1. Theme: The faith of Jesus Christ
2. Key Verse: Galatians 2:16
This outline partitions Galatians into sections of verses, but does not include a comment upon every verse within each section.
I. The Exclusive Gospel of Faith * Gal. 1:1-9
A. God brings His Gospel of grace and peace (Gal. 1:3,4)
B. Anyone who brings another gospel is cursed (Gal. 1:8,9)
II. The Source of the Gospel of Faith * Gal. 1:10 - 2:2
A. The Gospel came from God (Gal. 1:12)
B. The Gospel was not a product of Paul's Jewish training (Gal. 1:13)
C. The Gospel was not a tradition that was invented by and handed down from the apostles (Gal. 1:17)
III. The Challenges to the Gospel of Faith * Gal. 2:3-14
A. One challenge is from unbelievers who attempt to distort the Gospel by the crafty lies (Gal. 2:4)
B. Another challenge is from believers who, under pressure, attempt to compromise (Gal. 2:13,14)
IV. The Gospel of Faith * Gal. 2:15-21
A. A man is just, not out of obedience to the Law, but by grace through Christ's own faith (Gal. 2:16)
B. A man who is made just by grace continues to live in Christ's own faith (Gal. 2:20)
V. The Curse of the Law and the Blessing of Faith * Gal. 3:1-18
A. The Gospel is not part works of the Law and part faith (Gal. 3:3)
B. The Gospel was always only faith (Gal. 3:7)
C. The works of the Law bring a curse (Gal. 3:10)
D. Jesus Christ removes the curse (Gal. 3:13)
E. Jesus Christ gives the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:14)
F. Jesus Christ confirmed the covenant (Gal. 3:17)
G. Jesus Christ promised an inheritance (Gal. 3:18)
VI. The Value of the Law * Gal. 3:19-24
A. The Law teaches us about our sin (Gal. 3:19,22)
B. The Law teaches us about Christ's faith (Gal. 3:22-24)
VII. The Value of Faith * Gal. 3:25 - 4:7
A. Faith results in redemption (Gal. 3:27, 4:5)
B. Faith results in an inheritance (Gal. 3:29, 4:7)
VIII. The Bondage of the Law * Gal. 4:8-30
A. Those under the Law are enemies of the heirs (Gal. 4:16,29)
B. Those under the Law do not receive an inheritance (Gal. 4:11,30)
IX. The Freedom of Faith * Gal. 4:31 - 5:6
A. There is freedom from the obligation to obey the Law for righteousness (Gal. 5:3)
B. There is freedom from condemnation (Gal. 5:5)
X. The Obligation of Faith * Gal. 5:7 - 6:10
A. Those who live by faith do not give mind to those who live by the Law (Gal. 5:10)
B. Those who live by faith fulfill the Law by love (Gal. 5:13,14)
C. Those who live by faith maintain a holy walk (Gal. 5:16,25)
D. Those who live by faith help others in their walk (Gal. 6:2,10)
4. General Comments
Although the conflicts in doctrine and in the life of the people in the Galatian churches are found on every page of this letter, it is really God Himself who dominates it. Galatians is about His gospel and about His faith that makes His blessings real in the lives of His people.
We read about the faithlessness of many of the members of the Galatian churches. So easily they abandoned the true Gospel of grace alone and listened to those who preached that works are an additional requirement for justification (Gal. 1:6, 4:10,11). Yet we also read about the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:20). That is, He is faithful to His promises to save and keep His people (Gal. 5:10), and His faith works in His people to make them fruitful (Gal. 5:22,23).
We read that many of the members easily embraced the idea that they must contribute works of the Law to complete their salvation (Gal. 3:3). Yet we also read how God graciously uses the Law to teach men about their sin (Rom. 3:19, Gal. 3:19) and their total dependence upon Christ for salvation (Gal. 3:24).
We read about how foolishly men submitted to the bondage of the Law (Gal. 5:1,7). We also read how the faith of Christ frees them from the condemnation of the Law and the oppressive obligation to obey it to be right before God (Gal. 3:11-13).
In addition, we read that the false members of the churches, who desired to justify themselves by their own works of the Law, zealously campaigned to recruit others to do the same, desiring to vindicate their teaching and boast in the following they gathered (Gal. 6:13). They used false guilt (Gal. 1:7) and flattery (Gal. 4:17) to sway others and try to turn the church members against the messengers of the true Gospel (Gal. 4:16). They taught that the Gospel of Christ is not sufficient (Gal. 3:3). They promised freedom, yet were themselves slaves of the flesh and sought to put others in bondage as well (Gal. 4:9). Their message, motivation and methods were evil and they seemed to be so successful. Yet we read that Jesus' wrath is kindled (Gal. 1:8,9, 5:12). The honor of true Gospel and the spiritual condition of God's people is important to Him. He will not only be faithful to His promise to keep His people (Gal. 3:29, 4:3-7), but will also be faithful to His promise to judge the wicked (Gal. 5:10, 6:7,8).
If we stop and think about it, it seems strange that anyone would resist the offer of freedom through the Gospel of grace (Gal. 5:1). In addition, it is quite a surprise that a person who seems to be a Christian would desire to turn from the freedom which he experienced in salvation by grace through faith and yearn to be under the bondage of ritual (Gal. 4:8,9).
People resist the Gospel for many reasons. But all the reasons are really one, namely, a great desire to preserve their ego and pride. The true Gospel allows absolutely no contribution by people in salvation. The Gospel says that people do all that is bad and God does all that is good. The Gospel says people can do nothing to save themselves and God must do it all. In addition, peoples' resistance to the Gospel of grace apart from works is fueled by their trust in this physical world and their willingness to serve it (Gal. 4:8). The Gospel says that this physical world has nothing to do with and is indeed the enemy of those who are spiritual (Gal. 4:29, 5:17).
Still we have a puzzle. How could a member of the Christian church get involved in a Gospel of works? Of course, there are always false brethren in the church (Gal.2:4). In some cases, people who turn from the true Gospel were never saved in the first place. However, at times, true believers do show real weakness (Gal. 2:11-13). We all know that we have often let others down in our Christian walk. Every Christian has at times disappointed His Lord Jesus. In fact, sometimes Christians even disappoint themselves. Believers still live in their bodies and must struggle against the appeal of the world and the propensity of their flesh to fulfill its desires (Rom. 7:18,22,23, Gal. 6:8,9). However, believers must keep in mind that they have a new life in them (Gal. 2:20). Just as they did not atone for their sin by means of their own works, they do not face their struggles in this world on their own. They have the Spirit of God that gives them the right motive (Gal. 5:13,14) and all the power (Gal. 5:16-18, 22-25) to obey God and glorify Him.
Galatians reveals the treacherous journey of a Christian in his life on earth on his way to Heaven. In some ways, it is scary if we think about the weaknesses of a Christian as he lives in his physical body and as we think about the many attempts of false teachers to try to turn him away from the true Gospel. Even though a true believer need not fear that he will be lost in the social and religious jungle of his day, he must realize that he can stumble and temporarily lose sight of his original goal as well as the proper path to walk. As it turns out, the greatest danger for a Christian is not the appeal of false teachers or the joys of this sin cursed world, but the pull of his own flesh to focus upon them.
One important message of Galatians is that Jesus Christ lives in all true believers, and they have the power to be as faithful as He is. They do not have to be captivated by the song of another gospel. They are free to serve God without the shadow of condemnation over them. The message of Galatians is meant to help those who are members of the Christian churches see the folly of listening to any other gospel than the true Gospel of grace alone. The message is strong (Gal. 3:1-4, 4:11) because the stakes are high (Gal. 6:3-5). As always, the strength of the rebuke is an indication of God's spiritual concern (4:19,20). No one else has the same spiritual concern for the church that God does (Gal. 6:18).
Although the Galatian letter deals with an attempt by some Jews to convince church members that their salvation is incomplete without works of the Law, such as circumcision, this grievous error can be found within churches today. The form of the appeal to add works to the Gospel of grace changes, but the objective and motivation of that perversion of the Gospel is still the same, as is the peril it brings to anyone who listens to and follows it. For example, some people think that the sacrament of water baptism is an essential part of salvation. For some people, good deeds, such as giving alms or involvement in some church or social program is an essential part of salvation. Some people believe that faithful church attendance contributes to a right relation with God. Some people believe that salvation is a combination of God's work on the cross and their work of faith. Their idea is that God has done all that He can do, He has taken a giant step toward men and now it is up to each person to take a small step toward God by choosing for God and giving his live to Jesus. However, the message of Galatians, and all of the Bible, is that salvation is totally the work of God, and man cannot do and does nothing at all to help himself. In fact, salvation is a work that God conceives and completes before creation. History is the unfolding of the promise of God to save His own according to His own plan and in His own time (Gal. 4:4,5,28).
5. Observations on Specific Verses
a) Galatians 1:6,7
Galatians 1:6 and 7 introduce the main ideas of this book. Paul believed that many in Galatia were called by God to salvation, but after he left them, some listened to and quickly followed the words of false teachers. Paul was amazed after he learned how some members of the Galatian churches had forsaken the Gospel of grace alone.
The false teachers "troubled" the members which, in light of John 12:27, means that some of the members were led to believe that they were still under the wrath of God. The false teachers tried to "pervert" the Gospel of Christ. By comparison of the word "pervert" in Galatians 1:7 with its use in Acts 2:20 ("shall be turned") and James 4:9 ("be turned"), we see that the objective of the false teachers was to turn the Gospel of Christ into a gospel of darkness and mourning. That is, they wanted to convince the Galatian church members that the Gospel of Christ leaves men in darkness, without any answer for their sin, and causes them to mourn, having no hope in the face of the crushing demands of the Law. The false teachers made some believe that salvation by grace through faith apart from works, the Gospel which Paul preached, was inadequate and still left them unjust before God. What an awful distortion and misrepresentation of the true Gospel. Who could blame Paul for his sharp rebuke of those false teachers (Gal. 1:8,9, 5:12)? No wonder Paul writes so strongly against the foolishness of the Galatians who removed themselves from Christ (Gal. 3:1-4, 4:8-21).
The message of works which false teachers bring appeals to many church members. Some church members are not saved and welcome the chance to gain some credit for their imagined righteousness. Some church members are confused because they are new believers and the appeal of the old life is still sometimes strong (as was the case in the Galatian churches) or because they have neglected to grow in the Word of God and are for a time susceptible to the persuasion of false teachers. Some church members are fearful because they focus too much on this world and too little upon the Lord Jesus.
This letter describes the unbelievable and terrible situation that false teachers were apparently successful in making some members of the Galatian churches doubt their standing before God, even though the members had joined the churches because they said that they trusted in Jesus. This tells us something about the weakness of these church members and about the weakness of church members today. Church members who are not true believers show their weakness and their true loyalty as they abandon the Gospel for something that later on that fits their own wishes.
However, Galatians also reminds us of the weakness of church members who are true believers. True believers may for a while be influenced by wrong teaching but they will eventually be brought out of it. This temporary folly is not a contradiction to John 10:5 but a reminder of Romans 7:18-25 and II Corinthians 4:7. The fickleness and unfaithfulness of men is still part of Christians as long as they are living in their bodies. Believers know quite well how often they fail their Lord in thought, word and deed. They are constantly reminded of their need for the wisdom and strength of their Savior and learn that God's mercies are new every day. False brothers will persist in the delusion which false teaching brings and excuse themselves when faced with the truth, while true believers will be sensitive to the rebukes of a spiritual friend and turn from their folly. Christians walk faithfully only because Jesus lives in them (Gal. 2:20). Christians eventually demonstrate the evidence of salvation by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit who alone can produce the fruit of righteousness (Gal. 5:22-25).
This terrible situation also tells us something about the false teachers. Their success was partly due to their methods. In Galatians 4:17, we learn that they "zealously affect you," meaning that they courted the church members, pleasing the church members with their words and actions. But these false teachers had evil intentions, desiring to exclude the church members from the Gospel of grace and create in the church members an affection for their false ways. The false teachers were driven by a lust for followers because of their big ego and because of their need for a large following to vindicate their teaching (Gal. 6:13). These false teachers had neither the courage nor the wisdom to confront the Gospel head on. They were sneaky (Gal. 2:4). Their success was also partly due to the content of their false message. They boldly tried to convince the Galatian church members that justification before God required works of the Law in addition to faith. That is, they tried to create confidence in their false gospel by creating doubt in and discontent with the true Gospel.
b) Galatians 1:16 - 2:1
Let us try to reconcile these verses with the historical information given to us in the Bible.
First of all, we shall examine Galatians 2:1. Can we fit this visit of Paul to Jerusalem into the book of Acts? The word "again" is an important clue. It eliminates Acts 9:26-29 as a candidate for the historical description of Galatians 2:1. Acts 9:26-29 tells us what happened the first time Paul went to Jerusalem after he was saved, but Galatians 2:1 refers to a time when Paul visited Jerusalem "again," that is, a visit after his first visit since becoming a Christian. We must also eliminate Acts 15 as the historical reference to Galatians 2:1 because Acts 15 describes a meeting that took place after Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned and had finished their first missionary journey to the heathen (Acts 13,14), whereas the events described in Galatians 2 occurred before they left for their first missionary journey (Gal. 2:9). In addition, the events described beginning with Acts 21:15 do not mention Barnabas at all, so that part of Acts does not fit together with Galatians 2. The only part of Acts that does match Galatians 2:1 is the portion from Acts 11:30 to Acts 12:25. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the events of Acts 11:30 to Acts 12:25 occurred before Peter's confident speech in Acts 15:5-11, which he probably would not have made if he was as weak as Galatians 2 portrays him to be.
Now we are able to include Galatians 1:16-24 into our discussion and get a more complete idea of the sequence of events in Paul's early years as a Christian. Although Acts 9:26 gives the impression that after Paul escaped from Damascus he went directly to Jerusalem, Galatians 1:16-18 tells us that there were three years between the events of Acts 9:25 and 26. In these three years Paul did not visit with other Christian leaders but spend time in Arabia. Isolated from other Christians, he probably used the time to think out all that he had learned in the Old Testament and to try to reconcile it to Jesus' ministry on the earth. Next we learn from Galatians 1:18-20 that the events of Acts 9:26-28, describing Paul's first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion, take place over 15 days. Finally, we learn that from Galatians 1:21 - 2:1 that, the events described from Acts 9:29-31 to Paul's second visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30, took a total of 14 years. It was only after all of this that God sent Paul upon his missionary journeys (Acts 12:24 - 13:3), as He said He would (Acts 9:15).
Incidentally, it is interesting how Paul's physical journeys immediately after his conversion picture his spiritual journey. First of all, he says that he "conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem" which ties Jerusalem in this verse with a physical earthly Jerusalem, an institution that supported, not God's Gospel of grace, but men's gospel of works. Spiritually, Paul is saying that he did not seek justification from the bondage of a gospel of works (Gal. 4:25), of trying to obey the Law to be just before God. Instead he went to Arabia, that is, to the Law (Gal. 4:25). The spiritual point here is that Paul faced the truth that he was a bankrupt sinner with no personal way to help himself and that he learned from the Law that he needed the grace of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:19,23,24). Next, he returned again to Damascus, which is associated with his first encounter with Jesus Christ. This means, spiritually, that Paul, who had forsaken Jesus in the sense that as part of Adam's race he turned from his Creator, now returned again to Jesus as the Law instructed him to. Finally, we read that Paul went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, beyond the borders of Israel. Spiritually, this tells us that after Paul was saved, he served God in a far better way than he had before, for he went into the world with the Gospel of grace and "preached the faith" (Gal. 1:21-23). The result of all of this was that God was glorified (Gal. 1:24), the ultimate purpose of every one's salvation (Eph. 1:5,6,11,12).
We ought to add a few words about Paul's emphasis upon his unique revelation (Gal. 1:12). For one thing, it showed that Paul wrote with authority. That was important because he wanted the greatest spiritual benefit for the members of the Galatian churches. Negatively, any quarrel with Paul was really a quarrel with God. Positively, if they took heed to what Paul wrote, they would inherit God's richest blessings.
For another thing, Paul's emphasis upon his unique revelation showed that even though he was a late-comer to the Gospel in comparison to others who had spent time with Jesus while He lived on the earth, his emphasis of grace apart from works was not a message he picked up second or third hand nor was his repudiation of works his own distorted idea of the Gospel. He had received this gospel from Jesus Himself.
Paul understood the inner conflict of some in the churches and his counsel in this letter was the best medicine. After all, Paul also used to trust in a gospel of works, and it took the grace of God to change him. He understood the motivation of those who were troubling the members of the Galatian churches by trying to transform the Gospel into a kind of Jewish sect that depended upon a combination of faith and works. He understood the desire of those who gladly received that perverted gospel because they wanted to zealously obey the Law for righteousness (Phil 3:6). But now Paul was preaching something entirely different. He was sometimes quite alone in his insistence upon a gospel of grace without works. To show that his message of salvation by grace through faith apart from works was the only true message, he included a description of the manner in which he received both the message and the commission to proclaim it.
c) Galatians 2:14-21
Peter was a Jew by birth. He had been trained to think that, according to the Law of God, there was an inseparable barrier between Jews and all the rest of the people of the world, called Gentiles. Peter had embraced his Jewish education so thoroughly that he even accepted laws that went beyond the Bible. For example, he stated in Acts 10:28 that it was unlawful, that is, it was against God's Law for "a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation," even though the Law only forbade covenants and marriages between Jews and Gentiles (Deut. 7:3,4).
God used extraordinary means to reeducate Peter (Acts 10). Although Peter learned the point that Jews and Gentiles were essentially the same kind of people before God (Acts 10:34,35), it took some time for him to hold that new idea with such conviction that he would not compromise in the face of opposition by those Jews who continued to insist that fellowship between Jews and Gentiles was only possible if the Gentiles became Jewish in their behavior. As we explained in point b) above, Peter made the bold statement in Acts 15:5-11 after the events described in Galatians 2:1 and following. In other words, Peter spoke with personal conviction that the Jews and Gentiles were one only after he had personally wrestled with his obedience to the fact that works of the Law did not have anything to do with a man's standing before God. Therefore, Galatians Chapter 2 records one of the episodes that reveal Peter's struggle, as he grew spiritually, prior to his strong stand in Acts 15.
We read in Galatians 2 that while in Antioch, Peter, among others, willingly disregarded Jewish laws such as those that separated Jews from Gentiles. But lacking the courage of commitment to the truth, he succumbed to the pressure of disapproval of certain Jews who later arrived in Antioch and criticized any Jewish members of the church who fellow-shipped with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11,12). In fact, his weak example led others to also act as if there was a difference between Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 2:13).
Before we continue in this discussion, we ought to point out that these verses illustrate that even respected church leaders can be wrong. With that in mind, we are reminded that our focus must never be upon a man and that the Bible is our only ultimate authority and trustworthy source of truth.
Paul recalls the incident because Peter's disobedience is similar to the foolishness of the Galatians, and Paul's answer to Peter applies to them as well. Let us first try to clearly define the problem among the Galatian churches so that we can properly understand the answer God gives through Paul, beginning in Galatians 2:15.
There is no evidence in the book of Galatians that there was an effort by some to imitate the error of the Jews in Antioch and separate the Jews and Gentiles who attended the same church. However, since some wanted all the church members to be circumcised, Gentiles as well as Jews (Gal. 6:13), we can conclude that the situation in Galatia was the same as it was in Antioch inasmuch as some believed that fellowship in the church required that the Gentiles become outwardly Jewish. In both cases, the Gentile members of the churches were compelled to observe Jewish laws in order for them to be included in the fellowship of the church. The problem was especially serious in the churches of Galatia, because in that case the issue was not simply a matter of fellowship between Jewish and Gentile church members, but rather, the issue was fellowship with God Himself. The law that Peter unwisely submitted to in Antioch was a Jewish law that did not exist in Scripture. However, the law that was forced upon the Gentile Galatian church members was the law of circumcision that was found the Bible. Therefore, by insisting that a man be circumcised, some Jewish members were really insisting that a man obey the Law to remain in fellowship in the church, in other words, a man must obey the Law to be right with God.
The problem in the Galatian churches was not that some believed there were two ways of being right with God, and two kinds of Christians. The issue was not that Jews had to obey the Law to be justified and that Gentiles were just by faith. Rather the problem was that some believed a right stand before God included both the work of the Spirit through faith and works of the Law (Gal. 3:3). The idea was that any gospel that excluded works was deficient, that unless the Gentile members of the Galatian churches were circumcised according to the Law, they were not completely right with God and not part of the church. Therefore the problem Paul dealt with is "Must the Gentiles conform to certain works of the law just as the Jews do in order to be right with God? What is the place of works of the Law in justification?"
Paul begins his reeducation of the Galatians by recalling that he asked Peter a question in order to force him to see the folly of his behavior. Paul reminded Peter that Peter had "lived after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews." In fact, it was common knowledge that he did so (Acts 11:1-3). When he looked at things from a spiritual point of view, Peter recognized that God had blessed the Gentiles as much as He had the Jews, and that the blessing came as a gift of God independent of any work on man's part (Acts 11:17,18). Peter not only willingly fellow-shipped with Gentiles, he lived without trying to please God or man by means of his personal obedience to the Law, just as the Gentile Christians lived. But under the duress of certain Jewish church members' criticism, Peter compelled Gentile church members to live as Jews, that is, as people who strictly obey the Law to be right with God (Gal. 2:14). How could Peter do that if he had not obeyed the Law in that way himself? Did Peter really think that the Gentiles had to catch up, so to speak, and achieve a behavioral record that many Jews had attained? Did Peter think that Gentile church members were missing a vital part of their salvation? Actually, as we learn in Galatians 2:12, Peter's motivation was not so complex or intellectual. He was simply afraid of those who insisted in obeying the Law.
Fear was also one of the reasons some in the Galatian churches insisted in conforming the Gentile members to the Jewish way of obeying the Law (Gal. 6:12). However, whatever the reason that some church members in Galatia succumbed to Jewish pressure, the fact was that false teachers in the Galatian churches had a definite gospel of their own to spread. Therefore, Paul felt compelled to meet that threat with a careful and logical presentation of some important principles about the Gospel of grace.
From Galatians 2:15 and 16, we learn that "We who are Jews by nature ..., even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law:" We could consider this statement to be part of Paul's answer to verse 14 and think of the word "we" as including Peter. Or we could consider this statement as being addressed to the Galatians and think of the word "we" as referring to all national Jews who became true believers. In either case, the idea is that the word "we" includes Paul himself. If anyone could gain any advantage from the fact that they were a Jew, it would be Paul (Gal. 1:14, Phil. 3:4-6). So what did Paul do? One thing is for sure, he did not rely on his heritage but trusted in Jesus Christ for his justification. Paul is making the point that if he does not claim any privileges based upon his birth, neither should anyone in the Galatian churches.
The words "Jews by nature" in Galatians 2:15 refer to those who were born into Jewish families. The significance is that Jews, unlike all other people of the world, are born under the codified Law (Rom. 9:4, Gal. 4:4). The greatest distinctive Jewish trait is that to them was entrusted the Law of God (Rom. 3:1,2). The words "and not sinners of the Gentiles" refers to the fact that Gentiles sinned without having an explicit knowledge of the Law of God, for they did not possess the Bible (Rom. 2:12). The idea of Galatians 2:15 is that the Jews, that is, those people who were physically born Jews in contrast to the Gentiles, sinned not as the Gentiles who did not have the Law, but sinned as people who had the Law in their possession. However, Paul, being one of the Jews who had the Law, realized that possessing the Law provided no help as he stood before God as a sinner. Instead, Paul knew that there was only one way to deal with his sin, and then proceeds to explain that way in the following verses.
Whatever anyone else might say, Paul knew that "a man is not justified by (out of) the works of the Law" (Gal. 2:16). The words "works of the Law" mean the attempt of a man to obey the Law in order to be just before God. That way of seeking righteousness is a disaster, for "by (out of) the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified," including those people who are Jews by nature. The reason is that the Law results in, not righteousness, but the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20), for men are sinners, and the perfect standard of God's Law reveals their deficient behavior.
Therefore, Paul would not dare to add works to his faith because any attempt to justify himself by means of his own efforts would not help him reach his objective, but instead would leave him with a great liability. He would have Hell to pay for any failure to obey perfectly, no matter how much faith he demonstrated. And as a matter of fact, if he did attempt to be just in part by his own efforts, it would show that he really did not trust in Jesus Christ but believed that his own efforts were necessary to complete the process of justification. In other words, there is no such thing as a person living partly out of works and partly out of faith. If works are involved, then a man has no faith, at least not the faith that comes from God.
Paul, a Jew who might humanly claim some avenue of justification through obedience to the Law which God Himself had given him, knew that he was justified "by (through) the faith of Jesus Christ, even we (Jews) have believed in (into) Jesus Christ, that we (Jews) might be justified by (out of) the faith of Christ and not by (out of) the works of the law:" (Gal. 2:16), just like the Gentiles were. The words "the faith of Jesus Christ" and "the faith of Christ" can be rephrased as "His faith" or "the faith that belongs to Him." These are statements of sovereign grace and can be understood in two ways. First of all, they could mean that a man is justified through, by means of, Jesus Christ's faithfulness, in the sense that He kept His promise to be the Savior, the only Savior the world has. Secondly, they could mean that when a man is justified, the evidence is the characteristic of faith, in the sense that a man demonstrates Jesus' own character which He gives to those whom He saves by grace (Eph. 2:8). In other words, a Christian outwardly reveals, by means of the gift of faith (Gal. 5:22), the fact that Christ lives in him (Gal. 2:20).
Tying verse 16 to verse 15 we can arrive at the following thought. Jews and Gentiles stand the same before God (Gal. 3:28). Gentiles historically have not had the advantage of possessing God's written Law. However, while the Jews did, the Law gave them no advantage before God (Rom. 2:11, 3:9). As sinners, Jews had to seek salvation through the faith of Christ apart from obedience to the Law they held.
In verse 17, Paul begins with the conditional statement "But if, while we (who are Jews by nature) seek to be justified by Christ." The idea of this phrase is, "if we Jews seek to be justified according to God's way, namely, through the Gospel as explained in verse 16 ..." Then Paul adds the consequences, "we also are found sinners." The idea of this phrase in verse 17 is, "if we (Jews) are found to be sinners by means of the Gospel through which we seek to be justified ..." Or the idea of the phrase is, "if Jews come to Christ and discover that they are sinners just like the Gentiles are ..." (see verse 15).
So far verse 17 is similar to Romans 7:9, where Paul states "(I thought) I was alive without the Law once (when I did not face up to the Law honestly), but when the commandment came (and was presented to me so that I finally saw it), sin revived." In the words of Romans 5:20, the Law came to magnify sin in a person's life (Gal. 3:19). Or as Galatians 3:22 puts it, the Law shut us up in sin so that the only way out is through Christ's faith. Altogether, the idea is that when Jews, who previously lived by trying to obey the Law and had at one time convinced themselves that they were justified, abandoned obedience to the Law as a way to be just and sought salvation through the Gospel, they discovered that they were really transgressors of the Law and were condemned just like the Gentiles. A man's first encounter with the Gospel is not joy and peace, but the awful news that he is in deep trouble with an angry God. It is as if going to the Gospel were an act of self-incrimination. In short, the verse so far presents the situation that if a Jew abandons his self-righteousness and goes to the Gospel, he learns that he is a sinner like all other men (Rom. 3:9).
Verse 17 concludes with the question, "Is therefore Christ the minister of sin?" In other words, if a Jew, who previously thought all was well between him and God, seeks to be just through the Gospel and finds out that he is a sinner, is Christ to blame for making him a sinner? The answer is "God forbid," or rather, it is not possible. Such an idea is impossible. Christ does not make a man a sinner. Men are already sinners, no matter who they are, Jew or Gentile. The Gospel simply points out men's sinfulness as part of its honest evaluation of those who seek the grace of God. The Gospel clarifies a man's perilous spiritual condition and hedges him in so that he realizes that there is no escape from condemnation.
Galatians 2:18 can be looked at this way. The words "For if I build again the things which I destroyed ..." mean "For if I go back and rebuild a gospel of works, the very thing which I just said is not the way to be righteous before God and which I now set aside ..." The words "I make myself a transgressor" mean "If I go back to a works gospel, then I will be found to be a transgressor by the Law I try to obey once again." The idea of the whole verse is that if a man returns to a plan of trying to be just out of works of the Law, it will not do him any good. He will continue as a sinner and be liable for condemnation. Putting verses 17 and 18 together, we can conclude that it does not matter what a Jew (or anybody else) does. If he goes to the Gospel of faith, he learns that he is a sinner like all men (verse 17). If he goes to the Gospel of works of the Law, he is still a sinner like all men (verse 18).
Beginning with verse 19, we learn of the tremendous benefit of going to the Gospel of grace, even though it means that a man is found to be a sinner. The Law shows a man to be a sinner and leaves him in his sin. The Gospel shows a man to be a sinner and shows him the solution for his sin. The Gospel is really the full and complete counsel of the Law of God, including grace as well as judgment. Verse 19 is an echo of the positive statement in verse 16 in which Paul puts the works of the law aside. In verse 19, Paul explains that verse 18 is not a possibility for him, a Jew who has found justification through faith. In other words, Paul will not go back to a Gospel of works nor will he be found a transgressor. The reason is that he has died to the Law. He could not seek to put himself under the Law even if he wanted to, nor could the law ever hold him accountable for his behavior. The death in view is the death that the Law demands for transgressors as payment for sin. Therefore, the verse states that he has already died the required death, and the Law no longer has a hold on him.
Verse 20 explains, by the words "gave himself for me," how it is that Paul died to the Law and how it is that he lives unto God. Paul's death is a result of the fact that Jesus Christ took his sins to the cross. From the point of view of the Law, Paul died because his sins, the only thing which the Law cared about, were laid on Christ and the wrath of God descended upon Him as just payment for those transgressions.
Paul's new life is explained as "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by (in) the faith of the Son of God." In other words, everyone may have recognize the old Saul if they were to see him face to face, and in fact many church members were afraid to face him after his conversion, not having personally known the new Saul (Acts 9:26, Gal. 1:22,23). But inside he was really motivated and empowered to behave in a way that was totally different than when he lived as a Jew, trying to obey the law for righteousness. It is really Jesus Christ who causes him to think and act in a new way, not because Jesus has thirst for power and manipulation, but because Jesus loves Paul and endured all things for his benefit, bestowing upon Paul all the benefits of His sacrifice.
Therefore, as Paul states in verse 21, because of all the blessings he has through grace, he would never set the Gospel aside. After all, if righteousness could be obtained through obedience to the Law, then there would be no reason for Christ to die on the cross. His death would have no value if a man could achieve the same thing on his own. According to this verse there really is not such a thing as a works/grace gospel. Men may invent a gospel which is a combination of faith in Jesus Christ together with works of the Law. However, the facts are that it is an either/or situation. If a man insists that works are a part of the way to please God, then there is no place for Christ or the grace of God (Rom. 11:6).
d) Galatians 3:1
Two phrases in this verse require some comment. The first one is "O foolish Galatians." A fool, according to Psalm 14:1, is a person who says in his heart that there is no God, a person who hates the knowledge of God (Prov. 1:22). Certainly Paul is not capable of looking into the hearts of the members of the Galatian churches to discern their motivation. No one, not even someone with the insight of Paul, has the ability or the right to claim to know the spiritual condition of another person. Not only that, the Bible explicitly states that no man is allowed to call someone else a fool (Matt. 5:22). On the other hand, God does have both the ability and right to discern the hearts of men and declare what He knows (John 2:24,25, Heb. 4:12,13). Applying all these facts to this verse, we have the interesting proof that because Paul is writing something that only God can say, Paul is writing the Word of God. The rebuke of Galatians 3:1 is not Paul's exasperated cry but the chilling rebuke of God Himself.
Another phrase is "before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you." These words do not mean that all the members of the Galatian churches happened to be in the vicinity of Calvary the day that Jesus died on the cross and gazed upon Him. Nor did they have some kind of mystical experience in which they all saw Jesus on the cross in a vision. The words "hath been evidently set forth" are one word in Greek, a combination of the prefix pro meaning "before," and the root grapho meaning "write," in the sense of something that a person can read as in Galatians 3:10 ("written" and "which are written"). Therefore, the idea of the whole phrase is that Paul reminded the Galatians that they had read the account of Jesus Christ's death which was written before in the Bible. Paul was concerned because they acted as if what they read was not true. God's warning through Paul is that they should not try to live by the works of the Law as if the account of Christ's death were either not true or of no real value.
e) Galatians 3:8,9,29
From these three verses we can learn at least two very important historical facts about the Gospel. The first historical fact is based upon the phrase, "And the Scripture foreseeing ... preached before the Gospel" (Gal. 3:8). The phrase explains that the Gospel of grace apart from works of the Law is not a plan of God that is introduced in the New Testament and targeted primarily for the Gentiles, whereas God still has a program for national Jews which includes the Law. Instead, the Gospel of justification by grace through faith was anticipated in the Old Testament, not in the sense that God looked ahead in time and realized that the Jews and civil leaders would kill His Son so He had to come up with a new plan to temporarily replace His salvation of the Jews as a nation, but in the sense that it was always God's design that both Jews and Gentiles would be justified through faith of Jesus Christ apart from works of the Law, and that is what He proclaimed in the Old Testament.
Some people teach that the Gospel of grace is an interruption in God's plan for the Jews. But that is not true. In this phrase, God is saying that the Gospel was preached in the Old Testament to Abraham. That Abraham understood the Gospel intent of the Old Testament promises which were made to him and rejoiced in the fact that they proclaimed Jesus Christ as Savior (John 8:56). The Bible states quite clearly that the words of the Bible preached to the people who lived before the cross were words of the Gospel (Heb. 4:2). The whole Bible proclaims the Gospel - the Law, the Psalms, and the prophets (Luke 24:27, John 12:37-41, Acts 3:18,24). Additionally, Galatians 4:4,5 also supports the idea that Jesus came to earth and died according to a very precise and carefully thought-out predetermined plan. History is the unfolding of an unchangeable Gospel plan that God conceived and decreed before the beginning of time.
A second historical fact is based upon the phrase, "In thee shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:8). From that phrase we learn that the people whom God had in mind to bless with the Gospel were not primarily national Jews, but men of all nations, Jew and Gentile, people fulfilled the requisites found in Galatians 3:9 and 29. As we learn in Romans 4, the importance of identifying with Abraham is not that men must be able to trace their genealogy to Abraham, but that men must have the same faith which Abraham had and which he demonstrated by his obedience to God (Rom. 4:16-25). Historically, the Bible promised the blessings of salvation to Abraham and his seed, which includes some of his physical descendants. But from the Romans 4 as well as Galatians 3:26-29, we realize that God's plan of salvation was not limited to only Abraham's physical descendants. Rather, God always intended to bring salvation by grace through faith to men of all nations, without regard to physical genealogy or station in life (Rom. 2:11, Gal. 3:7,28).
f) Galatians 3:16
This verse is important for two reasons. One is that it verifies the divine authority of the Bible. Another is that it helps us understand how God designed His Gospel of salvation.
Paul makes a very careful distinction between the singular and the plural form of the word "seed." Since his conclusion depends on the difference in spelling of two words which differ in Greek by only two or three letters and by only one letter in Hebrew, we can see not only Paul's confidence in the accuracy of the Bible, but also in the care which God took in preserving His Word throughout the ages. We can trust the Bible in all that it says, even to the point that we can say that every detail of the Bible is inspired of God and must be accounted for in all of our study of it. We must submit to the authority of every detail in the Word of God. As we discussed in the introduction to this survey course, we assume that the Textus Receptus is the version of the Bible which we can trust as God's Word.
Now we shall see how verse 16 helps us understand the design of the Gospel. We read, "Now unto Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." The promises to Abraham were first of all to one particular seed, Christ. We must recall that the word "promises" refers to the one promise spoken of in verse 14, namely, the promise that believers would receive the Spirit. This is the promise of salvation. It is a plural word in verse 16 because the same promise was given to Abraham many times.
Now according to verse 16, the promise of salvation was given to Jesus Christ in the sense that Jesus Christ was promised salvation for Himself. Did Jesus have to be saved from the wrath of God? Yes, for He was laden with the sins of all His people. Jesus was not personally a sinner, but before the Law He was guilty because He assumed the accountability and liability of His people. Jesus experienced the death that was required for those sins. Therefore, the question was, "Would Jesus be consumed by the wrath of God? Was that the end of Him? Could we know if His death was sufficient payment for the sins of His people, or had Hell bound Him up and was it still grasping for the souls of the believers?" The witness of the Bible is that Jesus indeed needed to be and was saved from Hell (Psalm 16:10, 31:5,9,16, 69:1-3,7-9,13-18,21,29).
The point of this is that the word "saved" applied to Jesus means that He came out of Hell, not because He had some special privilege or that His payment was commuted to a shorter time in Hell, but because He had gone through the complete Hell experience that was demanded by the Law of God as payment for the sins of His people. We could almost make the word "saved" as equivalent to the words "completed payment," except that we would have to add that after the payment for sin was complete, Jesus came out from Hell. Therefore, the idea in Galatians 3:16 that Jesus was given the promise of salvation means that Jesus would successfully make the full payment for the sins that were laid upon Him and come out of Hell. Jesus obtained the promise in the sense that He was the sin-bearer who completed His task.
The reason the Bible emphasizes that the promise was to one "seed," Jesus, and not to many seeds, is that Jesus alone was the appointed sin bearer. Jesus alone was the one person who was a worthy sacrifice and who alone could endure the equivalent of an eternity under the wrath of God in a finite time and still come out on the other side alive. Because Jesus went to Hell for the sins of His people, they too could receive the same promise that He did. They too were saved from the wrath of God. But the salvation for them depended upon the sacrifice of Jesus, not upon anything they could do.
We can conclude that before the foundation of the world, Jesus, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, planned and promised the salvation program which included a substitutionary death. Jesus willingly decided to die that required death to make salvation possible for men. Laden with the sins of His people, He then died the required death, which was to endure an eternity under the wrath of God.
The Bible says that Jesus was promised salvation, that is, an end of the Hell experience. It uses the word "promise," not because Jesus needed assurance that it would end, as if He was not sure if He would be abandoned in Hell (after all, Jesus is God and knew He would be successful); rather, the Bible says the promise of salvation was for Him to teach us that He was the one who would go to Hell and come out of Hell after successfully paying for the sins of His people.
Now we shall look at how verse 16 helps us understand another important aspect of the design of God's salvation plan. First, let us look at an important point in verse 15. Paul is comparing the promise of the Spirit through faith (verse 14), which is equivalent to salvation (John 3:5, Titus 3:5), to a human testament or will. The idea is that the Gospel promise is like a will a man makes, in which he names his inheritors. An important part of the idea of a will is stated in the word "confirmed," that is, "made valid" or "given authority." Confirmation of the will takes place upon the death of the person who made the will. As long as the man who made the will is alive, he is able to make any changes he so desires. Once the man who made the will dies, the will is forever fixed and the terms must be carried out as they are written. No inheritors can be added or removed from that will, nor can any conditions of the will be changed.
Skipping over verse 16 just for a moment we can see that, from verse 17, God's promise of a graciously restored righteous relationship with Him is also called a "covenant" or last will and testament. Like a human testament or will, this testament was also confirmed or fixed by a death, namely, the death of Jesus Christ.
Now we can see why Galatians 3:15 and 17 compares the promise of salvation to a will and those who are saved to the inheritors of that will. In the Gospel, we have all the ingredients of a proper will. There is the testator, that is, the maker of the will, who in this case is Jesus Christ. There is a promise in the will that can be claimed only upon the death of the testator. And there are the inheritors of the promise who cannot claim the promise until the testator dies.
However, there is a feature of the salvation program of God that are a little different than a normal human will. For one thing, in God's will, the maker of the will is also the chief heir. In other words, Jesus made the promise, died to fulfill the requirements of the promise, and rose again from the dead to personally claim that salvation promise too. Jesus Christ, the God who made the will and who had to die so that the inheritance would go to the inheritors, was also one of the primary heirs. Jesus Christ was named in the will to receive the promise of salvation. How can this be? Are the other heirs displaced because He is in the will? How can He be the testator and the inheritor too?
The answer to these questions can be explained in this way. In a human situation, the death of the testator is sufficient to pass on the material goods to his heirs. Once he dies, he is out of the picture and all the blessings go to the heirs. However, in God's situation, the promised blessings of spiritual salvation from sin required a death and a resurrection, or the inheritance could not be transferred as planned.
We can say that Jesus is called an heir of God's promise because Jesus received the promised salvation only after the death of the maker of the promise, who also happened to be Jesus. The fulfillment of a promise only upon the death of the maker of that promise is called a will, and the recipient of that promise is called an heir. Jesus is called an heir even though he is also the testator, and it was His death as a testator that allowed Him to receive the promise as an heir. In fact, if He had not received the promise, if He had not come out of Hell, then no one else would have been saved, for the payment of their sins would not have been complete. So the design of the Gospel is that the Promise Maker first died in order for the promise of salvation to come true for Himself and, thus, for all those for whose sins He paid.
God, in the person of Jesus Christ, must secure the salvation for Himself in order to share it with others. Jesus did not need salvation in the sense that He was in need of another person to save Him or that He had a moral deficiency for which to atone. Instead, Jesus needed to be saved in the sense that upon Him were laid the iniquities of all those whom God had decided to save and He not only had to endure the eternal death that the Law required for all the sins of the elect, but also had to be raised from that death to show that He had completed the required payment for sin. Therefore, the promise that Jesus would be saved, or come out of Hell, is equivalent to the promise that He would be raised from the dead after He had completed the full payment for the sins of His people. And the promise to the Son was really a promise to the elect as well, for in Jesus' sacrifice their sins were paid for and they, too, would be saved.
We have to keep in mind that the central truth of the Gospel of the Bible is that Jesus Christ died a substitutionary death for those whose sins He bore. That is the long and the short of the Bible's message of salvation by grace apart from works of men. The ideas of promise and covenant give us insight into the manner in which God designed His mystery of the Gospel of salvation. They tell us when the plan was formed. They tell us about participants of the plan and what they did. They tell us about the recipients of that plan. However the central truth is always the same and is not altered even though it may be described in many different ways.
There is another way in which God's will differs from a human will. In a human will, the writing of the testator's will and the confirmation of the will upon his death are two events separated in time. However, when God planned His covenant or will before the foundation of the world, the conditions and the list of inheritors of the will was fixed, even though Jesus had not yet gone to the cross. The Bible tells us that although Jesus Christ went to the cross in a specific time, namely, when Pontius Pilate was ruler in Palestine, Jesus really died before the foundation of the world, that is, before creation (I Pet. 1:20, Rev. 13:8). The idea is that the moment God designed His will for the ages, the will that required the death of His Son in order to be effective, His decree was so certain and unchangeable that it was as if Jesus died the moment the will was conceived. In other words, the testator had died in principle already before Creation. Therefore, the terms of the will were fixed before Jesus actually went to the cross thousands of years after creation. This fact is a testimony to the absolute firmness of God's Word.
We must keep in mind that once God promises something, it is an accomplished fact, for God's Word is as good as He is. All things always go exactly as He plans, without any surprises or adjustments. He plans perfectly and never has to alter His plans to accommodate changing circumstances. Therefore, once God formed His will, it could not, did not have to be, and was not modified in any way.
Having discussed two differences between a human will and God's will, we should look at one similarity which highlights an important dimension of the gospel of salvation. In both wills, it is the testator and not the heirs which make the terms of the will. Therefore, the idea of a will emphasizes the fact that God's covenant is a promise which is totally the invention of God, and man had nothing to do with its design. Those who were named as inheritors of those blessings of salvation are totally of God's choosing. No man can choose to be an inheritor nor choose what it is he will inherit. God alone decides who the inheritors are, and no man can do anything to include or exclude himself in the will. Not only that, the terms of the will are God's alone to fulfill. Those who are named in the will do not contribute to the fulfillment of that will, they simply receive the inheritance.
One final thought is that the ideas of promise and covenant, or will, fit perfectly into this letter to the Galatian churches. Some people in the Galatian churches claimed that it was necessary for a man to contribute some works of the law in order to be right with God. But the salvation program of God, the only one that makes a man righteous, is a promise found in a will. This means that the recipients of the righteousness offered by God can no more participate in their salvation than a man who is the heir named in a will. The salvation plan is not a set of instructions to follow, but a promise to receive apart from any action by the recipient.
g) Galatians 3:19,22-24
These verses state in the clearest way the two most important purposes of the Law. We should add that by the word "Law" we mean the will of God expressed in the entire Bible.
One purpose is that the Law of God was given to men to highlight their sinfulness and consequent inability to be just by means of their own obedience (verse 19). The Law is like a light that is switched on in a dark room which is full of dead people. The light reveals the awful condition. The light is not to blame for their death, it just reveals what is already there (Rom. 7:7,8).
In contrast to what some people in the Galatian churches thought, the Law was not a set of instructions that a man could follow to be just before God. As we read in verse 21, if it were possible to be saved by keeping the Law, that is the way it would have been done.
The second purpose of the Law is to force the elect to recognize that their only hope to escape the wrath of God for their sin and achieve righteousness is to flee to Jesus Christ and seek His grace. The Law educates the elect to see that they must not trust in themselves, but in Jesus alone for justification (Gal. 3:24).
God says in Galatians that the elect "were kept under the Law" (verse 23). The Greek word translated "were kept" is translated in II Corinthians 11:32 as "kept ... with a garrison." The idea of Galatians 3:23 is that the Law kept an eye on the elect, guarding them for some future purpose. That purpose is their salvation according to the gospel of God.
The words "hath concluded" (verse 22) and "shut up" (verse 23) are translations of the same Greek word, which conveys the idea of "to gather up and set aside or reserve" (Luke 5:6 "inclosed"). The thought is not that the Law must stand guard over men lest they escape, for who can escape the Law of God? Rather, the thought is that before believers can be given the promise of righteousness by faith of Jesus Christ, it must first show them that they are sinners and that they can not escape from their situation. The Law is a hedge that blocks all their attempts to try to achieve justification on their own. This honest look at men is a kindness of God, for any attempt to achieve self-justification leads to the curse of God (Gal. 3:10). Of course, for those who continue to seek to justify themselves by their obedience to the Law, the Law is their accuser, judging and sealing them in their doom. However, for those whom God intends to save, the Law is a device to bring them to salvation. It is upon these people whom Galatians 3:19-29 focuses.
h) Galatians 4:21-31
For the purposes of this survey, we shall limit our discussion of these verses to clarifying a few important words and phrases as well as highlighting the essential points.
The question in verse 21 is answered in the rest of the passage, but the answer is hinted at in verse 21 itself. The idea of the question can be expressed as, "Listen you people who want to obey the Law in order to be right before God. Don't you even hear what the Law is saying? Don't you hear that the Law says you cannot be right that way?" The implication of verse 21 is that those people who seek the Law as a friend, in order to help them be just before God by means of their own efforts, find an enemy instead.
The Law does not help men who try to obey it. Instead, it curses men for their disobedience. By seeking to keep the demands of the law, men are condemned and indebted to it forever. In the following verses, we learn how God guided history to illustrate that very important fact.
The words "which things are an allegory" in verse 24 do not mean that the Old Testament story about Abraham and Hagar is not an historical incident but something that was made up for use as an illustration. Rather, the word could better be rendered "I will show you the allegory in the story." The facts of Abraham's life are true. Paul now uses them to show that God has a spiritual lesson to teach in that physical history.
The words "two covenants" refer to the covenant of works and to the covenant of grace. The first was conditional. Men had to keep their part to receive blessings from God. The second was unconditional or, to be more precise, unconditional for men but conditional for Christ. Jesus Christ met all the conditions of the second covenant, and men received the blessings without doing any works at all. The first was weak and ineffective, leaving men in their sin. The second was powerful and successful, redeeming men from the condemnation that their sins merited because Jesus Christ fulfilled of all the demands of the Law on their behalf. In terms of an allegory, the first is associated with Agar (Hagar) or Mount Sinai or earthly Jerusalem, that is national Israel. The second is associated with Abraham's free woman, that is his wife Sarah, or the Jerusalem above, that is, the nation of true believers.
The words "with her children" in verse 25 refer to all those people who try to keep the Law for justification. They are in bondage to keep the whole Law (Gal. 3:10). The words "of us all" in verse 26 refer to all those who live by the faith of Jesus Christ, Jew as well as Gentile. They are the children of promise mentioned in verse 28, ones whom the Father had promised to the Son, and whom the Son redeemed (John 6:37, 10:28,29, 17:2,9,12).
The essential point of the Old Testament story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah is that it illustrates the difference between the gospel of works and the Gospel of grace. God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would receive a son (Gen. 15:4). The promise not only pointed to Isaac, but to whom Isaac represented, namely Jesus Christ, as well as all those who would be saved and be called the sons of Abraham. In other words, in the promise of Isaac was also the promise of the Gospel through Jesus as well as the promise that many would be saved though that Gospel.
For a time, Abraham and Sarah were patient concerning God's promise of a son, but they soon grew weary of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled and took things into their own hands. Because they both believed that Sarah was no longer capable of having a child, they decided to assist God in caring out His promise (Gen. 16:2). Abraham conceived a child through a much younger woman named Hagar and thought that the child Ishmael, whom Hagar bore to Abraham, would continue his line as God had promised.
Now Abraham is a man whom the Bible portrays as a man of faith. And so he was. But God allowed Abraham to have a time of weakness, not because Abraham was no longer saved, but because God was able to use Abraham's temporary weakness to accomplish many things, one of which was to illustrate the folly of works and the blessings of faith. By trying to obtain the promise of God through his own efforts, Abraham ended up with a mess. Abraham's efforts did not result in a child whom God had promised. Instead, he had got a child who was a grief to both him and the promised child that Sarah would eventually bear to Abraham fourteen years after Ishmael was born to Hagar (Gen. 21:9).
Of course, God was gracious to Abraham and Sarah even though they had much to learn as believers. God is very patient. However, above all other things, God had a plan and it would not be thwarted by the folly of any man. Abraham and Sarah were His people, and He would see to it that they learned and grew in grace. Much more than that, God had made a Gospel promise to Abraham that would be fulfilled, no matter what. Isaac would be born as God had said, and Jesus would come from Abraham's line in the way that God had planned that He would (Gen. 17:15-21).
We should briefly mention one more idea that comes out of this passage. As we discussed above, there are two kinds of people, those who are the promised ones and demonstrate it by their walk of faith, and those who are not saved and show it by their persistent attempt to justify themselves before God by means of their own works. However, the two kinds of people do not live peacefully side by side. There is a built in antagonism between them. However, the animosity comes not from the believers, but from those who continue to trust in their own works (Gal. 4:29).
The gospel of works and the Gospel of grace are not two alternatives on a menu like vanilla and chocolate ice cream which two people can choose and then eat peacefully side by side. Those people who desire to add even a little of their own works to their salvation hate those people who claim that salvation is by grace alone apart from any works of man at all. The reason is if those people who simply trust in God's work alone are correct, then it means that the works of those people who desire to contribute to their salvation are worth nothing. People risk a great loss of self-respect and pride to admit that they have no part in their justification and that the gospel that they so carefully constructed to suit their own desires is all vanity. Furthermore, those who desire to work for their salvation hate to hear that their works, far from being pleasing to God, are heaping greater condemnation upon themselves. Whether Christians speak or just live a life of faith, the witness is greater than the unbelievers can stand. Any reminder of the truth is hateful to the unsaved.
i) Galatians 5:1
This verse is used by some people to support the idea that a person who is saved by grace is no longer constrained by the Law in any way at all. The idea is that a person who is under grace is free from the Law. But that is not a correct way to understand the word "liberty."
The word "liberty" in this verse means freedom from the obligation to obey the whole Law to be right with God (Gal. 5:3). The word "liberty" also means that a person is free from the condemnation of the Law because of his failure to obey perfectly (Gal. 3:10-13). Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, a man not only does not have to obey the Law as a requirement to be right with God, but also he does not have to pay for any of his failures to obey.
Nevertheless, a believer does obey the Law. However, his obedience to the Law is from an entirely new motivation, namely, love for God and for others (Gal. 5:13,14). A believer loves the Law because it is an expression of the will of his Lord whom he loves. The ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Christ, but the moral laws are the believer's delight to do (John 14:15,21,23). In addition to serving for the right reason, a man whose sins have been paid for by Christ has the power to serve God as he ought (Rom. 6:17).
j) Galatians 6:11-16
We offer a few words about this passage in order to help to set aside one common misunderstanding. We also want to reveal two motivations of those who desire to force the Gentile members of the Galatian churches to obey the Law of God as a way to be right before God.
Usually, people think that Galatians 6:11 refers to the fact that Paul had weak eyesight and needed to write with big letters in order to see what he was doing. It is possible that Paul did have a problem with his eyes. However, the only evidence for that is indirect. Such an idea could be implied from Galatians 4:13-15 and the fact that in Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus he was blinded and may have retained some lingering physical disability from that experience. Nevertheless, this commonly held view of Galatians 6:11 does not fit into the context of the passage very well, and more importantly, such a view cannot be supported by careful analysis of the Bible.
The Greek word translated "large" is found only here and in Hebrews 7:4 as the word "great" referring to Melchizedek. The word cannot mean something that is physically big; otherwise, we would have the ridiculous idea that Melchizedek was a large man who might have excelled in sports because of his size. The idea we are compelled to recognize from the context of Hebrews is that Melchizedek was a very important man of great authority. That idea must be applied to Galatians 6:11.
Therefore, the point of Galatians 6:11 is that Paul was so concerned that the members of the Galatian churches take heed to his warning, that he took the extra effort to write something important with his own hand. It is as if the message he had to bring was so important that he did not want to trust it to the hand of another. Essentially, Galatians 6:11 is implying that Paul has the full weight of his authority behind his letter to the Galatians. This view harmonizes quite well with other passages in Galatians which emphasize Paul's authority (Gal. 1:8-12, 2:7). This view also supports the intent of the following verses in Chapter 6.
Verse 12 reveals one of the motivations of those troublemakers who wanted to have the Gentile church members obey the Law to be right with God. They wanted to put up a good front before men, especially in the presence of those Jews who might persecute them for their stand upon faith alone. This was not only cowardly, but also, as verse 13 states, it was hypocritical inasmuch as they did not obey the Law themselves. That is, they did not obey keep it perfectly as the Law demanded (Gal. 3:10).
Galatians 6:13 reveals another motivation. By successfully convincing others to add works to their faith, these troublemakers could boast in the amount of people that followed their lead. For them, it was a numbers game which fed their egos and vindicated their message before the eyes of men. Paul, however, separated himself from these troublers (verse 14). These other teachers may have required a following to make their gospel appear legitimate. But Paul only wanted to be faithful to the Gospel of God, which was based solely upon the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Paul cared nothing for the support or applause of the majority. He considered himself dead to the world's honors and esteem.
Finally, we read in verse 14 that the troublemakers were making a big deal about something that had no importance whatsoever. Whether a man is outwardly circumcised according to the Law or whether a man is not circumcised and never intends to be is irrelevant (Gal. 5:6). The only thing which has the strength to enable a man to please God is not a small surface change like circumcision, but a complete change such as new creation (Rom. 2:28,29, II Cor. 5:17). Only those people who walk according to the rule of faith will attain to the peace and mercy which God offers to His people.
k) Galatians 6:16
This verse is a clear statement that God considers all believers, Gentile as well as Jew, to be the "Israel of God." This understanding of the verse can be supported by the fact that three verses before (verse 13) Paul is addressing people who were being coerced into circumcision, which means that these people were not previously circumcised, that is, they were Gentiles. It is upon these Gentiles who trust in the Gospel of grace as well as the Jews who do likewise that he pronounces the blessing of "Israel." Additional support for our understanding of the words "peace ... upon the Israel of God" is the fact that the words are a quote from Psalm 125:5 and 128:6, two psalms which apply to all believers, Gentile as well as Jew.
Home NT Page Top of Page Gal. Study