Published June 30, 2011
Gal. 3:1-3, 10-14, 19-26
Bible Studies for Life, Jul 10
The story is told of a little boy who came before the membership committee of a church to determine the authenticity of his profession of faith in Christ. When they asked him to share his testimony, he replied, “Well, I did my part and God did His part.”
The committee was a bit shocked, and asked, “What do you mean by that?”
And the boy responded, “I did the sinning and God did the saving!”
That story underscores the teaching of Galatians 3 – that we can do nothing to save ourselves, but must wholly place our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross. Paul writes this letter to correct those who seek salvation through a legalistic checklist and to convince us that, just as we began the Christian life by God’s grace, so we continue it by grace.
Perversion of the gospel
Beginning with the third chapter, Paul gets to the heart of his letter to the Galatians and addresses the problem he mentions in 1:6-7a: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to another gospel – which is really no gospel at all.”
The Greek word for “another” refers to another of a different kind. The word “gospel” means “good news.” So, Paul tells us that this different gospel has so perverted the message of Christ that it is no longer good news at all!
The group that was teaching a “different gospel” was known as the Judaizers. They taught that salvation comes through faith in Christ plus keeping the Old Testament Law.
In Galatians 3:1, Paul is astonished that the “foolish Galatians” have been so quickly and easily “bewitched.” To bewitch someone is to deceive for the purpose of destroying them. Forget about Elizabeth Montgomery and the benevolent witch image. To bewitch someone means to do them evil!
Why were the Galatians foolish and, therefore, so easily bewitched? Because they lacked “the knowledge of the Holy One” (Pro. 9:10) and did not know the Word of God.
Paul asks the Galatians some questions in verses 2 and 3. All point to the gracious nature of salvation. It was not by “observing the Law” but “by believing what they heard” about Christ that they came to salvation.
In Galatians 3:10-14, Paul explains that those who “rely on observing the Law are under a curse.” Why is that? Because Deuteronomy 27:26 refers to the covenant curse of disobedience to God’s law when it says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” All of us, then, are under the curse because none of us fully fulfills the Law of God. As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
But the good news comes when Paul tells us in verse 13 that Jesus Christ redeemed us by taking on Himself the “curse for us.” How did He do that? Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” When Jesus hung on Calvary’s tree He took upon Himself the curse that was due us, and imparted to us the righteousness that was His as the sinless Son of God.
Martin Luther saw this and gloried in it. He once wrote to a friend: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You became what you were not, so that I might become what I was not.’”
What a great and wonderful exchange! Was there ever such love?
The purpose of the law
It is always important that things be used according to their purpose. For instance, my father gave me a Buck pocket knife when I was about 12. Today, the blade is very short because one day a friend and I were throwing it into a tree – a purpose for which it was not designed. There are knives designed for throwing, but mine wasn’t and I almost ruined it by using it the wrong way.
Galatians 3:19-24 tells us that God’s Law was designed for two basic purposes. First, it was designed to police society. In a sinful world, society without law would become anarchy.
It would be nice if people behaved themselves because it is the right thing to do, but most people behave themselves because they are afraid of the penalties for breaking the law. So, for both the Israelites of Moses’ day and for us, the law serves to police society.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Law was designed to point us to Christ. The Law was a “schoolmaster” or “custodian” that led us to Christ (verse 24). The word refers to a slave employed by a Greek or Roman family who had general charge of a boy between 6 and 16, watching over his behavior and tending to him when he was away from home. Paul tells us that the Law pointed out his sinfulness in Romans 7:7.
Galatians 3:25-26 says that because we are incapable of fully keeping the Law, the Law taught us that we must be “saved by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8). And, now that faith has come, we have become “the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (verse 26).
We are not made a part of God’s forever family because of some legalistic, personal checklist that we keep, but solely through the grace of God!
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