“The Blessings of Abraham Come Through Christ”
Lesson Text: Galatians 3:1-14
Background Scripture: Galatians 3:1-14
Devotional Reading: Matthew 19:16-23
1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
14 That the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
To affirm that the Christian’s salvation is completely dependent on God’s grace and is appropriated by faith alone.
To teach that saving faith is based solely on God’s actions to save us, not on human actions to help Him or to save ourselves.
To establish that we must trust completely in Christ’s atonement for our salvation and reject any gospel that says otherwise.
Bewitched was a popular television show in the 1960s. Some Christians objected to the show as promoting witchcraft and other unbiblical practices. Others saw it as no more than a silly situation comedy built on a premise that was sheer fantasy. To those in the latter camp, the show was merely “cute.”
In Paul’s day, however, there was nothing cute or harmless about being “bewitched.” Paul asked the Galatian Christians, “Who hath bewitched you?” This strong language indicates his deep frustration and puzzlement concerning their predicament. These believers had accepted the idea that salvation could be earned by their good works. This was so opposed to the gospel preached by Paul that he could not see a rational reason for their change. That the Galatians would exchange the promise of salvation by God’s grace for a false hope of being saved by their works was beyond explanation. Thus, he labeled them as bewitched believers.
Time: possibly A.D. 48
Place: from Syrian Antioch
The connections between Paul’s letters to the Galatians and to the Romans run very deep. In both cases Paul presents his gospel in the context of the Jewish religion. Both letters do this with frequent quotes from and allusions to various Old Testament passages.
The two are different in purpose, however. Romans presents Paul’s gospel to show that Jews and Gentiles alike are under the condemnation of the law, for all fall short of its perfection and have earned a judgment of death (Romans 3:23). Because of this universal condemnation, our only hope for salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ (5:9). Paul wrote Romans to the Christians in Rome without having visited the city personally. Thus Romans gives a broader, more general picture of salvation by faith.
Galatians, on the other hand, arose from a real-life crisis. Paul was confronting a menace to the churches he had helped plant in Galatia. This danger was the false teaching that it was necessary to keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. This was the Judaizing heresy. Paul’s argument against this heresy necessarily involved exposition of Scripture. We could say that Romans is intended as explanation whereas Galatians is intended for correction. Since Paul is the author of both, it is not surprising that his basic premise is the same in both books.
Some Christians, however, may be surprised to learn that Paul’s great truth of our justification by faith is grounded in the Old Testament itself. Paul’s case for salvation by grace through faith is based on two key Old Testament passages, which he quotes in both Romans and Galatians. As we shall see today, the Old Testament is a vital background to Galatians.
The effect of Paul’s masterful and inspired use of Old Testament passages is to show that the gospel is not a radical departure from the Old Testament. If properly understood, the Old Testament also teaches a relationship to God based on faith rather than works. Thank God for Paul, the champion of salvation through faith!
QUESTIONS OF FAITH (Galatians 3:1-5)
1. Why does Paul portray the Galatians as both “foolish” and “bewitched”? (Galatians 3:1)
Paul’s perspective of the Galatians is that they were both “foolish” and “bewitched.” Paul’s language is harsh; he is not merely chiding, but scolding. In a forceful manner, he questions the readers to draw their attention to the fact that their disregard for his teachings has led them to disobey the truth. That they were being diverted from the truth of the gospel could only be because they lacked understanding (foolish) or were under a spell (bewitched).
The Greek word rendered “foolish” signifies lacking understanding or being senseless. It is used only six times in the New Testament (Luke 24:25; Romans 1:14; Galatians 3:1, 3; 1 Timothy 6:9; Titus 3:3).
The Greek verb for bewitched is found only in Galatians 3:1 in all of the New Testament. Its root is the Greek word from which we get our term fascinate. This word has a deeper meaning than being fascinated in the sense of “enthralled” or “entertained,” though. In Paul’s day, it means to cast an evil spell on someone. There is no doubt among the people of Paul’s world that there were magicians and witches seeking to do just this (Acts 8:9; 13:6; 19:19). However, Paul’s question about bewitching is not intended to be taken literally. He does not think that those who have fed the Galatians false teachings are magicians, sorcerers, or witches. But the false teachers have indeed been mesmerizing!
For Paul, the heart of this truth is Jesus Christ... crucified (see 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). Paul reminds his readers of the vividness of his previous presentation of Christ’s sacrificial death - so vivid he can describe it as having been done before their eyes. Paul is not allowing for any lack of clarity in his personal presentation to the Galatians. The error is not in misunderstanding the truth, but in their foolish abandonment of it.
2. How could a return to the law be seen as the Galatians abandoning the Spirit or making their suffering vain? (vs. 2-4)
Paul makes a point that the Old Testament laws do not promise anything like the Spirit. It is not “keep the Sabbath and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The gift of the Holy Spirit, experienced by the Galatian believers, is a part of the new covenant. This gift is seen only prophetically in the Old Testament (see Ezekiel 37:14). Therefore, Paul is warning his readers that reverting to the old covenant is to disregard and endanger this precious gift. It is to buy the lie that we can be made perfect by our own efforts apart from faith.
Paul presses his discussion by asking bluntly Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?One of the major distinctions between the Old Testament people of God and the New Testament people of God is the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is true that mention of the Holy Spirit can be found in the pages of the Old Testament, but the actual phrase Holy Spirit occurs only three times there: Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10, 11. And only in Psalm 51:11 is there a sense of the Holy Spirit indwelling a believer (in that instance, King David). While the Spirit of God is often present (see Genesis 1:2), there is no description of the Holy Spirit being given to the people of Israel individually in the “indwelling” sense of the New Testament.
Paul was also aware that the acceptance of his gospel had come at a cost. In Lystra, a likely target city for this letter, Paul himself was nearly killed when some Jews stoned him (Acts 14:19). He knows that the rejection of the law as a means to salvation is not without consequences. There had been some nasty accusations flying around, and others may have suffered physical violence from this decision. Now if there is a return to the law by Jewish Christians or even Gentile Christians, this suffering will all have been in vain, both for the Galatians and for Paul himself.
3. How did Paul demonstrate that miracles resulted from “the hearing of faith” instead of “works of the law”? (v. 5)
Paul asks another pointed question: did the Galatians witness miracles when he preached to them or when the Judaizers taught them the law? Paul’s reference to the one who ministereth to you the Spirit is not to himself, but to God. God’s miraculous activity occurred during Paul’s ministry among the Galatians when he proclaimed salvation through faith.
There is no record that the false teachers had brought anything miraculous along with their message. In Lystra, Paul had healed a man who could not walk (Acts 14:10). Paul himself had survived a brutal stoning in a way that could only be seen as miraculous (14:19,20). If miracles are a sign of God’s confirmation (see Hebrews 2:4), shouldn’t the Galatians follow the teacher whose message had been accompanied by signs from God?
THE EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM (Galatians 3:6-9)
4. Why was Abraham’s faith an excellent example in rebutting the Judaizers’ teachings? (v. 6)
One might think that the Jews of Paul’s day look to Moses as their ancestral leader, especially the law-promoting Judaizers. But this is not the case. They did not consider themselves to be children of Moses, but children of Abraham (see John 8:39). Paul will have much more to say about Abraham in the rest of Galatians, but he begins his presentation at this point by quoting Genesis 15:6 (also quoted in Romans 4:3).
The gist of this quotation is to show that Abraham’s relationship with God was built on faith at the deepest level. Abraham’s obedient works were not motivated by wanting to earn a reward, but by his confidence in God. The ultimate act of faith for Abraham was his willingness to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice in accordance to God’s directions. The author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham obeyed this directive because he believed God had the power to raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Paul makes the important point in Romans 4:9-11 that Genesis 15:6 comes before the Law of Moses, and even before the command to Abraham to have all the males of his household circumcised. Thus, to hold up Abraham as the main example of a person blessed and justified by God necessarily excludes circumcision from the discussion - and this was the lynchpin of the Judaizers’ demands.
5. Explain Paul’s argument that the Abrahamic covenant was a preview of the gospel message? (vs. 7-9)
In the great covenant statement to Abraham found in Genesis 12:1-3, there is a promise that all nations of the earth would be blessed. The blessings promised to Abraham are not reserved for his physical descendants alone. There is a much broader intent: inclusion of all the peoples of the earth. Since this promise, too, comes long before any practice of circumcision or the Law of Moses, Paul interprets it as a promise of faith.
Since being made righteous through faith is the foundation of Paul’s gospel, he can go so far as to say that the message to Abraham 2,000 years before Christ is effectively the message of the gospel. Although not fully understood, perhaps not even by Abraham, God’s intent all along was to have a faith relationship with His children. Paul explains that this promise to Abraham was prophetically foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith. Thus Paul is not preaching some new or misguided gospel, but the oldest and truest gospel message of all.
So there is no mistake, Paul draws a summary conclusion. Abraham should be remembered as faithful Abraham. All men and women, whether Jew or Gentile, are offered the blessing of righteousness through their faith, and therefore can join the company of Abraham. There is no second option given, no possibility for being saved through circumcision or other observances of the law.
REDEMPTION THROUGH CHRIST (Galatians 3:10-14)
6. Why are those who seek justification by the law under a curse? (v. 10)
Having established the priority of faith, Paul now addresses the faulty teaching that presents law-keeping as a means to righteousness. The problem is that either you keep the law perfectly in every aspect for a lifetime, or you are cursed. Paul does not make this bold claim just on his own authority. He quotes Moses himself, from Deuteronomy 27:26 (compare Romans 3:19,20) which in its original context was a series of curses pronounced upon Israel if they were disobedient to the law.
Since only those who perfectly obey can be justified by the law, all who seek justification through the law live under the law’s curse. This is because no one is perfect. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and cannot plead justification by law. As James says: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10).
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that people seek salvation by their own effort? How do we keep from fooling ourselves in this regard?
Talking Points for Your Discussion: Luke 22:24; Galatians 6:3; 1 John 1:8
7. In quoting the prophet Habakkuk, how does Paul show that justification by faith was an Old Testament concept? (v. 11)
Paul now uses a quote from Habakkuk 2:4 that teaches justification by faith (see also Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). Habakkuk was unique among the prophets for his presentation of dialogue with God (some call it arguing). Habakkuk worked in a time when evil, selfish men controlled the nation of Israel, and their dishonesty and injustice seemed to go unpunished. When Habakkuk complained about this, God told him that He was sending the Babylonians to wipe out the nation of Judah for this evil. Habakkuk objected to this in strong terms. He did not think it fair for God to use a “more evil” nation like Babylon to punish his own “less evil” nation.
God’s answer to Habakkuk was that it was not for that prophet to know or understand all of God’s dealings, particularly on the international level. Habakkuk’s job was to trust God. In the end, it was the prophet’s faith that would save him, forthe just shall live by faith. Paul’s point is that as the old nation of Judah was powerless to save itself from the mighty Babylonians, so sinful men and women cannot save themselves through their own efforts. Their salvation can come only from God; this is based on faith, not on works of law.
What Do You Think?
In which area of life or at what times do you find it hardest to live by faith? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion: During political upheavals; during times of war; as society decays morally; when bad things happen to good people; when good things happen to bad people.
8. What does it mean that “the law is not of faith”? What would be required for justification by law? (v. 12)
That “the law is not of faith” does not mean faith was somehow absent from the old covenant. Instead, Paul seems to be saying that the law does not rest on faith. Law requires obedience, as the quotation concerning a man living in them (from Leviticus 18:5) indicates.
Paul returns to the theme of the law as condemning rather than saving. The law has a valuable function, and that is to define what actions constitute sin (see Romans 7:7). However, there is no room for grace or faith in this approach to God.
Under a law system, our righteousness before God becomes a transaction, a payment for good deeds. This will never work, however. It didn’t work for Abraham. It doesn’t work for Paul. It won’t work for the Galatians. Life from the law is found only in perfection and none of us is able to attain perfection. Because of our sin, our just reward is death (see Romans 6:23). There is no middle ground between law-keeping and faith-living as means for salvation.
9. How was Christ made a curse to redeem us from the law? (vs. 13,14)
If we are all cursed, condemned for failing to keep the law perfectly, how is this curse overcome? Paul has made a strong case to show that we cannot lift this curse ourselves. Therefore, he turns to Christ and the power of His atoning death for us.
Paul again uses the Old Testament to make his case, in this instance the teaching that anyone who is executed by hanging on a tree is cursed (Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; see Acts 5:30; 10:39). To be killed in this manner is a death reserved for the vilest of criminals. The law teaches that this manner of death is used to shame the one being executed.
The execution of Christ on a tree (cross) was not because God had cursed Him, but because He had willingly taken upon Himself the curse for the sins of the world (see John 1:29). The curse of sin that results from our law-breaking was therefore transferred to Jesus, the Sinless One.
Paul ties it all together in the final verse for this section. It is through the atoning death of Jesus Christ that the promised blessing of Abraham lives and is actualized. Even the Gentiles can receive this blessing, best seen in the gift of the Spirit. All of this is based on faith rather than law-keeping. The arguments and teachings of the Judaizers are put to rest, and Paul has done this by using Scriptures from the law itself.
1. To add to the gospel message is always foolish (Galatians 3:1).
2. Don’t be fooled by your works, but be saved by your faith (vs. 2,3).
3. God honors faith, not the keeping of the law (vs. 4,5).
4. Like Abraham, all believers are declared righteous on the basis of faith alone (vs. 6,7).
5. People of all nations can be saved, but it is only through personal faith in Christ (vs. 8,9).
6. The law condemns, but Christ redeems (vs. 10-12).
7. Christ took the curse of the law so that we could be freed from it (vs. 13,14).
People often think they must do something in order to get something. If it is free, we assume there must be a catch to it. You may have grown up with a reward system. If you cleaned your room, you got an allowance. If you got good grades, you received money or some other reward. As adults, we know not to expect a salary unless we perform a job.
While a good work ethic is necessary, there is no reward system when it comes to salvation. It is impossible to earn our salvation. Therefore, we must completely depend on God’s gift of justification in Christ alone. He purchased our salvation through His finished work at Calvary, and we can receive it only by faith!
Father in Heaven, may we, like Abraham, be Your children through faith. We thank You that Christ’s death has redeemed us from the penalties of breaking Your law. May we live each day in gratitude to You, as we enjoy the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Our connection with Abraham is based on faith.