Galatians 3:1-9

Justification by Faith

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

Paul begins the doctrinal part of this letter with an expression of surprise mixed with indignation. Foolish does not indicate a lack of intelligence.  It refers to one who doesn’t use one’s powers of perception or doesn’t reason through a matter. The Galatians were a people who had rejected the pagan ways of magic and superstition, they embraced the higher learning and thoughts of Greece and Rome. They claimed the use of insight and wisdom and so Paul challenged them. He called them foolish demonstrating they had stopped using the wisdom and intellect they had previously displayed. Metaphorically, Paul asked if some evil power had effected them.

Paul had preached to the Galatians the gospel of Christ crucified. He didn’t portray a dead Christ, but a risen Christ — alive and ascended. This gospel alone, their experience of it and their living of it should have been enough to keep them from falling prey the heretical snare of the Judaizers.

He follows the challenge by asking a series of questions showing the church how absurd was the notion that their Christian lives were being matured by self-effort, instead of reliance on the Holy Spirit. First, did they receive the indwelling Holy Spirit at the moment they by faith trusted in Christ, or did it come later through their own effort? The only answer they could give was through faith. Secondly, were they being matured through the ministry of the Holy Spirit or through their flesh? The flesh being the natural man, apart from the transforming influence of the Holy Spirit, together with all his abilities, philosophies and accomplishments.

When they abandoned the ministry of the Holy Spirit they fell to the Judaizers’ law obedience and legalism. The Mosaic Law and all the Jewish tradition had no provision for the Holy Spirit living within the believer. These Christians who had formerly trusted in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as they yielded to His influence had experienced the maturity that came along with His ministry. But the Judaizers had duped them into leaving their position under grace.

The Galatians had even forgotten about the persecution they faced because of their faith in Christ. (I wonder if in trying to avoid the persecution they strayed from the truth. How many times today when intimidated we have compromised the truth?)

After Paul asked about the entrance of the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying ministry in the believers’ lives Paul asked if the miracles experienced among them was through faith or their own efforts? Just as it had happened elsewhere in the early church the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit was at work in the church in Galatia. The text tells us that this work was still going on in the church when the Judaizers arrived on the scene.

With all the proof inside and surrounding these believers they were still in the process of leaving the work of grace — ignoring the Holy Spirit — and falling prey to the age-old lie that originated with Cain. All religions throughout all the world, with the single exception of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, teach that man must do something, we must change ourselves in order to be accepted by God or by the gods. We must do works or follow sacraments or observe the rituals to be justified. Yet the righteousness that is required by God is total perfection; it is His righteousness — an absolute holiness that man can never attain. As stated in Isaiah 64:9 all of man’s righteousness are as filthy rags to God. It is plain to see that no man can reach the level of righteousness needed. But God, because of His love provided a way — a single way — to Him.

Because the Jews and Judaizers reached all the way back beyond Moses to Abraham, the Father of their religion, Paul next reminded the Galatians how Abraham was justified before God.

The Judaizers taught that only the natural descendants of Abraham could partake in the Messianic Covenant offered to Abraham. This in their view proved the requirement of circumcision. Their mistake was not seeing the difference between the purely Jewish national covenant God made with Abraham so He could use the Jewish people as the channel to bring salvation to the earth, and that salvation a descendant of Abraham would bring. Circumcision was the mark God used to keep the Jews separate for His purpose.

Here, and explained in more detail in Romans 4:9-12, Paul stated that Abraham was declared righteous before God because of His faith. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Paul referenced Abraham’s belief in God’s promise in Genesis (12:1-3, 15:1-6, 22:18, 26:4). Thus, Abraham believed God, and his act of faith was placed on his account in value as righteousness. He believed God and his act of faith was credited to him for righteousness (Galatians in the Greek New Testament by Kenneth Wuest). This was neither a reward paid by God to Abraham nor did Abraham merit a payment. That would be a works-based salvation. But because Abraham cast off all dependence upon himself or anything he could do as a means of acceptance with God, and accepted God’s way of giving salvation, God answered him by giving him salvation.

Abraham was circumcised afterward, demonstrating that his circumcision had nothing to do with his justification.

Paul goes on to state that only those who believe by faith, just as Abraham, are the true descendants of Abraham; not natural descendants but spiritual ones. God, in knowing that He would justify Jews and Gentiles by faith, announced that faith to Abraham.  When Abraham received salvation through faith by believing in God, he became the pattern for the rest of humanity. And so all who follow his pattern and put faith in the gospel of Christ — His atoning death and His life-giving resurrection — share in the blessing of Abraham.