GALATIANS - A Verse-by-Verse Commentary

by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter Three - The Supremacy of Faith over Law

Tracing the flow and meaning of Paul’s arguments in chapters three and four

If we wish to understand what Paul is trying to accomplish in his arguments in chapters three and four, then we need to pay attention to the flow (the movement and progress) of his arguments, and the critical junctures of the text. This is a basic factor in interpretation of a Biblical text, and is really a significant factor to understand any non-fictional literature. We pay attention to these things so that we can understand the real thrust, the essence, of what the author is saying and often why he is saying it.

Below is a brief outline of the flow of chapters three and four, and into the beginning of chapter five. This summary will also highlight some critical junctures in the text that show us where Paul is going and what he is after. Some popular commentaries state that chapters three and four can be summarized as Paul’s defense of the doctrine of justification by faith. However, although the truth of justification by faith is there in the text I believe we will see that a defense of this doctrine is not the main point of this section of the letter. Here is an outline of the text:

3:1-5 – Paul accuses the Galatians of being tricked and foolish. Why? Because they were trying to be perfected in their Christian lives through the efforts of their flesh to keep the law. Paul points out that they began by the Spirit through the hearing of faith, so this is the way they should continue.

3:6-14 – Paul uses the example of Abraham to support his argument for the way of faith. He contrasts the curse of those who use the law with the blessing upon those who are of faith. So Paul is building upon what he taught in verses 1-5 in showing the supremacy of faith over law.

3:15-29 – Paul moves in his argument to prove that faith preceded law because the promise was made to Abraham in a covenant before the law was even in place. Therefore, the law cannot put aside the promise of the covenant. The law could not give life. The law was only given to prove to man his sinfulness and to prepare him, as a tutor (or guardian), for faith in the Savior. A key juncture here is at verses 25 and 26: “But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” The apostle has laid out his argument for a purpose: to pull the deceived Galatians back into faith and grace, and away from law. He is showing us that the principle of faith has made us sons of God, bringing us into a life-union with Christ. Thus, it is not man’s efforts to do something for God (law) that produces true Christian maturity and service, but man’s new life in Christ (see Gal. 6:15).

4:1-7 – Paul is showing us here that all men were living under bondage to law until the Son of God came into the world to redeem us. The outcome of that redemption, for those who believe, is “adoption” (the Greek term means “placement as a son”) as sons of God, which involves the reception of God’s Spirit into our hearts. A key juncture verse is verse seven, which concludes: “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Again, the apostle is writing to show that the law is over with as a way to relate to God, and now we have a life relationship to God as sons.

4:8-11 – Paul is expressing his dismay that the believers, in light of the facts that for them “law” is over, are returning to the “elemental things” of religious observances. A Christian life focused on obligations to observances is legalistic. Paul’s fear is that his labor is in vain because true Christian maturity of life is missing. Verses 9-11 constitute a critical juncture in the text, revealing the apostle’s deepest concerns and showing us exactly why he has developed the arguments in 3:1-4:7. Because these believers are returning to the law principle for living, Paul fears his labor may end up in vain.

4:12-20 – Here Paul gives a personal and impassioned appeal to the Galatian readers. He is begging them to return to grace, free from law as he is. He confesses he is in labor over them until Christ is formed in them, that is, until they are brought into a mature expression of Christ’s life in their daily living.

4:21-31 – Paul here uses one last argument to show these believers the contrast between law and grace. The old covenant of law is only one of bondage and is characterized by the flesh. The new covenant of grace produces children who are free from enslavement to law and are born of the Spirit. His concluding word in this section is a key verse: “So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.” This verse states the “spiritual facts”: the Galatians are, in spiritual reality, God’s heavenly people, born of the Spirit, and are not children of law.

5:1 – Based upon the spiritual facts, the truth, of all that the apostle has laid out in chapters three and four, Paul now makes a conclusive command for application in the readers’ lives. “Therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [law].” This is obviously a most critical verse coming at the point of conclusion of a long series of arguments. In verse four we can see that those who keep insisting upon being under law “have fallen from grace.”

Works of law contrasted with the Spirit by faith – 3:1-5

Now we turn to look at particular sections of chapters three and four in more detail.

We have already covered most of the meaning of Gal. 3:1 at the end of the last chapter. The main point of the verse as respects the content of chapter three is that the Galatians were being deceived by the Judaizers. The Judaizers taught them that observance of the law was God’s way for the Galatians to have a holy walk with God – to be sanctified. Paul then proceeds to lay out an argument for these believers. How did they begin their Christian life? The answer is that they received the Spirit of God, and this happened through their “hearing of faith.” That is, they believed the gospel preached to them by Paul, placing their trust in Christ (Gal. 4:13-14).

At the moment of belief a person receives the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:14; Acts 11:15-17; Eph. 1:13). In verses 2-5 we see the Spirit paired with “the hearing of faith.” Then we also see the flesh paired with “the works of law” (the Greek text reads “works of law,” not “works of the law”). These pairings are significant and Paul is using them to contrast two ways. One way is the principle of grace, here indicated by “the Spirit by faith.” The other way is the principle of law, indicated by works of law by man’s flesh.

In the grace principle, man believes what God has said, and the result is that the Spirit is given to him. In the law principle, man focuses on a set of rules or standards and uses the effort of the flesh, his natural ability, to try to live up to the standards. The law principle requires man’s effort to “achieve” something for God by his own strength and ability. The law principle involves independence from God since the requirement centers on man’s performance. The grace principle requires man to simply trust God’s word and thus receive the Holy Spirit in order to live Christ’s life. The focus in grace is upon Christ Himself, and the entire attitude is dependence. Please see Appendix A at the end of this book to learn more about these two important principles. Knowing how these two principles work and tend to affect our lives is critical to living an overcoming Christian life.

Paul’s argument is very simple. If you Galatians began the Christian life through grace, simply receiving the Spirit upon belief, why are you now trying to mature by the efforts of your flesh to live up to some law standard? Then in verse four Paul wonders if they had suffered so many things for their faith in vain. After believing, these believers had endured persecution. Now that they were turning to law and not maturing, will the price they paid to follow Christ be for nothing? Following Christ in true discipleship, even in suffering for His name, brings maturity of character and also future reward (Matt. 5:10-12; 10:24-25; 19:27-29; Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2-4). But Paul wonders if their past suffering will prove fruitless since they may not now go on to maturity, a real goal for the believer (4:19). Further, future rewards (at Christ’s Judgment Seat) for faithfulness can be reduced by later unfaithfulness (2 Jn. 8).

Gal. 3:5 is one of those verses which is really powerful, but it seems most of us miss its significance in our reading. This verse speaks of a supply of God’s Spirit to the believer. The believer’s spirit is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But, just like electricity must flow to a light bulb from the power plant, even though already connected to the source by wires, so the Spirit must flow to us from God above. This verse tells us that God supplies believers with His Spirit in an ongoing way by the “hearing of faith.” Through the believer exercising faith in God’s word, the Spirit is supplied. The power of the Spirit enables us to live Christ’s life, not our own “will power” efforts to imitate Christ or obey His commandments. Our “will power” efforts are just the efforts of “our flesh,” our natural life (apart from the Spirit of God). The law principle calls for our own efforts to obey. It calls us to do “works of law” – acts of obedience to a code of conduct. The grace principle calls for us to receive the Spirit’s power through our faith so that we may live His life. Also, any miracles that may be worked through a believer come in the same way.

Life Application

At this point I would like to pause the commentary notes to speak about life application of these important truths. In Gal. 2:19-3:5 Paul unveils two ways that believers can try to live the Christian life. There is the “way of grace” and there is “the way of law.” I would suggest that the law principle comes naturally to all of us. We tend to conform to rules and traditions. How do you view your Christian life? Do you see your Christian life as consisting of certain activities or duties you should take care of, such as attending church meetings, “proper behavior” in the meetings, agreement to certain doctrines, recognizing certain holy days, honoring certain leaders, doing what is expected by these leaders, reading your Bible regularly, saying some “prayers” at traditional times in a certain manner, witnessing for Jesus and trying to do some service for Him, and doing your best not to commit sins? Are you trying to “do your best for Jesus?” If these things are your focus – what you strive “to do” – then you are really living under law with a focus on performance, rules, standards and traditions. You are using your “flesh,” your best efforts, to live up to a code of conduct.

In contrast, how can we describe “grace” living? Living under grace firstly focuses our inward being on the person of Christ (Heb. 12:2). We are truly seeking after Him with our hearts and seeking to learn from Him and know Him increasingly in our daily life. We want to draw all of our life and strength from Him. We want to hear His “voice” and to be led by the gentle indications of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. To have the “hearing of faith” and to live by faith, we will seek after Him and meditate on His Word, not just for doctrinal understanding, but for spiritual life from His Word to us (Matt. 4:4; Lk. 8:15; Rom. 10:17; cf. Heb. 10:38). Remember, the Spirit is supplied to us by “the hearing of faith.”

Our attitude towards Christ and living the Christian life should be marked by humility: showing a lack of trust in one’s self and one’s abilities to be or do anything rightly before God. Living in humility involves living in utter dependence upon Him in all matters, not just in “Christian duties.” “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). Life lived by grace is not passive, waiting on God to do something in us or to inspire us. It is active, where the believer uses his will to seek God and the things of God (Matt. 6:33; 7:7; Rom. 8:5; Col. 3:2; Heb. 4:16; 11:6). In living by grace the believer does not use his will to achieve something for God, but to seek God and receive from God.

To learn much more about living the Christian life, please see the author’s book, The Victorious Christian Life: A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian.

The example of Abraham – 3:6-14

The apostle now moves his argument from the experience of the Galatian believers (3:2-5) to the example of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. His word on Abraham is given to again prove that faith is greater than law, with faith being shown as the principle God used to reckon Abraham to be righteous. Verse six makes it clear that Abraham was counted as righteous before God simply because he believed God’s word to him. The OT quotation in 3:6 is from Gen. 15:6.

Verse seven declares the simple principle of relationship to Abraham: those who are of faith are “sons of Abraham.” This includes the Gentiles who have faith because verse eight refers to “all nations” being blessed in Abraham, and verse nine concludes that “those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” Verse eight would be taken to heart by the Gentile Galatians because Paul states the Scripture definitely foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles (the nations) by faith. Some may wonder how the word in Gen. 12:2 to Abraham – “All the nations will be blessed in you” – could be the proclamation of “the gospel.” Please refer to the footnote below for the explanation. [1]

The blessing and the curse are attached to two different principles in verses nine and ten. To try to perform works of law is futile and brings in a negative result, even a curse, for the one who tries it. But, Abraham, and those who are also of faith, receive a marvelous blessing from God. In looking more closely at verse ten it is interesting that the verse does not say “those who break the law are under a curse.” Rather it states that those who would simply attempt to live by the works of the Law are automatically doomed. The reason is clear: the Law itself places a curse upon everyone who does not continually perform all the things written within it. The OT law had 613 commandments! To meticulously keep these day after day is impossible for man.

The OT law was a reflection of God’s standard of morality and holiness. There is simply no way for fallen man to live up to God’s standard perfectly. Therefore, under law man is under a curse due to his inability to live in a holy way before God. Even those who are not under the OT law, but under some other code, fail, of course, to meet God’s standard of a holy life and thus are condemned (Rom. 3:9-20). Rom. 3:19-20 declares that all the world (Jew and Gentiles) has become accountable to God, and by “works of law [not the law] no flesh will be justified in His sight.” The curse is death (v. 13). The blessing of Abraham here seems to be justification by faith, which Abraham received when he believed God (v. 6).

Gal. 3:11 cites a verse from Habakkuk to prove that justification (here meaning being declared righteous by God) cannot be achieved by law (the Greek text uses “by law,” not by the law). The connection between righteousness and faith is shown in the OT passage. Verse 12 then makes the simple declaration that the law is not of faith. This is because one operating under law must perform works of that law. Faith, however, is not based upon our doing; it is based upon trust in God.

The OT law contained a penalty of being hung upon a tree: “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God)” (Deut. 21:22-23). This verse shows us that Christ bore our sins for us and took the penalty of death in our place (cf. Jn. 1:29; Rom. 5:6, 8; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 2:24). Thus, we have been redeemed from the curse of the law and are no longer under the penalty of eternal death.

Verse 14 continues by showing us that since Christ has died for our redemption, the blessing of Abraham, justification by faith, could come to the Gentiles. That was the blessing in which “all nations” might participate by faith (see 3:8). This section on Abraham ends with this verse which reveals that this blessing of being reckoned righteous makes it possible for the promise of the Spirit (meaning “the promised Spirit”) to be received simply by faith (cf. 3:2).

The purpose of Paul in writing about Abraham here is to show the supremacy of faith over law. He wants to redirect the Galatian believers back to faith and grace, and away from law-keeping. We should note that Abraham was justified by faith before the law was given (Gen. 15:6; Gal. 3:6). Further, we should note that the word to Habakkuk about the “righteous man [who] shall live by faith” came to the prophet during the era of the law (Gal. 3:11). This means that the law was not given to Israel as a means for justification, but that the principle of faith remained as the way for justification during the time of the law. The law was given as instruction to Israel on how to live before God in a holy way, but not as a way for them to procure God’s justification, a declaration of their righteousness before Him. Then, of course, after the law was over and Christ had come, justification by faith is clearly seen in this passage (Gal. 3:8, 9, 14). Dr. David Anderson summarizes the principle of faith in this passage:

The only requirement for receiving the benefit of Christ’s substitutionary death is faith. Paul has shown that faith was the requirement before the law (Abraham), during the law (Habakkuk), and after the law (the Gentiles). . . . There was grace before the law, during the law, and after the law. So also with faith. The requirement for the justification salvation of man is always the same – faith. The object of our faith has always been the same – God. The means of our salvation, always the same – the blood of Christ. Only the content of our faith has differed as we move along the timeline of human history. God did not reveal as much to Abraham as he did to David, or as much to David as he did to Peter. His ultimate revelation was Jesus Himself (Heb. 1:1). But let it be clearly said, the requirement has always been and always will be the same – faith.[2]

The law contrasted with life and sonship in Christ – 3:15-29

Gal. 3:15-18 explain why the promises made to Abraham were not invalidated by the law. Paul is perhaps explaining this in order to counter any arguments by the Judaizers that when the law came in it took precedence over the promises. We need to cover some background in Genesis to help understand this passage. God’s promises to Abraham in Gen. 12:2, 3, 7 contained personal blessings for Abraham, national blessings for Abraham’s descendants and universal blessings for all the nations. These promises clearly indicated that Abraham would have descendants. These promises were the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, a great feature of the Bible. Scripture reveals how these promises were later further explained and expanded in various passages.

A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. Importantly, in Genesis 15, God visited Abraham and assured him that he would have descendants from his own body. God then ratified the covenant with Abraham through an ancient ceremony involving the passing between two rows of split animals. In such a ceremony it is common for both parties of the covenant to pass between the animal parts, if both parties have obligations to fulfill in the covenant. However, in this case, only God (represented by the smoking oven and the flaming torch) passed between the two rows. This action revealed that this is a covenant that God Himself would work to bring to pass for the nation of Israel, descendants of Abraham.

God’s intention to bless all nations in Abraham, who would become a great nation, was confirmed again by God in Gen. 18:18, and the word “in your [Abraham’s] seed” was added later to clarify that the blessing would also come through a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 22:18; 26:4). Paul’s point in verse 16 is that the word of promise to Abraham was also to his “seed,” indicating its fulfillment would be found in one descendant, Christ. In verse 16 Paul states that the word is not “seeds,” meaning many, but “seed,” singular. Expositor F. F. Bruce says we should not be overly concerned about Paul’s insistence that the OT text uses “seed” instead of “seeds.” Bruce explains it this way:

The essence of his argument can be expressed quite acceptably if it is pointed out that the biblical text uses a collective singular (‘offspring’) which could refer either to a single descendant or to many descendants. In the first instance the reference is to a single descendant, Christ, through whom the promised blessing was to come to all the Gentiles. In the second instance the reference is to all who receive this blessing; in v 29 all who belong to Christ are thereby included in Abraham’s offspring. Paul was well aware that the collective noun could indicate a plurality of descendants or a single descendant.[3]

Verse 17 is very straightforward. The OT Law, which came 430 years later, cannot invalidate the covenant God made with Abraham previously. Thus, the promise of the covenant for the blessing to the Gentiles through the seed still stands even after the Law is introduced.

The conclusion is in verse 18. Now Paul introduces the thought of “inheritance.” An inheritance is something that is for the children from their father. We see that fact in 3:29 and in 4:7. There is a spiritual inheritance based upon the promise – “God has granted it [the inheritance] to Abraham by means of a promise.” Our spiritual inheritance, as sons of God, is something tied to the promised blessing of Abraham. For the NT believer, it includes our justification, the reception and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and our becoming sons of God (3:14, 26; 4:5-7; cf. Rom. 8:17). These things do not become ours by law, because they were already promised before the law, under a covenant with Abraham, and “those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer” (3:9).

Gal. 3:19 asks a key question that surely comes to the reader’s mind after reading chapter three so far: “Why then the law?” If everything is granted to us through the promise, why then did God give the law? It was added “because of transgressions.” However, Greek scholars (such as W. E. Vine and A. T. Robertson) feel that the preposition here is inadequately translated as “because.” A better understanding of this word is shown in the margin of the New American Standard Bible as “for the sake of defining.” The idea here is that the OT law was given to reveal that man’s sins are transgressions of God’s holy law.

Rom. 4:15 tells us that “where there is no law there is no transgression” (ESV). The meaning of transgression involves stepping over a line, a boundary. The law reveals to man that his sins constitute transgressions of God’s law, legal offenses against Him. Ultimately, “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Verse 19 further shows us that the OT law was temporary in God’s program, “given until the seed [Christ] would come to whom the promise had been made.” In other words, the OT law was given to show man his sinfulness, until Christ came and was revealed as the One who provides forgiveness of man’s sins through His substitutionary death on the cross. Once again the Judaizers are exposed as ignorant of God’s plan. They were pushing the practice of the OT law upon the Galatians. However, the law was only temporary and never provided a means of justification or sanctification. It only exposed man’s great need of a Savior.

The OT law was given by angels through the mediator Moses, “until the seed [Christ] should come.” Verse 20 continues the thought of a mediator and is probably intended to contrast the Abrahamic covenant of promise with the Mosaic covenant (the law). Verse 20 is not easy to interpret and many solutions have been offered. It may be saying that although a mediator is normally needed for a covenant between two parties, God being “one” indicates that He alone has initiated and will fulfill the promises of the covenant with Abraham.

In verse 21 Paul asks, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” Many translations use the word “against” instead of “contrary.” Paul answers emphatically, “May it never be.” The truth is that the OT law and the promise were working together in different roles in order to achieve one end. We will see that in verse 22. The remainder of verse 21 tells us the real shortcoming of law – it does not impart life. Here Paul is speaking of eternal life, the life that is in the Son of God, the only life that can produce righteous living. In comparing the ministry of the OT law covenant with the ministry of the New Covenant, Paul writes: “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6c).

In verse 22 Paul shows that “the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Christ Jesus might be given to those who believe.” The testimony of the entire OT is that men are fallen; man has a tendency towards sin, and everyone has a record of sins. A clear declaration is made in Ps. 14:2-3: “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

So the Scripture, especially the OT law which defines sin and enlightens man as to his guilt before God, works to prepare man to see the only solution to his guilt – the promised Savior, the seed who was to come. In the Savior, forgiveness, justification, and eternal life are freely given by God to those who place their faith in Him.

Gal. 3:23-24 add an even more descriptive picture of how the OT law prepared the Jewish people for faith in Christ, and by extension carried over to all people. Rom. 2:14-15 tells us that even though the Gentiles do not have the OT law, nevertheless the work of the law is active in their hearts by nature, through the conscience of man. Rom. 3:19-20 shows the universal application of the law to charge all men as guilty: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God . . . for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

Here is Gal. 3:23 in one good translation which captures the essence of two significant Greek words used: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (ESV). The Greek verb for “held captive” could be used for guarding someone so that they could not escape (so used in Acts 9:24; 2 Cor. 11:32). The Greek word for “imprisoned” means kept under restraint or hemmed in. The overall picture of the role of the law here is that it is like a jailer, keeping us in a prison until faith is revealed. [4]

Then verse 24 continues with another picture of the role of the law. “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (ESV) The word translated as “guardian” in Greek is paidagōgos, which was used in ancient Roman and Greek cultures for a slave who had charge of a boy in order to supervise his conduct generally and to escort him to and from school. One particular aspect of the guardian’s supervision is brought out by John R. W. Stott: “The AV [“Authorized Version,” meaning King James Version] translation ‘schoolmaster’ is unfortunate, for the paidagōgos was not the boy’s teacher so much as his disciplinarian. He was often harsh to the point of cruelty, and is usually depicted in ancient drawings with a rod or cane in his hand.” [5]

Given the expressive pictures provided in 3:22-24, we may see more clearly the role and work of the law in preparing men for the gospel and the Savior. The Scripture has clearly demonstrated that all men are under the sway and guilt of sin (v. 22). Being under law is like being held by a jailer and kept in restraint in a prison (v. 23). And the law acts as a strict supervisor over our lives, with a rod ready to apply disciplinary punishment to us (v. 24).

Now, let us see if we can understand these illustrations of the work of the law in verses 23 and 24 more clearly. The OT law gave many demands upon the people of Israel and threatened various punishments upon them for disobedience. It was very strict, like a strict guardian over someone in their custody. In addition, failure to uphold all of the requirements of the law brought a curse upon the people (v. 10). Not only did the law make strict demands, but the law itself provoked the people to sin, because of the sin nature within them (1 Cor. 15:56). Therefore, the people were held in a cycle of bondage: the demand to follow the rules, the recurring failures to do so due to indwelling sin, and finally condemnation because of their failures.

Even though God provided a temporary remedy for the people’s sins through the sacrifices, these sacrifices were not effective to give them a clean conscience. The sacrifices only continually reminded them of their sins, reinforcing their sense of condemnation (Heb. 10:1-3). So, the law worked to hold people in a cycle of failure and condemnation, just like a jailer would confine people.

It is most interesting that in 2 Cor. 3:2-9 Paul compares the ministry of the law (“tablets of stone;” “the letter”) to the ministry of the New Covenant. He summarizes the ministry of the law as “the ministry of death” and “the ministry of condemnation.” The purpose then of the law was to define sin and bring all those under its rule to know that they are sinners under condemnation. Therefore, it plays a perfect role in preparing men for the good news that Jesus, the Messiah, has borne the penalty of their sins for them on the cross and that God freely grants forgiveness to the condemned, justifying them through faith in Jesus Christ. The law acts, therefore, to actually bring us to the Savior.

We may summarize Paul’s explanation of “Why the Law then?” (v. 19). It was “added,” meaning that it came in later than God’s original covenant based on His promise. So it was to serve only a temporary purpose. It was given “for the sake of defining transgressions” – revealing men’s sins as offenses against God’s righteous standards. It was shown to be unable to impart spiritual life. Finally the law served the purpose of placing men under condemnation for their sins, thus preparing them to place their faith in Christ alone for their justification before a holy God.

Life Application

In chapter three so far Paul has been writing to show us the inferiority of the law principle compared to faith (another description used of the grace principle). His intention is that the Galatians will no longer try to live by law, since it has ended its intended function for them and it cannot enable believers to live righteously. Whenever we attempt to live by law, we will be brought into a cycle of failure and condemnation, as living to a set of rules or standards will actually provoke sin within us (1 Cor. 15:56). Even the great apostle, Paul, learned this lesson when he tried to keep the commandments after he was saved. This period of attempted law-keeping in Paul’s life is spelled out for us clearly in Rom. 7:7-25. His efforts to keep the law ended in great frustration and condemnation for continual failure. Finally, he saw the right way. It is only the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, not a law of rules, that can set us free from the law [principle] of sin and of death within us (Rom. 8:2). If we walk according to the Spirit, depending upon Him for His direction and life-empowerment, then God’s requirement for righteous living is met (Rom. 8:4).

To walk increasingly according to the Spirit, not by our own efforts, is a learning process for us that is never ending. We must understand that God wants us to give up on “ourselves,” our own efforts to live up to some standard. He wants us to trust in Jesus for everything and look away solely unto Him. We will have many failures along the way. But, as we learn to give up on our efforts, and seek to look away unto Jesus, drawing all of our strength and direction from Him, we should experience a growing consistency in holiness of life, one with fewer failures. Whenever we do have a failure, we should take heart that God is ever ready to forgive us and He wants us to get up and step out again along the path of grace and faith. His forgiveness is found in our simple confession – our agreement with Him when He indicates to us that we have sinned – 1 John 1:9.

Now we return to the text with Gal. 3:25. This is a key turning point, a declaration of importance based on what has been related in verses 19-24. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Gal. 3:25, ESV). “Faith has come” means that Christ has come – for the fulfillment of the promise. Faith was existent with Abraham, but he looked forward in faith to the seed to come for the fulfillment of the blessing. When Christ came, He fulfilled the promise. Therefore, since Christ has come, “we are no longer under a guardian [law].” The law does not apply to the believer in Christ. Those in Christ are “not under law” (Rom. 6:14). For the Galatian believers to pick up the way of law is against God’s revealed plan. [6]

The next few verses are packed with wonderful truth about who we are in Christ and what our inheritance is as “those who are of faith . . . blessed with Abraham” (v. 7). Firstly, Paul says, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 26). (Notice that Paul has used the pronoun “we” in the prior verses to speak of the Jews, but now he uses “you” to address the Galatians, who were Gentiles.) Importantly, this verse tells us that our relationship with God as NT believers is one of life. Our union with Christ in life is highlighted in verses 26-29. We are related to God by sharing in the divine life and nature. We are not related to Him by law – trying to imitate Him or trying to live up to His high standard of character. Col. 3:4 states: “Christ, who is our life.”

Verse 27 states the marvelous truth that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Let us be clear that this is not talking about our water baptism, but our spiritual baptism into Christ, an action that takes place in the spiritual realm. Our union with Christ takes place at the moment of belief, as the context of the preceding verse shows. The sole condition for becoming sons of God in verse 26 is declared as being “through faith,” not faith plus something else (like water baptism).

Verse 27 begins with the explanatory Greek preposition gar, which means our sonship through faith is further explained by our spiritual baptism into Christ. The idea of baptism means immersion into something, often implying a union, an identification, with that into which the object is immersed. We are now fully identified with Christ – He is our life. Moreover, we died with Him and we were raised up with Him, and we are clothed with Him (Rom. 6:3-4). “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is God who has placed us in Christ when we believe – it is His doing (not our doing through water baptism) - and thus Christ has become our righteousness. Our obedience in water baptism is simply an outward testimony of the inward reality of our union with Christ, which becomes ours at the moment we believe. We are sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit when we believe (Eph. 1:13).

Verse 28 follows with another great blessing of our inheritance in Christ. All natural distinctions among men tend to cause prejudice, pride, feelings of superiority or inferiority, or simply uncomfortableness with others who are different. The result is often separation and division. In Christ, however, we are fully united to one another – “you are all one in Christ.” The distinctions noted in this verse are not erased in Christ, but if we live by His life such distinctions have no power to damage harmony, respect, love and mutual service toward one another. God has some difference in roles for men and women for service in the body of Christ, but this does not affect their equal value before God, nor should it affect their value in one another’s eyes.

“And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants [literally, “seed”], heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:29). As those who have been brought into union with Christ, we surely “belong to Christ,” and receive the blessing promised to Him, the seed of Abraham. As sons of God, we are heirs according to promise. That inheritance includes the blessing of justification, the possession of eternal life as a son of God, and membership in the body of Christ. It certainly includes the blessings of an eternity with God in glory. As we will see later, there are other elements of inheritance that relate to reward, not to the gift of God in salvation.

Life Application

In the “Life Application” section at the end of Galatians chapter two the matter of fact-faith-experience was shared. The wonderful truths in Gal. 3:26-29 are surely spiritual facts in which we can place our faith. Bible teachers recognize some key truths in the NT are about the believer’s “position” in Christ. That is, these truths involve who we are and what has been done for us “in Christ” – our “position” in Christ. These “positional truths” do not refer to our “condition,” how we may be living at any time - which may be good or bad, obediently or disobediently. The truths of our position are always true, regardless of how we feel or how we may be living. For example, “we are all sons of God” (3:26) at every moment of our lives, once we have been born again. We “have been clothed with Christ” (3:27) and we do “belong to Christ” (3:29).

For us to walk in victory in the Christian life, we must walk by faith. So we need to take truths like these, and others, and pray over them and confess them in our daily communion with God. This practice will strengthen our faith and definitely improve our actual experience. For example, at some point in time you may feel like you are not close to God even though you have confessed every known sin. At that time, you should stand in faith on the word of God, perhaps confessing in prayer, “Lord I confess and I believe Your word. Thank You, I am a son of God right now because of my faith in Jesus Christ.” Maybe you feel very unholy because of thoughts the enemy keeps trying to place in your mind. Maybe you feel tempted to sin. That is the time to stand on the truth. You might pray this way: “Thank You, God that by Your doing I am in Christ Jesus and He has become my sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). I am not looking to my own sanctification, Lord Jesus, but I am trusting in You as my sanctification. Thank You, Lord, You are my sanctification.” This type of daily confession of truth is very practical and very real. It helps us win the spiritual battle over sin and the devil. Godly saints throughout the ages can testify to this.



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Acts 7:2-3 and Gen. 12:4 show us that God appeared to Abraham and spoke the promises in Gen. 12:1-3 while he lived in Mesopotamia. This personal visit and word from God must have made a great impression upon Abraham. God told Abraham that he should be a blessing and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:2-3). It seems likely that Abraham had some realization that the peoples around him who worshipped idols needed salvation from God. He was surely aware of the flood judgment upon a sinful world and the judgment at Babel upon rebellious man. When Abraham came into the promised land God appeared to him a second time, and Abraham built an altar in worship to the one true God (Gen. 12:7). He knew a Savior was needed and likely knew of the promise of the seed of Gen. 3:15. The statement in Gen. 12:3 that “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” was clarified in 22:18 to be “in your seed [your descendants].” That is, the blessing in Abraham would come from his descendants. And this word “seed” can be taken as a singular descendant, referring to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, as shown in Gal. 3:16. This background gives us a way to understand what happened in Gen. 15. At that time, God’s words of reassurance came to Abraham (Gen. 15:1). However, Abraham was puzzled, as God had not given him an heir born from his union with Sarah. Abraham wondered if his servant was to be his heir (Gen. 15:2-3). But God told him that one born from his own body would be his heir. God took Abraham outside to see the stars and assured him that as the stars could not be counted, so his descendants would be (Gen. 15:5). At this point, Abraham simply believed God’s word and this faith was counted to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Gal. 3:6-8). The good news here was all about how God would produce a future seed (a descendant of Abraham) who would bring in blessing for all peoples. Therefore, the Bible reveals that God preached the gospel to Abraham in God’s promises about the blessing through the seed (Gal. 3:6-8). The object of Abraham’s faith was the promised coming seed, Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself stated: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." (Jn. 8:56).

[2] Anderson, Bewitched, p. 97.

[3] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), p. 172.

[4] In Bible interpretation it is often helpful to try to do some research on the meaning of the actual Greek words used for key words in a passage being studied. The translators do their best but often a check with some Greek word dictionaries helps us see more. Of course, not everyone has a library with Greek dictionaries. If one has access to a computer, then there are some excellent free study resources on-line. One is a free Bible study program called e-sword. Several commentaries and dictionaries can be downloaded with the program. The link is www.e-sword.net. Another excellent source for on-line Bible study tools is www.studylight.org. It does not require downloads.

[5] Stott, p. 97.

[6] It should be clear in this chapter that God has a definite plan that calls for a period of promise (from Abraham to the giving of the Law), then a temporary period of Law, which was intended to last only “until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” (v. 19). Now that Christ has come, we who have faith in Christ are under grace and no longer under law (Rom. 6:14).