Understanding Galatians 3: The Christian Life – Receiving the Spirit by faith vs. perfecting ourselves in the flesh.(Pt2)

 

As we saw in the last post, Paul has established that the Christian life is not I, but Christ “living in me”  by the “faith of the Son of God”. He has contrasted  this faith with the “works of the law” and attempting to be “perfected in the flesh”, and has brought our attention to the Spirit that we have received and must continue to receive.

Now he focuses on the promises God made to Abraham, contrasting these promises with the law given to Moses.  As he does so, he builds to the point where he tells them that the Spirit that they have received is the blessing of  the promise that he gave to Abraham, and that the promise that he gave to Abraham was the gospel

 

Gal 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.  Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.  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.  So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

In verse 6 he tells them that this life of the “hearing of faith” is just like the life Abraham lived, who believed God and was reckoned as righteous.   By doing this He is bringing their attention back to 400 years before Moses, when sin had not been made “transgression” by being defined by the law.

What is interesting about Abraham’s story  is that justification and righteousness are still in view, but not framed by the knowledge of sin.   Righteousness is not put in the context of the law and sin, but rather believing in God’s promise.  That’s not to say that there wasn’t knowledge of sin at that time or the need to be righteous.  Lot was a perfect example of someone who lived in the midst of sinners and knew the difference.

But by framing the Gospel in the light of Abraham’s story, he is telling them that the gospel is about more than just sin and the broken law.  The Galatians were gentiles, just as Abraham was a gentile.  During Abraham’s time, there was no nation of Israel, and there was no law (which was given to the Jews).  Remember, Paul’s problem in Galatians is that the gentile  believers were being compelled to live as though they were jews, obligated to the law of Moses.  By bringing them back to Abraham he puts Moses and the law out of view.   What is interesting today in much of Christianity is that Christians only view justification and salvation in the light of God’s law and their defined transgressions.  But Abraham didn’t have this kind of view.

Abraham lived a very “unreligious” life.  This is not an “unregulated life” – but it is not regulated by religious ordinances, but by the appearing of the God of glory – His presence, His calling, His continued revisiting, and His unfolding promises.   When God first appeared to him and called him out, he began his life of faith.  Then, God continued to appear to Him again and again, visiting Him with His calling and His promise, and Abraham grew strong in faith.   He was justified by his faith in God and God’s promise.

Now Paul tells the Galatians that if they walk by faith, they will be sons of Abraham, just as the jews claim to be. But the jews are not sons of Abraham because of the law, but because of faith.  Only those who are of faith are the genuine children of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile.

It’s important to see the difference between a religious life and a life regulated by the appearing of the God of glory.  Whenever Abraham’s life moved forward (spiritually) it was due to an appearing of the God of glory and His speaking.

Likewise, when we became believers, it wasn’t the words alone that saved us, it was the Spirit’s personal visitation to us to reveal the Word.  I heard the story of Jesus many times – that He had died for my sins and resurrected, and rejected it as fantasy.  But one day the same word came to me again, yet this time the God of glory accompanied it and visited me, and the word was alive.

Not only did the word seem to be telling me about the forgiveness of my sins, but I received a vision of a new life with God, and an eternity with Him.  For me it really wasn’t just about my sins, it was about the fact that I was without God up until this point, and now this Glorious One was entering my life. That’s when you have the hearing of faith and the supply of the Spirit!

The Christian life starts and continues by the direct action of God in our lives!  In contrast, the works of the law, and trying to perfect ourselves by the flesh, is something we try to do “for God” but really apart from Him.

Going on, in verse 7, Paul says that the scripture foretold the justification of the Gentiles by faith, announcing the gospel to Abraham – “in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

This was the Gospel that was fulfilled in the coming of Christ, which was announced long before the giving of the law.  It is clear that by framing the gospel in this light, he is bringing their attention away from Sinai and Moses, and focusing their attention on the promise given to believing Abraham.

In verse 8, he tells them that those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.  This discounts any notion that blessings come from obedience to the law, as many believe.

Gal 3:10 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. Gal 3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. Gal 3:12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

v. 10-12 Now Paul brings up Moses again. After linking their faith to that of Abraham, who received the promise, he tells them that as many as are of the “works of the law” are under a curse, and brings them once again to the contrast between living by faith and living by the law.

In the gospel preached to Abraham, there are no cursings-  only blessings.  His name shall be made great, and he shall be a blessing.  He will have the seed. The His seed will be multiplied as the stars of heaven and the sands of the earth.  The seed will inherit the land.  Ultimately, according to this chapter, the seed is Christ.

Yet with Moses, there are blessings and cursings.   And anyone who is under the law is under the curse, because he is obligated to keep the whole thing, and yet he has sin in his flesh (just as Abraham did), but the law defines this sin as transgression, and promises curses to those who break it.

No one can be justified by law, and this was made evident in the scriptures of the Old Testament, which say that the “just will live by faith”.  The law is not of faith, but those who do the works of the law will live because of them.   So Paul is saying we either live by faith, or we live by the works of the law – we cannot have both.

Throughout these sections  Paul uses the word justification many times.  However, he also refers to “living”.   We should not be too quick to divorce justification and sanctiifcation (which has to do with our living)..

Sanctification and Christian perfection are under the umbrella of justification – it covers the whole  Christian life from regeneration to glorification.  We never leave justification and “go on” to sanctification.   We should also remember that these are not just terms.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says “But of God are you in Christ Jesus, who is made to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification.”  Justification is Christ.  Sanctification is Christ.  We have not received a “thing” separate from Christ, we have received Christ Himself.

Any growth, any perfection, any continuation of the Christian life, must be Christ Himself.  This is Paul’s main theme in all of His epistles.

Gal 3:13 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: Gal 3:14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

V.13 says that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.  Some say that while he redeemed us from the cursing aspects of the law, we still are to relate to it.  But v.13 leads to verse 14, which is the real goal – “In order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

In all of the above argument of contrasting the perfection of the flesh by works of the law to the hearing of faith, and bringing their attention back to the faith of Abraham, and then contrasting the gospel to the law, Paul has not lost sight of the Spirit.

In fact, here he shows us that this is the point – the blessing of Abraham that comes upon the Gentiles is the promised Spirit that we have received through faith.  The law promises blessings on the work of those who do it. These blessings have to do with prosperity.  However, the Gospel promises a different blessing.  The promise of the Spirit is the blessing of the Gospel.  This Spirit is Christ Himself, who is the reality of the Christian life as He lives in me and is bountifully Supplied by God out of the hearing of faith.

Gal 3:16  Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

After bringing our attention once again to the Spirit, he then goes back to reinforce the contrast he is setting up between the covenant he made with Abraham (of which we are heirs), and Moses, but he’s building another point.

By faith, we are in fact heirs of the promise. However, this faith is not our own, nor was the promise made directly to us.  The promise was made to Abraham and his seed.  Paul points out that this is not a plural seed (seeds), but singular, because the seed is Christ.

He begins this part of his argument by pointing out that the real Heir of the promise is the seed of Abraham, Christ.  A number of verses later in verses 26-29, he says that we are sons of God through faith in Christ, and that we have been baptized into Christ, and have put on Christ, and because of this union, we are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

It is not merely that we as natural men have believed into promises and therefore as natural men have been blessed. We as natural men cannot be blessed (righteously) because the law is still in effect for the natural man as long as he lives.  But by being put into Christ in baptism, we have put off the old man in the death of Christ and have, by receiving the Spirit, been made one with Christ.

So the Gospel brings us out of the realm of trying to perfect ourselves in the flesh.  It brings us under the “hearing of faith” which is to have the word come to us backed by the appearing of the God of Glory and the presence, operation and supply of the Spirit, who is the real “blessing of the Gospel.”

When He came to us, He showed us a vision of the crucified Christ, and also brought us into the direct knowledge of God, giving us a vision that from now through eternity, He is with us.

In doing so He baptized us into Christ and clothed us with Him, making us one with Him and making us heirs with Him of the eternal inheritance.

So the gospel is about much more than sin and lawbreaking and forgiveness. That is important, and we are occupied with it continally.  But the gospel is also the promise of the Spirit, and a vision of his operating in our life.   As he operates in us through the hearing of faith, we have the practicality of Christ living in us!

Obviously this is not an exhaustive study of Galatians 3, but these were the main points that have inspired me recently.

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