The apostle Paul continues to describe the gospel message and the implications of the gospel in the lives of Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians. In Galatians 3 the apostle Paul will continue to describe this great gospel of Jesus. As he continues to describe the gospel he will ask these Christians to consider their experience and consider the scriptures to know if returning to the works of the law is the means for justification for Gentile Christians. Remember that troublers have come into the Galatians churches teaching that Gentile Christians must keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1,5).
Consider Your Experience (3:1-5)
Paul begins very forcefully as he wants to know how they had been deceived to believe these false teachings. Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified before their eyes. Obviously Paul is not saying that these people literally saw Jesus on the cross in Jerusalem 20 years earlier. That is not the point. Paul is saying that the significance of the cross was vividly communicated when the gospel was announced to them. They do not understand the significance of Christ crucified. If they understood the truth of the gospel, the message of the cross, then they would not consider the teachings of these false brethren. They would recognize that the power of the cross was being emptied by teaching the necessity of keeping the works of the law. They saw Jesus like a roadside billboard when the message of the cross was proclaimed and now they are being deceived to neglect that message.
Therefore, Paul asks questions concerning these Galatian Christians to help them see that the works of the law must not be added to the gospel message. The first question is if they received the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith (3:2). In our study of the scriptures we know that miraculous spiritual gifts were only given by the apostles when the apostles laid their hands on a believer (cf. Acts 8:17-19). So Paul is not asking if they received miraculous spiritual gifts when they performed the works of the law or when they heard with faith. Paul is asking about the promise of the Holy Spirit as promised by God in the prophets (cf. Isaiah 32:15-18; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29) and fulfilled in Acts 2:38-39. Did you enter into the covenant relationship with God, have your sins forgiven, and receive the blessings of being a child of God when you performed works of the law or when you heard with faith. Paul says that all Christians receive something when they hear with faith. You receive a new relationship, belong to the new covenant, receive God’s blessings, become a child of God, enter into God’s kingdom, and have one’s sins forgiven when you heard with faith. Circumcision does not accomplish this. Keeping away from unclean foods does not accomplish this. You already have this when you saw Christ publicly displayed as crucified.
There is not another action to receive these blessings in the Spirit (3:3). You were already given everything in Christ. Are the works of the law going to perfect you when you are already been made perfect in Christ? Please notice “the flesh” is another term for “the works of the law” in this paragraph. This has a very strong reference to circumcision. Since the key elements of the works of the law was circumcision, then Paul can ask if the flesh is going to bring perfection in these Christians. Think about what Paul is asking in this way, which might help us today. When you came up out of the waters of baptism, what are you going to do to enhance your situation before God? What act in the flesh is going to make your circumstance better? What are you going to do now to elevate your standing before God? There is nothing you can do to enhance your situation or make your standing better before God. I think every believer has a sense of that when they come to faith in Christ. I feel like all I can do is mess this up now, not make it any better! Are you going to be perfected in the flesh? Are you going to do some act that is now going to save you? Of course not. Jesus has cleansed you and made you his child which did not come through the works of the law.
Paul wonders if they had suffered so many things in vain. Acts 14:22 records the persecution of these Christians by the hands of the Jews. It is in this region that the apostle Paul was stoned and left for dead. If they are going to return to the works of the law, then they have suffered for nothing. If you are going to live like a Jew, then you suffered for nothing.
The final experience to consider is in verse 5. They saw Paul supply them with miraculous spiritual gifts and saw Paul work miracles among them, not by the works of the law, but by hearing with faith. When Paul preached he powerfully displayed the Spirit to people (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4). Paul may even be pointing out that the miraculous spiritual gifts are continuing in their midst because they had received the Spirit when Paul laid his hands on them. They already have spiritual gifts and have seen these gifts at work and those things were not received at the point of circumcision but through hearing with faith.
Consider the Scriptures (3:6-9)
Now Paul will prove what he has taught them by using the scriptures. Hearing with faith was the way Abraham was counted as righteous. In our study of Abraham we notice that Abraham believed and was credited as righteous in Genesis 15, but circumcision will come many years later in chapter 17. You are counted as righteous just as Abraham was counted as righteous, not by doing the works of the law, but through hearing with faith. The status of “righteous” is bestowed on the wicked when they come to faith (cf. Romans 4:5). The means of salvation has never changed. Faith has been the requirement for both Old Testament and New Testament believers.
Therefore, those who are the offspring of Abraham are not those who circumcise themselves, but those who exercise faith. Faith is what makes one in the family of Abraham and a recipient of God’s promises. We share in Abraham’s blessing by joining Abraham’s family and one joins Abraham’s family by faith, not circumcision.
Further, God’s intention all along was to bless the Gentiles when they exercised the same kind of faith as Abraham (3:8). The scriptures preached the gospel beforehand when God made the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3. Remember in Genesis 12:3 that God is reversing the effects of sin’s curse through Abraham. This would be a blessing to the world, for all peoples and families. The promise was that all the families of the earth would be blessed, not just Israel. I love how verse 8 is worded. The scriptures preached the gospel to Abraham in the words: “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” God offered a solution before we understood we had a problem! The gospel is in Genesis 12! The salvation of the Gentiles is preached in Genesis 12! It was God’s intention from the very beginning that all people, including the Gentiles, would be saved through the same means: hearing with faith. So those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham who was the man of faith (3:9).
The sufficiency of faith.
How amazing it is that when we hear the gospel, see Jesus portrayed as crucified in that gospel, and come to faith in Jesus that this is completely sufficient for our salvation! When we have faith which is seen through repentance, confession, and immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2:38) that there is nothing else to add to belong to the family of Christ and receive all the blessings that are found in Christ. The moment of salvation is a relief, knowing that Jesus has taken our sins away. The guilt of our sins is removed and we have a whole new relationship with God as our Father. There is nothing else to do and nothing else to know. A person can come to Christ and die that day in complete confidence and hope of salvation before our Lord. To make this point another way, there is nothing else to add at that moment of salvation. What you do cannot perfect this salvation for it is already perfected. What we are doing as we go forward is not try to earn this salvation but live by faith in response to that salvation. If salvation is dependent upon my righteousness, then I am lost. I need the grace of Jesus to declare this sinner righteous. As Paul will teach later in this letter, there is fruit that comes from those who have been justified by faith. True saving faith will continue to transform our lives for Christ, for we are crucified with Christ. It is no longer our lives but Jesus living in us and the life we live is by faith in Jesus (2:20). This is why Abraham is consider the man of faith (3:9) for his faith transformed how he lived for God, sacrificing all for the Lord.
Let me get to this point another way. There are many times that I have heard Christians say and I have also thought that I know so much more now than I did when I first believed. Was I really saved back then because now I further understand what God desires from me today? The answer is yes you were saved. There was not a test that you had to take before you truly believed. You needed to know that Jesus died for you and you were giving your life to him, to follow and serve him. As we journey with our God we are learning more and more about our sinfulness and further appreciating what God has done for us. We are experiencing a greater appreciation and a deeper love for our Lord Jesus who loved us and saved us. As my children grow, I am more and more appreciating the time I have with them. Does this mean that I did not love them when they were younger? No, but my love and appreciation is growing. In the same way, it is not that you did not love God when you came to Christ in faith through baptism, but that your love for him is stronger and deeper than before.
Faith is our identifying mark. “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (3:9). The scriptures foresaw that Gentiles would be justified by faith.
The hearing of faith.
The point that the apostle Paul makes is the same point the Gospel of John repeatedly drives into the readers’ hearts. Where does salvation begin? Hearing. Paul would tell the Roman Christians that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Paul does not say that it is the seeing of faith. Hearing with faith is the means of salvation. We see Jesus portrayed as crucified when we hear the word of God. That hearing must be mixed with faith. The word of God is the power to generate faith. This is why we desire to read God’s word every day. Faith will only come through hearing God’s word. This is why we have sermons and Bible studies together. Faith will only come through hearing God’s word. The more you hear with faith, the more your life will change and transform into the life that God desires you to transform into. As we go forward we are not earning our salvation but confirming our love for Jesus and the salvation he has given us.