Galatians 3


“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” Galatians 3:1

Faith Or Works Of The Law

Paul begins by asking a series of questions to shock them into the reality concerning what they were actually doing, which was turning away from the grace of God.

Paul is amazed that they are being enticed by the Judaizing teachers to return to a covenant of condemnation, Galatians 1:6.

Paul says the Galatians are so spiritually dull, he asks the questions, ‘Who has bewitched you?’ This carries with it the idea of someone casting a spell over you and in the original Greek it literally says, ‘to give an evil eye.’

In other words, they have temporarily lost their reasoning concerning the very nature of how a person is saved. And because some were giving them the evil eye, they were seduced into taking their eyes off Jesus.

Paul reminds them of Who they should be looking at by saying, ‘before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.’

The Galatians had taken their eyes off the Jesus that had been preached to them by Paul. They had cast their eyes upon the proposals of the Judaizing teachers and were fascinated by what they were teaching.

Paul says Christ and His crucifixion was ‘clearly portrayed’ to them, in other words, it was announced publicly. Paul had preached Jesus Christ and His crucifixion in such a vivid manner that it was as if they had personally experienced the crucifixion in Galatia.

They took their minds off Christ and started to focus on themselves and Paul was astonished by how quickly they were turning away from the Gospel.

The word ‘fixing’ in Hebrews 12:1-2, literally means to glue, to stick and so, we need to permanently glue our eyes on Jesus because whenever we take our eyes off of Him, we can easily be led astray by the fascination of something else.

And so, after asking the first question, Paul goes on to ask another question.

“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” Galatians 3:2

Now what does Paul mean here? Is he referring to their baptism when they received the Holy Spirit? Or is he referring to the time an apostle laid his hands upon them to receive the miraculous gifts? The simple answer is, we simply don’t know.

Paul worked many miracles among them, Acts 15:12, and we know that he had established churches in this region on the first missionary journey, as well as, visited them on the second. And I’m certain that he would have had laid hands on those members with whom he had personal contact.

We also need to remember Peter later went through this region and also would have laid hands on the members of the church on whom Paul hadn’t laid hands in order that they receive the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

We can’t be sure but if Paul does have in mind the miraculous receiving of the Spirit by the laying on of his hands, then his argument is quite forceful.

He’s actually telling them, if they had received the Spirit by the laying on of the hands of those who preached the Gospel of grace, then they didn’t receive the Spirit as a result of some meritorious work they performed or by their perfect obedience to law.

Because the Spirit Himself was a free gift that came as a result of God’s grace. The authority to exercise the miraculous gifts of the Spirit was a free gift, the apostles didn’t earn the gift, and neither did the Galatians, Matthew 10:7-8 / 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Paul continues and asks yet another question.

“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?” Galatians 3:3-4

Paul says that they are so ‘foolish’ which in Greek means, ‘spiritually dull’, they can’t see just how foolish their actions are. The Holy Spirit initiated salvation by bringing to them the Gospel through inspired preaching.

They now assume that they can complete the work of the Spirit by adding their meritorious deeds or works of law keeping through circumcision and ceremonies.

In the previous chapter, they were thinking that Christ didn’t do enough on the cross and here in this chapter, they are thinking that the Holy Spirit didn’t do enough. They forgot how their spiritual life begun, it begun in Christ.

And so, Paul is asking them how can they add or do anything more to complete their salvation? Galatians 3:11 / Galatians 4:9. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that observing law and keeping traditions will actually help us spiritually.

We know that when Paul was preaching in Galatia he suffered great persecution and this persecution originated from the Jews who wanted to stamp out the movement of Christianity since it was taking many from Judaism.

This persecution was certainly one motivation for the Judaizing teachers to go on their campaign to recruit the Galatian churches, Galatians 4:17. We also know that these legalisers wanted to escape the persecution their fellow Jews were receiving, Galatians 6:12.

Remember in the early years of the beginning of the Galatian churches, there was a lot of persecution from the Jews and so, Paul is basically asking, what was the point of going through all that persecution, if you’re going to give into them and compromise the Gospel?

Paul moves onto his next question.

“So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” Galatians 3:5

When Paul demonstrated his work among the Galatians before the Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15, the Jerusalem brethren stood silent. Paul and Barnabas had preached the cross on the first missionary journey and the Lord confirmed their preaching by the miraculous works of the Spirit, Acts 15:12.

Jesus said this would happen, Mark 16:20, and the Hebrew writer says the same, Hebrews 2:3-4. But not only had the Spirit worked miracles through Paul and Barnabas, but also the gifts of the Spirit were given to the Galatians through the laying on of Paul’s hands, Acts 19:1-6.

Paul is questioning their sensibility and he’s asking them, did the Spirit do all this miraculous work on the basis of their meritorious law-keeping or on their hearing and obeying the Gospel?

And once again the answer is obvious, the Spirit was working in and through them because they simply obeyed the Gospel.

“So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So, those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Galatians 3:6-9

Paul now resorts to the Judaizers favourite Old Testament character whom they used in their arguments to convince the Galatians to return to circumcision and ceremonies of the Old Testament law.

Paul lays out God’s salvation by grace under the Old Testament law and how the obedient life of Abraham proves that we are justified before God by faith.

Paul tells them that Abraham was justified, which means being right with God, before he came into a special covenant relationship with God. In other words, Paul is saying that the covenant didn’t make Abraham righteous before God.

In fact, a little later in Paul is going to remind them Abraham was made righteous even before the Old Testament Law was given, Galatians 3:17.

Paul’s point is that neither the Old Testament law nor God’s personal covenant with Abraham or Israel is now necessary for the salvation of the Galatians.

Remember we’re dealing with a bunch of legalisers who are trying to teach that Jesus didn’t do enough to save us and so, they said, we have to accept Jesus but also keep the old laws and be circumcised.

But what Paul wants to do is remind them that it was Abraham’s obedient faith, not his meritorious works of law that justified him before God, James 2:21.

It was Abraham’s faith that moved him to obedience because without that faith he wouldn’t have acted, Hebrews 11:17-19. The Hebrew writer tells us that the justifying action of offering Isaac was founded upon Abraham’s faith and he trusted that God could raise people from the dead.

And it was because of that faith, his actions and trust in God, that it was ‘credited to him as righteousness.’ The Greek word translated ‘credited’ means something is accredited to the account of another.

In other words, righteousness is accredited to the account of Abraham and all who walk by faith. The accounting or accrediting doesn’t happen as a result of our performance of law in order to earn righteousness. No one is credited as a result of meritorious good works.

When Abraham had no son, God made the promise in Genesis 15 that He would be the father of many nations, not just the nation of Israel.

A little later in Genesis 17:3-5 God makes another promise to him and says, Gentiles, who were without the Old Testament law before the coming of Jesus, were considered sons of Abraham, not because of a special covenant-law relationship they had with God, but by faith.

They are justified by faith in the work of God on the cross and salvation by faith has always been in view of the cross. Salvation by faith and grace before the cross was made possible because those who were obediently faithful were looking forward to the cross. By faith, those whom God justified in view of the cross, trusted that He would do so according to His eternal plan.

We today are justified because our faith looks back to the cross because we trust in the blood of Christ and trust that God will redeem us from our sins, Ephesians 1:7.

Notice what Paul says, ‘those who have faith are children of Abraham’. We can just imagine the anger in the Jew’s mind when he said those words. We can imagine them thinking to themselves, ‘what! Faith doesn’t make you child of Abraham! Being a Jew makes you a child of Abraham!’

Remember that the Jews regarded Moses as the father of the law and Abraham was the father of the nation. But the problem was the Jews forgot who Abraham really was, Abraham wasn’t a Jew, he was a Gentile, Ezekiel 16:3.

Paul says being a spiritual child of Abraham doesn’t come as a result of being born a Jew, being a spiritual child of Abraham is based on faith.

The Gentiles hadn’t received the Old Testament law, nor had God established a covenant relationship with them. But Paul says, those who walked by faith during the Old Testament times were children of Abraham by faith, and therefore they were justified before God by their faith.

The spiritual nations of whom Abraham was the father, have always been justified by faith. Abraham was justified by obedient faith and so are we. The Jews were claiming to be right with God based upon their claim that Abraham was their father.

Don’t misunderstand what Paul means when he’s talking about faith here. The faith which Paul is talking is about is obedience to Him in whom we have faith. The saving faith which Paul is talking is a responsive and responsible faith, Galatians 5:6.

Paul quotes from Genesis 12:3 and tells us that Abraham was first to hear the Gospel and he says that all nations were blessed in the coming of Jesus for the atonement of men.

The good news of justification by faith was first announced to Abraham and God revealed to Abraham that righteousness comes through faith. And those who would follow in the steps of Abraham’s faith would receive the blessing of salvation of the promise that God made to Abraham.

In other words, those who express their trust in God for salvation by faith are blessed by the faith of Abraham. They are blessed because God promised Abraham the blessing of salvation. It was through his seed that the Redeemer came as Genesis 12:1-3 reminds us.

Notice, since the blessing came as a result of God’s promise, its fulfilment didn’t depend on the meritorious work of Abraham or even upon Abraham’s faith. In other words, the totality of the blessing was based solely on the grace of God to save man through Jesus.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Galatians 3:10-12

When Paul says, ‘for all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse’. He isn’t talking about some kind of voodoo curse, he’s talking about the difficult circumstance a person may find themselves in when they try to keep the law.

He’s arguing against the Judaizers by showing them the teaching of the Old Testament concerning those who would seek justification by law-keeping. Those who choose to be justified by law-keeping must suffer the curse that law brings.

And what is that curse? The curse of condemnation. It brings condemnation because no-one can live perfectly under law in order to be sinless, and therefore be justified.

But who are those who are cursed? The cursed are those who seek to use law with the illusion that they can justify themselves before God by their meritorious performance of law.

And the problem with this teaching is that if anyone wants to be right with God through law keeping, you can’t break one law, you have to keep the law perfectly, James 2:10.

And so, by quoting Deuteronomy 27:26, Paul argues that man has no hope of justification if he tries to be legally justified before God on the basis of his ability to keep law.

We must note the word, ‘the’ in Galatians 3:11 isn’t in the original Greek text and that’s important because what Paul is saying is that no-one can be justified before God by the perfect keeping of any law.

It was never the purpose of law to produce salvation. The purpose of law is to direct our attention to our inadequacies in reference to law, and therefore, plead for God’s grace.

It’s the purpose of law to manifest sin and death, and therefore, direct us toward the atonement of the cross. It’s the purpose of law to direct our lives in the direction of God’s grace and what He would have us do. In other words, law directs our lives but the grace of God through the cross takes care of our misdirection’s.

Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 where it says, ‘See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.’

This statement is quoted in three contexts in the New Testament and in each example the Jewish Christians were seeking to return to law-keeping as a means of salvation.

Notice what Paul is doing here, he is contrasting words. The words, ‘by faith’ emphasises total reliance on God for our salvation. ‘Works’ or ‘flesh’ are words that Paul uses to emphasise the fact that there are those who trust in their own ability to keep the law and do good works.

Paul is saying that no-one can save themselves no matter how obedient they are to God and His will. Those words are offensive to the legalist and the reason they are offensive is because they want to feel as if they are contributing in some way towards their salvation.

Law in and of itself doesn’t demand faith, it doesn’t demand that we trust in God which again isn’t a New Testament idea. Paul quotes from Leviticus 18:5 which says, ‘keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them.’

Why is Paul quoting this Old Testament passage? Simply to show us that if anyone could be justified by law-keeping, then they must keep all the law perfectly.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Galatians 3:13-14

Don’t you just love those words, ‘Christ redeemed us’? They say it all, don’t they? Those words tell us everything we ever really need to know concerning our salvation.

Jesus ransomed us from the curse of having to live perfectly according to law in order to be justified. He made us perfect in Him by His cleansing blood and He became the curse by taking upon Himself that which condemned us through law, that is, our sin against law.

There can be no salvation without the atonement of Jesus that takes care of our sin problem in relation to law. God’s solution for our sin problem comes as the free gift to all who would submit to obedience of the Gospel.

But what does it mean to be cursed on a tree? For most capital offenses covered by Jewish Law, stoning was the form of punishment. On some occasions the dead body would be hung in public as a deterrent to further crime, Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

The apostle Paul referred to this law in relationship to Jesus and His death on the cross. Paul is saying that Jesus was cursed for us, hanging on the cross as a substitute for our sins.

He’s saying that Jesus was willing to suffer the condemnation of hanging on a tree for our benefit. He took our condemnation by being condemned for us on the tree.

Jesus died in order to reaffirm the blessing of salvation by grace through faith. Salvation by faith that was promised to all nations through Abraham was fulfilled at the cross, Titus 2:11.

In other words, the Gospel, is the avenue through which we must pass in order to receive the blessing of the promise of the Spirit. In the context of this letter, Paul isn’t talking about receiving the Holy Spirit at baptism, he’s referring to the out pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in Acts 2.

The Law And The Promise

“Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.” Galatians 3:15-16

Paul argues with the Judaizers by reminding them that when God makes a promise, He keeps it. Paul says that the coming of the law, didn’t do away with or cancel the promise. Neither did the law become a condition upon which the promise was fulfilled or applied to our salvation.

Paul is arguing that the promise from God to Abraham was more superior to the law. In other words, God’s promise to Abraham to bring forth the blessing to all nations, was unconditionally given.

Abraham didn’t earn the promise, God simply told him what He would do in the future through Abraham’s seed and remember that the law was given through Moses and he was told what he must do. In other words, the promise was given through grace, whereas law was given in order to demand obedience.

The word ‘covenant’ simply means agreement or contract and Paul begins by reminding the Galatians of the nature of the covenants that are established between humans. He says, these covenants or agreements aren’t changed after they have been approved.

A covenant is made between two parties and only the parties involved can change the covenant. A third party can’t make changes to the covenant, neither can anyone other than the two parties cancel the covenant that has been made between the two parties.

Notice that Paul uses the word, ‘promises’ plural, but what promises is he referring too? Well, he’s referring to the promises God gave Abraham.

God gave Abraham four promises, He said Abraham would be given a land and he would become a great nation. He would make Abraham’s name great and he would be blessed and be a blessing to all men, Genesis 12:1-3.

Notice there are three physical promises, land, name, nation, all if which had been fulfilled by the time of Jesus. The blessing promise was in reference to salvation and was fulfilled through the coming of the Seed, who was Jesus.

The point Paul is making is that it was God who made the promises and He made the promises without any meritorious conditions on the part of Abraham.

God didn’t suggest any conditions to Abraham that he must keep in order to receive the promises. And Paul says it was Christ who was the particular Seed around whom all the promises of the covenant were made.

It was through the seed or descendants of Abraham that the Seed would come into the world. In other words, it was through the seed of Abraham that God would show His grace in the world through the sacrificial blood of Jesus.

“What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” Galatians 3:17-18

Paul’s argument to the Judaizers was that the law, which came 430 years after God reaffirmed them to Jacob, the covenant he had made with Abraham, didn’t cancel the promise or become a condition for the fulfilment of the promise. The law didn’t set aside the promise by becoming a condition upon which it was to be fulfilled.

Paul is saying that the fulfilment of the promise was based on God’s grace. The coming of the law didn’t offer a substitute for the promise, it only encouraged the fulfilment of the promise.

In other words, law exemplified or displayed the sin of those to whom it was given but the promise pointed the law-keepers toward salvation by faith and grace, Romans 4:13.

Paul is basically saying, the law drove men towards faith and he says, the promise was given as a gift to Abraham regardless of the law. The law had nothing to do with the fulfilment of the promise, God fulfils His promises regardless of law.

We can imagine those legalisers thinking to themselves, ‘Paul, you don’t know what you’re talking about, what’s the point of the law? Why did God introduce law in the first place?’ And so, Paul anticipating their questions, answers their questions.

“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.” Galatians 3:19-20

God gave the law because He knew what was right and wrong, but we didn’t. People already broke God’s holy standard of righteousness. The law was given so that people would know what was right and wrong and could therefore be corrected when they violated those commands.

The law was given to highlight how sinful we are, Romans 7:7, and in order to convince anyone of sin, there had to be a standard by which a person could self-inspect their life, James 1:22-25.

The law was given to Israel, not to save those to whom it was given, but to show the need for God’s grace in the lives of those to whom it was given.

We know that the Old Testament law was given through angels to Moses who was the mediator between Israel and God. And so, in effect, Israel received the law third hand but the grace of God through Jesus was given directly to Israel from God as an offering for sin.

Paul says, though ‘God is one’, the mediator doesn’t represent just one person. In other words, the law involved two parties, one party gave and the other had to obey.

Paul is basically saying that the one God of heaven gave the promise directly to Abraham on behalf of many peoples, that is, all nations. The law required a mediator but the promises given to Abraham didn’t need one.

We can imagine the legalisers thinking as they heard these words being read out saying, ‘Paul you’ve seriously lost the plot, do you really want us to believe that the law opposed the promises of God?’

And so, Paul anticipating their questions, answers their questions.

“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:21-22

Paul says the law didn’t set aside the promises, the law didn’t work against the promises. He says the law worked to fulfil the promises. In fact, Paul says, if anyone could have been justified by law keeping, then certainly the Old Testament law could have done that.

And it’s not the fault of law that men can’t keep it perfectly in order to be right before God. The fault is with men, not the law of God but what the law did was not only highlight our sinfulness but also it confined us to condemnation because of our sin.

But the good news is, because the law highlighted that we are sinners and makes us to hold our hands up to our sinfulness, we see our need to trust God and His grace for us.

Paul is saying that the law drove those who were the sons of Abraham by faith to accept the promise. The promise which says that salvation comes through the grace of the cross of Christ.

Children Of God

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Galatians 3:23-25

Paul says before the coming of the fulfilment of the promise, people were held in the captivity of sin because the law could not make people right with God.

He’s says that the law, any law reminds us that we’re prisoners, we’re prisoners to our own sin and he argues that prisoners want release, he’s arguing that anyone who lives under any law wants release from the condemnation of that law.

Notice that Paul says the law was our ‘guardian’, the word guardian is an interesting word, it’s the Greek word, ‘pedagogue.’ It refers to the trusted slave in Roman and Jewish culture who was given charge of the children to both lead and supervise the children who were six to sixteen years in age.

Israel as a nation was entrusted to the law in order to be directed to Christ. The discipline of the law actually showed the immaturity of those to whom it was given. The purpose of the ‘pedagogue’ was to lead to Christ, the undisciplined and immature, but once the ‘pedagogue’ had served his purpose, he was discharged from his duties.

Paul says this same idea applies to the Old Testament law and we’re no longer under that guardian. The law was a shadow of good things to come and when the substance of the shadow came, the law was taken away, Hebrews 10:1.

And what was the substance? The substance was found at the cross in the form of Jesus the Christ.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Galatians 3:26-29

Paul says that Christians are actually considered by God to be His children through Christ Jesus. And how are we children of God? We are His children through faith, not through law-keeping. But how does a person get into that new covenant with God? How do we get right with God if we’re not under law?

Paul says we get right with God by being ‘baptised into Christ’. Baptism is the point at which the believer comes into a covenant relationship with God, and therefore begins his or her journey of faith. Baptism is the point in time when a believer establishes and signs a covenant to trust in God for salvation by His grace.

And when a person’s faith moves them to respond to God’s grace, their response is immersion into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is simply a response to grace by the believer, who at the time of immersion contacts the blood of Jesus that came as a result of the grace of God.

In other words, the believer comes into a covenant with the One through whom the blessing was shown, that is, Jesus Christ.

In the following two chapters of Galatians Paul is going to discuss in great detail what he means by ‘clothing ourselves with Christ’. Paul uses two metaphorical phrases in this passage that refer to the relationship a person establishes with Christ by obedience to the Gospel.

By being baptised in water ‘into Christ’ a person comes into a realm where they establish a spiritual relationship with Deity. And by ‘clothing ourselves with Christ’ a person takes on the spiritual nature of Deity by conforming to Christ.

Remember law tells us that we’re sinners and we’re in need of God to save us because we can’t save ourselves, no matter how good we think we are.

The law created within Israel the differences and distinctions of race, class and sex but Paul says that the class distinctions of race, Jew or Greek, social class, slave or free and sex, male or female, all end in Christ. It’s not that these distinctions end within themselves in Christ, but that salvation by grace and faith are made applicable to all.

In Christ, there is equality to all in reference to salvation. These social distinctions that bring division among men in the secular world are nullified when one is baptised into Christ, Colossians 3:11. All Christians are one in Christ.

Christianity isn’t linked to any one culture of man, Jews can’t culturally claim it and Gentiles can’t claim it. And so, because Christianity isn’t culturally linked, it can go to all cultures of the world, all Christians are one in Christ and anyone who becomes a Christian becomes an ‘heir according to the promise.’

Paul’s point is that being an heir of the promise didn’t depend on being a physical descendant of Abraham. It depended on being a ‘spiritual descendant’ by faith. The Jews couldn’t, because of their physical heritage through Abraham, consider themselves to have a special relationship with God, Matthew 3:9.

If anyone obeys the Gospel in order to be clothed with Christ, then they are of the seed of Abraham. Abraham trusted God at His promise and looked forward to the cross of Calvary, as Christians, we look back to the cross of Calvary for our salvation.

Go To Galatians 4


"That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Romans 10:9