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Bible: What Does Galatians 3 Teach Us About Sanctification by Faith, and The Purpose of the Law?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul



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Galatians 3: Sanctification by Faith/The Purpose of the Law


Paul castigates the Galatians for foolishly allowing false teachers to bewitch them into disobeying the truth about the crucifixion of Christ (v. 1).

[Two questions:

(1) What does Paul mean by his use of the term “bewitched”? Does he think that belief in magic or sorcery turned them away from the gospel?

F. Wilbur Gingrich’s note about this verb indicates some connection with the “evil eye” (Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 36);

(2) What does he mean when he writes: “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified?”

Perhaps some of them attended Christ’s crucifixion, yet clearly not everyone saw Him die.

Could the apostle be referring to a particularly graphic account of the crucifixion that he or some other preacher told them?]

Sanctification by Faith Through Grace

By asking them a foundational question, Paul seeks to understand how they could be so foolish as to try to be sanctified [experientially set apart to God for His use] by the works of the flesh when they know that they began their salvation by receiving the Spirit by faith (vv. 2-3).

He argues that if they seek sanctification by performing rituals and other “works,” then all of their suffering for being associated with Christ was for nothing (v. 4).

Hoping to show them their mental (and spiritual) errors, he also asks rhetorically if God works among them because they tried to obey the law or because they believed the gospel (v. 5).

Abram Believed God


Abraham Believed God

Paul cites Genesis 15:6—the verse stating that Abraham trusted God’s promise and consequently received imputed righteousness—as support for his contention that belief, not works, is all important for salvation (v. 6).

He wants them to know that the Lord considers only those who believe God for salvation (as Abraham did) as spiritual descendants of Abraham, regardless of their nationality.

In other words, being a physical descendant of Abraham does not automatically qualify the individual as a believer (v. 7).

Paul, identifying the spoken words of God in Genesis 12:3 as “Scripture,” asserts that this passage—an early proclamation of the gospel—predicted that God would declare Gentiles righteous when they put their faith in Him in the future (v. 8).

Spiritual blessing alights upon “those who are of faith”; like Abraham, they also believe God’s promises (v. 9).

The Law of God


The Law: Do You Keep It Perfectly?

Do you keep the Law perfectly?

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No Flesh Sanctified by Keeping the Law

On the other hand, everyone who is “of the works of the law”--that is, the one who believes that law-keeping justifies (declares righteous) him before God—abides under “the curse” (v. 10a).

Citing Deuteronomy 27:26 (LXX), Paul proves that imperfect obedience to the Law (“does not continue in all things”) brings this eternal penalty upon the sinner (v. 10b).

Habakkuk 2:4, the apostle’s next proof text, demonstrates that people can acquire a righteous standing before God by faith only; they cannot attain justification through keeping the Law (v. 11).

Leviticus 18:5 indicates that people must perform the principles of the Law perfectly in order to live (eternally).

To such people, attaining salvation becomes not a matter of putting faith in the merits of God’s perfect sacrifice, but of trusting in their obedience to an unrelenting master (the Law), hoping that that service will satisfy the Lawgiver [v. 12].

Recognizing that sinful humanity cannot render the perfection demanded, Paul introduces the solution to their problem: eternal redemption by Christ, Who became a curse and suffered for their sake on the cross (v. 13; cf. Deut. 21:23).

Christ’s death freed God to send “the promise of the Spirit” to Jewish believers so that they, in turn, might take the gospel to the Gentiles who would then receive the blessing of Abraham (v. 14).

The Abrahamic Covenant Preceded the Law of Moses

Before addressing the subject of the Abrahamic Covenant with the Galatians, Paul first points out a fundamental tenet regarding human covenants.

Once two parties confirm a covenant, no one can render it non-binding or add more stipulations to it (v. 15).

The apostle then quickly transitions to the specific promises that God made to Abraham and to his Seed, and focuses on the singular form of the term “Seed” (v. 16a; cf. Gen. 22:17-18).

Paul argues that God intended this Seed to refer to the Descendant of Israel, Christ, not to the descendants of Jacob, the nation of Israel (v. 16b).

The apostle now avers that the Mosaic Covenant (the Law instituted @ 1445 B.C.) could not annul the promises God made in the Abrahamic Covenant (the Promise made @ 1875 B.C.).

In other words, the Law cannot set aside God’s promise. God unilaterally and unconditionally promised the inheritance to Abraham; He did not intend him to try to earn it through obedience (v. 18).

Paul then answers the question that may logically follow: “If people do not earn the inheritance through obedience to the Law, then why give a Law in the first place?” (v. 19a)

The apostle explains that God, using angels and Moses as mediators, added the Law, so that the Israelites would know experientially their sinfulness (that is, that they are transgressors against God’s holy, moral standard).

When the “Seed” (Christ) appeared on the scene, those who recognized their status as transgressors would abandon law-righteousness, turn from their sin, and believe in that Seed, the Inheritor of the promise, to receive the righteousness of God (v. 19b-c).

Verse 20 indicates that the Mosaic covenant needed mediators between God and man (angels and Moses), but the Abrahamic did not (“God is one”).

[Ryrie believes that this fact proves the inferiority of the Law (New Testament Study Bible, 336).]

Paul employs a favorite rhetorical device (commonly read in his epistle to the Romans) wherein he asks a question that his audience (or readers) know to be false, and then immediately follows it with me genoito (“Certainly not!”)

[The expression literally means, “May it never be!” See v. 21a; cf. Rom. 6:1, 2; 7:7, 13.]

God never intended that mankind should try to earn salvation by law-keeping; if it were His desire, He would have devised a law humanity could keep (v. 21b).

Never God's Intention to Save by the Law

God added the Law to imprison those who recognize their status as transgressors (“confined all under sin,” “kept under guard”), so that they might receive the promise through faith in Christ (vv. 22-23).

To show the Galatians the purpose of the Law, Paul uses the familiar analogy of the tutor: a custodian who guides children safely to school.

The Law guides people safely into the presence of Christ, Who can then declare them righteous when they trust Him to forgive their transgressions.

After Christ saves them, they no longer need the Law to fulfill the same function (v. 25).

The apostle asserts that trusting (that is, personal commitment to) in Christ brings people into the family of God as mature sons through adoption (v. 26).

The baptism of the Spirit, which occurs at the moment of saving faith, identifies believers with Christ, unites them to the body of Christ, and “clothes” them with Christ (v. 27).

[God dwells within believers, and believers are alive in Christ; this new relationship involves the sharing of all they are with each other.]

The Spiritual Unity of True Believers in Christ

Believers’ spiritual unity in Christ effectively eliminates every cultural, socioeconomic, and gender distinction in terms of their relationship with God.

In other words, God loves all of His children to the same infinite, eternal degree; whether or not a saint possesses worldly advantages does not make the Lord a respecter of persons (v. 28).

As believers in Christ, they are also spiritual descendants of faithful Abraham (“seed”), as well as heirs of the promise God made to the patriarch (v. 29).

© 2013 glynch1


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