Legalism and Faith
The book of Galatians centers on a controversy that existed in the early Christian church which still exists today. Every Christian today should thoughtfully consider the proper relationship between grace and law, faith and obedience. God chose Paul to address this matter because he had years of experience on both sides of the issue. Formerly, Paul had been “a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” a well-studied legalist. After his conversion to Christ and several years of study, Paul became a relentless advocate for the idea that “salvation comes through faith alone.” He had physical wounds and scars of persecution to prove that “faith alone” is far more than intellectual assent. If Paul’s “faith alone” position could be summarized, I think Paul would say: “Faith in God means depending on God to do things which are beyond human ability and believing that God will keep His promises. Faith in God includes doing right in God’s sight (obeying God’s laws) without regard for consequences. All believers must understand that obeying God’s laws cannot produce the righteousness needed for salvation. God provides that righteousness and grants it only to those who will live by faith. This returns us to depending on God to do things that are beyond human ability.”
Let’s continue reading the book of Galatians. My commentary is included within brackets [ ].
Galatians 3:1-5 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you [with religious bamboozle that demands circumcision]? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified [for your sins]. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the [manifestations of the Holy] Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you [how can you be] so foolish? After beginning [your walk] with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal [of justification] by human effort? Have you suffered so much [ridicule and persecution] for nothing– if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
Galatians 3:6-8 “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God [when God said he would become the father of many nations], and it was credited to him as righteousness [because he did not doubt that God would fulfill His promise].’ Understand, then, that those who believe [who fully rely on God’s promises] are children of Abraham [because they believe God’s promises just as Abraham did (John 8:39)]. The [Old Testament] Scripture foresaw [centuries ago] that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and [God] announced [this mystery in] the gospel in advance to Abraham [when He said]: ‘All nations [on Earth] will be blessed through you.’ ”
Galatians 3:9-12 “So those who have faith [in God, instead of trying to justify themselves through works] are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law [to be saved] are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified [or can be justified] before God by [obeying] the law, because, [the Scriptures say in Habakkuk 2:4] ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ [This is a critical point: No one, not even Abraham, has ever been justified before God through obedience. Abraham was not perfect. He lied about his wife Sarah, committed adultery with Hagar, and at times, let his trust in God’s promises go.]
The law is not based on faith [God’s laws are divine obligations which He created and imposed on mankind for our benefit]; on the contrary, [God has said, Ezekiel 20:11,] ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ ”
This declaration means that the man who obeys God’s laws will be blessed because God’s laws are not harmful. Instead, His laws are the product of divine wisdom and they bring good results into our lives. Do not be confused, the blessings that come with obeying God’s laws and the righteousness needed for salvation are two separate topics. For example, the law says ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ If I do not steal his possessions, my neighbor is blessed and so am I. My neighbor suffers no loss and I am not condemned as a thief. However, I have not necessarily fulfilled the intent of God’s law if I do not steal my neighbor’s possessions. The law is only fulfilled when I love my neighbor enough that I would rather cut off my hand than to steal his property. Such love is only acquired through faith in Christ. God has promised to remove our selfishness and unrighteousness. If I am tempted to steal (which is a selfish desire), I can overcome this temptation through the gift of the Spirit. Jesus has made two promises: He has promised to give us victory over sin by replacing selfish passions with divine power. (Romans 6:14) We ask for this gift of power for Him to send it! Jesus has also promised to put a new heart in every person who asks for it. (Ezekiel 36:26) The purpose of the law is to show our weaknesses, our deviation from righteousness, and our need for a Savior. The law is not opposed to the Spirit; it is opposed to our sinful nature. The law is indispensable and reveals our need for a righteousness that we cannot produce. The gospel of Jesus is this: He promises transforming power for everyone who seeks it. (Romans 1;16; Acts 1:8) Do you believe His promise?
Galatians 3:13-15 “Christ redeemed us [those who put their faith in Him] from the curse of the law [which has condemned all sinners to eternal death] by becoming a curse for us, [I can say that Jesus was cursed for us] for it is written [Deuteronomy 21:23]: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the [promised] blessing given to Abraham might [also] come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we [Jews and Gentiles alike] might receive the promise of the [Holy] Spirit [who changes our rebellious minds and sanctifies our sinful hearts. He causes us to love God and one another wholeheartedly because this is humanly impossible]. Brothers, 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 God Gave to Abraham
God gave three promises to Abraham. First, God promised that his descendants would be given possession of the land. Second, God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations. Third, God promised Abraham that through him, the nations of Earth would be blessed, meaning that the Savior of the world would come through his bloodline.
Galatians 3:16-18 The [three] promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed [singular]. [If you examine Genesis13:15,16; 15:5,13,18] The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ [plural] meaning many people, but [the promise says] ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law [Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses, were] introduced 430 years later [after God gave the three promises to Abraham. The law], does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the [three] promise[s]. For if the inheritance depends on [observing] the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”
Galatians 3:19,20 [I know that this letter will be challenged by those false brothers who have come in among you. They will scoff,] What, then, was the purpose of the law [if salvation depends on faith]? [The answer is obvious.] It [the Law] was added because of [man’s darkness and ignorance. God kindly chose to enlighten mankind by giving us His laws so we would be blessed and understand the curse, nature, and behavior of sin and the penalty for] transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. (We know that any violation of God's laws, whether willful or through ignorance, always brings sorrow, pain, and death, therefore) The law was put into effect through [the ministry of] angels [who were directed] by a mediator [who represents us before the Father]. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; [our mediator understands the needs of fallen man as well as the objectives of the Father] but [the] God [head] is one [in purpose, plan, and action].”
Galatians 3:21-22 “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the [three] promises of God [given to Abraham]? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart [eternal] life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, [we have all sinned, we are soiled by our sins and no one can live very long without sinning] so [God has provided a better way for us to receive] that what was promised [to Abraham], [the promise] being given [has been extended to all of us] through faith in Jesus Christ, [who are Abraham’s seed, so that everything] might be given to those who believe [in God as Abraham believed in God].”
Galatians 3:23,24 “Before this faith [our knowledge of Jesus and His gospel] came [to Earth], we [Jews] were held prisoners by the law, [we were] locked up [and confused in matters of faith and obedience] until faith [in God] should be revealed [properly demonstrated and clarified by Jesus]. So the law was put in charge to [show us our sinful nature and our natural weakness. This knowledge was supposed to] lead us to [our need for a Savior who could save us from our sins. For centuries, Israel conducted sacrifices on the Altar of Burnt Offering, but we did not understand our need for the Lamb of God. We thought we were righteous because we did what God commanded, but little did we know. This foolishness changed when] Christ [came and died. We now see] that we might be justified by faith [alone].”
Gal 3:25 Now that faith [has been demonstrated and clarified through Christ who] has come [into the world], we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
The law acts as a guardian so we can understand our need of a Savior. Because the law could not be changed, Jesus had to die. This demonstrates the relationship between faith and law much more clearly. The promise of salvation has been extended to all repentant sinners and this promise is only possible through faith in the perfect life (His righteousness) and death of Christ (His atonement). God insists that sanctification and discipleship must never end. Living by faith means overcoming temptation. Living by faith means granting the Holy Spirit freedom and authority to impose guilt within our hearts whenever we sin. Living by faith also means giving the Holy Spirit permission to transform our self-seeking hearts so that we increasingly live in harmony with God and His laws. Justification can only come through faith. Sanctification comes through the sweet prompting and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads us into joyful obedience to prepare us to live in God’s presence. Do not confuse justification with sanctification. God Himself has provided admission to Heaven through faith in Jesus (He is our righteousness). The Holy Spirit is concerned with transforming our selfish hearts so that we might love God and our neighbors wholeheartedly (He is the source of power for sanctification). The Spirit of God will not promote rebellion against God’s laws. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will put the law of God within our hearts and minds! (Hebrews 8:10)
Galatians 3:26-29 [In summary, if you live by faith, then] “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ [’s righteousness]. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [The covenant of circumcision ended at the cross. God no longer considers a man to be an heir of Abraham because of circumcision. Because] If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed [sperm], and heirs according to the [three] promise [(s) that await fulfillment].”
Paul Writes to the Jews
Galatians 4:1-7 “[To my Jewish brothers in the church at Galatia, I have a few words. Compare the promise of justification with a well-known civil process.] What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we [Jews] were [spiritually ignorant and immature like] children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world [that is, we Jews wrongly thought for centuries that we were justified by rigorous obedience.] But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under [the obligations imposed by] law, to redeem those under [who lived under the obligations of] law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. [‘Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.’ (Romans 8:14)] Because you are sons, God sent the [Holy] Spirit [to you, the Holy Spirit serves under the authority] of his Son [and He has been sent] into our hearts, the Spirit who [directs us to consider the goodness of the Father, who also] calls out, “Abba, [meaning, God is our] Father.” So you [my Jewish brothers in Christ] are no longer a slave [subject to guardians and trustees], but [you are] a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
Paul Writes to the Gentiles
Galatians 4:8-12 “[To my Gentile brothers in the church at Galatia, I have a few words.] Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those [idols] who by nature are not gods [at all]. [Formerly, you believed it was necessary to appease those gods for fear you would suffer great harm if you did not.] But now that you know [the truth about the living] God – or rather are [now] known by God [as His sons] – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles [of living as a slave to some god]? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? [Look at your foolishness!] You [have embraced the teachings of the false brothers from Jerusalem and you] are observing special days [feast days] and [you are observing the arrival of new] months [with new moon feasts. These religious traditions have nothing to do with serving Christ.] and [you are observing the growing] seasons [with the presentation of first fruits and the wave sheaf offering] and [even attempting to observe Sabbath] years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. I plead with you, brothers, become [free of these matters] like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.”
To be continued.
Larry Wilson, founder of WUAS, became a “born again” Christian in 1972. His interest in the gospel has led him on a 40+ year quest to learn more about what God has revealed to Earth’s final generation. The results of his research have been shared all over the world in books, television & radio broadcasts, media interviews, and seminars that are publicly available on all different types of media (see our Christian Bookstore).
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