? The Scriptures don’t really tell us that, but usually we only read of the sufferings of a people when it’s pertinent to the writer’s purpose of writing an epistle. Consequently, the silence of the Word on the sufferings of the Galatian believers in the rest of Scripture doesn’t necessarily imply that it never happened. There was certainly a lot of persecution taking place in that time of history.
* in vain? *
Without question, if we are suffering persecution in some manner, rather it be physical or verbal, we want it to be a result of our standing for the Truth (Matt 5:10; 1 Peter 3:14; 4:12-16). Now Paul is writing to them that they are beginning to believe a lie. If they had suffered persecution for their belief in what the grace of God teaches, that the cross of Christ causes us to flee from the Law as a means of justification, and to flee to faith in Christ (Gal 2:16-21), but they were now abandoning that Truth, then those past sufferings were for nothing.
* if it be yet in vain. *
Here he’s holding out hope. It’s his desire that this epistle he’s writing to them will be the cause of their returning to the Truth of the Gospel. If that’s the end result, then their suffering was not in vain after all.
He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
* He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, *
There are two schools of thought on the “he” of this verse. First, many of the commentators believe the “he” to refer to Paul as he shared the Gospel in Galatia (Clarke, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Chandler, Locke, and it appears to me as if Matthew Henry says it as well). Second, others believe the “he” to refer to God Himself (the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Barnes, Gill, The Family New Testament Notes, Peoples New Testament Notes, Robertson, Vincent, and it appears the Zondervan NIV Bible Library has this point of view as well). Others don’t really discuss the “he” at all (Wycliffe and Luther).
I don’t see this as an important issue, because if Paul did refer to himself as the one who ministered to them the Spirit, in the sense that God’s Holy Spirit was working through him (1 Cor 2:4), and the one who performed miracles among them (2 Cor 12:11-12), he was most certainly doing so with the full acknowledgement that it was God doing it through him (2 Cor 3:5-6). Consequently, in either case, the question is simply why has God worked mightily among you?
* and worketh miracles among you, *
Certainly the signs of an apostle were seen everywhere Paul ministered (as seen in the above Scripture). The Book of Acts records some of these miracles (Acts 13:8-12; 14:3,8-10; 16:16-18; 19:11-12). Those passages are a sample of the miracles God performed through the ministry of this apostle. We can be certain from our current passage that God had done some marvelous things among these Galatian believers, through the hand of Paul, and possibly through the hands of other ministers, and maybe through the hands of some of the local body who had the gift of miracles (1 Cor 12:7-11).
* doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith*
“Did God do all these wonderful things among you because you have faithfully done all that the Law demands, or because you have simply believed the message you heard?” is what he was asking his readers. This was another rhetorical question, with another understood answer. He wanted them to understand that God had moved among them, saving them, and doing miracles in their midst, not because of human effort, by their keeping the Law of Moses, but rather, because they had believed the promises of God! The understood answer was that God was doing what He was doing because of their faith, not because of their works. After all, this move of God was taking place among them before the Judaizers had brought to them their false gospel. Paul wanted them to remember that.
Not only did he want his readers to see that their spiritual start, their very salvation, was a result of their believing what they heard, the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:2-3), but he wants them to see that the continued move of God in their church is a result of the same thing, their faith in God which was reflected in their believing what they heard. His common sense argument is that if salvation, and the move of God, results from faith in God, then surely their continued spiritual growth towards maturity will happen the same way, when they believe the promises of God (2 Peter 1:4).
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
* Even as Abraham believed God, *
He asks a rhetorical question in verse two that he answers in verse three, now he asks a rhetorical question in verse five that he begins to answer here in verse six. The question in verse five was rather God was moving in their midst as a result of the works of the Law, or as a result of their faith in God. In this verse he answers that question, citing the example of faith that Abraham had in the promise of God to him.
Let’s consider Abraham’s faith for a moment. Paul says that Abraham wasn’t weak in faith (Rom 4:19), that he didn’t stagger at the promise of God (Rom 4:20), and that he was fully persuaded that God could do what He had promised (Rom 4:21). That’s why his faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom 4:22). Wow! How do you and I become that strong in faith, never staggering at the sometimes mind-staggering promises of God, totally persuaded that God will keep His promises to us? We get to that point the very same way that Abraham did, through a process.
Take a journey with me. Abraham (called Abram at that time) demonstrated his faith in God when, at the age of seventy-five, he left his father’s people as God had told him to (Gen 12:1-4), but then he demonstrated a “staggering” when he lied about Sarah (called Sarai at that time) because he feared for his life (Gen 12:10-20). The promise had not yet been fulfilled, so if Abraham’s faith had been strong at that time then he would’ve known that he couldn’t die yet. Doubt had crept in. What did God do? He reaffirmed His promise, rekindling Abraham’s faith (Gen 13:14-17).
Again, Abraham demonstrates his great faith in God when he took a mere three hundred eighteen men to deliver Lot from the clutches of an alliance of four kings who were conquering everyone in their path (Gen 14:8-16). That story is a great example of the victory won by a great man of faith, the father of our faith, Abraham. But wait, he again “staggers” at the promise of God when he doubts that Sarah will ever have a child, and he reminded God that the one who would inherit everything he had was his servant Eliezer (Gen 15:1-3). Once again God reaffirmed His promise to Abraham (Gen 15:4-5), and Abraham’s faith was restored (Gen 15:6), and we read the statement that the Scripture makes that Paul is now referring to in our present passage. He again “staggers” at the promise when he and Sarah decide that she’ll never have a child, so he agrees to have a child with her maidservant Hagar (Gen 16:1-4). God again reaffirms His promise to him (Gen 17:1-16), but he continues to “stagger” (Gen 17:17-18). Once again God reaffirms His promise to him (Gen 18:1-10), and though Sarah “staggered” this time (Gen 18:10-15), it appears Abraham’s faith was again renewed (Gen 18:16-33). We read of one final time of “staggering” in the account before us. Even after God’s visit with him (probably through a visit of three angels), he once again doubts. He returned to his unbelief of years earlier when he again lied about Sarah fearing that he would otherwise die (Gen 20:1-13). He then remembered the promises of God to him and his faith was again restored (Gen 20:17-18).
You might wonder if my citing these example of Abraham’s times of doubt is an example of my own doubt in not believing what Paul wrote concerning Abraham not staggering at the promises of God (Rom 4:20). A thousand times “No!” Let’s look more carefully at that passage. He reached that place of unwavering faith when he was about one hundred years old (Rom 4:19). Judging from the journey we just took into his history, I’m guessing he was ninety-nine at the time Paul was referring to. He was seventy-five when that journey began, so the process of God working in his life to mature his faith lasted about twenty-four years.
I bring these things to your attention so that you’ll see that when you have times of “staggering,” times of doubting God in certain areas of your life, you’ll not feel all alone, as if no other Christian struggles the way you do. When you struggle in those areas, it may help you to realize that those temptations are common to men (1 Cor 10:13). Even Abraham, the father of all of us who believe (Rom 4:11), struggled from time to time. The Old Testament verse quoted here by Paul (Gen 15:6) shows us that the process of faith was not yet completed in Abraham’s life when God counted his faith as righteousness. You don’t have to be at a point where you’re never weak in faith, never stagger at the promise of God, and are always persuaded that God can, and will, keep His promise to you in order to have your faith credited to you as righteousness. Sometimes we might cry out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Even then God is with us! Even then God will find a way to reaffirm our faith in Him!
* and it was accounted to him for righteousness. *
God told Abraham that if anyone could count the dust of the earth then his descendents could be counted (Gen 13:14-17), and his response was to build an altar to the Lord (Gen 13:8), signifying his desire to worship because he believed God. Yet, his faith was not credited to him as righteousness. However, when he was told to count the stars, and if he could number them that would be the number of his descendants (Gen 15:5), he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). Why? What was the difference? I’m convinced that the counting of the dust represented his natural seed, which is Israel, which is also called the natural branches (Rom 11:17-21). However, the counting of the stars represented the Church, which is his spiritual seed. When God recorded that beautiful statement that He had credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness, the Scripture tells us that He didn’t only have Abraham in mind, but all of us who would put our faith in the God Who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 4:23-24). Who are we who do that but the Church? Abraham stood that day in place of his spiritual seed, the Church. It’s the Church, believing Jews and Gentiles, whose faith is now credited to them as righteousness. Abraham is the father of all those who trust the Lord Jesus for their salvation (Rom 4:9-12). Isn’t that exciting? When God had Moses record that He had credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness He had you in mind. Way back then, God had you in mind!
Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
* Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, *
You and I, as children of God, are saved by faith (Mark 16:16; John 3:16,18,36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Rom 10:8-10; Eph 2:8-9; etc.), justified by faith (Rom 3:26,28; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:24; etc.), walk by faith (Habukkuk 2:4; Gal 3:2-3; Heb 10:38; 11:6), and are kept by faith (Rom 8:29-30; 1 Peter 5:10; Heb 12:2). We are His children by faith (John 1:12; Gal 3:26). In every way we are the people “of faith.”
As the people “of faith” there’s something that Paul wants us to know.
* the same are the children of Abraham. *
Who are the children of Abraham? Certainly the children of Israel are the natural descendants of Abraham. Isaac was his promised child (Gen 17:15-21; 21:1-3), born to Sarah, just as God had promised. Then Jacob was born of Isaac (Gen 25:21-26), and became the heir (Gen 27:24-30) through an act of deception (Gen 27:6-23). When he wrestled with an angel his name was changed to Israel (Gen 32:24-28), and the descendants of his twelve sons became known as the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 49:1-28).
The children of Abraham’s children are certainly the children of Abraham when it comes to being his natural descendants. And yet Jesus said that it took more than having the blood of Abraham running through your veins to truly be his children in the greater sense of sharing in his promise (John 8:37-41), you had to do what he did. What did Abraham do? What are the true works of God? Jesus said that faith in Him was the work that God wanted from us (John 6:28-29). Did Abraham have that testimony? Did he do the work of God, the work of having faith in Him? Paul tells us that’s exactly what he did (Rom 4:13). He also tells us that when we do the work of God, which on this side of the cross is believing in His Son, then we, rather Jew or Gentile, are now the children of Abraham (Rom 4:12; 9:7-8; Gal 3:26-29).
Abraham believed God, and God credited that faith as righteousness (Gen 15:6), and we see in our current passage that God credits all who put their faith in the Lord Jesus as being the children of Abraham. What does that mean? It means that we are now the heirs (Rom 8:17) along with Abraham. We are participants in the same promise through the like-faith that we share with him.
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
* And the scripture, foreseeing *
Paul uses a tactic here that he often uses, that of personifying something that is not a person, in order to drive home a point. In this passage he speaks of Scripture as though it were a thinking, rational being. He speaks in this way of the Law (Rom 7:7), of sin (Rom 7:8,9,11) and of righteousness (Rom 10:6,8).
There was no written Word of God at the time of Abraham, so he’s not saying that Abraham trusted in some Scripture as the source of his faith. Therefore he’s looking at the recorded Word of God, the Old Testament, from his perspective, as that through which he learned about Abraham. He’s saying that the Scripture that recorded the story of Abraham’s encounter with God foresaw something.
When he speaks here of the Scripture foreseeing something he’s displaying his conviction that the written Word of God is as infallible as God Himself, because he sees them as inseparable. In one sense, God is His Word and His Word is God. You don’t trust One and not the Other. If you have faith in God then you have faith in His Word. If you have faith in His Word then you have faith in God. He’s saying the Scripture is the recorded Word of God! It’s what God said! Therefore it’s absolutely trustworthy! When the recorded Scripture that Paul referred to said that through Abraham all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3; 18:18), that Word of God, spoken by God Himself, revealed to Paul that God was speaking about an issue of extreme importance to us Gentiles.
* that God would justify the heathen through faith, *
Of “heathen” Vine says, “ethnos NT:1484, whence Eng., ‘heathen,’ denotes, firstly, ‘a multitude or company’; then, ‘a multitude of people of the same nature or genus, a nation, people’; in the plural, of nations (Heb., goiim) other than Israel.”
What did the Scripture foresee that’s of importance to us Gentiles? It foresaw that God would justify “the heathen” who would believe on the Lord Jesus. From Paul’s perspective there’s two types of people, Jews and Gentiles. If you’re not a Jew, then you’re a Gentile. The Jews were the people that God adopted to be His own, who saw the Shekinah glory, who received the covenants, who received the Law of God, who received the privilege of service to Him, who received the promises, whose fathers were the patriarchs, and through whom came the Messiah (Rom 9:4-5). Because of these great blessings they tended to view the rest of the world as Gentile sinners. The word translated “heathen” here is the one that’s most often used to speak of the rest of us, we who aren’t Jews. It’s translated “Gentiles” 93 times, and translated “heathen” only 5 times. According to our current passage when God blessed Abraham with that great promise of blessing all nations through him He had you and me, we who would come to saving faith in Christ, in mind. We are the “heathen” that God justifies when we place our faith in the Lord Jesus.
* preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. *
Abraham heard the gospel when God spoke to him that day. It wasn’t the fullness of the Gospel that you and I are privileged to hear, but it was a message of good news. God showed him that the covenant they were entering into as Abraham was leaving his father’s house in obedience to the command of God was a far-reaching covenant (Gen 12:1-3). God was going to make of him a great nation (Gen 12:2), and not only that nation, but every nation would be blessed through him (Gen 12:3) as a result of that covenant. That was the gospel preached to Abraham! That was great news, and that gospel hinted at the Gospel we have today. How would all nations be blessed? We now know through Paul’s writings that this blessing comes to us as a result of our placing our faith in Christ.
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library teaches, “The quotation, from Gen 12:3, makes two points: (1) that the blessing promised to Abraham was from the beginning intended to include the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and (2) that the gospel promise preceded everything else in God’s dealings with his people, including the giving of the law, as he will show later (v. 17).”
The church is not an after-thought of God’s, it’s the eternal purpose of God (Eph 1:3-5,9-12; 3:6-11). Before there was an Israel, before any Jew existed (except in the loins of Abraham), God was already including you in His covenant of promise that He entered into with Abraham.
So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
* So then they which be of faith *
As I indicated in my notes on verse seven, we who have put our faith in the Lord Jesus are saved by faith, justified by faith, walk by faith, are kept by faith, and are God’s children by faith. Without a doubt, we are the people “of faith.” This verse is talking to you and I.
* are blessed with faithful Abraham. *
Paul had asked the Galatian believers if they had received the Spirit by keeping the Law or by believing what they heard regarding the Gospel (Gal 3:2), and if God was ministering to them the Spirit and working miracles among them (Gal 3:5) as a result of their faith or their works. The understood answer to those rhetorical questions was that they were saved and blessed as a result of their believing what they heard. They were saved by faith, and God was blessing them because of that faith. Then he gave them the example of Abraham (Gal 3:6-8) and concluded in this verse that all of our blessings from God come to us in the same way that the blessings of God went to Abraham, as a result of our believing what He says to us.
Regarding “faithful,” Vine says, “pistos NT:4103, a verbal adjective, akin to peitho (see FAITH), is used in two senses, (a) passive, ‘faithful, to be trusted, reliable,’ said of God, e. g., 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18 (KJV, ‘true’); 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 10:23; 11:11; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 John 1:9; of Christ, e. g., 2 Thess 3:3; Heb 2:17; 3:2; Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11; of the words of God, e. g., Acts 13:34, ‘sure’; 1 Tim 1:15; 3:1 (KJV, ‘true’); 4:9; 2:11; 1:9; 3:8; 21:5; 22:6; of servants of the Lord, Matt 24:45; 25:21,23; Acts 16:15; 1 Cor 4:2,17; 7:25; Eph 6:21; Col 1:7; 4:7,9; 1 Tim 1:12; 3:11; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 3:5; 1 Peter 5:12; 3 John 5; Rev 2:13; 17:14; of believers, Eph 1:1; Col 1:2; (b) active, signifying ‘believing, trusting, relying,’ e. g., Acts 16:1 (feminine); 2 Cor 6:15; Gal 3:9 seems best taken in this respect, as the context lays stress upon Abraham’s ‘faith’ in God, rather than upon his ‘faithfulness.'”
Abraham’s faith in God caused him to follow God, and our faith in God causes us to follow Him also. Our believing His promises to us, as His people, opens the door for God to bless us in accordance with those promises we believe, just as He blessed Abraham in accordance with the promise he believed.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
* For as many as are of the works of the law *
Concerning “of the law,” John Gill says, ” The apostle does not say, ‘as many as were of the law’, to whom it belonged, who were born and brought up in it, and to whom it was given, the Jews; for there were some of them who believed in Christ, were blessed with Abraham, and not under the curse of the law; nor does he say, ‘as many as do the works of the law’: for the works of the law are to be done, though not in order to obtain righteousness and life by them;”
The subject at hand, that to which Paul is correcting, is the false teaching of the Judaizers, who were teaching these Galatian believers that they needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. In both Romans and Galatians Paul teaches that the believer must choose between one of two ways to conduct his walk before God. Will the believer attempt to please God by trusting in the Law, and his ability to keep it, or will he simply put his trust in the Lord Jesus, and in all that He has accomplished for him as a result of Calvary, through His death (Rom 6:3), His burial (Rom 6:4), His resurrection (Rom 4:25; 6:5), His ascension to His Father (Eph 2:5-6), and His ever-living to make intercession for him (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). With that in mind, Paul is here dealing with those who are being removed from the confidence of their faith in Christ unto another gospel (Gal 1:6-7), a different gospel than the one that he had taught them. He’s dealing with those who are turning from that faith in Christ to a reliance on the Law as the means of their justification, rather Jew or Gentile.
* are under the curse: *
The problem with our trying to keep the Law, or any set of ethical codes, as a means through which we hope our conduct will be pleasing enough to God to earn us His good favor is that a Holy God demands perfection. The Law never delivers justification, but it’s not the Law’s fault. The weakness of the Law is our flesh (Rom 8:3)! You and I, plagued with the human condition, simply cannot find the wherewithal to live a perfect life, try as we may.
* for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. *
In this passage Paul reminds his readers of what’s recorded in the Law regarding the absolute obedience that’s required of all who would keep it (Deut 27:26). It’s not satisfactory to keep most of the Law, even if you keep ninety-nine per cent of it, because if you break it in one point, you’re guilty of being a law-breaker (James 2:10-11), just as guilty as the one who breaks all of the commandments [TLB]. Paul’s telling us in our current passage that if it’s the Law through which we seek justification then we must keep all of it, one hundred per cent of it. If we don’t then we are under the curse that the Law pronounces on all those who break its commandments.
NOTE: Allow me to share with you what I consider to be the enormous tragedy of legalism. Many sincere Christians who desperately want to live lives pleasing to their God gravitate to this ideology that if they just try really hard to live a holy life it will satisfy God. Paul concluded the second chapter of this Epistle by telling us that the death of Christ was needless if we could find righteousness any other way than through faith in Him (Gal 2:20-21). We’ll never be good enough for God by trying really hard because all of our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags (Isa 64:6) in His sight because nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom 7:18), but our flesh is actually where sin is at work (Rom 7:23). We see the good that we do, but God sees the actual reasons we do those things as His Word discerns what our thoughts and intentions were, leaving nothing hidden from the One Who is our Judge (Heb 4:12-13). God sees what we fail to see, and remember, only one of our good works needs to be tainted with wrong intentions in order for us to be found, by His Word, to be sinners who come short of His glory (Rom 3:23). How many times are the good things that we do motivated by wrong intentions? If we ever do something really nice that’s motivated in our sub-conscience by a desire to be seen as a nice person, rather than a sincere desire to help someone, than though the thing we did was note-worthy, the purpose was self-centered, and therefore faulty. It’s impossible for us to live holy enough to please God by the standard of the Law’s demands. If it were possible then God would demand it of us, but it’s not. Therefore, God send His Son to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves (Rom 5:6; 8:3-4). And not only is it utterly impossible for us to live holy enough to satisfy the Law’s demands, but the utter futility of turning to the Law is that the Law that we turn to is the very strength of the sin we wish to overcome (1 Cor 15:55-57). When we choose to live under the Law as the means through which we seek to find approval with a Holy God, then sin seizes the opportunity afforded it by the commandments of that Law to work every manner of evil desire in us (Rom 7:8)! How wrought with futility is the decision to seek refuge in the Law as the means through which we seek to walk in a right-relationship with the God we love. God has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. By faith let’s seek for refuge in the finished work (John 19:13) of Calvary. By His one sacrifice on the cross of Calvary the Lord Jesus has forever perfected we who are sanctified (Heb 10:14) by our faith in Him.
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
* But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: *
Again Paul stresses, as he did earlier is this Epistle (Gal 2:16,21) that no one can ever hope to stand in the place of being justified (the act wherein a Holy God declares the believing sinner to be righteous in His sight) as a result of his obedience to the Law. Of “law” the Zondervan NIV Bible Library says, “(nomos, nomos) refers to the law of Moses. But the principle of living by law goes beyond this restricted reference, particularly when Paul uses the phrase ‘works of law’ as he does in vv. 2, 5, 10. In this case one might tr. ‘the law principle’ or ‘legalism.'”
How difficult for many of his readers in the Galatian churches this must have been to accept. Those who were Jewish in their nationality had grown up believing that because they were descendants of Abraham that they were forever in right-relationship with God. First, John, the Baptist, attacked that ideology (Matt 3:7-9), then the Lord Jesus laid it to waste (John 8:31-59), and now Paul has told them that they must walk in the faith of Abraham to truly be his children (Gal 3:6-10). If that wasn’t enough, in our current passage he teaches them that their belief that because they had the Law they were God’s children was also wrong. He’s teaching them that we must abandon everything else but our faith in the Lord Jesus as the means through which we will be accepted as the children of God, and through which we will walk out our lives as His children. Also, there’s no other way for us to stand justified in the sight of a Holy God. We must also put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for that.
Before we leave this discussion of how legalism gives many a false security, it’s prudent that we admit that the Jews of New Testament times are not alone in this. Many western Christians of this era place their confidence in so many things other than the Lord Jesus. Legalism is alive and well! If we keep the Law, if we keep the church’s rules, if we attend regularly and tithe, if we’re good to our neighbors, and on and on, then maybe we can rest at night thinking that those things are sufficient to get us into Heaven. I’m going to Heaven because I’m right with God, and I’m right with God because I’ve placed my faith in the Lord Jesus. Period! It has to do with what He’s done for me, not what I’ve done for Him. Many suggest that an attitude like this is evidence that I don’t understand the holy requirements of a Holy God. On the contrary, I have this attitude because I do understand His holy requirements, and I know that I can never satisfy them. Fortunately for me, He also knows that I can never satisfy them, so He sent His only begotten Son to satisfy them on my behalf. It’s those who think, for the slightest moment, that if they keep some code of conduct that God will be satisfied with them who fail to understand His holiness.
* for, The just shall live by faith. *
This is a quotation from Habakkuk (Hab 2:4), who’s not discussing the doctrine of justification of faith. Barnes says of this reference of Paul’s to Habakkuk, “its meaning is this, ‘The just man, or the righteous man, shall live by his confidence in God.’ The prophet is speaking of the woes attending the Babylonish captivity. The Chaldeans were to come upon the land and destroy it, and remove the nation (Hab 1:6-10). But this was not to be perpetual. It should have an end (Hab 2:3), and they who had confidence in God should live (Hab 2:4); that is, should be restored to their country, should be blessed and made happy. Their confidence in God should sustain them, and preserve them.”
Though Habakkuk wasn’t discussing the doctrine of justification by faith the principal was the same. Whenever a follower of God might have lived, whatever he might have been facing, the challenge was to trust his God. In our present passage Paul is applying this truth to the doctrine of justification. The righteous man who would go into captivity because of the sins of his fellow Jews needed to find comfort in the promise of God to restore them one day. We, on the other hand, are to find comfort in the promise of God to justify the believing sinner. Thus, Paul applies the words of Habakkuk in this way. He sees these words as a mandate to the believer on how he should choose to walk out his Christian life before his God.
Concerning “it is evident:” Vine states, “delos NT:1212, properly signifying ‘visible, clear to the mind, evident.’”
In Paul’s mind, and he was being directed by the Holy Spirit as he wrote this current passage, Habakkuk’s statement made it abundantly clear that God’s eternal purpose has always been to justify the believing sinner through that sinner’s faith in Him.
What does it mean when he says the “just shall live by faith” in our current passage? We discussed this earlier in the chapter (Gal 3:2-3). We are saved when we believe the promises of God regarding salvation (John 3:16; Rom 10:9-10,13; Eph 2:8-9), and we walk out that salvation, we live our lives before God, we grow to spiritual victory when we believe the promises of God regarding our status as believers (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 8:9; Eph 2:10; Rom 6:4-6). He is stating here that the economy through which we are to live for God is in the sphere of faith, which is believing what God said about it (Rom 4:9,3).
NOTE: There are many reasons why the Scripture teaches we’re not justified by keeping the Law of Moses, or any other set of codes. In this current passage it’s because it’s evident that the just must live by faith. Paul told the Christians in Rome that it’s because that through the Law we have the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20), because God justifying us by faith and not by the deeds of the Law declares His righteousness (Rom 3:24-28), and because the Law was weak because it counted on our flesh, our effort, to keep it (Rom 8:3). The author of the Hebrew letter said it’s because it couldn’t make any thing perfect (Heb 7:19). Later in our current chapter we learn that the function of the Law was never to justify us, but rather, to bring us to Jesus (Gal 3:24).
And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
* And the law is not of faith: *
Paul sees faith and the Law as opposites, and consequently, when he speaks of the just living by faith, in his mind, he eliminates the Law as having any part in the process of one becoming a member of “the just” (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), that position where one stands justified in the sight of a Holy God as a result of God declaring the believing sinner righteous.
Allow me to point out:
1.) Living by the Law is the opposite of living by faith.
2.) The works of the Law are the opposite of the work of God’s grace.
3.) The economy of the Law is the opposite of the economy of the Gospel.
Let’s look at these three points more closely:
1.) There have always been men who have had faith in God (Heb 11:4-39), but the faith to which Paul refers to here is different than the faith of those great men, this faith having only arrived after the cross of Christ (Gal 3:23-25). It’s the faith that we believers have that the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary is sufficient to save us.
2.) The works of the Law are good works, but insufficient to get us to Heaven, so we trust in the work of God’s grace (Rom 10:5-10; 11:6; Eph 2:8-9).
3.) In the economy of the Gospel it’s revealed to us how we can be righteous in God’s sight (Rom 1:16-17), whereas, in the economy of the Law no one is ever declared righteous, or justified, in His sight (Rom 3:20,28; Gal 2:16; 3:11).
* but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. *
The economy of Law has nothing to do with faith! You can trust the Law, you can trust the God Who gave us the Law, you can trust your efforts to keep the commandments of the Law, but your faith in those things will never save you under the economy of the Law. Only perfect obedience to its commandments will. Again, not even faith in God could truly justify one under the economy of the Law. When God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness (Gen 15:6) it was under the economy of the promise, which is the same economy as that of grace (Rom 4:16). When one is “under the law,” he is not “under grace” (Rom 6:14). Only obedience to the Law will bring justification under the economy of the Law.
Paul quotes here from the very Law that the Judaizers wanted the Galatian believers to trust in (Lev 18:5). The Law insists on complete obedience (Deut 27:26) to all its commandments, and so the only way that the Law of Moses, or any other law, could grant life to its followers was through perfect obedience to it. Consequently, another way to righteousness was given to us (Gal 3:21), the way of faith in God.
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
* Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, *
Of “redeemed,” Barnes says, “The word used here exeegorasen (NT:1805) is not that which is usually employed in the New Testament to denote redemption. That word is lutrooo (NT:3084). The difference between them mainly is, that the word used here more usually relates to a purchase of any kind; the other is used strictly with reference to a ransom. The word used here is more general in its meaning; the other is strictly appropriated to a ransom. This distinction is not observable here, however, and the word used here is employed in the proper sense of redeem. It occurs in the New Testament only in this place, and in Gal 4:5; Eph 5:16; Col 4:5. It properly means, to purchase, to buy up; and then to purchase anyone, to redeem, to set free. Here it means, that Christ had purchased, or set us free from the curse of the Law, by his being made a curse for us.”
What’s this “curse of the law” that Christ has redeemed us from? When Paul tells us a few verses earlier that everyone who trusts in the Law is under a curse (Gal 3:10) he then quotes from that Law (Deut 27:26) to prove his point. Actually, Moses instructed the people to say “Amen!” to twelve curses (Deut 27:13-26), the first eleven dealing with specific sins, and the twelfth dealing with the entire Law. The Israelites were to “Amen!” these curses as they entered the Promised Land, thereby taking a vow unto God that they deserved the curses brought upon them if they were to break His Law.
From the perspective of the New Testament what is that curse? What’s to happen to the one who breaks the Law of God? The Scriptures tell us that sin is the transgressing of the Law (1 John 3:4), and that the penalty for sin is death (Rom 3:23). Exactly what is death from the view of the New Testament? James tells us that the body is dead when it’s without its spirit (James 2:26). In other words, physical death is the separation of the temporary body and the eternal spirit.
However, physical death isn’t the only kind of death that the Scriptures talk about. There’s also spiritual death and the Second Death. What’s spiritual death?
Remember that death is a result of the wages of sin. Paul said that he was alive without the Law once, but when the commandment came sin revived and he died (Rom 7:9). He was never alive before the Law came because he was born centuries after the giving of the Law to Moses, so I believe he was referring to the time in his life when he hadn’t reached the age of accountability. If that’s the case, then he’s saying that until he reached that age he was alive (in the sense that God wasn’t holding his sins against him), but when he reached the age of accountability, of understanding right from wrong, then the commandment became a reality to him, and sin seized the opportunity afforded it by that commandment and worked all manner of evil desire in him (Rom 7:8), and when lust had conceived, he sinned (James 1:14-15), and when he sinned, he died (Rom 7:9). Yet, he was still breathing. In what way was he dead? He died spiritually! Physical death is the separation of body and spirit, and spiritual death is the separation of the sinner from God. What I’m saying is this: the wages of sin is death, and that penalty is paid in increments. First, we die spiritually. Then we die physically. Then, if we don’t come to saving faith in Christ, we die the Second Death (Rev 20:11-15), which is eternal separation of the sinner from a Holy God. The curse of the Law is all three, but physical death is the least of those consequences, because in that death we are merely leaving the temporary for the eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18). Physical death would’ve never occurred if it weren’t for sin (Rom 5:12-14), but the curse of the Law that Jesus came to deliver us from is spiritual death and the Second Death, because when it comes to physical death this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:53) so that death can be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54). Now some will be delivered from physical death as well, if they’re alive when Christ descends to rapture His saints (1 Thess 4:13-17), in which case they will experience the mortal putting on immortality in the miracle of that day (Phil 3:20-21), but all who die in Christ before that time will suffer that portion of the curse of the Law. However, all those who accept the Lord Jesus as their Savior will be delivered from the curse of the Law in that area of spiritual death (Eph 2:1,4-5), and that portion of the curse regarding the Second Death (Rev 20:14-15). Consequently, the “curse of the law” that Christ redeemed us from that Paul is dealing with in our current passage is spiritual death and the Second Death. Though He doesn’t deliver us all from physical death, He does, however, deliver all believers from the sting of physical death (1 Cor 15:54-57).
* being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: *
Here Paul again quotes the Law in stating that those who hang on a tree are under the curse of God (Deut 21:23). When God spoke those words He was speaking about how the one who had been sentenced to death by hanging must be buried the same day, and not left on the tree over night, or the land would be defiled. However, I’m convinced that He Who saw His Son crucified from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) had that crucifixion in mind when He spoke those words to Moses. He knew that this would be the illustration that His Holy Spirit would inspire Paul to use to show you and I that Jesus
had become a curse for us. In Paul’s mind when Jesus was crucified on the cross of Calvary He was facing the curse of God that the Law foresaw, and therefore had indeed become a curse for us. In this way He has redeemed us from the curse that the Law imposes on us as a penalty for our sins.
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
* That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; *
In the previous verse he tells us that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Gal 3:13), and in this verse he tells us why. God wants you and I, as Gentile believers, to partake in “the blessing of Abraham.” Exactly what is this “blessing of Abraham”? I’m convinced that the best way to figure out what the Scripture is saying is to figure out what the Scripture is saying. No! That’s not a misprint. Here’s what I mean by that statement: if I want to understand what’s meant by a phrase in a particular verse then I need to understand what’s being taught in the context of the entire passage in which that phrase appears. Let’s not isolate the phrase “the blessing of Abraham” from its contextual setting. What’s Paul talking about leading up to this statement? He’s talking about how our faith in Christ was the means through which God saved us (Gal 3:2-3), and he then emphasizes that truth by sharing with his readers that Abraham was counted as righteous before God as a result of his faith (Gal 3:6). From that he concludes that all those who put their faith in the Lord Jesus are Abraham’s children (Gal 3:7), that God knew way back then that He would justify the heathen who would have faith in Him (Gal 3:8), and that all who have faith in Christ enjoy being blessed along with Abraham (Gal 3:9). What’s the blessing of Abraham being spoken about here? It’s the blessing of having his faith counted as righteousness; in other words, it’s justification. He then points out that the Law is powerless to bring us this blessing, but it pronounces a curse on us instead (Gal 3:10-12), but, thank God Almighty, Jesus delivered us from that curse (Gal 3:13)! That brings us back to our current passage, which informs us that the Lord Jesus redeemed us from that curse so that we could enjoy “the blessing of Abraham,” which is to enjoy what he enjoyed, our faith being counted as righteousness before God, which is justification.
Being under Law precludes being under grace (Rom 6:14), and being under grace is synonymous with operating in faith under the dispensation of God’s promise (Rom 4:16). Being under the Law also precludes partaking of “the blessing of Abraham,” which is having your faith counted as righteousness, because when you’re under the Law you are accountable to all the demands of the Law (James 2:10-11), and therefore, since no man, save Jesus, has ever kept all the Law, but rather, we have all sinned (Rom 3:23), when we’re under the Law we are under the curse of that Law (Gal 3:10).
The only way that we can enjoy “the blessing of Abraham” is through our union with the Lord Jesus, and the only way we can be joined with Christ, and become one with Him, is to put our faith in Him (John 17:23; Col 2:9-10; 1 John 4:14-15).
* that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. *
Concerning “the promise of the Spirit” Vine says, “PROMISE (NOUN AND VERB) epangelia NT:1860, primarily a law term, denoting ‘a summons’ (epi, ‘upon,’ angello, ‘to
proclaim, announce’), also meant ‘an undertaking to do or give something, a promise.’ in Gal 3:14, ‘the promise of the Spirit’ denotes ‘the promised Spirit’:”
Barnes says, “[That we might receive the promise of the Spirit] That all we who are Christian converts. The promise of the Spirit, or the promised Spirit, is here put for all the blessings connected with the Christian religion. It includes evidently the miraculous agency of the Holy Spirit; and all his influences in renewing the heart, in sanctifying the soul, and in comforting the people of God. These influences had been obtained in virtue of the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus in the place of sinners, and these influences were the sum of all the blessings promised by the prophets.”
Our Lord Jesus promised us, His followers, that He would send another Comforter (John 14:16-17; 26), and referred to our receiving the Holy Spirit as the Promise of His Father to us (Luke 24:49). He said that the Holy Spirit would bear witness of Him (John 15:26-27), and guide us into all Truth (John 16:13-15). Joel prophesied of this (Joel 2:28-29), and Jesus said that His going away was necessary for us so that the Holy Spirit would come (John 16:7-11). He came initially to the believers on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and comes subsequently to all who put their faith in Christ (John 3:6; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 3:16; Gal 4:6; Eph 1:13; 2:22). We’re born again through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-7; 1 Cor 12:3), sanctified by Him (Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 6:19), and are renewed by Him (Titus 3:5) as we commune with Him (2 Cor 13:14). He empowers us (Acts 1:8; Rom 15:13) as He teaches us the Truths of God (John 14:26; Heb 3:7; 1 Cor 2:13) through the Scriptures He inspired the holy writers to write (2 Peter 1:21), and helps us to remember those things (John 14:26; 2 Tim 1:14). He guides us into the will of God as He speaks to us (Acts 13:2; 20:23; 21:11; 28:25), and then sends us to do that will (Acts 13:4), having called us into the service of God (Acts 20:28), and gifted us for that service (Heb 2:4). He fills our lives with His comfort in troubling times (Acts 9:31), and gives us His righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom 4:17; 1 Thess 1:6). He helps us to pray (Jude 20; 1 Cor 14:2,14) and He prays for us (Rom 8:26), causing all things to work together for our good as God performs His eternal purpose for us in the bringing us into conformity to the image of His Son (Rom 8:27-29). How desperately we need the Holy Spirit in our lives, and we can have Him there as a result of God being faithful to what He has promised (Rom 4:21; Heb 11:11).
Abraham believed that God would do what He promised him He would do, and God did! When we believe that God will do what He has promised us He’ll do, then He does! He promised us His Holy Spirit, and we receive His promised Spirit by trusting His promise, not by being good enough through our efforts to keep the Law of Moses, or any other code of conduct. Why is this so important? Why does Paul stress this so strongly? Without God’s Spirit being in us we are not saved (Rom 8:9), so we need to understand that the fulfillment of God’s promise to give us His Spirit comes by faith, so that it can be a result of God’s grace, so that the fulfillment can be absolutely certain (Rom 4:16). In other words, the reason God ordained this to work by faith is so that it depends on His grace. When God does it because we trust Him, it depends on Him. That’s why it’s guaranteed. If our receiving the Promise depends on our keeping the Law then it’s a wait and see venture. If it depends on God keeping His promise it’s a guaranteed venture. Which do you prefer? Thank God for His grace.
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
* Brethren, *
He had addressed them as “foolish Galatians* (Gal 3:1) at the start of this chapter, but now he tones it down by calling them “Brethren.” I’ve heard it said that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and maybe that’s the desire of the Apostle at this point of his letter. Perhaps his thinking is that his readers will be more likely to come into agreement with his reasoning if his approach is less confrontational. For you and I the good news is that you can be a Christian brother, in other words, saved, even when you’re being “foolish.”
* I speak after the manner of men; *
Vincent says of this phrase, “After the manner of men kata (NT:2596) anthroopon (NT:444). According to human analogy; reasoning as people would reason in ordinary affairs. The phrase is peculiar to Paul. See Rom 3:5; 1 Cor 3:3; 9:8; 15:32; Gal 1:11. Compare anthroopinos (NT:442) ‘as a man,’ Rom 6:19.”
Jesus often used parables, stories drawn from the world we live in, to drive home spiritual truths. Paul isn’t exactly doing the same thing in the sense that he doesn’t use a story to illustrate his point, but he’s doing something similar in the sense that he’s drawing from the circumstances of every day living to illustrate his point. Which of us have never entered into a covenant (an agreement, a contract) with another person? If you’ve purchased a home, an automobile, or ever used a credit card, then you’ll understand his illustration.
* Though it be but a man’s covenant, *
The illustration he’s using is the idea of two men entering a covenant. We would think, in our present time, of two men signing a contract. In that contract there will be stipulations that each party had to agree to. For example, if it’s a contract entered into for the purpose of buying and selling, then some of those stipulations will be for the seller and some for the buyer.
Jesus once said to us who are parents, ” If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, (Matt 7:11; Luke 11:13)” showing us that in comparative goodness to our Father in Heaven we are evil. Paul here states that even when it’s men, we who have a fallen nature, who are entering this agreement it is binding. How much more reliable is an agreement that a Holy God makes with man that is based on His promise?
* yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. *
Once we enter into a contractual agreement, after all the details are worked out and agreed on, and once the papers have been signed, that agreement is binding. If I agree to pay one thousand dollars a month for thirty years to purchase a house, and I pledge myself to that agreement by signing on the dotted line, I can’t decide later to pay only five hundred dollars a month. The seller can’t decide later that I have to pay one thousand dollars a month for fifty years. We have an agreement, and it is binding to both parties. Neither of us can change those stipulations after the contract is signed. They are binding until the agreed on terms are completed!
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
* Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. *
God made His initial promise to Abram when He told him He would make him a great nation, bless him, give him a great name, and cause him to be a blessing (Gen 12:1-3). He then promised him that He would give the land, “the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh,” to his seed (Gen 12:6-7), and later enlarged on that promise (Gen 13:14-17). God later promised him that his heir would be his own child (Gen 15:4-5), then entered into covenant with him, promising him that his heir would be given the promised land (Gen 15:18-21). When Abram was ninety-nine years old God again establishes covenant with him, promising to make him fruitful, changing his name to Abraham because he was to become the father of many nations, and that nations and kings would come forth from him (Gen 17:1-6). He promised that the covenant they were entering into would be an everlasting one, that He would be a God to Abraham and to his seed, and that his seed would inherit the promised land for an everlasting possession (Gen 17:7-8). After initiating the act of circumcision to become the sign of that covenant (Gen 17:9-14) He then included Abraham’s wife in the promises, changing her name from Sarai to Sarah, promising to bless her, to give her a son, and to make her a mother of nations (Gen 17:15-16). Abraham was skeptical at first, but God again promised him that Sarah would have a child, and then instructed him to name him Isaac, and said that He would bless Ishmael but that it would be through Isaac that the covenant would be established, and that Isaac would be born “at this set time in the next year (Gen 17:17-21).”
These great promises were made to Abraham and his seed. Certainly from the human perspective the “seed” mentioned in these promises would be his children and their descendents. However, Paul’s telling us that God had something else in mind.
* He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, *
Vincent records the words of Ellicott, “It may be true that similar arguments occur in rabbinical writers: it may be true that sperma (NT:4690) is a collective noun, and that when the plural is used ‘grains of seed’ are implied. All this may be so-nevertheless, we have here an interpretation which the apostle, writing under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, has deliberately propounded, and which therefore, whatever difficulties may at first appear in it, is profoundly and indisputably true.”
I love Ellicott’s remarks on this passage. Indeed, the commentators struggle with this. According to them, the singular word in the Greek is mostly used in a plural sense. We wouldn’t say that we went out and planted some grass seeds, but rather, that we planted some grass seed. In the case of my example the singular word has the inference of a plurality of seeds being planted. Greek experts tell us that the Greek word works the same as our English word. Consequently, with that in mind, Paul’s point seems somewhat convoluted here. He seems to be saying because the singular word is used that it means only one person is intended to be heir of those promises. However, certainly all of Israel was given the Promised Land as Joshua led them across the Jordan River (Josh 3:14-17). Our current passage does indeed seem to present some difficulties, but Ellicott as much as tells us rather we like it, or not, it’s true because the Holy Spirit was saying it through Paul.
What might he be saying here? The commentators disagree on the reason why Paul would seem to misuse the Greek language in this passage, and they’re certainly more qualified than I am. Yet, many of them have ventured a guess, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Abraham had one son at the time God entered into covenant with him, Ishmael (with Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar), and one on the way from the perspective of God, Isaac (the one he would have with Sarah according to the promise of God). He later had six more sons with the woman he married after Sarah died, Keturah (Gen 25:1-2). Normally all eight of his sons would be heirs of all that was his, but God specifically said that it would be only one of those sons, Isaac, through which He would establish His covenant (Gen 17:19-21), and therefore only Isaac would be heir of the promises of that covenant. He promised to bless Ishmael (Gen 17:20), and because of His blessing on Abraham’s life (Gen 12:2) I’m convinced that He blessed his other sons as well. Yet the blessing of the covenant was to go to only one of his sons, Isaac, and consequently, after giving gifts to his other children (Gen 25:6), he gave all of his remaining goods to Isaac (Gen 25:5). In seeing the intention of God to bless a single heir of Abraham with the promises of the covenant Paul points out, in the passage before us, to his readers that the word “seed” is used to designate a single seed. If my thoughts are correct then Paul is not giving us a lesson in grammar, but rather, pointing out the intention of God to bless a particular seed of Abraham. Paul points to the fact that the Greek word “sperma” could indicate a singular seed, whereas the Greek word “spermata” could not. That’s why God, Who sees through time, knowing what His eternal purpose was in entering into covenant with Abraham, chose to predetermine that “sperma” was the word used in the passage. God had One in mind. That “one” started with Isaac, but ended with One far greater!
Concerning the natural seed of Abraham, Israel, the promises of the covenant went to only one of Abraham’s eight sons, a single seed, Isaac (Gen 17:21; 21:12). From the perspective of the covenant he was Abraham’s only son (Gen 22:2). Though Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob, those covenantal promises were passed on to only one of those sons, a single seed, Jacob (Gen 35:9-13; Ex 2:24). When Jacob wrestled with the angel (Gen 32:24-30) his name was changed to Israel and the descendents of his twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. At that point the covenantal promises dealing with the natural seed of Abraham were no longer passed to a single seed, but to all the seed of Jacob, and all Israel became beneficiaries of the promises of God to Abraham. The promised land that God promised to Abraham and to his seed (Gen 12:6-7; 13:14-17; 15:18-21) became the property of Israel, the natural seed of Abraham, the day Joshua led them across the Jordan River (Josh 3:14-17), and from God’s perspective, it became their property forever (Gen 17:7-8).
Because of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises when Israel possessed the promised land the Judaizers were teaching the Galatian believers that the Covenant of Promise had ended and that the Covenant of the Mosaic Law was in place at the time Paul was writing this Epistle. That’s not the way Paul saw it, and again, he was writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the very Word of God. As we saw earlier in the comments on this verse, God intended this covenant to be an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7-8).
And to thy seed, which is Christ. *
God had given Paul an insight into His eternal purpose, the Church (Rom 8:28-30; 9:22-24; Eph 1:4-6; 2:10; Titus 1:1-2). The idea of a “Church,” made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, had previously been a mystery (Eph 3:2-6), but now, by Divine revelation, had been revealed to the Apostle. That’s why Paul always saw the bigger picture when he looked at the Abrahamic Covenant. Others might have only seen Israel, but, by revelation, Paul saw the Church. That’s why he said that the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the heathen by faith when he read that God would bless the nations through Abraham (Gal 3:8). He understood that the God who changes not (Mal 3:6), in Whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning (James 1:17), didn’t suddenly one day come up with the idea of the Church, but rather it was His purpose all along (Eph 1:5-12).
From the perspective of Israel, concerning the covenant between God and Abraham, if they were to believe the concept of the single seed, that single seed would be Isaac, meaning only that the nation of Israel would come about through the child promised to Abraham. However, from the eternal perspective of God that single seed began with Isaac, then continued with Jacob, but it didn’t stop there, unlike the case of the natural seed of Abraham (Israel). In the case of the eternal seed of Abraham the principle of the “single seed” continued. It went from Jacob to Judah to Phares to Esrom to Aram to Aminadab to Naasson to Salmon to Booz to Obed to Jesse to David to Solomon to Roboam to Abia to Asa, and on and on until it came to Christ (Matt 1:1-17). The principle of the “one seed,” started with Isaac, but ended with Christ. Christ was the “One Seed” that God had in mind all along, and Paul understood this by revelation. So, initially, in the time frame of the beginning of the covenant of promise, the “one seed” was Isaac. But now, in the “time” frame of the eternal purpose of God, the “One Seed” is Christ.
How does this affect you and I? If Christ is the “One Seed” of Abraham Who would share in the promises then what about us? Paul will get back to this before our current chapter ends, and I’ll have more to say about this at that time.
Allow me to summarize my thoughts on this verse: I think the Apostle has in mind that God’s eternal purpose was to show forth His grace, and manifold wisdom, through the establishing of the Church (Eph 2:4-7; 3:10-11). Consequently, he saw the promises being given to Abraham and his seed as being far greater in scope than just including the descendents of Isaac. To establish the eternal scope of this Abrahamic Covenant he wants us to understand that the Greek word used for “seed” was singular, and therefore allows it (it doesn’t demand it, but it does allow it) to refer to a single seed. By revelation he knew this to be the intention of God when He made these promises to Abraham, and he saw that single seed from the perspective of God’s eternal purpose in entering into covenant with Abraham. That purpose was to bring about a Savior Who would redeem all the “whosoevers” (John 3:16) who would put their faith in Him, Jew and Gentile, and form from the two one new man (Eph 2:14-18), and we call that “new man” the Church. That’s why he says that the single seed is Christ, because Christ coming into the world to redeem the believing sinner was the very purpose God chose to enter into covenant with Abraham in the first place. He’s saying these things to establish that the covenant is still in effect, and therefore cannot be altered.
And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
* And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God *
This is referring to the covenant that God made with Abraham when he first called him (Gen 12:1-4). In what way did God confirm it? After Abraham was willing to sacrifice his promised child (Gen 22:3-14) as God had told him to (Gen 22:1-2), believing that God was able to raise him from the dead (Heb 11:17-19), God confirmed the promises He had made to him with an oath (Gen 22:16-18; Heb 6:13-16). In this way Abraham had the promise and the oath to stand on, recognizing that God cannot lie (Heb 6:17-18). If we’re convinced that it’s impossible for God to lie, then His very Word is confirmation to anything He says.
* in Christ, *
Barnes says, “The word ‘in,’ in the phrase ‘in Christ,’ does not quite express the meaning of the Greek eis (NT:1519) Christon (NT:5547). That means rather ‘unto Christ;’ or unto the Messiah; that is, the covenant had respect to him.”
Paul had just stated in the previous verse that the eternal purpose of God for entering into covenant with Abraham was to bring about the coming of the Lord Jesus. In this verse he restates that assertion.
* which was four hundred and thirty years after, *
Quoting again from Barnes, “The exact time here referred to was probably when Abraham was called, and when the promise was first made to him. Assuming that as the time referred to, it is not difficult to make out the period of four hundred and thirty years. That promise was made when Abraham was seventy-five years old; Gen 12:3-4. From that time to the birth of Isaac, when Abraham was a hundred years old, was twenty-five years; Gen 21:5. Isaac was sixty when Jacob was born; Gen 25:26. Jacob went into Egypt when he was one hundred and thirty years old; Gen 47:9. And the Israelites sojourned there, according to the Septuagint (Ex 12:40), two hundred and fifteen years, which completes the number:”
* the law, — cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. *
The Law can’t change a covenant that was already in effect, if the promises in that covenant weren’t totally fulfilled. The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant weren’t then, and aren’t now, totally fulfilled because God has entered into an everlasting covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:7-8), one that was seen through the eye of New Testament revelation as being a covenant between God and Abraham, and Abraham’s seed, which Paul has shown to be Christ (Gal 3:16). That Covenant of Promise extended beyond the natural descendents of Abraham, and their inheritance of the Promised Land, all the way to Christ, and all the way to those who are “in Him,” (the Church), those whose faith has been imputed to them for righteousness (Rom 4:18-25) just as it had been for Abraham (Gen 15:6). Since the covenant is still in effect the Law couldn’t disannul it, or cause a single promise to be of none effect.
For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
* For if the inheritance *
What is this inheritance? Barnes believes it to refer to the promise of being “heir of the world” (Rom 4:13), while the 1599 Geneva Bible Footnotes has it referring to the “right of the seed, which is, that God should be our God,” but John Gill says, “By the inheritance is meant, either the eternal inheritance, everlasting life and happiness in heaven, which is the gift of God through Christ, and not attained to and enforced by the works of the law; or particularly the blessing of justification, promised in the covenant to Abraham, and his spiritual seed; even to the Gentiles, and inherited by them,” and the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says, “all the blessings to be inherited by Abraham’s literal and spiritual children, according to the promise made to him and to his Seed, Christ, justification and glorification.”
I’m certain that they’re all correct. Anything, and everything, that God promised in His eternal Covenant with Abraham comes to bear here. Having said that, allow me to point out that there’s a particular promise of that Covenant that Paul is focusing on. He mentioned earlier in this chapter that the promise of God to bless all nations through Abraham (Gen 12:3) was the promise of justification by faith (Gal 3:8), and that’s the promise that has brought about this entire discussion. The Galatian believers were removing themselves from the safe position of the Gospel of God’s grace (Gal 1:6-9) to the uncertain position of the “gospel” of salvation by works, which is not a gospel (Gal 1:7) because it isn’t good news. Paul called them “foolish” (Gal 3:1) as a result of this, and then proceeded to teach them that this Christian walk begins, and ends, with their trusting the promises of God (Gal 3:2-5). If your faith doesn’t get you all the way to Heaven, if once you believe for salvation you now have to keep the Law to maintain that salvation, then you’re not justified by faith, but rather, by keeping the Law. That’s the issue at hand here, and that’s the specific promise of the Abrahamic Covenant that the Apostle is pointing his readers to.
* be of the law, it is no more of promise: *
Paul had already stated that a covenant, once confirmed, can’t be altered, either by doing away with certain provisions of that covenant or by adding new provisions to it, (Gal 3:15), and that this covenant had been confirmed by God Himself (Gal 3:17). Consequently, the fulfillment of everything promised to Abraham, and his seed, in that covenant depends totally on God keeping His Word, and the keeping of the Law of Moses by the descendents of Abraham has absolutely no bearing on the fulfillment of those promises whatsoever. Again, as stated in the above notes, he’s talking primarily about justification by faith, which is how you enter into your right standing with a Holy God.
Paul saw the idea that the giving of the Law added provisions to the Abrahamic Covenant as ridiculous. The Covenant was confirmed and therefore unalterable. He states that if we now include the obeying of the Law as an add-on to the Covenant then we have nullified the principle of the Promise altogether. To him it was simple; it was either by Promise or by Law (our current passage), it’s either by grace or by works (Rom 11:6).
but God gave it to Abraham by promise. *
Why is this so important to Paul? He taught the believers in Rome that the reason God justifies by faith is so that our salvation can depend on Him, and not us. Listen to what he says, “Therefore [it is] of faith, that [it might be] by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;” (Rom 4:16). Let’s break that wonderful Truth down; “it,” the Promise, “is of faith,” comes to pass in our lives as a result of our believing that God will keep His Word, “that it might be by grace,” that it might depend on God doing it, and not us, “to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed,” in that way our salvation is certain! Here’s my paraphrase for that wonderful verse, “The Promise comes to pass in our lives as a result of our believing that God will keep His Word, that it might depend on God doing it, and not us; in that way our salvation is certain!”
God made this Promise to Abraham by grace. It didn’t have any stipulations on it. It’s God’s faithfulness to His Word that’s at stake here. God will keep His Promise because it’s impossible for Him to lie (Heb 6:18). We are saved by faith because He said so (Eph 2:8-9). The promise to justify the Gentiles through faith (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8) was given to Abraham, and to his Seed, free from any conditions on the part of Abraham, except the initial act of obedience that he leave his “country,” his “kindred,” and his “father’s house,” and go “unto a land that I will shew thee:” (Gen 12:1-2). The promise of justification by faith has been given to us, through the Covenant of Promise, apart from any conditions on the part of us, the recipients of that promise, except the initial act of obedience, that being our placing our faith in the Lord Jesus for our salvation (John 1:12).
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
* Wherefore then serveth the law? *
As the commentators say, this is a natural question to the argument of the Apostle. If the Law wasn’t added to the Promise, to work with the Promise, to bring us to justification, then what was the purpose of God ever giving man the Law? If obedience to the Law of Moses isn’t a prerequisite to our justification then what’s it purpose?
* It was added *
Concerning “added,” Robertson comments, “old verb to add to. It is only in apparent contradiction to (Gal 3:15), because in Paul’s mind the law is no part of the covenant, but a thing apart ‘in no way modifying its provisions.’ (Burton),” and Vincent adds, “Not as an addition to the promise, which is contrary to (Gal 3:18), but as a temporary, intermediate institution, in which only a subordinate purpose of God was expressed.” Wuest says, “The word added is from prostithemi, the simple verb meaning ‘to place,’ the prefixed preposition, ‘toward.’ It marks the law as supplementary to the covenant of grace, and therefore subordinate to it. Paul in Rom 5:20 says, ‘the law entered,’ (pareiserchomai), that is, came in alongside. It was not added to grace as an extra provision whereby a sinner might appropriate salvation, for it is diametrically opposed to grace. It was brought in alongside of grace as a measure to show sinners the real nature of their sin and thus their need of a Saviour who in infinite grace offers them a salvation free in answer to faith.”
Some commentators believe this phrase to imply that the Law was indeed added to the Covenant of Promise (for example: the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary, Barnes Notes, John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, and John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible), but that it’s not a contradiction to Paul’s earlier comments (Gal 3:15,18) because its addition didn’t change the actual Covenant in any way. It still depended solely on God fulfilling His Promise.
Rather you choose to go along with the above-mentioned commentators, or with Robertson, Vincent, and Burton, the point remains the same. The Law of Moses has absolutely nothing to do with your justification. Then why did God give it to us?
* because of transgressions, *
Gill says that the Law was added “for the sake of restraining transgressions;” and “the law was given, to lay a restraint on men, by forbidding such and such things, on pain of death;” while Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary says, “‘because of (or as the Greek, ‘for the sake of’) the transgressions,’ that is, to bring out into clearer view the transgressions of it (Rom 7:7-9); to make men more fully conscious of their ‘sins,’ by being perceived as transgressions of the law, and so to make them long for the promised Savior.” Vincent says, “He meant to describe the office of the law as more than giving the knowledge of sins. Its office was, in revealing sin as positive transgression, to emphasize the objective, actual, contrary fact of righteousness according to the divine ideal, and to throw sin into contrast with that grand ideal.”
Paul wrote to Timothy that the Law was good when it was used lawfully (1 Tim 1:8). The Law has its pre-determined purpose, even under the Gospel economy, but is that purpose for “restraining transgressions,” as suggested by Gill? And if so, in what way?
I think it’s worth mentioning that the Law of Moses wasn’t simply a code of conduct that governed a religious movement, but it was a judicial system of laws that governed a nation. The Ten Commandments weren’t something that an Israelite kept in order to be approved into the Jewish faith, but rather something he kept in order not to be a law-breaker. It’s more comparable to the laws that govern our great country than to the by-laws by which we accept a new member into our local church. We pass laws for two primary purposes: for the hope that the fear of punishment will restrain some from breaking those laws, and to give the authorities legal ground on which to stand in order to prosecute those who break those laws. Paul says that the Law wasn’t given for the righteous man, but for the unrighteous (1 Tim 1:9-10). The man who would never think of murdering someone doesn’t need the Sixth Commandment (Ex 20:13) to keep him in check, but the man who hates, which is the seed from which murder springs (1 John 3:15), does. This man needs to be bridled with the fear of punishment, that if he kills he will be killed, or locked away for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, even in our civilized society where there are laws to punish the lawbreakers, laws are still broken, and our prisons are over-crowded. The unrighteous will act in an unrighteous way! The lawless will break laws! Having said that, I do believe those laws, and the subsequent punishment for breaking them, will restrain some. Consequently, when dealing with civil laws I’m in agreement with Gill when he says, “the law was given, to lay a restraint on men, by forbidding such and such things, on pain of death.”
Paul, however, wasn’t dealing with the Law in the sense of it being a civil law. He was dealing with the Law in the sense of its part in the justification of the believing sinner, and its subsequent part in the growth of that believer. In other words, he was dealing with the Law of Moses in the sense of its part in the Christian’s life. In this sense, in the life of a believer who wants to obey the God he loves, does the Law restrain sin?
When you, as a believer, determine to practice the Law of Moses, or some other code of conduct, as a means in which to restrain your sinful tendencies, will this be successful for you? A thousand times, “No!” Paul teaches that the practice of law observance certainly has a show of wisdom, but does nothing to restrain sinful desires (Col 2:23) [see Vincent’s comments, and the translation of this verse in most translations other than the King James, such as the NIV, NAS, RSV, the Living Bible, NKJV, WEB, CEV, and LITV, to name a few], but on the contrary, it works all manner of evil desire in you (Rom 7:7-8), because it actually strengthens sin (1 Cor 15:56).
If the Law wasn’t given to man as a means of justification, or as a means of restraining sin in the life of the believer, then in what way was it given, as our current passage claims, “for the sake of transgressions”? Paul teaches that the Law’s purpose was to cause sin to abound (Rom 5:20). How did it accomplish that? The Law identifies sin (Rom 3:20; 7:7), transforms it into “transgression” (1 John 3:4), and then causes the forbidden to become desirable (Rom 7:8; Gen 3:6), causing us to be drawn away into that sin by our own desires, bringing death to us (James 1:13-15), thus causing it to become exceedingly sinful (Rom 7:13). Why did a Holy God ordain this to happen? By giving the Law, and transforming sin into transgression, He did away with our excuses, giving the Holy Spirit room to convict us of our sin (John 16:7-11), bringing us an awareness of our need for a Savior, and leading us to Him (Gal 3:24).
* till the seed should come to whom the promise was made *
The Covenant of Promise is an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7), but the Law of Moses was only given for a set time. It was to last from the time of the giving of the Law to Moses until the time of the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the “seed” being spoken of here (Gal 3:16). He is the One Who has inherited the Promise given to Abraham, the promise that all nations shall be blessed through him (Gen 12:3; 18:18). That’s the particular promise to Abraham that Paul is dealing with in this chapter (Gal 3:8).
* and it was ordained by angels *
In the Old Testament narrative of the giving of the Law we don’t read about the involvement of angels, but we do see in some Old Testament passages an allusion to that fact (Deut 33:2; Ps 68:17). Barnes says, “it was a common opinion among the Jews that the Law was given by the instrumentality of angels, and arranged by them.” We also see the Holy Spirit speaking this truth in some other New Testament passages (Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2) besides our current one. The passage in Hebrews uses this fact to point out the superiority of the Gospel over the Law, which is the exact point of the Apostle in this passage. In Hebrews the Gospel’s superior because God spoke to us its message through His Son (Heb 1:1-2; 2:1-3), not through the prophets, or angels. In Galatians the Gospel is superior because Abraham received the Promise of it (Gal 3:8) from God directly, and not from angels.
* in the hand of a mediator. *
Though some commentators believe this to refer to Jesus (Barnes, Calvin and others), I cast my lot with the many who believe it to refer to Moses (Geneva Bible Translation Notes, the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, the People’s New Testament notes, Vincent, Robertson, Gill, Clarke, Luther and others). The point of Paul is to show the superiority of the Promise to the Law, because God alone gave the Promise to Abraham while those inferior to Him, namely the angels and Moses, were involved in the giving of the Law to Moses. If Jesus was the mediator spoken of here then you would have One equal to God involved in the process of giving this Law to God’s people, which would seem to negate the purpose for which Paul is saying these things.
Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
* Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, *
I’m amazed at the amount of confusion there is concerning this verse. According to the Zondervan NIV Bible Library, “Lightfoot notes that there have been over 250 interpretations of it; Fricke raises the figure to 300.” Robertson says, “Over 400 interpretations of this verse have been made!”
Dr. Whitby and Noessett think it to mean that Moses could only represent one seed of Abraham, that being the Israelites, but he couldn’t represent the seed being considered in our current context, which is the Church. He then concludes that God is One Who represents that seed (the seed to whom the promise of justification by faith is intended) as well, to which many commentators agree. Others (such as Barnes) believe that the One Who is the Mediator in this passage is the Lord Jesus Who is referred to as the Mediator of a “better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6), of the “new testament” (Hebrews 9:15), and the “new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24). I commented on this thinking in my notes on the previous verse.
Again, as I will say from time to time, when you want to know what he’s talking about, then find out what he’s talking about! What’s the point Paul is getting at in this entire chapter? He asks his readers if they were saved as a result of keeping the Law, or as a result of believing what they heard (Galatians 3:2), and then indicated that spiritual growth, and ultimate glorification, would occur the same way (Galatians 3:3), and then reminded them that the move of God among them was the result of the same thing that saved them (Galatians 3:5). He then answered that rhetorical question by pointing out that Abraham received the blessing of having his faith counted as righteousness as a result of his believing what God said, and that we receive the blessing of justification the same way, by faith (Galatians 3:6-9). The other option he gave them in his initial rhetorical question, besides believing what they heard, was the option of receiving these things by keeping the Law, but now he points out that the Law can only bring a curse, and can never justify (Galatians 3:10-12), and that Jesus delivered us from that curse so that we might receive the blessing of Abraham the way he received it, by faith (Galatians 3:13-14). He then teaches that the Promise came before the Law, and was confirmed, and therefore the Law couldn’t change anything regarding that Promise (Galatians 3:15-17), and that if the Law had anything to do with the inheritance then the inheritance had nothing to do with the Promise, but God did give it to Abraham through the Promise (Galatians 3:18). He then pointed out that the Law was inferior to the Promise because while God gave the Law through angels and Moses, He gave the Promise to Abraham directly (Galatians 3:19). That brings us back to our current verse. What’s Paul telling us here?
He’s continuing to show us that the Law is inferior in every way to the Promise. This entire chapter is showing us the futility of trusting the Law for something it was never intended to do, which is to bring us to the place of justification, a place that can only be reached by believing the Promise. Whenever a mediator is called upon there are two individuals, or two groups, that he will come between for the purpose of helping them to reach an agreement. He’s to work towards an amiable agreement that will be satisfactory to both. A mediator is never called upon to represent a single individual, but there must be two parties in order to necessitate his intervention. How silly it would be to bring in a mediator to aid you when you can’t make up your mind about something. In that case, you’d simply elicit the advice of a close friend. God called Moses to mediate between the children of Israel and Himself in the contract of the Law. This contract had stipulations for each party involved, the Israelites were to keep the Law perfectly and God would bless them mightily as a result of their obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The problem with the Law is that we see 14 verses of blessing, in the above passage, when the Law is obeyed, but 54 verses of cursing when it’s not obeyed (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). I choose grace!
* but God is one. *
Again, I disagree with some of the commentators on this verse. I don’t believe that the Apostle is telling us, in the flow of his discussion concerning the Law and the Promise, that Moses only represented one seed of Abraham, Israel, but God represents both seed, Israel and the Church. While that is true, it’s not the point of this passage. I like what Vincent says on this verse, “The validity of the contract depends on its fulfillment by both parties. Hence it is contingent, not absolute.” A little later in his comments he adds, “God does not need a mediator to make his promise valid. His promise is not of the nature of a contract between two parties. His promise depends on his own individual decree. He dealt with Abraham singly and directly, without a mediator. The dignity of the law is thus inferior to that of the promise.”
I’m convinced Paul is showing us another example of why the Law never works, but the Promise, synonymous with the Gospel in the New Testament, always does. What he’s saying here is consistent with what he says elsewhere, that the Law can’t work because it depends on us. He tells the believers in Rome that God has purposed for the Promise to work by faith so that it depends on Him (His grace) so that the outcome can be certain (Rom 4:13-16), because it can never be certain as long as it depends on our faithfulness. Later, in that same Epistle to the Romans, he says that the reason the Law failed, the reason it couldn’t do anything to bring us into a right relationship with God, was because of its dependence on our faithfulness. He said that the weakness of the Law was our flesh (Rom 8:3). In our current passage he’s telling his readers that the reason the Law couldn’t work was because it depended on God AND man, making that point by reminding them that there was a mediator involved. Then he reminds them that when it came to the Promise there was no mediator involved, but only God was involved. In other words, the Promise has absolutely no dependency on our faithfulness, but rather, we join Sarah in counting the One Who made the Promise faithful (Heb 11:11). The Promise of justification by faith is absolutely guaranteed because only the faithfulness of God is required.
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
* Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: *
He has gone to great length to show us that the Law has absolutely nothing to do with our justification, and that it was powerless to make any changes concerning the Covenant of Promise. If it didn’t affect how the Promise would be fulfilled then was it, instead, an obstacle to the fulfillment of that Promise? God forbid! That would mean that one thing that God did was in opposition to another thing that God did, which would mean that God opposed Himself, and if a kingdom is divided against itself it cannot stand (Mark 3:23-26). He gave the Law after He gave the Promise, and the Promise was an everlasting Covenant (Gen 17:7), and was, therefore, still in effect when He gave the Law, so the Law could not be against a Covenant of Promise that was still standing, and was given by Him Who cannot lie (Heb 6:18).
If the Law was not against the Promise then it must have had some purpose in regards to the Promise. We’ll gain more clarity in the next verse.
* for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. *
Regarding the first part of this verse Vincent says, “This could only be true in case the law gave life, for life must come either through the promises or through the law.”
If I can be justified by observing the Law then the Law is against the Promise, and God would be in opposition with Himself. That’s not the case! We were dead in our sins (Eph 2:1,5; Col 2:13), and there’s never been a Law given that could impart life. That’s not the function of law! Law is given to bring boundaries to our activities, and to bring authority to prosecute when we cross those boundaries. It was given to keep the ungodly in check (1 Tim 1:8-10) so that we could have some form of a civilized society. That’s its function! The intention of God was never to bring us to justification as a result of our obedience to the Law (Gal 2:1; Rom 3:20), and yet He gave the Law. Why? The next verse gives us some insight.
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
* But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, *
What part of the Scripture is Paul referring to here? He’s not quoting any Old Testament verse, and yet he says that the Scripture has “concluded all under sin.”
Of “hath concluded,” Vincent comments, “Hath concluded sunekleisen (NT:4788). Better: “hath shut up,” as a jailor. Only in Paul, with the exception of Luke 5:6. Frequent in the Septuagint. Not “included with others,” but confined as within an enclosure, as Luke 5:6, of the net ‘enclosing’ the fish.” Robertson says, “Hath shut up sunekleisen (NT:4788). Did shut together. First aorist active indicative of sungkleioo (NT:4788), an old verb, to shut together, on all sides, completely as a shoal of fish in a net (Luke 5:6). So Gal 3:23; Rom 11:32.”
The NIV renders it, “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin,” while the NKJV translates it, “But the Scripture has confined all under sin.” The idea seems to be that the Scripture informs us that we’re all locked into confinement under the control of sin. Yet again I ask what part of Scripture is he referring to that declares that we are all prisoners of sin? Usually when he refers to the Scripture saying something he quotes some Old Testament verse (Gal 3:8,10,13,16; 4:30; Rom 9:17), but he doesn’t do that here, so where does the Scripture show us that we are hopelessly held captive by sin?
Paul teaches this same Truth to those in Rome when he says that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin (Rom 3:9), and then he goes on to quote Old Testament Scriptures to prove his point (Rom 3:10-18), quoting from several passages (Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccl 7:20; Ps 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Isa 59:7-8; Ps 36:1). These are probably the same Scriptures he has in mind in our current passage. Certainly, from our perspective, we could quote many New Testament passages that make this point (Rom 3:9,19; John 8:34; Rom 6:16; 7:14), but when Paul speaks of the Scriptures he’s referring to the Old Testament, so he probably has in mind here those same Scriptures he quoted to the believers in Rome.
REMEMBER THE PRE-SUPPOSED QUESTION OF THE PREVIOUS VERSE? If justification is a result of believing the Promise (Gal 3:6-9), and the Law can’t justify us, but only brings us a curse (Gal 3:10-14), and it can’t altar that Promise, or add any conditions to it (Gal 3:15-18), and therefore plays no part in our justification, then what’s the purpose of the Law (Gal 3:19-20), and is the Law, in actuality, in opposition to the Promise (Gal 3:21)? Absolutely not! The purpose of the Law being added was to aid in the fulfillment of the Promise by identifying the sin in our lives (Rom 7:7), so that we would understand that we were locked up in the dungeon of that sin, thus recognizing that we were its hopeless prisoners, so that we would see that we needed rescued and would run to the One Who was the fulfillment of the Promise, the Lord Jesus, and receive justification by faith in Him. Therefore, the Law was not in opposition to the Promise, but was added to aid the Promise by driving us to the Savior.
* that the promise *
What’s the “promise” he’s referring to here? In the context of our study he’s referring to the Promise of receiving the Spirit of God (Gal 3:2-5,14), which happens when we are justified by faith (Gal 3:8,11). It’s evident that Paul, when teaching the Gospel, is interested in that Promise to Abraham that has “everlasting” implications (Gen 17:7), the Promise that is to his Seed (Gal 3:16), that the Scripture foresaw would impact the heathen/Gentiles (Gal 3:8), which is the Promise of justification by faith, that leads to eternal life.
* by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. *
The NIV renders the last part of this verse, “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” The Amplified Bible has it, “so that [the inheritance, blessing] which was promised through faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, might be given (released, delivered and committed) to [all] those who believe – who adhere to and trust in and rely on Him.” Wuest translates it, “in order that the promise on the ground of faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
The idea is that God had us in mind when He entered into Covenant with Abraham, and that when He promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham He had in mind His justifying you and I when we came to saving faith in His Son.
To the Jew of Paul’s time God had only Israel in mind when He entered into Covenant with Abraham, but by revelation Paul knew that God had even greater things in mind than simply claiming a natural race of people for Himself. God certainly did that, but beyond that, He had the Church, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles alike, in mind! He had you and me in mind! The promise of justification by faith is based on the individual trusting in the Lord Jesus as his only means of salvation, and consequently, when we trust in Him we are justified, and when we are justified we discover that we are a part of the eternal purpose of God, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ! You are important to God! He’s had you in His mind for an eternity past!
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
* But before faith came, *
Faith has been around since the beginning of mankind, but not this faith. Many people who lived in Old Testament times had great faith (Heb 11:4-38), but not this faith. This faith came long after the Law was given. What faith is it? It’s the faith he just mentioned in the previous verse (Gal 3:22), the faith that believes in the Lord Jesus as the only means of salvation. It’s justifying faith, faith that is imputed to us as righteousness (Rom 4:16-25). Never before the cross was there a justifying faith (Ps 143:1-2). This faith didn’t arrive until Christ redeemed us at the cross of Calvary, even though Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3,22; Gal 3:6; James 2:23). Abraham stood there representing the coming believers in Christ (Rom 4:23-24) whose faith would be a justifying faith. Ours’ is a new faith that arrived after the Law, which arrived after Abraham’s experience. The difference is that when we die we go immediately to Heaven (2 Cor 5:8), while Abraham went to Paradise when he died (Luke 16:22; John 1:18; 6:46). His faith was counted as righteousness, but not to the point of justification, which could only happen after the Lord Jesus bore our sins. His faith looked forward to the fulfillment of the Promise in the coming Seed (Gal 3:16), while our faith looks backward to that fulfillment in Christ.
* we *
When Paul speaks of “we” in this passage he is undoubtedly referring to himself as a part of the Jewish family, because the Law was given to the Jews. In the Book of Romans he shows us that we Gentiles had sinned apart from the Law and would perish without the Law’s intervention, but that the Jews had sinned under the Law and would be judged by the Law (Rom 2:12). The Law’s purpose was to bring the Jew, who understood that Gentiles were sinners, into accountability before God in order to silence his contention of his worthiness (Rom 3:19), and thus to show that all men, both Jew and Gentile, were sinners who stood in need of a Savior (Rom 3:23-24).
We Gentiles were never under the Law, but God, to some degree, had already written that Law on the hearts of us Gentiles before we had ever heard of Him, in the sense of His having given us a conscience (Rom 2:14-15), an inner awareness of right and wrong. As stated above we would have perished without the Law in the literal sense, certainly in the sense of having no sacrificial system by which to offer God sacrifices for those sins, sacrifices that pointed to the coming of His ultimate sacrifice, the Lord Jesus, but we would still be guilty in the sense that those laws were written in our hearts, and our God-given conscience condemned us, and we would have had to give an account for transgressing the law of our conscience. So the relevant Truth here is that all, both Jew, who had transgressed the Law of Moses, and Gentile, who had transgressed the law of his conscience, stood condemned as sinners in need of a Savior.
* were kept under the law, *
In the previous verse (Gal 3:22) we are told that all men were prisoners of sin, while in this verse we discover that the warden, at least for the family of Israel, was the Law. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says of “we were kept” in this verse “to guard, protect by a military guard, either in order to prevent hostile invasion, or to keep the inhabitants of a besieged city from flight; metaphorically: under the control of the Mosaic law, that we might not escape from its power,” while it says of “hath concluded” of the previous verse, “to shut up together, enclose a shoal of fishes in a net, Luke 5:6; to shut up on all sides, shut up completely; Rom 11:32.” Wuest adds, “The word kept is from phroureo, which means ‘to keep in ward under lock and key.’ The law was a jailer who held in custody those who were subjected to sin, in order that they should not escape the consciousness of their sins and their liability to punishment.”
This verse is continuing Paul’s argument that though the Law has no part in our being justified, yet it does play an important part in the fulfillment of the Promise given to Abraham to bless all nations through him (Gen 12:1-3), which Promise is referring to God justifying the believing sinner through faith (Gal 3:8). The part it plays has nothing to do with bringing us justification as a result of our obedience to it, but rather showing us that we can’t obey it, and therefore need a Savior Who can justify us. In our current passage he’s showing his reader that the Law is making certain that we stay locked up in the prison our sins have put us in [according to the previous verse] (Gal 3:22). The Law, as our warden, will not allow us to escape from the awareness of our guilt, a consequence of our transgressing its laws, or from the accountability of those sins. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and we’ve all sinned (Rom 3:23), and so we all face the consequences of our actions, which is death. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31)” What shall we do? What can we do?
* shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. *
Vincent comments, “It is not temporal, ‘until,’ which is a rare usage in the New Testament, but ‘with a view to our passing into the state of faith.'” Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary adds, “‘unto–with a view to the faith,’ &c. We were, in a manner, morally forced to it, so that there remained to us no refuge but faith.”
The Law was added (Gal 3:19) to bring me to the awareness that I was a sinner, and that the horrible consequences of those sins that I had committed were awaiting me, and then to lock me into that awareness with the view of bringing me to the understanding that justifying faith was my only way out. That was the function of the Law, and the timeframe of the Law was to run from the time of God giving it to Moses on Mount Sinai to the time of the arrival of that justifying faith (current verse), which arrived along with the Promised Seed (Galatians 3:19).
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
* Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library says, “It is unfortunate that KJV refers to the law as a ‘schoolmaster’ and that NIV finds it necessary to work around the operative term by speaking of our being put under ‘charge’ or ‘supervision’ (v. 25). The term is paidagogos, which means ‘a child-custodian’ or ‘child-attendant.’ The pedagogue was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. He had charge of the child from about the years six to sixteen and was responsible for watching over his behavior wherever he went and for conducting him to and from school.” Vincent comments, “The law is here represented, not as one who conducts to the school of Christ; for Christ is not represented here as a teacher, but as an atoner; but rather as an overseer or guardian, to keep watch of those committed to its care, to accompany them with its commands and prohibitions, and to keep them in a condition of dependence and restraint, thus continually bringing home to them the consciousness of being shut up in sins, and revealing sin as positive transgression.” Wuest adds this insight, “It is true that our word pedagogue comes from the Greek paidagogus, and that it refers to a schoolmaster. But the Greek word did not have that meaning. The word designated a slave employed in Greek and Roman families who had general charge over a boy in the years from about 6-16. He watched over his outward behavior, and took charge over him whenever he went from home, as for instance, to school. This slave was entrusted with the moral supervision of the child.”
Many commentators disagree with Vincent’s notes (quoted above), and are convinced that though the Law shouldn’t be viewed as a schoolmaster, it was indeed given as a servant who would bring us to the Schoolmaster/Teacher, the Lord Jesus (Robertson’s New Testament Word Pictures, the People’s New Testament Notes, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, and the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary), but many others agree with Vincent (John Gill’s Expositor, the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary, Adam Clarke’s Commentary, the Zondervan NIV Bible Library, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and Nelson’s Bible Dictionary).
Although many translations agree with the King James Version, in the sense of the Law in some manner acting as an instructor, by translating the word as “schoolmaster,” “tutor,” or “teacher” (the 1599 Geneva Bible, the Contemporary English Bible, the Hebrew Names Version, the Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, the World English Bible, the New American Standard Version, and The Living Bible), others disagree. The International Standard Version renders it, “And so the law was our guardian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” The Revised Standard Version has it, “So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “so that the law became our child-conductor–to Christ, that by faith we may be declared righteous,” while the Bible In Basic English translates it, “So the law has been a servant to take us to Christ, so that we might have righteousness by faith.” The Amplified Bible reads, “So that the Law served [to us Jews] as our trainer – our guardian, our guide to Christ, to lead us – until Christ [came], that we might be justified (declared righteousness, put in right standing with God) by and through faith.”
The point seems to be that God, in His wisdom, added the Law (Gal 3:19) so that its many commandments would lock the Jew into a certain behavior pattern that would keep him from living a life of total lawlessness, but at the same time make him aware that his imperfections (those times that he had broken one of the Law’s commandments) had made him unworthy of the inheritance (Gal 3:18), which was justification (Gal 3:8), and that trying his best to keep those commandments could never restore him to the spiritual life that breaking those commandments caused him to lose (Gal 3:21). The Law taught morality, just as the Greek or Roman slave (pedagogue) would have, but was absolutely ineffective at empowering its followers to live a life of total morality (Col 2:20-23). So the Jewish man was locked into the existence that Paul called “wretched,” where he desired to perform the dictates of the Law in his mind, but often found himself obeying the whims of his sinful flesh (Rom 7:14-25). He was a servant, a slave, who was held captive by both the Law and sin (Rom 7:23-25; Gal 3:22-23). Thank God that deliverance came through the Lord Jesus (Rom 7:24-25)!
* to bring us unto Christ, *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library says, “”To Christ” is not to be taken in a geographic sense as though the pedagogue was conducting the child to a teacher, as some have implied. The reference, as in the preceding verse, is temporal; it means “until we come of age at the time of the revelation of our full sonship through Christ’s coming.”
The King James Translators supply the words “to bring us.” The majority of translations supply similar words, implying the translators felt the phrase “unto Christ” to be geographic, contrary to what the above note infers. However, in the context of this passage the Law is seen as temporary, ending at the time of the arrival of the faith being spoken about in this verse. So I’m inclined to agree with the Zondervan NIV Bible Library that the point of this phrase is simply that the Law served the purpose of a pedagogue in the lives of the people of Israel until the day of justification by faith, which was the fulfillment of the Promise to Abraham (Gal 3:8), became a reality. The Law did the work assigned it by God until the fulfillment of the Promise came to pass through the justifying work of the Lord Jesus; the One Who was the Promised Seed (Gal 3:16).
* that we might be justified by faith. *
This ends the answer to the question posed regarding the purpose of the Law (Gal 3:19). The Law was added, for a transitory purpose (Gal 3:19), to turn sin into transgression (I John 3:4), and in its inferior position to the Promise (Gal 3:20) to show us that righteousness couldn’t come as a result of our trying to keep a moral Law (Gal 3:21), but rather to show us that we were all prisoners of sin (Gal 3:22), and so the Law kept us locked into that awareness that we were guilty before a Holy God as a result of our transgressions (Gal 3:23), so that we would be ready to receive the fulfillment of the Promise when that fulfillment happened, which was justification by faith in Christ (Gal 3:24). This is why the Law was added. This was the duty of the Law in its operation as a pedagogue. The Law’s function was to clearly demonstrate the sinfulness of fallen man so that man would come to understand that justification was impossible through any means other than the placing of our faith in the Lord Jesus.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
* But after that faith is come, *
See my earlier notes concerning this “faith” (Gal 3:23). Paul most often used the word “law” to refer to just the actual Law, the commandments (the system of moral laws and sacrifices) that God gave to Moses for the people of Israel (Rom 2:13; 4:13; 3:28; 9:30-32; Gal 2:16,19; 3:10-13; 5:4), but sometimes he used that term to refer to the Pentateuch, which is the first five books of the Old Testament, including Genesis, which is the history of the world before Moses (Gal 4:21-31), and other times he used it to refer to the entire Old Testament, which is primarily the economy of the Law (Rom 3:10-19). In the same way he uses the word “faith” to refer to the actual faith we place in the Lord Jesus to receive justification (Rom 3:25-26; 4:5; 10:9-10), and at other times to refer to the entire economy of the Gospel, not just the act of receiving Christ as our Savior, but the method by which we walk in Him, and grow up in Him (Gal 3:2-3). In the case of his current teaching in this Chapter he’s instructing the Galatians that spiritual growth occurs the same way that salvation does (Galatians 3:2-3), so he’s referring to faith in the sense of the total economy of the Gospel, as a way of life. Faith has come! We now live differently than we lived before this faith came.
* we *
The “we” being referred to here is probably referring to the same thing it referred to earlier in the Chapter (Gal 3:23), but in another way it refers to you and I who have placed our faith in the Lord Jesus, rather Jew or Gentile. Though we Gentiles were never under the economy of the Jewish Law the moral laws of God contained in the commandments of Moses have influenced many societies, certainly the society of the United States of America. The Old Testament Law heavily influenced the laws that our forefathers gave us. Consequently, the Mosaic Law influenced the “right” and “wrong” that our parents taught us. The God-given conscience of each of us was shaped by the morality of our country, and our parents, and what they taught us was influenced by the Law God gave Moses. The Law, the Mosaic Law given to the Jews and the Law of the conscience given to the rest of us, has done its assigned job of bringing us to the awareness of our guilt before a Holy God, thus causing us to flee to Jesus for salvation.
Wycliffe says, “The disciplinary function of the Law, in the historic sense, ceased with the coming of Christ. But the Law may still operate in an individual life to create a sense of sin and need, thus preparing the heart to turn to Christ.”
For those of you who are not included in the “we” of this verse, those of you who have not come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus, the Law is still functioning to bring you to the awareness of your need for Jesus. A just God demands absolute obedience to His moral Law, and knowing that you and I were incapable of such a degree of obedience, He sent His only Son to obey the Law in our stead, so that when you receive Him into your lives His absolute obedience is credited to your account (Rom 4:23-25; 5:19; II Cor 5:21). The Law’s function is to cause you to recognize that you have broken the moral Law of God, and that the only way left to you to be acceptable to a just God is the way of faith. When you believe in the Lord Jesus as your Savior, and put your faith in Him, God, as Judge, declares you to be righteous in the courtroom of Heaven. The degree of the Court becomes the Law of Heaven, and you are saved! At that point the function of the Law ceases in your life and you enter into the economy of the Gospel.
* are no longer under a schoolmaster. *
The entire purpose for this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers is to show them that the economy of the Law has ended, and that the economy of the Gospel has begun. The Law served its purpose, and it was the purpose God assigned to it (Gal 3:19-24). Its function was an interim function, functioning between the giving of the Promise to Abraham and the ongoing fulfillment of that Promise in the Lord Jesus, the Promised Seed (Gal 3:16). With the arrival of the Promised Seed the inheritance of the Promise went into effect, and the economy of the Gospel began. With the Gospel economy beginning, the economy of the Law ended. It no longer serves as our pedagogue (current verse)! We are no longer under the Law (Rom 6:14)!
As we’ll see in the next chapter (Gal 4:1-7) the fulfillment of the Promise in Christ has caused His followers to become full heirs, no longer under the authority of the pedagogue. In Christ we have become children of full age, those who have access to all the Promise (the inheritance).
Scofield comments, “The adult ‘son’ does voluntarily that which formerly he did in fear of the pedagogue. But even if he does not, it is no longer a question between the son and the pedagogue (the law), but between the son and his Father–God.”
As children of God under the economy of the Gospel we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and we now do by nature the things contained in the Law (Rom 2:14-15), having been created to do such things (Eph 2:10), because the moral Law of God, in this dispensation of the New Covenant, is now written on our hearts and minds (Heb 8:10). As adult children we walk out the morality, the ideology, the passions of our Father, not because we fear punishment if we disobey, but because those things have become a part of the “who we are” through His influence in our lives. Our Heavenly Father has shaped us in the same way that good parents shape, and influence, their children. Our love for our Father, and our relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus, causes us to want to please Him.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
* For ye are all the children of God *
Concerning the word “children,” Wuest says, “The word translated children is huios and is the important word here. This word signifies someone of full age. Under law, the individual was in his minority and under a guardian. Now, under grace, he has attained his majority, having outgrown the surveillance of his former guardian.”
This statement is leading up to his illustration in next chapter (Gal 4:1-7). The fact that the fulfillment of the Promise has come implies that the appointed time of the Father has been met (Gal 4:2,4), which means we have reached legal age. We are now full-grown children of God, and are now free of the restrictions of having to operate under the guidance of a pedagogue.
The Scripture has concluded “all,” both Jew and Gentile, under sin (Gal 3:22), and so the Law kept the “we” (Gal 3:23), Paul and other Jews under lock and key, but after “the faith” came, the “we” (Jews) are no longer under lock and key (Gal 3:25), but now “ye all,” both Jew and Gentile, are full grown sons of God (our current verse), who are free of the pedagogue.
Paul wants the Gentile believers in Galatia to understand that they shouldn’t adopt the Law as the economy under which they will live for Jesus, because that economy has run its course even in the lives of the believing Jews. Faith has come! All believers, Jew and Gentile, now live under the economy of the Gospel.
* by faith in Christ Jesus. *
This all happens as a result of our faith in the Lord Jesus! Not only are we justified by this faith (Gal 3:8), and free from the Law, the pedagogue, as a result of this faith (Gal 3:23-25), but now we discover that we are the children of God, and the children of Promise, as a result of this faith; and not just children, but full-grown children who have reached the age of full inheritance.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
* For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ *
Let’s remember what he’s talking about at this point of his argument, namely, that through our faith in the Lord Jesus we were born again into the state of being full-grown sons who have no need of the Law, or a pedagogue (Gal 3:23-26). He’s now about to explain how this phenomenon happened.
Does being “baptized into Christ” mean that we aren’t saved until a minister immerses us into water in the name of the Lord Jesus? After we repent and put our faith in Christ, is baptism necessary to complete the deal? Is it the final step of our being saved? Is that what this passage is teaching us? The doctrine of “baptismal regeneration” is, of all those doctrines I disagree with, the one that I respect the most. Those who teach this have presented us a well thought-out ideology, based on several verses of the New Testament. Certainly there are many Scriptures that would seem to teach this very thing, but I don’t believe that this doctrine will stand the scrutiny of the rightly divided Word of God. I’m convinced that every one of those passages they use can be explained by the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but the myriad of Scriptures that teach justification by faith cannot be satisfactory explained by the doctrine of “baptismal regeneration.” This is why I don’t agree with that doctrine. However, if that’s not what our current verse is teaching, then what’s it saying to us?
Remember that the author of this verse, the Apostle Paul, is the same one who wrote, under the same inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that he was debtor to all men (Rom 1:14) to preach to them the Gospel (Rom 1:15), the Gospel that’s the very power of God to save us (Rom 1:16), and to reveal to us that we have a position of right-standing with God (Rom 1:17). He was passionate about seeing others come to a saving faith in Christ (Rom 9:1-3; 10:1; 1 Cor 9:20-22), and so he says that sharing the Gospel that saves was the very reason God sent him to preach (1 Cor 1:17). He goes on to tell the Corinthian believers the same thing that he told the Roman believers, that this Gospel message, this preaching of the cross, is the very power of God that saves (1 Cor 1:18; Rom 1:16). But wait! Notice what else he says to the Corinthians. This man who was sent by God to preach the Gospel that saves says that he wasn’t sent to baptize (1 Cor 1:17). Read that again! He was sent to preach the Gospel, but he wasn’t sent to baptize. By saying that, he separated the doctrine of water baptism, which is a sound New Testament doctrine, from the doctrine of the Gospel. If water baptism is part of the Gospel message that saves the believing sinner, then you can’t be sent to preach the Gospel, and not sent to baptize, and yet Paul was. I’m not preaching a saving Gospel if I’m not baptizing those who believe, if baptism is necessary for one to be saved. In that case, I’m leaving town without winning the lost. Do you believe that’s what Paul did? Also, notice what else this great evangelist said. He thanked God that he had only baptized a hand full of all the Corinthian believers (1 Cor 1:14)! If you believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation, then you have to believe that this minister who was passionate for the lost was thanking God that he hadn’t personally led any of them to Christ. Is that what you believe? It’s not what I believe!
I believe the New Testament teaches that there are three baptisms. I’m convinced that when we’re born again the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 12:13). At some point following our conversion a minister baptizes us into water (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12-16,36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15,30-33; 18:8; 19:1-5; 22:12-16), and the Lord Jesus baptizes us into the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). In those verses concerning John, the Baptist, he shows us that baptism with water and baptism with the Holy Spirit are two different things. In other words, when the Scriptures speak about baptism they’re not always referring to water baptism. When Paul speaks to the believers in Rome about being baptized into the Lord Jesus (Rom 6:3-4), and to the Galatian believers, in our current passage, he’s not speaking about water baptism, but about the Holy Spirit baptizing us into the very body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). Of this, Wuest says, “Paul now reminds them of how they became united with Christ. When they put their faith in Him as Saviour, the Holy Spirit baptized (introduced or placed) them into vital union with Christ (Rom 6:3; 1 Cor 12:13). The reference cannot be to water baptism, for that never put a believing sinner in Christ. The Greek word baptizo means “to put or place into.”
NOTE: Whenever possible, sound doctrine should be established by a verse-by-verse look at Scripture, such as beginning at chapter three, verse one, and continuing to the end of the chapter. If our doctrine is formed by looking at one verse in one chapter, and then another verse in another chapter, and then another verse elsewhere, and so on and so on, I believe we have a greater chance to be in error. By a verse-by-verse look at chapter three we easily discover that justification is a result of our believing in the Lord Jesus. Paul is not going to disprove in one verse what he’s taken so long to establish in the previous verses. Faith in Christ, and nothing else, is what brings us to salvation!
* have put on Christ. *
His purpose is to show us that we are in Christ, and consequently, in that position of being “in Christ” we are full-grown sons of God who no longer have a need to be under a pedagogue. When you were born-again, born of the Spirit (John 3:3-7), you were baptized into Jesus by the Spirit. You became “in Christ,” and every passage of Scripture that speaks of the benefits of being “in Him” refers to you. Our life is now hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3), in answer to the prayer of the Lord Jesus (John 17:21). We have put on the Lord Jesus, and He now lives in us (Gal 2:20), and we live in Him!
This “putting on Christ” is important as Paul ties all these things together in the final two verses of this chapter.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
* There is neither Jew nor Greek, *
Now that justifying faith has come (Gal 3:25) all believers are in the spiritual position of being mature children of God (Gal 3:26), those who are no longer in need to be under the care of a pedagogue (Gal 3:24), because the Holy Spirit has placed us into Jesus (Gal 3:27). In this position of being “in Him” there is no distinction between the members of His body in regards to nationality. This is an important point for the Apostle to make because the Jew had been brought up believing that the Jewish people were the unique children of the One true God. And before the cross of Christ that was absolutely true, and we Gentiles were on the outside looking in (Eph 2:11-12). But thank God, now we, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, have become part of, together with all Jewish believers, one new man in Christ (Eph 2:13-16), and fellow-citizens with those Jews, and partakers of the Promise, and members together in God’s household (Eph 2:19; 3:7), which is being built together for a dwelling in which God, through His Holy Spirit, lives (Eph 2:20-22). This was the very mystery that Paul preached (Eph 3:1-7). Now, in Christ, all who are saved are “members in particular” in the same body (1 Cor 12:27). No one has special privilege as a result of being born a Jew, but all, Jew and Gentile alike, whose faith is in Christ have become one “in Him.”
* there is neither bond nor free, *
It doesn’t matter to God if you’re a slave or a person who was born free! What matters to Him is your placing your faith in Him. “In Him” there are no social differences! How many black Americans who were slaves to rich white families in the darkest time of our history were far richer than those who “owned” them? Many of them are singing their spiritual songs in Heaven today, while many of their “owners” are suffering eternal separation from God. Why? Because the only currency God is interested in is our faith! Our wealth doesn’t impress God! Our power over others doesn’t impress God! Our sufferings at the hands of oppressors won’t earn Heaven! God wants people, regardless of their situation in this life, good or bad, to understand that Jesus is the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12).
In the sphere of being “in Him” there’s no rich or poor, only members together in Christ.
* there is neither male nor female: *
There are no distinctions of nationality, and no social classes in Christ. Now he tells us that there’s no battle of the sexes in Him. Women have the same privileges in Christ that men do! They too are members in particular in the body of Christ, fellow-heirs of the promises, and fellow-citizens in this peculiar nation that has been formed “in Him” (Hos 2:23; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
NOTE: In most of human history there have been slaves, and women have been second-class citizens, expected to submit to their husbands, and in some cultures, to all men, beyond the boundaries of the Scripture. Unfortunately, we still see those things in certain parts of our world today. As you study the Scriptures you’ll see that the instruction given to those in unfortunate situations was to serve the Lord. Slaves were told to be good slaves (Eph 6:5-6; Col 3:22; 1 Tim 6:1; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-21) and wives were told to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-6), without regard to what kind of scoundrel they might be. Thank God that the slave “owners” were told to treat their slaves well (1 Tim 6:2; Col 4:1), and husbands were told to love their wives (Eph 5:25-28; Col 3:19), but why didn’t God tell the slaves to revolt and the wives to put their lousy husbands in their place? The eternal God sees all the inequities in life as a result of sin (Rom 5:12; 1:18-32), but from his perspective of eternity He sees the sufferings brought to bear upon humanity as a result of sin, in this case, the sin of the oppressor, as temporary, and He desires all who are saved to suffer whatever’s necessary to promote the Gospel to the unsaved (1 Cor 6:1-8; Rom 12:19-21). Paul, by revelation, got a glimpse of eternity and said that all the horrible things he suffered weren’t worthy to be compared with what’s ahead for the believer in eternity (Rom 8:18), and from that perspective referred to his sufferings (2 Cor 11:21-29) as “light affliction” (2 Cor 4:16-18). Wow! He was in prison when he wrote to the Ephesians, but he didn’t want to talk about that because he wanted to talk about how God, from eternity past, had the church in mind (Eph 1:4-14; 3:8-12), and how God will demonstrate the incomparable riches and wisdom of His grace, to His angels, for an eternity future by being kind to us (Eph 2:7; 3:10).
If this life is sometimes brutal to you, remember that a million years from now you will have been experiencing the kindness that God, Who loves you, will have been lavishing on you for those million years, minus the few years you have left in this life. Think about it! The God Who created everything will be finding creative ways to show His kindness to you for an eternity.
* for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. *
Why is there neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, or male nor female? Because when the Holy Spirit placed you into Jesus (Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13) your identity changed. Your identity is no longer based on your nationality, it’s no longer based on your social standing, and it’s no longer based on rather you’re a man or a woman. You are “in Him!” That’s your identity.
When your mother gave birth to you your identity was with Adam (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Cor 15:45-49). You were born into the human family, that family which came from Adam, as a Jew or a Gentile, as a freeman or a slave, as a man or a woman. You were born into Adam. When he sinned, you sinned (Rom 5:12,19), when he died, you died (Rom 5:12,15), and when he was judged and condemned, you were judged and condemned
(Rom 5:16,18). Why? Because we were all one in Adam! Adam was our identity! Adam is the father of all mankind, and so, rather Jew or Greek, rather bond or free, rather male or female, we were “in Adam.” All we had to do to be “in Adam” was to be born!
Adam is not our identity any longer! We are now “in Jesus!” How did that happen? We were born-again, a work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-7). First, we were born into Adam, and then we were born-again into Jesus. Jesus is now our identity. We are all one “in Him.” When He obeyed we were counted righteous (Rom 5:19), when He died to sin, we died to sin (Rom 6:10-12), when He rose again, we entered into a new life (Rom 6:4), one where we live for Him a new way (Rom 7:6), by walking in His Spirit (Gal 5:16). Paul shows us that God blessing all nations through Abraham as a fulfillment of His Promise is the act wherewith He justifies the believing sinner (Gal 3:8). When we placed our faith in Christ we were justified, the act wherewith a Holy God, as Judge, declared the believing sinner to be righteous. When we were justified we were baptized, or placed, into Jesus by the Holy Spirit. God justified us when our response to His grace was faith, and when we were justified our identity changed from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ.”
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
* And if ye be Christ’s, *
In the last two verses he has shown us that when we were baptized into Christ we put on Christ (Gal 3:27), and now we are one in Christ with all believers (Gal 3:28), and therefore, according to our current verse, we are Christ’s. Paul sees all believers as belonging to Christ (Gal 5:24; 1 Cor 3:23; 15:23; 2 Cor 10:7) by virtue of His having purchased us with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20), when He redeemed us from our slavery to sin (Titus 2:14) and the Law (Gal 3:13). We believers have become, in Christ, the holy temple of the Lord in which God, by His Spirit, inhabits (Eph 2:19-22) by dwelling in our hearts (Eph 3:17). The word “dwell” in that verse means, “to house permanently” [Strong’s Concordance]. We are Christ’s property by virtue of His purchasing us with a price, and we are His home by virtue of His “housing permanently” in us. We are Christ’s!
* then are ye Abraham’s seed, *
Why has the Apostle pointed these things out to his readers? Why do we need to understand that we are “in Christ?” He had taught us earlier in this chapter that the promises God gave Abraham were to him and his “one” Seed, that Seed being Jesus (Gal 3:16).
The promises God gave to Abraham concerning his being a father of many nations were partially fulfilled when three, and possibly four, of his sons fathered nations [1.) Isaac (Gen 17:21), the father of Jacob (Gen 25:21-26), whose name was changed to Israel (Gen 32:24-29), and whose twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel (Gen 49:1-28), 2.) Ishmael, the father of the Ishmaelites (Gen 17:20; 37:25-28; 39:1), and 3.) Midian, the father of the Midianites (Gen 25:1-4; 37:28; Judg 6:1-11), and then maybe 4.) Jokshan, the father of Sheba, possibly the father of the nation that produced the Queen of Sheba (Gen 25:1-3; 1 Kings 10:1-10). Certainly God’s promise to give Abraham, and his seed, the Promise Land were to him and his natural seed through Isaac, Israel (Gen 12:6-7; 13:14-17; 15:18-21) in some great part, and those promises began their fulfillment when Israel crossed over the Jordan River (Josh 3:7-17). However, those promises will find their “everlasting” fulfillment (Gen 17:7) through Abraham’s spiritual seed, the Church, whose members are the children of Promise (Gal 4:21-31), and we, the Church, also make up a nation whose father is Abraham (Rom 4:16; 1 Peter 2:4-10), and we will live and reign with Christ from the New Jerusalem (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-28; 3:12; 21:1-7,9-10;), which I believe will set down in the Promised Land. Having said these things, the main Promises that Paul seems to have in mind in his writings are that Abraham, and his seed, should be heir of the world (Rom 4:13) and that all nations would be blessed through him (Gal 3:8). In the first he’s probably referring to the Promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations, because he refers to that a few verses later (Rom 4:17), and in the second he’s referring to God blessing the nations through Abraham by justifying the heathen through faith (Gal 3:8). Paul looks, by revelation, at these Promises from the perspective of the eternal purpose of God, which purpose is the Church (Eph 1:4-11; 3:1-11). He sees the Church as the fulfillment of the Promise that Abraham, and his seed, would inherit the world, which concerns the Promise that he would be the father of many nations (Rom 4:13,17), and he sees the Church as the fulfillment of the Promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham as a result of God justifying the heathen (Gentiles) through their faith in Christ (Gal 3:8).
How can we, the Church, be the fulfillment of these Promises? How can we be Abraham’s seed when Paul already stated that the Seed of Abraham was singular, and that it was Christ (Gal 3:16)? Because we are “in Christ!” The Lord Jesus is the Promised Heir, and we are “in Him.” All the Abrahamic Promises are fulfilled “in Him,” and we are “in Him.” We are joint-heirs with Him (Rom 8:17), and “in Him” all the blessings of His are ours (Eph 1:3)! We, the Church, are the seed of Abraham, and as such, are the heirs of the Promise (Eph 3:6)!
* and heirs according to the promise. *
This is the whole point of the Apostle’s. He wants the Galatian believers to see that the inheritance is in Christ, not in circumcision, and the subsequent keeping of the Law. He began this argument by stating that those who walk by faith are the real children of God (Gal 3:6-7), that they’re the ones who enter into the blessing of Abraham (Gal 3:9), that they receive the Promise of this blessing by faith (Gal 3:14), that this Promise is given to them that believe (Gal 3:22), that this faith has placed us into the sphere of being “in Him” (Gal 3:26-28), and the being “in Him” is what causes us to be the heirs of the Promise.
The Galatians were being foolish (Gal 3:1) by considering abandoning the walk of faith, and trusting instead in circumcision, and keeping the Law. The Judaizers were misleading them with religious lies, lies that stated the only way a Gentile believer could become an heir to the Promise given to Abraham is by converting to Judaism. Paul is showing them that, in fact, the only way to be an heir, rather Jew or Gentile, is by being baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13). The walk of faith is the only way to be a part of the lineage of Abraham who will inherit the Promise. Being born a Jew will gain one some advantage in the temporary inheritance of the Promised Land, but even the Jew must be born again “into Jesus” to be an heir of the “everlasting” portion of the Covenant (Gen 17:7). The eternal blessings belong to those who are born into the eternal purpose of God, the Church, the body of Christ.
Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church